UPSC CDS Exam Pattern, Syllabus, Eligibility & Registration Process

CDS stands for Combined Defence Services. CDS Examination is organized twice every year by UPSC (Union Public Service Commission).

CDS offers great career opportunities for youths who are willing to join the defence sector of India.

In this blog post, I will provide each and every information related to the CDS Exam Pattern, Syllabus, Eligibility Criteria, Online Registration Process, FAQs, Previous Year Questions and a few other Important Downloads.

So, here we go…

Recommended Read: Know Everything about the Popular IAS Exam (Civil Services Exam)

About Combined Defence Services

Combined Defence Services Exam or CDS Exam is conducted by UPSC for the recruitment into various defence sector institutes like IMA, INA, AFA, and OTA.

CDS is almost similar to the NDA and the only difference is that NDA is for 12th class students and CDS is for graduates.

The exam is conducted in February and November each year and notification for the same is released in October and June respectively.

The entire selection process happens to be in two phases – written exam and interview.

Also read: Technical Interview Guide for Developers

Branches of CDS

If you qualify the written exam as well as the interview conducted by the Services Selection Board (SSB) then you can get admitted into one of the following branches of the Armed Forces.

  • Officers Training Academy (OTA)
  • Indian Military Academy (IMA)
  • Indian Naval Academy (INA)
  • Air Force Academy (AFA)

Only Phase 1 (written exam) qualified candidates are allowed to appear for the Phase 2 (interview).

Career Benefits

Serving our country by joining the armed forces seems very exciting. Making a career in Defence Services is a dream for many of us.

Apart from the handsome amount of salary, pension, and other government benefits, you also get a huge amount of respect from the people across the country.

If you get selected in any of the CDS branches, you become disciplined and your lifestyle changes completely. You must join defence services if you love taking challenges and hate boring lifestyle.

Selection Procedure

The CDS examination is conducted in two phases – first, the written exam, and, second, the interview.

Exam Selection Procedure

The candidates who pass phase 1 written examination are allowed to be present at the phase 2 interview. The interview or personality test for the CDS is conducted by the SSB (Services Selection Board).

CDS Exam Eligibility Criteria

Students must check the eligibility criteria for the CDS exam before applying online. Candidates who meet below requirements are eligible to appear for the Combined Defence Services Examination.

Educational Qualification

You will need to have at least one of the below educational qualifications in order to qualify for the exam.

  • For Indian Military Academy (IMA): A bachelor’s degree from a recognized university/institution or equivalent
  • For Indian Naval Academy (INA): A bachelor’s degree in Engineering or Technology from a recognized university/institution or equivalent
  • For Air Force Academy (AFA): A bachelor’s degree in Engineering or Technology from a recognized university/institution OR a degree from a recognized university with Physics & Mathematics at 10+2 level as subjects
  • For Officers Training Academy (OTA): A bachelor’s degree from a recognized university/institution or equivalent
  • For Officers Training Academy (SSC Women Non-Technical Course): A bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or equivalent

Please note that the students who are in the final year/semester of their degree course are also eligible to apply for the examination.

Physical Standards

Candidates need to be physically fit according to physical standards for admission to Combined Defence Services Examination as per the guidelines of the UPSC.

You can refer to this official document (page number 29 and onwards) by UPSC for further details about the physical standards for the exam.


Candidates must meet at least one of the following requirements for the nationality.

  • An Indian citizen, or
  • A subject of Bhutan or Nepal, or
  • A Tibetan refugee who came to India before 1962 with the intention of permanently settling in India, or
  • An Indian origin person who has migrated from Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka and East African Countries of Kenya, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zaire and Ethiopia or Vietnam with the intention of permanently settling in India

Please note that candidates who belong to the (1), (2), and (3) category must get the certificate of eligibility from the Government of India. Students who belong to the Gorkha subject of Nepal do not need any certificate of eligibility.

Age Limit

Different defence sector institutes have different requirements for the age limit of the candidates. Here’s the complete detail.

Categories/Sectors Age Limit
Indian Military Academy (IMA) 19 – 24 years
Air Force Academy (AFA) 19 – 24 years
Indian Naval Academy (INA) 19 – 24 years
Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) 19 – 25 years

Candidates who hold a valid and current Commercial Pilot Licence issued by DGCA (India) have an upper age limit of 26 years.

Note: Candidates who are below 25 years should not be married and they will not be allowed for marriage during the training period.

Also, married candidates who are above 25 years can apply for the exam but they will not be allowed to live with their families during the training period.

Marital Status

Candidates below 25 years should be unmarried.

And, married candidates over 25 years (under special cases) of age can also apply for the exam.

Exam Pattern

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, the CDS exam is conducted in the following 2 phases

  • Written Examination
  • Intelligence and personality test

Written Examination

The subject of the examination along with the exam duration and full marks for each academy are given below.

CDS written exam pattern

For admission to Indian Military Academy, Air Force Academy, and Indian Naval Academy

Subjects Exam Duration Full Marks
English 2 hours 100 hours
General Knowledge 2 hours 100 hours
Elementary Mathematics 2 hours 100 hours

For admission to Officers’ Training Academy

Subjects Exam Duration Full Marks
English 2 hours 100 hours
General Knowledge 2 hours 100 hours

For Indian Military Academy, Indian Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and Officers’ Training Academy maximum marks allowed for the written exam as well as the interview will be 300, 300, 300, and 200 respectively.

The questions are of objective type only and candidates won’t be allowed to use any kind of calculators.

Standard of papers for English and General Knowledge will be of Graduation level but for Elementary Mathematics it will of Matriculation level.


The interview phase further consists of two stages – stage 1 and stage 2.

Stage 1 – Intelligence Test

Comprises of Officer Intelligence Rating (OIR) and Picture Perception Description Test (PP & DT).

The candidates are shortlisted for the next round on the basis of the combined performance of OIR and PP & DT.

Stage 2 – Personality Test

Comprises of Interview, Group Testing Officer Tasks, Psychology Tests and the Conference. The tests of this stage are conducted over 4 days and the personality of a candidate is tested by 3 different assessors Interviewing Officer (IO), Group Testing Officer (GTO) and the Psychologist.

Only the students who pass Stage 1 are allowed to sit in Stage 2.

Examination Syllabus

The complete CDS exam syllabus for the written exam is as follows.

Paper 1 – English

Good understanding of English and workmanlike use of English words.

Paper 2 – General Knowledge

General knowledge including current affairs, matters of everyday observation, basic knowledge of scientific aspects, History of India and basic knowledge of Geography.

Paper 3 – Elementary Mathematics

Arithmetic, Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Mensuration, Statistics (all up to the standard of Matriculation)

Written Exam Full Syllabus Including Chapters

Exam Centers

UPSC conducts the CDS Examination at the following exam centres:

Agartala, Ahmedabad, Aizawl, Bengaluru, Bareilly, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cuttack, Dehradun, Delhi, Dharwad, Dispur, Gangtok, Hyderabad, Imphal, Itanagar, Jaipur, Jammu, Jorhat, Kochi, Kohima, Kolkata, Lucknow, Madurai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Panaji (Goa), Patna, Port Blair, Prayagraj (Allahabad), Raipur, Ranchi, Sambalpur, Shillong, Shimla, Srinagar, Thiruvananthapuram, Tirupati, Udaipur And Visakhapatnam.

Please note that in the coming years, the number of exam centres may be increased or decreased by the UPSC as per the requirements.

Online Registration Procedure

In order to appear for the examination, you will need to register yourself at the official website of the UPSC which is

CDS Apply Online

Detailed instructions for filling the online registration form is provided on while filling the form on the above UPSC official website.

If a candidate submits multiple registrations then only the last submission or the registration with the higher RID (Registration ID) will be considered by the commission.

Persons who are already in the government service, or work charged employees other than casual or daily rated employees, or those serving under the Public Enterprises need to inform their Head of Department in written form stating that they have applied for the exam.

Persons serving in the Armed Forces also need to inform their Commanding Officer in writing about the participation in the exam and they will also need to show the NOC (No Objection Certificate) at the time of the Interview to the SSB.

Please note that no admission certificate will be sent to the candidates via post.

Instead, candidates will have to download the e-Admission certificate from the UPSC website

The registration for the examination is done in two parts – Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1 Registration

You will be required to fill up the following details while filling up the Part 1 of the Registration Process.

  • General details like Name, Date of Birth, eMail ID, Category, etc.
  • Choose your preference for the IMA, INA, AFA and OTA
  • Specify if you have obtained or about to obtain NCC ‘C’ certificate
  • Specify whether you are serving in the Armed Forces

After filling up these details, verify everything that you have written and, obtain the RID (Registration ID) by clicking on the Submit button. Please note that no changes can be made after the final submission.

Part 2 Registration

You will be required to complete the Part 2 application process after completing Part 1 of the application.

  • You will need to pay the application fee through online (Card or Net Banking) or offline (Cash by Challan) mode
  • Upload scanned version of your photograph and signature in the specified format
  • Select the exam centres of your choice from the dropdown option
  • Submit after verifying carefully and take a print-out of the generated confirmation page for future references

Please note that the exam centres will be allotted on the first-come-first-get basis and UPSC reserves the power to change your choice of centres at any point of the time.

The scanned photograph and signature should only be in the .jpg format, should not exceed 300 KB and should not be less than 20 KB in size.

Registration Fee

Application Fee for the different categories is different. Here’s the complete detail.

Category Application Fee
General ₹ 200
OBC ₹ 200
SC / ST Free
All Females Free

Admit Card

After you submit both Part 1 & Part 2 of the registration form, Admit Card (e-Admit Card, PDF format) will be available on the official website ( 3 weeks before the examination.

Kindly note that you will have to take a print-out of the e-Admit Card after downloading from the official website.

CDS Pay Scale

For Army Officers and equivalent ranks in the Navy and Air Force, the pay scale is mentioned in the below table.

Officers’ Rank Pay in INR
Lieutenant ₹ 56,100 -1,77,500
Captain ₹ 61,300 – 1,93,900
Major ₹ 69,400 – 2,07,200
Lieutenant Colonel ₹ 1,21,200 – 2,12,400
Colonel ₹ 1,30,600 – 2, 15,900
Brigadier ₹ 1,39,600 – 2,17,600
Major General ₹ 1,44,200 – 2,18,200
Lieutenant General HAG Scale ₹ 1,82,200 – 2,24,100
HAG+Scale ₹ 2,05,400 – 2,24,400
VCOAS/Army Cdr/ Lieutenant General (NFSG) ₹ 2,25,000/-(fixed)
COAS ₹ 2,50,000/-(fixed)

Along with the monthly salary, there are other kinds of allowances like Travel Allowance, Children Education Allowance, Dearness Allowance, Uniform Allowance, etc.

Previous Year Questions

As mentioned earlier UPSC conducts the CDS Examination twice each year.

So, the previous year questions for the same are given below.

You can download the PDF of the previous year question paper of the CDS exam by clicking on the below respective links.

CDS Examination (I), 2019

CDS Examination (II), 2018

CDS Examination (I), 2018

Other Important Downloads

Download PDF of Cut-off marks CDS (I) 2018

Download PDF of mistakes made by candidates in the conventional papers


Below are a few most frequently asked questions about the CDS exam.

What to do if I didn’t get the e-Admit card?

That is the worst case, but if your Admit Card is not found on the official website you can get in touch with the UPSC by calling on the following phone numbers 011-23381125/011-23385271/011-23098543.

You can also receive the information regarding the admit card from the facilitation counter at the UPSC office.

What should be the specification of the scanned photographs and signature?

According to the UPSC, the scanned photograph, as well as the signature, should only be in .jpg format.

The maximum and minimum file size for the same should be 300 KB and 20 KB respectively.

What are the registration steps for the CDS 2020?

Well, you will have to keep checking any kind of notification on the official website and once it gets announced, followings will be the steps.

  • Complete part 1 of the registration
  • Upload scanned photograph & signature
  • Pay the registration fee (if applicable)
  • Complete part 2 of the registration
  • Obtain the e-Admit card 3 weeks prior to the examination

Please note that you will have to visit the exam centre with the print-out of the e-Admit card.

What are the stages of the selection process?

  • Written exam
  • Interview
  • Document verification
  • Medical checkup

CDS Stages of Selection

What is the mode of payment for the CDS Exam registration fee?

The payment can be done online (Credit Card, Debit Card, Net Banking) or offline (Challan). You will need to pay the registration fee in the second part of the registration process.

What documents need to be verified by the UPSC?

After the written exam and the interview round, UPSC verifies the following documents of yours.

  • Government identity card (PAN card, smart card, voter id card, driving license and suchlike)
  • Class 10th mark-sheet and certificate
  • Class 12th mark-sheet and certificate
  • Graduation mark-sheet (all semesters)
  • Graduation provisional and degree
  • Other educational documents

What is the CDS Full Form?

CDS stands for Combined Defence Services.

Who conducts the CDS Examination?

CDS exams are conducted by the UPSC which stands for Union Public Service Commission.

What is the cut-off of the CDS written examination?

In the CDS exam 2018, the cut-offs for the different academy are as follows.

Academy Written Exam Cut-off
IMA 118
INA 98
AFA 138
OTA 69

Please note that you must score at least 20% in each of the subjects.

Final Words

Pretty long, huh.

You can download the PDF version of this article for offline reading by clicking here.

So, this has come to an end.

If you feel I have missed something important or maybe you have some related questions, feel free to let me know by dropping a quick comment here.


  1. Supriya shirsath says:

    My running age is 25.. but i m not eligible for cds 1 2020. Why???

    1. Hi Supriya,

      Women can only apply for the AFA post and the maximum age limit for AFA is 25 years.

      If you have crossed the age of 25 years then you are not eligible.

      Hope that helps.


  2. As u have mentioned in brief.. kindly elaborate under which circumstances a married woman can apply for cds-ota ?

  3. rajasthanndaacademy says:

    The information in the post you posted here is useful because it contains some of the best information available. Thanks for sharing it. Keep up the good work.

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