Questions that assess candidates’ decision-making and cognitive skills are time-consuming. But, constant practice pays.

In the past two weeks we listed certain types of questions in the Civil Services Preliminary aptitude test. There are more patterns of questions, for facing which we should plan and prepare with care and concentration.

Decision-making is indeed the key function of administrators. But many of them are, notoriously, masters of procrastination, perhaps for fear that a wrong decision might invoke criticism or disciplinary action. You should remember that delaying will not bring right decisions from the heavens. Study the premises, have a look at the related rules / procedure / precedent / need for innovative approach, consult the right people, apply your logic, use common sense, analyse the probable consequences, and decide the issue with confidence and courage. Nothing better could be achieved by postponing decision-making. Perhaps the problem may become more complex with time.

In decision-making, you may have to consider the problem from the standpoints of logic and ethics. There could be a conflict between the two tracks. The essential guiding principle should be fairness. You should not be a robot that interprets rules and implements them in cold blood. Your prejudices should not prevail over justice. Neither should the decision be based on your intuition or blind faith. A rational and humane approach should guide you.

Let us take an example — a question from a previous paper.

“You are handling a time-bound project. During the project review meeting, you find that the project is likely to get delayed due to lack of cooperation of the team members. You would:

(a) Warn the team members about their non-cooperation

(b) Look into the reasons for non-cooperation

(c) Ask for the replacement of the team members

(d) Ask for the extension of time citing reasons”

What can be the right decision? Since this is a time-bound project, answer (d) is improper. Answer (c) is not the right style to be adopted by a tactful administrator. A second team also may show non-cooperation, if a reason exists. Answer (a) is a tough style which you should avoid, as far as possible. You are thereby left with the good option (b). If you find out the reasons for non-cooperation, you would be able to eliminate them.

This can lead to a happy solution, and the timely implementation of the project.

Cognitive skills

The General Mental Ability part checks your cognitive skills, an essential ingredient for effective performance of administrative functions. Questions may be asked using only words or with the aid of pictures as well. They are usually called verbal and non-verbal respectively.

Lessons in arithmetic and bordering areas such as age and years / averages /clocks and needles / equations / logarithm / mensuration / partnership / percentage / permutations and combination / probability / profit and loss / ratio and proportion / simple and compound interest / time and distance / and time and work have to be brushed up.

Let us consider a question in a previous paper.

Five people A, B, C, D and E are, seated about a round table.

Every chair is spaced equidistant from adjacent chairs.

(i) C is seated next to A

(ii) A is seated two seats from D

(iii) B is not seated next to A

Which of the following must be true?

(I) D is seated next to B.

(II) E is seated next to A.

Select the correct answer from the codes given below:

(a) I only

(b) II only

(c) Both I and II

(d) Neither I nor II

It is theoretically possible to visualise the seating arrangement of the five people around a table and arrive at the answer. But there are two pitfalls. You may have to re-read the question a few times, so as to confirm their relative positions. Remember there could be different arrangements that fulfil some of the conditions given in the question. Further, this would consume a lot of time. The best method to solve the question in minimum time without the possibility of going wrong is to make a quick sketch, following step by step the conditions given. The correct answer is (c).

Data interpretation

Questions of data interpretation involve the simple process of translating what is given in diagrammatic form into verbal form, for the purpose of comprehension. It is well-known that data involving statistical figures, trends in economics / commerce and characteristics in science and technology are best represented using easily understandable tables, bar charts, graphs, histograms, pie diagrams, Venn diagrams, etc. Once you are familiar with the style of representing data in these graphical forms, interpretation is fairly simple. If you solve a few problems of this kind, this segment should not trouble you.

Sometimes the sufficiency or otherwise of data may have to be determined. It may not be directly readable from the graphic. The information contained in it will have to be drawn, and then worked to arrive at the answer. This is also an area where you could score in full, with some good practice.

The remaining parts are relatively very simple, as regards planning the styles of preparation. They comprise basic numeracy and English language comprehension skills of class 10. You may go through a few questions of the previous examinations and learn the types of questions usually asked. Those who have graduated in humanities like history or philosophy may brush up their school mathematics lessons as a part of self-training.

Question papers of the previous examinations are available in the “Previous Years Question Papers” link on the UPSC website,

(Next week: The all-important CS Mains)