A look at the age, sex, language and domicile factors in the civil services examination.

The one-and-a-half year long selection process for the civil services examination generally begins in December every year. About three lakh aspirants from all over the country will take the plunge in the weeks ahead.

Some myths about this exam, that drain the energy of aspirants, need to be dispelled. Like, for instance, that north Indian candidates have a better chance; that girls are less preferred for these jobs; or it is suicidal to start preparation for the exam after the age of 25.

Surging south

Any notion that the UPSC selection process has a North Indian bias is an unfounded one. It is true that the largest number of IAS officers are from two north Indian States—Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As on January 1, 2009, there are 4,572 IAS officers in India. Out of them, 1,186 officers are from the two States of UP and Bihar (26 per cent).

The total number of IAS officers from the four south Indian States (Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) together is 949 (21 per cent).

But, recent trends show that south India is surging ahead in IAS selection. In the last five years (2004 to 2008 batch), out of the 465 candidates selected to the Indian Administrative Service, 111 (24 per cent) are from UP and Bihar. As many as 120 (26 per cent) are from the four south Indian states.

Women power

Increased intake of lady officers is the latest and most visible trend in IAS selection. Out of the total 4,572 IAS officers all over India (as on January 1, 2009), only 604 are women (Just 13.72 per cent).

But, in the last five years, out of the 465 candidates selected to IAS, 101 are women (22 per cent).

The intake of women has been almost steady over the last five years and it is far ahead of the overall percentage of 13.72 per cent women in IAS.

The age factor

The most interesting fact about IAS selection in recent years is the increase in average age of successful candidates.

In the 2008 IAS batch, only 16 officers (out of 111) were below 26. When I started preparing for civil services exam at the age of 25, many friends and well wishers suggested that it is suicidal to start late.

They opined that UPSC generally did not prefer candidates in their late 20s. Only after reaching the Lal Bahadur National Academy of Administration for training did I realise that the average age of successful candidates was above 28 not only for that year, but also in the previous years.

Language

Only a few know that the civil service exam can be written in any of the Indian languages. The medium of communication for the civil services interview can also be any of the languages listed in the Constitution.

The number of candidates appearing for exam/ interview in the regional languages is slowly and steadily increasing. In the last year, 19 out of the 111 selected to the IAS wrote the exam in Hindi.

Another new trend is the increase in number of candidates who write the civil services exam in languages other than English and Hindi. Also, they emerge successful, giving immense confidence to all those who wish to follow the ‘regional language path' to success. In 2008 IAS batch, there was one officer who wrote the entire exam in Tamil and there was another who wrote it in Telugu.

Relevance of coaching

In the recent years, the manner in which question papers have been framed has been such that the importance of coaching institutes has dwindled in the scheme of things, especially when it comes to the General Studies paper. For the civil services main exam, a candidate has to write four papers in two optional subjects. Most of the candidates will be strong in their chosen subject and hence the major difference in marks may boil down to their performance in the two common General Studies papers and essay paper. A couple of years ago, the general pattern of UPSC main question papers were nearly predictable. These days questions are framed in such a way that the pattern, mark distribution, nature and type of questions is very difficult to predict. Some questions from the latest General studies paper (2009 Main Exam) indicate an emphasis on wide reading and good analytical skills. The inputs for answering such questions can only be obtained through general reading, thinking and opinion formation.

Kerala's position

Kerala tops the country in educational and health indicators. But Malayalis have not been faring well in the IAS exam in recent years. On an average only two or three aspirants from Kerala qualify for the IAS every year. Students from Kerala have the potential to top the examination. But planned study for the civil services examination is lacking these days. Also, the dominant focus on the medical and engineering stream might have led to a shift in their priorities.

The author is Assistant Collector, Kollam