For a logical Babu

Print edition : May 20, 2011

Civil services aspirants writing their preliminary examination in Chennai in May 2008. - R. RAGU

The civil services examinations this year will have a new format for the preliminary examination.

EVERY year in December, around four lakh people begin to get butterflies in their stomachs. This is a heterogeneous crowd that is unified by a particular examination to which they give most of their youth the civil services examination. The Union Public Service Commission issues in December the notification on examination dates, syllabi and number of seats.

Selection to the civil services is on the basis of candidates' performance over three stages the preliminary examination, which has objective type questions; a main examination with eight papers, including general studies, languages, and two optional papers; and a personality test or interview. Only candidates who pass the three stages failure at any stage ends their chances that year earn final selection, and the services are allotted rank-wise. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) are the most preferred.

For the 2011 examination, the notification came two months beyond schedule, in February. The UPSC announced that the pattern of the preliminary tests would change drastically from 2011. It will still consist of two papers, but the specialised subject test will be replaced by the civil services aptitude test, or CSAT. The general studies test remains the same. In effect, the preliminary test will have two papers common for all candidates. What appears to be a small change on paper is colossal for students who have devoted years to preparing on the basis of the earlier pattern. It means they must now start afresh and concentrate on subjects like comprehension, logic and mental aptitude that are a part of the syllabus of the CSAT. The pattern of the main examinations and the interview remains the same.

The UPSC has put out some sample questions, but these do not appear to suffice for anyone to get a fair idea of the kind of questions that may be asked. Initially, some experts felt that the CSAT would be more like a management course test, something like the Common Aptitude Test (CAT) conducted by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). Some felt that the CSAT would aim more at testing the ability to think logically.

In this confusion, private coaching institutes are geared to meet the challenge. Most students find them helpful in streamlining their preparations for the CSAT.

We had been aware of the coming change for quite a few years as it was being talked about in various forums. Hence, we were prepared to meet the requirements of the CSAT format, said V.P. Gupta of Rau's IAS Study Circle in New Delhi and Jaipur. We, at Study Circle, enjoy the whole experience that has come with this change.

The Khan Study Group (KSG), which has managed to earn a reputation for itself in a short span of time, has hired special teachers for the CSAT. A.R. Khan of KSG said, We have a team of consultants led by Sanjay Monga. He, with his long experience in related fields, has developed a course material that is fairly exhaustive in nature. We also give emphasis to the practice sessions.

SHAH FAISAL, A doctor and the first Kashmiri to top the UPSC examination, in 2010. In the last few years, a larger number of doctors and engineers have been cracking the examination.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

A.K. Mishra of Chanakya IAS Academy emphasises that a candidate has to think like an administrator when he takes the civil services examinations. He focusses on honing specific administrative skills among his students. So, for him the CSAT is a welcome change. Today, the UPSC is testing the same skills through CSAT that we in Chanakya have focussed on for a number of years, he said.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that the UPSC wants a more analytical examination so that the candidates can focus on conceptual understanding rather than learning by rote. In the last few years, the questions in the main examinations and the preliminary tests have tended to be of the analytical type. The preliminary tests laid stress on concepts rather than unintelligent facts. Coaching institutes were quick to detect the trend and adjust their teaching accordingly. Sensing the changes in the questions, we insist that students should first acquire conceptual clarity and then focus on the information that follows a concept, said Gupta of Rau's.

The UPSC is trying to see whether a person has been a serious student all his life or not. It has made it clear from time to time that only some years of preparations are not enough; an overall understanding is more important. It is for this reason that many engineers, doctors and lawyers, considered to be unconventional candidates, have cleared the examinations in the last decade. Earlier, most of the successful candidates were from the social sciences. Even if an engineer or a doctor wanted to write this examination, they had to opt for one of the social science subjects as their success rates were much better than those for the pure sciences. This reflects a changed mindset displayed by the UPSC, which identified a skewed trend and sought to rectify it.

However, strategic and examination-oriented studies are still necessary to crack the examination. Most students find themselves at a loss to determine when to start that kind of examination-oriented studies.

Mishra of Chanakya IAS said, Strategically, the right time to start preparation for the civil services examinations is while pursuing graduation. However, it can be done after graduation also, but in any case it needs one dedicated year before one appears for the preliminary examination. For this, a postgraduate degree is not needed. Preparations must start with a true understanding of the orientation and requisites of this examination. This needs an administrative aptitude and not an academic aptitude. This is what my Art of Success' programme takes care of.

KSG's Khan said: In this changing scenario and increased competition, the ideal age to start preparation is when the candidate is in the second year or just after graduation. Ideally, the preparations need a mature mind.

The long hours of study every day and the longer duration of preparations can take a toll on aspirants' motivation. Unsuccessful candidates have many a time gone into severe depression, and those who see success after many years are known to have become unsocial and arrogant. These are some problems that every civil services aspirant is aware of. The coaching institutes, consequently, are forced to address these issues. All coaching institutes offer counselling. At Rau's we have always believed in the motto that real learning is learning about learning. Hence, we have incorporated in our teaching approach an element of provoking curiosity among students to ask questions beyond the general information on any theme. This helps the students to keep their anxieties in check, said Gupta.

Chanakya focusses on the philosophy of pedagogy. Mishra said: A bad teacher tells, a good teacher explains, a superior teacher demonstrates and a great teacher inspires, and this is what we believe in. He tells every student that nobody can hurt you without your consent. He firmly believes that an administrator's mind should possess an administrative software first, as an academic has an academic software. He claims that in Chanakya he repackages the memory of every individual so that it is in tune with administrative traits.

There have been several changes in the civil services examination format as the UPSC sought to meet the demands of time. The role of bureaucrats has also changed from that of executor to that of facilitator in post-globalisation India. The power of bureaucrats is more varied now with decentralised modes of governance. But the status and dignity that a civil servant commands has not changed much, and this is what still draws students.

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