There were two recent notifications from the Union Public Service Commission – one that the civil services preliminary examinations will be held in August, the other that the schedule for the main exams will be out at the end of this month. Both notifications have Civil Services aspirants from across the country worried.

“The notification should have come earlier, the UPSC has not been informing people in advance and everything from dates to changes are announced in a hurry,” said Sunil Singh, a Civil Services aspirant. He, along with thousands of others, got two extra shots at the exam after months of protesting against changes in the structure of the preliminary exam or the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT).

“The structure of the preliminary exams have changed so much that only a person from an Engineering or Science background will be able to pass it. None of the questions are designed to test the administrative qualities of a person. This was one exam which was a level playing field for students from all backgrounds but it has changed so drastically that any person from a non-engineering background might as well give up,” said Abhishek Kumar, an English Literature student who had topped every exam he had taken, even clearing the CSAT in the first attempt. However, the changes in the exam had placed him at a disadvantage that he has been struggling to overcome since 2011.

“I had to go for a coaching class for months. But there are so many things now that I have to learn from the scratch. My friends from the Science and Engineering need not even bother with preparing. I know this one person who cleared the test by preparing for it in one day. This was the one exam where a person from a Humanities background could compete against the others but now it is almost impossible,” added Kumar.

Another major issue that came with the changes is the discrimination felt by the students from languages other than English. “The translations are not done manually but electronically, with the result that every word is a literal translation. The true meaning and structure is lost. Add to this the CSAT getting increasingly technical and someone like me, whose first language is Hindi, cannot even understand the question, even if it is in Hindi. Answering it is something else,” said Raman Patel, a Hindi medium student from Allahabad who was also able to clear the CSAT before the 2011 changes.

“The changes have effectively ruled out participation of people from small towns, people with an Indian Language background and those from Humanities. If you are a Hindi language student from a Humanities background, you might as well give up,” he added.

With the change in government, the students are hoping that the discrimination in the exams will be stopped and will be a level playing field for all who wish to enter the Civil Services.

“When we protested and knocked on people's doors we were asking for three extra attempts to make up for lost years. We also wanted the CSAT to actually do something about these changes but these issues have been ignored. Internal reports from the UPSC, which are in the public domain, too reflect that the changes put so many at a disadvantage,” said Sunil Singh.

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