The new pattern of Preliminary Examination for the Civil Services seems to be designed to test well-rounded knowledge and general awareness.

The new pattern of Preliminary Examination for the Civil Services will come into force from this year.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has announced that the official notification including the new prospectus will be published on February 19, and the last date for applying will be Monday, March 21. The one-day examination will be held on Sunday, June 12.

What is the new pattern and how is it different from the old one? Under the old pattern, the Preliminary Examination consisted of two compulsory papers – a paper on General Studies which carried 150 marks and a paper on one optional subject (out of a list of 23 subjects) which carried 300 marks.

Some of the issues with the old pattern were: the tendency for aspirants to choose easy or scoring subjects, the opacity with regard to ‘normalising' the marks scored in different subjects and the emphasis on rote learning.

A series of committees recommended changes in the pattern and ultimately the UPSC has announced the change with effect from 2011.

Even now there will be two compulsory papers for Preliminary Examination under the new pattern, but the earlier paper on optional subjects has been replaced by a new paper (CSAT Paper II) which will cover comprehension, interpersonal skills including communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision making, problem solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy and English language comprehension. Both the papers will be of two hours' duration and will have 200 marks each.

The existing General Studies paper will continue as Paper I under the new pattern, with some modifications. The most significant change is that the portion on general mental ability which was part of the old GS paper has been hived and included in the new Paper II.

Does the change benefit the serious aspirants for Civil Services? By removing the optional paper at the Preliminary Examination stage, the UPSC has lightened the burden of preparation.

Often, the candidate would be persuaded to take an unfamiliar subject on the specious argument of it being a ‘scoring' subject, leading to mechanical rote learning with the limited aim of answering objective-type questions.

The syllabus under the new pattern appears to be designed to discourage rote learning and promote well-rounded knowledge and general awareness. It also puts premium on written communication skills - a skill which was not emphasised so far.

Another significant change is the emphasis on English language comprehension skill at the Preliminary Examination stage. Previously, English (along with an Indian Language) was a qualifying paper at the Main examination and there was no test of English at the prelim stage.

The candidate was only required to score 40 per cent in the qualifying paper in English and the marks scored in the qualifying papers were not added to the total marks. In a major change, the new pattern has made English language comprehension skills part of Paper II.

This gives a definite edge to candidates with mastery over English language. It has been clarified that the standard will be that of Class X level. It therefore pays to hone up one's skill in English language, particularly in comprehension.

There is as yet no clarity on how much emphasis is to be given to each segment, as it will depend upon the number of marks allotted to each segment in the two papers.

We expect to get a clearer picture only when the question paper is revealed on the day of the first examination under the new syllabus i.e. on June 12. However, the UPSC has released a set of sample questions for both the papers.

It has promised some more sample questions before the examination. Civil Service aspirants are advised to watch out for more information at www.upsc.gov.in.

The UPSC has indicated that no changes are being introduced at this stage in the Civil Services Main Examination and the Personality Test.

The fact that there is no optional subject paper in the Prelim does not indicate that the candidate can wait till the results of the prelims to be declared before preparation can start for the main examination. It is expected that preparation for the main examination will start along with that for the prelim.

How does one prepare for the prelims under the new syllabus?

As mentioned above, the emphasis is clearly on general awareness and less on textual knowledge.

Newspapers, periodicals and the web will be the main source of information for the candidates. This could be supplemented by reading some standard reference books for this examination.

The author, a former IAS officer, is a co-author of General Studies Manual (2011) published by Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. He can be reached at ckramachandran@gmail.com.

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