On an average, 9 to 10 lakh (900,000 to 1,000,000) candidates apply every year and the number of candidates appearing is roughly 4.5 lakh for the examination. Aspirants must complete a three-stage process, with a final success rate of about 0.3% of the total applicants.

Stage I : Preliminary examination This is qualifying test held in August every year. Notification for this is published in May. Results are published in the first half of August.

Stage II : Main examination This is the main test, held in December every year. Results are usually published in the second week of March.

Stage III : Personality Test (Interview) It is the final test and is held in April/May every year. Final results are usually announced in the month of May every year

The training program for the selected candidates usually commences on 1 September every year.

Generally the number of vacancies varies every year. In the preliminary examination, the number of candidate selected for the mains is 11 or 12 times the number of vacancies and in case of the main examination, the number of candidates selected for the interview is twice the number of vacancies. As per existing policies, reservation for SC/ST/OBC is applied to each level of the selection process. For example, if the number of vacancies in a given year is 1000, and 100,000 candidates appear for the preliminary examination; the top 11,000 or 12,000 scorers will be selected for the mains and similarly, out of those 12,000 only the top 2,000 scorers will be called for the interview subject to their respective reservation quota. In 2006, around 400,000 candidates applied for fewer than 500 vacancies and around 7,500 got through the preliminary and appeared in the Mains exam. In 2010, 5,47,698 candidates appeared for the preliminary exam. To secure a place in the highly sought after Indian Administrative Service (IAS), a candidate must secure a rank in the top 70, a success rate of around 0.025 percent. The number of vacancies in 2011 was approximately 880.