Civil Service aspirants now have to tackle CSAT, which promises a level playing field
The Civil Services Examination has been considered the toughest and most selective competitive examination since the times of the British. The numbers speak for themselves. Of about two lakh who actually appeared for the exam in 2009, only 875 could make it to the services. In recent years, the trend for the best and brightest to opt for the Civil Services has continued in spite of the lucrative private sector jobs available.
The changes brought about in the examination pattern by the Union Public Service Commission will further strengthen this trend. Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) has replaced the Preliminary examination conducted every year in May as a qualifying exam for the Mains. Now all candidates have to appear for two common qualifying papers instead of an optional subject chosen from a list of 23 subjects.
The Second Administrative Reforms Committee, Prof. Yoginder K. Alagh Committee and others have recommended that testing a candidate's knowledge in a particular subject would only produce specialists but would not select a candidate with an aptitude for public service. The CSAT is set to address this issue. It would also remove the need for a controversial scaling system currently being used to ensure that no single optional subject is advantageous due to the varying levels of difficulty in that year.
What are the changes?
The UPSC has notified the syllabus for CSAT to be conducted on June 12 along with a set of sample questions. Unlike before, both papers are to be of 200 marks of two hours duration and all questions are multiple-choice questions. The General Studies paper remains the same except for added emphasis on environmental ecology, bio-diversity and climate change. Paper II will test comprehension, interpersonal skills including communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem-solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy, data interpretation, and English language comprehension skills.
What do they mean?
As can be seen from the sample questions given by the Commission, comprehension will test the candidate's ability to understand and evaluate real-life situations and relevant issues while interpersonal skills will test the candidate's ability to conduct himself/herself in social interactions.
Logical reasoning involves drawing conclusions and determining logical rules behind a set of statements. Questions on decision-making and problem-solving will test the candidate's ability to use common sense and logic in solving hypothetical problems that administrators might face.
General Mental Ability questions from the previous General Studies paper have been shifted to the second paper now. Basic numeracy will involve mathematics questions of the class X level and data interpretation will test knowledge of basic statistics.
Data sufficiency questions will provide a set of statements and would require the candidate to state whether the data is sufficient to answer the given question. Reading passages in English will also be given to test the candidate's understanding and knowledge of the language. Sample questions and syllabus can be seen on the UPSC website at www.upsc.gov.in along with the notification for the exam.
“The new system will encourage more candidates from professional courses to apply since the second paper of CSAT appears to be quite similar to CAT”, feels Abhishek, an engineer who is preparing for the civil services.
“Many of the Arts students feel that the new pattern might be a hurdle for qualifying for the Mains”, Vivek, another candidate, says. But this new emphasis on analytical ability and numeracy need not frighten away those with math phobias. In fact the syllabus given by UPSC clearly states that questions on basic numeracy will be of class X level.
Allaying such fears, Yeshwanth, a faculty at a coaching centre in the city, says, “The CSAT has been introduced to provide a level playing field to all candidates, be they from arts or professional background. With proper understanding of the syllabus and what the examiner wants, all candidates can enhance their innate abilities and succeed.”
How do I crack it?
Those who are preparing for the Civil Services 2011 need not panic! There is no need to assume that the new syllabus might prove a tough nut to crack. On the contrary, it will only test the common sense and logical ability of the student. All he needs to do is to practice and hone those skills. He should obtain as many model questions as he can.
Many of the other competitive exams held by state and central governments like the state public services and defence exams are on the same lines and solving old question papers can help.
There are many good books available in the market which have objective-type questions on mental ability, logical reasoning and English comprehension. Students should take practice tests with a proper time limit as per the exam pattern.
As the name itself suggests, it is only the aptitude which is being tested. Students may safely brush up their analytical skills and concentrate more on the exhaustive study required for the Mains.