Opinion » Lead

Updated: November 24, 2012 01:20 IST

Only crammers need apply

T. K. Ngaihte
Comment (95)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The pattern of the Civil Services examination makes a mockery of the UPSC’s demand for ‘depth of understanding’ from candidates

The Union Public Service Commission’s Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2012, just got over. The results for this phase of the multi-tiered examination will be declared around March/April, 2013. Based on the marks scored in this examination, candidates will be shortlisted for the Personality Test, also known as interview, to be conducted around April/May, 2013. Based on their performance in the main examination and the interview, candidates will be recommended for All-India and Central government services.

The Constitution has tasked the UPSC with preserving the merit system in the country. The merit system, as opposed to the spoils system, may be defined as one in which recruitments are made on the basis of objective evaluation of skills and knowledge through open examinations. No one doubts the objectiveness of the Civil Services examination in which candidates go through a three-level test. Those who make it to the final list are annually feted as the best and brightest minds on whose hands will rest, for all practical purposes, the governance of India.

Required ‘merits’

The ‘merits’ that UPSC looks for in the candidates are mentioned in its Notification for the examination, where it is emphasised that no marks will be allotted for superficial knowledge, and that credit will be given for orderly, effective and exact expressions. The main examination intends to assess, according to the UPSC, “the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of the candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory.”

Even a brief analysis of the huge number of questions asked, length of answers stipulated and the three-hour time limit raises doubts about whether it is possible to find a candidate’s “overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding” through this type of examination. In fact, it seems the examination system and the stated desired outcome are quite incompatible.

For instance, the General Studies papers are common for all candidates. This year’s GS Paper I contained 33 questions requiring answers ranging from 250 to 10 words. In other words, candidates are expected to write a total of around 3,000 words within three hours to answer 33 questions.

For popular optional subjects like Political Science or Sociology, there are around 20 questions (depending on the questions chosen) to be answered in three hours with a total word count of around 3,750.

How realistic is that? A normal student may struggle to put together 3,750 words, legibly written, on a pre-selected subject within three hours. It should be noted here that these 3,750 words are to be expended not on one question, but on 20 very different questions with no time given to think through them. It is unrealistic to expect candidates to show their true intellectual traits and depth of understanding in the answers they write in the short time given, on so many tricky questions. Not surprisingly, even those who got as low as 800 marks out of a total of 2000 at the Mains were called for interview in 2011.

Some samples

Let us sample some questions asked. In GS I, a 250-word question asks for a “critical examination of the issues involved in the context of the growing demands for the ban of Endosulfan in the country. What, in your view, should be done in the matter?” Another question asking for a 150-word answer is: “There is an urgent need for the Planning Commission to revise the chapter on health in the 12th Plan document. Comment.”

In Political Science II, here goes a question requiring a 150-word answer: “Do you agree that liberal international theories are essentially ‘Eurocentric’ and not necessarily imperialist?” Another question, for a 250-word answer, asks: “Is power a zero-sum or variable game in international relations? Can zero-sum game explain the mixture of conflict and cooperation of the present dynamics of international relations?”

As should be evident, these are not very easy questions. Good answers to these questions require nuance and complex arguments, which in turn require thinking and time, even for someone well-versed with the subject. Framed with more time at hand, the answers to these questions may indeed help analyse a candidate’s intellectual traits and depth of understanding. But the problem is that the three-hour time limit does not allow for thinking, or even for basic organisation of thought. In the Civil Services (Main) examination, time is such that if you start thinking, you are in trouble.

How do candidates cope? Given the severely limited time given, one often has no choice but to cram and mug up so that you have as much information as you can on your fingertips. You practise writing continuously for speed and flow. You make notes and diagrams, or buy material from coaching centres. As someone said, what matters here is not how much you know, but how much you can put in within those three hours. In the process, candidates go for the most commonplace arguments that they get ready-made from guidebooks or Wikipedia, with hardly any chance to exercise their analytical skills or critical thinking capacity. Weighted down by the clock, candidates usually write whatever comes to their mind. Some say that they gave opinions in their answers that on second thought, they would have reversed. That means the candidate’s answers often do not reflect his or her considered opinion.

Severely limited time

Hence, while the questions may be good, the circumstances, especially the severely limited time relative to the number of words required, do not allow for proper answers to be given. The answers, written in a hurry, often give a misleading and deceptive account of the candidate’s ‘intellectual traits’. Add to this the requirement of mastering not one but two subjects, as part of two optional papers. All this load of work makes a mockery of the Commission’s pious demands for ‘depth of understanding’ from candidates. It all boils down to hard work, perseverance, tenacity, consistency, good memory, and good coaching notes.

As in previous years, around 1,000 candidates will eventually make the cut in this year’s examination cycle, counted from the highest mark until the vacancies are filled. They will be put through a gruelling training regimen and inducted into service. Some will shine. Others will be just mediocre, jack of all trade-types, good for gruelling routine, file-shuffling work. As for the deep-going, analysing, intellectual types that the UPSC professes to want, they would be lost in the rush.

(T.K. Ngaihte completed his M.Phil in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2010. He wrote the Civil Services Examination (Main) thrice.


All’s wellNovember 26, 2012

Change is necessaryNovember 26, 2012

Focus on reforms in civil services exams April 26, 2012

More In: Lead | Opinion

Its easy to complain, but a system which is any less complicated/more time giving
will be cracked even more by the same people who crack the UPSC.
One can compliment on-the-spot judgement with preempted, pre-learned
And If one tries to really evaluate character and depth of knowledge, I guess no
paper based test can be created to be fair to all, especially at a scale that India
All the people demanding easier JEEs or CATs or UPSC examination have seldom
proposed a VIABLE, EXECUTABLE, PRACTICAL alternative to the system.

from:  Prithika
Posted on: Nov 27, 2012 at 00:15 IST

The pattern needs change as times have changed now. But govt machinery (including UPSC) is slow as always. The recent answer by MOS in PMO to Parliament admits that there are aver 1500+ post lying vacant at different levels in IAS alone. Leave apart IFS, IPS where figure reaches to 2000+. And Infact, UPSC do not want to hire candidates who can think and question the superior. Afterall executive branch is about preserving the administration and keeping tight control. Otherwise why so many bright officers leave IAS, IPS after 7-8 years of services.

from:  sonali kumari
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 23:12 IST

Examinations are held to gauge intellect of students.
We have Service Selection Board interviews for our defense forces which take about a week for conducting their interviews without needing the student to get involved for that in advance and then we have UPSC which conducts exam in three phases in a span of one year which involves a person for complete two years, one for preparation and other for going through the three phases.
While we are reading this it should be kept in mind that the personnel selected for defense from SSBs(major, flying officers etc.) and for administration through UPSC exam(IAS, IPS etc.) both are appointed directly by The President on India.
Then why is this difference in the selection procedure of personnel. Probably, because of nature of work handled in public life by the admin personnel. But, does it need to be so much intense that many have to leave their jobs just for preparing for an exam? Can't we have a simple procedure for UPSC selections like SSBs?

from:  Mayank Sehgal
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 18:26 IST

MAINS Examination of UPSC was intended to test intellectual traits and
depth of understanding, but, though the kind of questions asked are
good, the time limit makes it difficult to think. In such a case, an
average performance in all the questions fetches more marks than an
intellectual one in few and due to paucity of time a somehow managed
one in the rest. An average student fares a chance better with his
hardwork than an intellectual one in such a case. I Agree with the
author and expect that UPSC reforms it soon in the right direction.
Steelframes are made up of steel and that too stainless!

from:  Aditya
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 17:00 IST

I honestly do not know why a so called 'national newspaper' that is
ironically the first choice of almost the entirety of civil service
aspirants has put forth such an editorial when the UPSC itself is in the
process of overhauling the entire examination pattern, and not just the
MAINS element of it. Couldn't you have postponed your carping till the
changed MAINS examination 'hits the stands' in 2013?? What's with all
this jumping the gun, huh?

Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 16:30 IST

I do not completely agree to the author claiming UPSC to be a crammer's
exam. CSE demands knowledge about literally EVERYTHING in this planet
and this cannot be achieved by cramming. One needs knowledge and
interest to understand the concepts.
I accept that CSE demands speedy writing and quick answers but this is
the only way to filter out 1000 odd people out of the 7-8 lakh people
writing the exams.

from:  Karthik
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 15:31 IST

As a CSAT '13 aspirant (my optionals are EE and Maths) I agree with the author partly. The optional papers, well the ones in Science and Engg, are of the type that you must know all the theorems, their corollaries, special results, cases of failure etc in every chapter. Then you can solve all the problems like a breeze (the solutions are fairly routine applications of the theorems etc). The problem is that with two subjects to cover, both quite beyond simple pass paper level, its quite difficult to do that. Compounding it is the fact that different books carry the same basic theorems but beyond the theorems, one needs to consult 3-4 books to learn up all the corollaries etc. which is difficult in the optional we didn't graduate in.
But the GS Paper, since it limits our answer lengths, is quite fair, I think, because no-one has a handicap. Also, a civil services officer may need to respond on multiple fronts, so the GS approach is suitable. But the optionals system needs reform.

from:  Aritra
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 15:30 IST

The author makes a very valid point, however, in the interest of
many this should be brought in the limelight that the commission is
very much aware of this. This is a travesty in this country that
important things are left at the mercy of our great politicians and
hence a slow execution rate of the reforms. ARC has suggested
modifications and now time will have the answer to this question.
Hope to see some changes in 2013/14.

from:  Divya Prakash
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 14:40 IST

Civil Services is a socialistic Nehruvian concept, a bunkum in modern day. The best IQ and talent cannot and should not go to the State but into personal enterprise..administration does not advance civilization, it only regulates it... innovation/research/entrepreneurship does...And thankfully, the best brains in today's world are going to technology, operations, basic research, finance, marketing etc.
The State has no role in business, and general administration doesn't need IQ as much as it needs EQ..Civil services will continue to get lesser and lesser talented people, as state's control on society continues to diminish..

from:  Sushant
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 13:55 IST

I do agree with the author on the process of the exam being a little
clerk type rather than an executive type, especially the Main
Examination part. After writing around 6500 words a day for 5 days,
one can barely use their fingers for the next two days. I remember
myself sleeping with a wrist support after each examination in all my
3 attempts.It is absurd to be writing so many words and this year's
geography paper specifically mentioned 400 words for a 30 marker. But
I have to say that one does get around 3-4 minutes to think about
points and structure ones answers. The key is that one needs to have thorough understanding about the topic at hand and should have thought
about it at least ones earlier. Admittedly this is tough, but it is
better to sweat in peace than bleed in war.

from:  sreeharsha
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 13:39 IST

Many people chose to prepare for civil services because they envisage
a career full of power and authority in this.Though they forget that
the responsibilities offered by this job will be of top brass and decision making which in turn want the analytically approach on case
to case basis but not the facts and figures.The CSE pattern asks for
explanation and views of examinee on various issues,now it is up to
the good judgement of the examiners how they take it.As far as the
time is concerned i feel it is enough to express your views because
you do not need to attempt all questions,all you need to attempt
maximum questions with the clearity of thoughts.One more thing is the
optional subjects which i personally do not support because it does
not provide the same platform to all the candidates.Optional should be
eliminated from mains and there should be more and more GS
papers;which will be same for all the appearing candidates.

from:  Mayank Kanga
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 13:14 IST

Writing UPSC exam is a minimum 1.5 year process even for the most
brightest minds. You start preparing 6 months before prelims say
January 2013,write prelims in May 2013, Mains in Nov 2013, interview
in April/May 2014. The results are out by June 2014.
In an era of increasing competition many deserving candidates opt out
of civil services. Most of the bright students and professionals
cannot afford to waste 2 years in isolation cramming for an exam,
while most of their friends are completing their Masters or Phds or
going ahead in their careers.

They should rather start graduate courses on public
administration/policy. Candidates with exceptional academic
performance & successful careers can apply for these courses. During
the 2 year program students can take part in govt projects and learn
nuances of public sector. Upon graduating top performers who are
interested can take up public services, while others might join NGOs,
private sector, or become social entrepreneurs.

from:  Avinash
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 11:23 IST

I am a Deputy Collector for five years( qualified a provincial civil services exam) and appeared UPSC Civil Services Examination for maximum admissible four times. The auther has talked about only about how a mains exam is not conducive for 'deeper understanding.' I think this exam picks up the brightest only on a chance level. Few are good and few are weeds. And many of the qualities that I think is essential for nation building is simply not valued in the examination process. Like initiative, energy and bravery, the right set of mental frame. The interview is a kind of mockery.Frankly the concenration camps of CSE preparation is not a place for an inspired individual. I admit no exam is fool-proof. But an alternative route should always be there, for those who don't like the hurry to catch that band-wagon and still want to contribute.

from:  Arnav Datta
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 11:11 IST

The Main point of argument should be "whether civil servants can be made?" and the answer is "yes". The number of coaching centres (only in New Delhi, forget about other cities and towns) that are there to train the aspirants are numerous and is growing every day. The amount of fees they charge is huge. I personally believe that the rapidly growing pattern of these coaching centres give us the message that there have been fundamental flaws in the exam pattern and the recent pattern only adds to it. The UPSC by making the exam pattern like this is making the aspirants easy prey of the centres. And the centres do not provide coaching on any kind of analytical skill and knowledge building. In the process what will happen is that we will get civil servants,unaware of the ground reality of the Indian society and economy.

from:  Kaustav K. Sarkar
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 10:43 IST

A friend who recently took the UPSC main exam mentioned the exact same
points as put forth by this author. The current format is truly not a
reflection of "depth of understanding". I think a 4.5 hrs timeline is
more realistic to present well thought out answers for the same number
of questions.

from:  Nirupama Putcha
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 08:42 IST

I do not agree with your arguments against the Civil Services Written Exam question pattern.As you said, if you know that people are getting selected for the personality Test even after getting 800 out of 2000, you can be rational enough to try hard to get that much of marks at least.
Lets say that toppers generally get 1200 out of 2000 in written exam and you want to be amongst them. Also assume, that for some reason, the examiner is going to find some issue with your answer and anyway some marks will be deducted, lets say 20%. So if put your 100% effort to get 1500 marks out of 2000, you are definitely gonna get at least 1200, conservatively speaking, and you will be amongst toppers.
And this is what this exams tries to do - Get the best out of you! When you are appearing in exam, one part of your brain will tell you to get as much as possible with mediocre answers and, if have done your homework, your rational part of brain will ask to to achieve that 1500 marks! As Max Weber has shown, Bureaucracy is one of the most rational component of
our modern society. By being rational, and applying rationality in exam, we are
taking that very first step towards being a good civil servant.

Anybody can do analysis and take action when they have enough time. But this
country needs those people, who can take best decision, when the time is short.
Just to give you an example, think about the bureaucrats in Conservation of
Biodiversity Conference, who were under pressure to come up with solution bcoz
whole world's fate rests on their shoulders n they had just few hours!

After having experienced many such exams, in India or in other countries, I have
come to really admire UPSC efforts to get the best team for our country!

But the successful candidates should never forget that getting success in Civil
Services Exam is not an end goal in itself, rather it's just a MEAN to achieve much
greater goal- Serving our country faithfully and sincerely.

from:  Vinayak Kumar
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 01:35 IST

Unfortunately there are a lot of misconception. The ones who pass these examinations are not necessarily the best. In Indian culture very many young people are made to develop a lot of cerebral inhibition and they get tongue-tied. Thanks to their inhibition they appear to be slow and lacking in innovation. By the time they get over the inhibition and become late bloomers they have already been weeded out of the system and their potential valuable contribution gets lost. On the other hand if all those selected in these examinations are really elite we should have reached Utopia by now. Let the facts speak for themselves. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. I quote from Thomas Gray :
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air

from:  T.S.Krishnaswamy
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 00:17 IST

agreed ...

from:  ashish
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 23:34 IST

Hey, one may not to think in the exam hall. The search is how one had
understand the issue related. It is his level of understanding till his
age. It is not severly time limited one.

from:  Dhana
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 22:53 IST

The author of the article provide the facts accurately but the
analysis of this facts is little dominated by subjectivity. Entire
article of Mr.T.K. Ngaihte stresses the point that UPSC wants to
evaluate intellectual traits of the aspirants while the questions
asked in the exam does not make a apt evaluation. He tries to argue
that the time is so short that the aspirant cannot show his
intellectual traits. But one thing to be noted here is that UPSC
expects a well educated person would have had already analysed the
pressing problems of India and the world. For Instance, Endosulfan
issue have been in news frequently and UPSC may be of the opinion that
a probable civil servant would have already analysed the issue and
probably the solution too. In the examination hall, the aspirant only
needs to jog up his memory to produce a decent answer. I agree with
time being a constraint for a full attempt but not for a quality
attempt which a future civil servant needs the most.

from:  sathwik
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 21:58 IST

The same is the case with University Examination for undergrads and
grads. It has always been saddening and frustrating to write such exams,
scribbling the crammed and barely thought about information, no room at
all for ideas and thoughts to be encouraged. Such exam taking
experiences make us question the very validity of the education. What
are they trying to produce here?

from:  Akanksha Lohmore
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 20:59 IST

We were told in a coaching center that, when asked to give an opinion, we have to write some introduction, background of the issue concerned, arguements in favour, arguements against and finally give a balancing conclusion or endorse govt's current position. We need to adjust the size of our answer according to the word limit.
It all depends on the ability to do that in the given time. Just needs some practice and some superficial knowledge but not any in depth understanding, I believe.
Many(but not all), thought to be intelligent, hard working and with good academics fail to clear this exam even after multiple attempts, no one knows why! There are number of persons, failed in civils but were highly successful in some other field. I heard that some studies conducted by UPSC also proved this.
No system can be foolproof and the present system might be the best one practically and UPSC is not unaware of these issues! Some committee somewhere will be working on making things better.

from:  Manavi
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 19:53 IST

UPSC itself is an archaic set up, steeped in sloth, red tape and inefficiency, managed by retired IAS guys who themselves are the
products of the system and have a vested interest in continuing with it
in the same manner as Lord Macaulay ordained. Even the recommendations
of the Second Administrative Reforms given about 5 years ago are
gathering dust. This structure is but one aspect of this incorrigible

from:  R.Sundaram
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 17:57 IST

I also agree with the author who has given a thought about very
difficult time management problem faced during mains exam because a
precise, effective, analylitical and wholistic answer requires
thinking at least for few minutes. If u started to think this way , u
will be in peril of losing other QS.
It is good thing that UPSC came this year with focus on current
developments ,which necessitates thinking out of boxes not mere rote
learning . A good answer require good preparation how so ever your
writing skill may be!

from:  Bupendra singh
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 15:59 IST

Agree with Piyush Kothari. Consider CAT exam for aptitude, very reason
for getting little time per question is to take out the realistic
aptitude from a candidate in an urgent and/or severe situation. If
sufficient time is given for CAT question even ordinary crammer would
be able to recall the solution approach for different types of
questions, based on his/her huge mugged up database.

Similarly, when analytic questions in CS(Mains) are to be answered in
so less of time, it becomes inevitable for a candidate to come out
with his natural thoughts on that particular topic. All this has
happened only after ongoing reforms in patterns on mains exams since

However, the author is right in words that there is still scope for
crammers. With optional subjects being part of exam which still have
to be answered majorly with text book approach.

from:  Prashant Katiyar
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 15:03 IST

Though irrelevant, I am writing here to point to media's apathy towards our PG medical education. In a country where there would be unanimous support from all groups for any measures biased against doctors, not even one responsible journalist comes forward to point out the confusion created by GoI by conducting NEET, add to that CBI raids at PGI and undiscovered paper leaks by all state owned and private universities. Sometimes I wonder why a PG medical seat (private) can go for as high as 1.25 crore, most of which is black money. If Govt is unable to train PG doctors, the society does not have a right to ask them to do social service to poor. Do you really think a doctor who bought his PG with such money will go serve in our villages? When is India going to achieve self-sufficiency in terms on doctor-population ratio. As a member of medical profession, to me the situation seems hopeless.

I sincerely hope the media pay some attention to this issue and bring it to light.sry for bad en

from:  Dr. Vinod
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 14:05 IST

I don't fully agree that the recent pattern gives only way to the
crammers. In fact, the recent pattern is more dynamic and does not
correspond to any specific coaching. The questions this year in GS -
2012 were very general and could be answered well with basic knowledge
and by reading a genuine newspaper.
However, the only cause of concern is the optional subjects as every
year the question paper of one or the other becomes tough relatively
and thus not fair to all the students. The UPSC is deciding to switch
to new patter with same subjects . Hope this will solve the problem.
The issue of lengthy paper is true but the candidates to this exam
should have their opinion formed whiling reading newspaper or going
through the public issue. Examination hall is not the place to form
issues but is the place to express it and if one keeps practicing it
can be mastered . The candidates after interview are not the jack of
all trades but become master of the issues relating to social awarenes

from:  Ashutosh
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 13:58 IST

The main problem with present system of recruitment are this :

1. The Mains exam is very very subjective and so the examiner has
full discretion in awarding marks.
2. The adjustment done between different Optionals by UPSC is
3. The Interview is also opaque.

So we never know who will be selected and what rank one can secure.
UPSC also does not have a transparent system to deal with representions/grievances of candidates. The credibility of the
present system is very low.

from:  Ajay
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 12:36 IST

I completly agree with author on each point he has made.Three hours cannot test intellect and three figures can't decide intelligence.We want to select bureaucrats and in the bid produce crammers and muggers.In three hour time-limit,even a person having extensive knowledge on subject tends to be tricklish in tailoring his knowledge to keep it up with time restraint.From the time examination starts,eyes focuss on watch than on paper and each tick tick kills a person!All that comes to mind is jotted down without giving it a second thought.All one concentrates on is that pen shouldn't stop!Usually what we see is that those come out as toppers who possess the skills to manage all within given time frame.Those who keep on writing minutest details which is otherwise required to test intellect end up in nothing!Perhaps their modalities and niceties are different.Question is that is this the only way out of deciding intellect?Is there the need to rehash whole procedure?

from:  Shayesta Nazir
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 11:59 IST

I agree with Piyush. How does cramming help to answer these questions?
These are general questions trying to assess the test takers analytical
sklls in solving current problems. Very good questions in my opinion.
Absolutely not sure what point the author is trying to make.

from:  Sridhar Reddy
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 11:26 IST

I gave 2012 mains exam. I believe UPSC Exam is meant to check if u
have qualities to be an efficient civil servant. Huge number of
questions to be answered in a such short time do make it difficult
for us to quickly think and articulate our opinions. For this we
must be aware of all the facts about the asked issue and we obviously
should be alert about the issues which are in news ( for example
endosulfan is in news for quite a long time for its side effects)
than we would already have opinion about it. We just have to
articulate it according to the question. If in three hours we cannot
think fast and articulate our thoughts than tomorrow if we are
selected how we will be able to analyse facts and take appropriate
decision quickly, in crucial situations.
Though, I do have reservations about the CSAT paper. Removing
optional paper from preliminary examination have proved a
disadvantage to rural people who are weak in general studies papers
because of unavailability of study material.

from:  kanupriya damor
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 11:03 IST

Its also about smartness, and need of time..
Its futile to make arguments..
for those who know that they have to make it into CIVILS anyhow, it
doesn't matter what ever the pattern may be, they'll amend themselves
accordingly, author has made the right observations, but still failed to mold himself seems so.

from:  abhay
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 01:22 IST

I had written Main exam twice and I dont agree with the author..If you are blaming the time for answering the question, let me remind that crammers can get the best out of them provided they were given enough time and thats not the UPSC wants. On the cut off front the topper himself/herself doesnot get more than 60%. So it is natural that one who got around 800 marks out of 2000 marks gets selected.

from:  alagiri
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 23:44 IST

Totally agree with the Author.
I also written the Main 2012 and believed the same. I was puzzled at
Examination Hall what to write and what to left, selecting best in 5 min
is really tough. UPSC has to amend Main exam pattern also.
Now I am hoping for the best.

from:  Anand Kamal
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 23:44 IST

For a constant follower of current affairs, although living out of India for over 3 years, I can simply answer those "tough" questions author has defined. What I find is that the most candidates for Civil service are simply but swallowing a huge lot of general knowledge and current affairs in a short span of time rather than making it a day-to-day habit from childhood to follow the current affairs. The civil service examination is not about competition, it is all about knowing India better than the normal rest. The standard of the exam should be maintained, let it not be an easy cake for everyone.

from:  Aswin
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 23:32 IST

It is an often mistaken belief that the objective of these examinations is to select candidates capable of creative thinking. Instead, the examination delivers people who can cram any amount of instructions into their mind and then vomit them out upon command. This ensures high-quality bureaucrats who can be relied upon to slavishly serve their superior officers, and hence ensure an excellent governance structure which will serve the needs (or instructions) of big corporations.


from:  Shahid Khan
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 23:06 IST

It is easy to point out mistakes, but what about alternatives ? Does
the author have better scheme of things? If yes, then please present
them for people to see.
The entire article is filled with pessimism, nobody claims the system
to be 100pc foolproof. But within the existing scheme of things, I
believe UPSC is doing the best and I'm proud that this is one of the
few institutions in our country which functions as per its mandate.
When compared to previous years' papers, a stark contrast can be seen
in the way questions are framed. It is not easy for people to
reproduce coaching material in this format of the exam and get
selected (as the author claims). Anyone, well updated with news and
having analysed the same over a period of time WILL do well.
Also, why is the author insulting intellectual capacity of people by
claiming they are lost in the rush, is there any proof or research
behind this claim? Competent candidates always do well. This article
is too biased to be taken seriously

from:  LPrasad
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 23:06 IST

Though I agree that UPSC is asking too many questions in too less
time, the article is very one-dimensional, and does not give credit
where due. One may question the process of selection, type of
questions asked etc., nobody doubts the integrity of UPSC. Along with
SC, EC and perhaps CAG, UPSC has been one of the most respectable
institutions unlike other state commissions where scams are often
reported and results widely believed to be rigged. In fact lakhs of
students devote years of their life preparing for the exam, only
because they feel they have a fair chance. As one such student, I want
to use this platform to thank those at the helm of UPSC for making us
believe that we have a chance to serve the country from the corridors
of power through academic merit and hardwork - cramming or otherwise.
And having done that, yes we can debate what is wrong in UPSC
selection process, and how it can be improved.

from:  Jatin Goyal
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 22:57 IST

it is neither mistake of upsc nor problem of system but it the requirtment of this position where a civil servant have to work in burden of lake time with efficieny, analysis & understanding .so i think the current position of exam pattern is the demand of future india

from:  pawan lakhara
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 22:53 IST

The quality of civil services aspirants is diminished these days and super intelligent are going somewhere else. Instead of exam. type pattern, we should introduce innovative mechanisms to test the skills of meritorious candidates. Most of the Municipal commissioners are IAS men who have utterly failed in making any town/city in India trash-free despites their many visits to west. Such a syndrome applies to other faculties as well. Civil servants should be committed and highly persistent to achieve the desired objective.

from:  Vysa K Susarla
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 22:22 IST

Yes, civil service exams has to be very challenging. They go through rigorous training but after that they are the puppets of the political party. They are not trained for the most needed one-stay out of getting bribes and how to fight against corrupt officials and make the elected officials get to do what is needed for this country and expose corruption!! I don't understand why we are not having any requirement like this for the elected officials who are going to be boss for them?-this is the most ridiculous thing.

from:  marudah
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 22:06 IST

I do agree that writing 3,750 words in three hours is difficult for
any normal human being and that is to be done with logical thinking,
makes it extremely difficult but I do not think examiner expects you
to actually write 3750 words.If you see the marks obtained by
successful candidates you will realize it is not necessary to attempt
entire paper.What is expected from a candidate is to be pragmatic in
his/her approach while deciding what to attempt and what not to.I
think writing 2500 words in logical and coherent manner can fetch you
good score and final selection.A candidate is expected to choose 2500
words out of 3750.
Let's say the examination pattern is changed and it is only required
to write 2500 words in three hours which is very much possible then
where does it test candidate's quick decision making ability?how is it
going to test candidate's quick thinking ability?After all,this
examination is not just about in depth knowledge.

from:  Shishir
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 21:26 IST

"they gave opinions in their answers that on second thought, they
would have reversed. That means the candidate’s answers often do
not reflect his or her considered opinion" TRUE STORY

from:  Baalajee
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 21:14 IST

The current pattern of asking questions in UPSC Civil Services (Main)
Examination, either from General Studies or optional subjects is not
making a mockery of the UPSC's demand for 'depth of understanding'
from applying candidates. The questions that had been asked were
tasked with two objectives: First, the test of candidates efficiency
in decision making. While considering the nature of the asked
questions, this efficiency of decision making was reflected in the
required word limits for each question. If someone appears too verbose
in his answer, it indicates how much serious they would be in their
approach while handling crises situation where instant decision is
required. Also, lot of arguments may suppress the real cause of asking
a question. Secondly, the UPSC Civil Services Examination is not like
a university examination where one has to express his answers with a
long way of writing; it is a competitive exam which deals with
selection of those candidates who will be executing machinery of
Central as well as State governments, so the selection procedure
should be and must be in a way to choose most efficient candidates. It
is an exam which seeks a perfect, precise and authentic knowledge
interconnected with the socioeconomic relevancy. UPSC is changing its
pattern day by day, exam by exam, and now it is running through a
"transition phase" in between conventional to contemporary importance
of socio-economic-political relevancy. Finally, it would be better to
prepare himself according to the change, and adopt an attitude which
supports the need, faith and aspirations of our people rather than
criticizing the UPSC. This is simply what the UPSC wants..!!

from:  Piyush Tripathi
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 21:00 IST

Writer should know that there is no place for crammers in UPSC. And
expecting a future bureaucrat to be fast and comprehensive in presenting
his ideas and thoughts is not a crime, specially when life is not about
hours but counted in seconds.

from:  jyotsna
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 20:57 IST

I am surprised that a paper like yours, could publish something like this .

Is Endosulfan not important for our country.
Does a comment on the revision of the the chapter on health in the 12th Plan
document, not need thorough understanding and analytical skills which can only
come from complete understanding of the concept. I could go on..
So basically where does the word cramming fit in anywhere at all.

from:  anaita
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 20:10 IST

I am doing my btech degree.Today when i see students around me,a large percentage of them have adopted the policy of cramming parrot(even in subjects like maths and physics) and a mere fraction are those who actually think and choose the analytic way.The fun is the higher digits of marks land in the former's pocket.wether the highest minds of india are aware of this or not but we really think and argue among us about this way of questioning us, more of the cramming part and less of thinking.i may not have deep knowledge of upsc level but when i read this article,it urges me to announce when the exam for picking the most elite brains of our country is strugling to test the true critical and analytocal ability of a candidate then how can it even be brushed at an UG level or school levels. An exam meant to test a student should not test only his remembring capacity but along with it his real learing should be carved out.believe us we are desperate for it.

from:  piyush gaurav
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 20:08 IST

The author probably talks about one dimension of this multi-faceted
exam and probably one of its shortcoming is rightly pointed out when
he says there is "no optimum time for thinking". However,when those
selected through this exam "practically run the government" it becomes
all the more important that they are tested under adverse
circumstances in which they have to work eventually. The exam pattern
of the UPSC cannot be out-rightly rejected. We need to take a balanced
view as 'perfection' is only an ideal, its a process and UPSC has been
vibrant enough by keeping the exam pattern ever-evolving.
Nevertheless, his attempt is worth appreciation.

from:  Tejaswani Gautam
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:44 IST

Although I feel a little supportive of the writer in some points, such as time factor and the cramming issue, but I feel he has exaggerated the situation and left many other critical, but related points untouched.
Civil Services is a hard competition where the probability of getting selected is not much, even if one is highly prepared. Due to this, students turn to coaching institutes who profess to make them ready to take on the exam, but when everybody is going to those institutes, as the case is now, what will happen to the development of your mind when you are spoon-fed everything. This itself act as a barrier to forming your own opinion on many issues. So, rather than just blaming UPSC for the questions and patterns, students and coaching institutes, who try to 'hijack' the exam have blame to share for the mindless cramming going on.
Also, the pattern now is transforming into one where crammers are at a disadvantage, compared to the earlier experience.

from:  Akhil Bansal
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:37 IST

I guess, it is not just the knowledge but social values does matter.
And that is one plane UPSC could use for elimination. Weighing
Knowledge against social values is good provided the later is not
manifested for one's favour -> again caste and community savour. This
is where lot of innocent candidates loos the battle and candidates
from coaching institutes handles it effectively with prior information
(My pure opinion). Hope for the best. My experience showed that
efficiency is not the sole property of those youngsters in 20s but
should be gauged with all the parameters taken into consideration. But
all those souls who take the battle seriously are the winners
irrespective of selections. It is purely game of war and the process
teaches you the consciousness around you. Open up yourself without any
inhibitions while in this process and hope for the best. But my
sincear advice is if you think you have been ousted wrongly 'Fight for
your cause' to know why it happened.

from:  Ganji Rao
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:35 IST

sir to the extent that questions demand an in depth understanding u are
right. Even i could not complete my GS and GEOG optional paper(2012) in
allotted time for the same reason. But sir my view is that upsc wants
students to make in depth analysis beforehand and not in the exam. It
has brilliantly changed the test pattern such that no coaching can
catch. The exam is now current affairs based-requires little cramming
rather more observation substantiated with some facts. And yes this is
also the demand of the IAS job.

from:  Deepika Mittal
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:31 IST

UPSC candidates may be well versed with several nuances of the topic
being tested, but the 3 hours in the exam hall don't permit much time
to think. Often the question papers tend to get reduced to a race to
write fast, making the content of the answer weaker.
However, the recent pattern (especially General Studies this year) is
reflective of a move from knowledge to analysis and synthesis oriented
questions. This could gradually reduce the impetus given to cramming,
which is systematically reinforced by coaching centers!
A change in the pattern of the Main exam is believed to be in the
offing. It has been observed that candidates who opt for Literature in
Languages like Pali, Telugu, German end up with a higher score than
the ones who opt for 'tougher' subjects like - Physics, Economics etc.
With due respect to the linguistic and regional sentiments of fellow
candidates, one humbly wonders about the expertise we desire of our
future administrators – the former or the latter kind?

from:  Nitya Aasaavari
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:28 IST

I wrote the civil services examination in 1988 with public administration for
preliminary examination and history and public administration for the main
examination. The UPSC interview was my 25th interview and 23rd selection. My
experience has been that the civil services examination required considerable
intensity of preparation necessitating a deep understanding of the Indian
Constitution, Current Affairs, Centre State Relations, Freedom Movement and other
specified area. It was the most comprehensive of any job examination that I had
appeared in, necessitating far higher effort and preparatory man hours than any
other. I qualified for the Indian Administrative Service and was always left with an
impression that civil service examination standards met the highest standards of
meritocracy in public life. The examination pattern was further rim proved
subsequently, surely represents the most comprehensive in the world.

from:  v.srinivas
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 19:21 IST

To an extent what the writer has argued is true . The questions this
year especially in General Studies papers "asked too much to be
answered in too little" . While the increased emphasis on current
affairs is welcome , the questions were not worded such so that one
could answer (and perhaps be evaluated ) in objective terms -
ex:in General Studies paper 2,in 150 words one is asked to explain
the reasons as to why resource rich African & American nations have
remained poor for decades . It invites numerous opinions ,arguments
which are all debatable .How shall one answer be evaluated then ?

Besides I also feel when so much is being asked one tends to just
answer in a simplistic fashion or present arguments which are easily
accessible to memory rather than analytically.

I feel although motivated by the goal to weed out rote learning ,
these kind of question papers do not seem to validate the stated
purpose .It would be better to be more objective.

from:  anil
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 18:15 IST

It is slow decision making which hampers bureaucratic process.The speed
and effectiveness with which he expresses the question in hand matters,
which UPSC rightly does by provocative questions and providing very
limited time. It is one of the toughest exam which is justifiable as
the civil service is of nationally very important part of governance.

from:  john
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:35 IST

I do not agree with the above logic. In fact in reality this new trend
has helped to weed out the crammers and muggers. This new pattern
demands more analytically and in depth understanding of the topic.

from:  piyush kothari
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:35 IST

Author only has superficial understanding of the Civil Services Exam and following errors
prove this:
1. Last year general cutoff in Mains Exam was 842 while he says it was 800.
2. Result of Mains Exam comes in Feb/March not in March/April as he claims.
3 interviews are conducted in March/April not in Aprl/May as he claims.
4. Civil Services Exam also test the time management ability of the aspiring officers, no
question asked in exam can only be answered by cramming.

from:  Neeraj
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:30 IST

Civil Services(mains)paper plays a crucial role in deciding the future
of an aspirant. Those three hours ,in which a candidate needs to
choose,analyse , organize and represent the answers creatively becomes
the deciding factor. Yes, it is tough on a candidates part to manage
the entire paper in just three hours, but at the same time we cannot
blame the system. Regular practice can solve the purpose, but not
In my opinion at least 15 minutes should be provided
beforehand so that candidates are able to go through the questions
properly and can give best of their efforts.

from:  Radhika
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:25 IST

I would not agree with the author but in fact actually this year was the
quite challenging year in the UPSC Mains. This is because in the General
Studies paper this year, the questions were largely from the current
affairs in the country and long ranging problems (Tiger Issue,
Endosulfan, etc) which actually requires writing the opinion of each
Even in Paper II the questions on International Relations were on
conventional issues (China, Pakistan,Nepal) but required analytical
Coming to the topic of optionals, Public Administration was a riot run
which made a mockery of students trying to cram all the administrative
thinkers(which is the technique taught by the BIG BIG coaching classes).
The name of thinkers given this year was unheard of anywhere till
now(which I am not saying is right cos nobody knew what to write), but
still explains the fact that UPSC is not a muggers heaven.

from:  Shiva Ram, another aspirant
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:18 IST

I wrote mains thrice, was selected for the interview once, I agree with the authour, specially with "...time is such that if you start thinking, you are in trouble.".There will always be a few questions which test only superficial knowledge, range of information and memory,etc and other questions, though they are good, end up testing only the memory for the lack of time. It is possible to give a good answer to such questions within the given time only if we've prepared for the question much earlier! I agree it needs hard work but more than that it takes guess work and mugging up.As the range of syllabus is infinite for the GS, it is near impossible to have in depth understanding of everything. I feel the questions from last 2,3yrs were difficult and mostly unexpected (good, of course) they are only helping to select the better among the worst instead of selecting the best from the good because there is no time to think and answer.

from:  Hamsa
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:16 IST


Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 17:15 IST

Sir .. I agree to your View that there is very less time to actually think in the
examination .. But This is not the Exam where we are expected to answer all
Questions like in School .. We are expected to make optimum use of those 3 hours
and Judiciously spare time according to the marks and not the number of Questions
.. Each mark is associated with nearly 90 seconds .. Time Management is very Crucial
keeping in mind Our Strengths and Weaknesses ..
As far as thinking in the Examination Hall goes .. In depth knowledge is necessary to
form a Structure for any question beforehand and build on that in the Exam hall ..
Presence of mind with Examination temperament is a trait that we have to build
before attempting this Examination ..

from:  Rathod Sudhir
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 15:35 IST

Even if there is any coaching as referred here it must be holistic and

should make aspirants think and analyse rather than just cram..

UPSC should bring in changes which can test Public Welfare Oriented

Thinking & Learning rather than just cramming for marks.. More

Questions should be asked on People and Processes which have

contributed to Public Good.. e.g a question on Mr Palagummi Sainath

should have even asked what civil services aspirants have learnt from

such fantastic reporters..

from:  Phani Kumar Siddha
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 15:31 IST

Although i wish to understand your point of view, i see that the basic
inherit studying principle in India is CRAMMING in general. Foreigners
call our Tuition centres as "CRAM SCHOOLS".

The brain knows whats important when it crams more, as its increasing
its "vocabulary" thereby aiding in learning. Killing creativity in the
process. Cramming does help in increasing the grammer of the brain as
in langauges and mathematics. We use this to know the outside world.

The question is are you really preparing according to the game? Or is
it just an excuse for not able to compete ? The game , stipulates that
you know everything in a way.

Its like asking a football player how to prepare for a basketball
game. They think and dont work on playing the basketball game because
they are thinking like a footballer.

UPSC demands something. Every exam in most ways demand something.

I wont say that cramming is good nor is it evil, but that said we must
understand the exam very well to succeed.

from:  Karthik Krishna
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 15:30 IST

yes, it's very true that time is short.. I have given mains exam three
times and have found that beyond a certain level of hard work and
intelligence... it has become a lucky shot. It's more like swimming in
a river with eyes closed.

loaded with topper's interviews, veteran's tips, coaching guidance and
self study and comprehension...every candidate carves out a unique
path for himself to perform in those three hours..which may not be
always right.

that is why I like essay paper the most... we get enough time to
showcase what we are.(1200 -1500 words) in 3 hrs.

yes, it's true that UPSC may not be selecting "the best" and
"brightest" with current pattern of examination.

from:  manish
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 15:22 IST

Civil Services examination is considered as one of toughest
examination in the world where it is said that even the most
brilliant students have to work hard and even then it could take
more than one attempt.....T.K. Ngaihte's article on this issue
where it seems that cramming on important issues is more
heighlighted than logical and honest answer which demands more
use of analytical thinking and more time than prescribed for
examination rather than hitting your head and remembering the
answer from coaching material....................upsc needs to
come forword with a naive pattern of examination rather than
bulky ,traditional and unscientific syllabus in this digital
internet era of intellectuals rather than making students learn

from:  ashles
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 14:46 IST

Today, every the decision paralysis has spread like a plague in the governance of the country and this is due to the following three reasons;
1. UPSC has failed to address the changing need of the society by sticking to the age old system of IAS at helm of affairs with no accountability of their actions.
2. It has failed to attract the talent and all who failed to achieve in professional courses are trying to enter. Jack of all Master of none has been the IAS attitude to control and command the sectors where sector specialisation is the order of the day in developed countries.
3. Infrastructure development has taken a hit due to lack of sector specialist. Engineering and Public health are the most sectors for which bulk of budget is made by non-specialists who head the Depts.
So a overhaul of the UPSC mindset may be required to allocate sector wise specialists to head the Govt. Depts. by encouraging them to take in this Civil service exams.

from:  B.K.Hari Prasad
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 14:28 IST

I doubt it and agree with both the author and Shailendra's comment on
this view.
Author's pros - Even if the candidates are well-aware of the topic,
they need more time to think, analyse and properly pen down their
opinions. Also, a good handwriting speed is a necessity (not to
mention, legitimate !!).
Cons - i believe UPSC is trying hard to filter out crammers,by giving
no marks to superficial knowledge or answers, and just the
crisp,precise and to the point answers.
Also, the low cutoff (as low as 30-40%) should reduce the time-
pressure, and focus more on analyzing/answering fewer ques. in depth!!
(That's just my personal opinion. A UPSC/Civil services aspirant..)!

from:  BhumikaGupta
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 14:16 IST

While agreeing almost totally with Mr. Ngaihte's views, I am still surprised that Mr Ngaihte has noticed the inclusion of "ban of Endosulfan" and "need for the Planning Commission to revise the chapter on health" in "General Studies". In my opinion even experts in the respective areas would need to spend time on deep detailed study before they can express any opinion on these two topics. Regarding Endosulfan, for example, one has to have specialized knowledge of the chemistry, toxicology, environmental persistence, crops on which it is recommended for use, methods of application, efficacy, etc. of Endosulfan, and of possible alternatives, as also of their cost of manufacture, and so on. Can you expect an IAS aspirant to be capable of answering the question -- unless he or she knew before hand that the question would be asked?

from:  T S Raman
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 14:14 IST

to some extent i do agree with the author.because to put exact words in
limited time one need exact knowledge of subject and also command on
language.because in given word limit if one lacks command on language
the person can neither follow the word limit nor he/she is able to
complete the paper,so it goes against the students from rural
background.this year few question in general studies paper were asked
with opinion,which also brings subjectivity and also make it hard to fix
answer in word limit.

from:  shrilekh
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 13:29 IST

In a competitive examination, a candidate is not expected to answer
every question.Any attempted question must reflect the depth of
knowledge and intellectual skills of the candidate. Question selection
also plays an important role in such types of examinations.
It would also be difficult to increase the number of papers so as to
divide the syllabus in smaller groups as already candidates have to
appear in more than 10 papers in Mains examinations.

from:  Gaurav Singhal
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 12:52 IST

I think the purpose of UPSC(especially mains) examination is not to
check how a candidate thinks during the examination but how much he
knows and has thought before it. A candidate is supposed to have ideas
on every matter at hand around the globe even before the examination if
he wishes to go for UPSC, he is supposed to be examining all the issues
of relevance. Questions in UPSC exam are not completely new,they are
always relevant. So, during examination he is supposed to reproduce his
opinion about matters he has already pondered upon. The time limit only
ensures the fulfillment of above objective by UPSC.
Secondly, with set of questions, with some examples given in this
article itself and admitted to be 'tricky' by the author, I wonder how
mugging works here. If a candidate write answers to these question
successfully that means he not only has good understand of matters that
matter but also he is good at analyzing them and taking a good

from:  kamlesh kumar
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 12:42 IST

UPSC will not be able to decide right candidates. The nature of the question requires either deliberate thinking in examination situation or mastery over subjects these question relate to.Candidates do not have enough time in exam hall, niether expertise is possible at this young age. What UPSC can get only is a glimpse of thinking pattern of the candiadate.It will be better if such questions are asked in essay paper or number of questions get reduced in respective papers.

from:  md jilani
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 12:19 IST

Depending upon the level of questions asked in the paper it wouldn't be erroneous to say that in allotted time(3 hours) one can never be 100
percent specific about one's opinion. In general the opinions put in the
answers are gathered from different sources and those are not the exact
thinking of testee, in fact those are just mixture of different opinions
and thoughts.I agree with the author's point that its hard to decipher
how UPSC can judge one's thinking capacity and overall intellectual
traits in such a time bound.

from:  Shailendra kumr yadav
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 12:00 IST

@HS Srikanth
The author's point is on the time given to attempt the test and it is insufficient to bring a holistic shape to opinion based answers. I hope people who comment here have taken the civil services test.

from:  abhinav
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 11:51 IST

Couldn't agree more. Leave aside Political Science, even the "thinking" subjects like maths and physics have to be mugged up. The questions asked are same old trite ones framed differently. No thinking is required. You know the formula, you have solved this before, then you will be able to do it in exam. Originality strictly not needed. In fact, I would say that the amount of mugging which a student of maths and physics has to do is equal to the amount of mugging the student of a traditionally mugging-up type subject, say, history has to do. Only difference is that science students remember things by solving the same old problems a hundred times, but still mugging up nevertheless.
It is high time that UPSC changed the system for induction into civil services. The exam system needs to be overhauled from this school exam type pattern.
As of now, as you said, it's just hard work. No intellect needed.

from:  Kshitiz
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 11:35 IST

Its ironic that the author feels that the increase in difficulty favors cramming, while on the contrary most of the aspirants thinks otherwise.Civil Service(mains) this time around was demanding both in depth and vastness aimed at filtering out the crammers.
The unconventional focus on current affairs instead of the traditional Polity and History,( which was deliberately ignored to weed out the crammers) is not highlighted in the article.
I feel that this year's UPSC Civil Service mains favored the hardworking who go that extra mile to know the subject better instead of the superficial study.

from:  Srikanth H S
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 11:15 IST

I agree with author from my observations of caoching material in famous Rau's Study Circle as well as many unimpressive decisions taken locally by the recruits!

from:  Atis
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 11:03 IST

The writer has raised a genuine concern regarding the pattern of the
main examination of the Civil Services. I has appeared for the exam
and felt the same concern. But, there was no option. I have done well
in the exam and hope to clear it.
One thing I would like to mention that I enjoyed the essay paper as I
had the requisite time to express my ideas as I wished not bounded by
the limitation of the time. The number of the questions and the world
limit prescription was not fair in this exam. I had completed the
language papers in 2 hours and waited for 1 hour to leave the exam
hall while I was not able to rest for a while while writing the
answers to the questions of the other papers. No doubt the standard of
the questions were up to mark but the time limit and the word limit
were grossly mismatched for optimal output of the thinking and
I would suggest the UPSC to include extempore and public speaking as a
level of qualifying the exam like the interview.

from:  Shashikant Nishant Sharma
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 10:42 IST

I had written the Civil Service mains exam this year and also seen the question paper for previous years. I must agree with the author's opinion if the article pertains to only pre-2012 exams but he has mentioned this year questions too as examples. Hence, I must disagree with the author's opinion that cramming and mugging up is the only wy to go. In fact, these will only give the candidate mundane and ordinary answers which will obviously be marked low for lack of original thinking.
In those three hours in the exam, it is impossible to form opinions, analyse and conclude every answer. What is required is for the candidate to have an opinion about every issue, however insignificant and whatever the issue may be. This is the preparation required, not mugging up study material or books. More than 200marks worth of questions in each GS paper in 2012 was to express the candidates' opinions where cramming had little relevance.
In my opinion, UPSC has done something right thing this year.

from:  Anand Shankar
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 10:24 IST

Ngaihte's opinion is absolutely true, my sincere thanks to him, for
bringing at appropriate time and forum. I wrote 2012 IFS exam,
similar pattern of examination was followed with two optional papers.
The choice of optional papers will be of individual's subject stream
or specialization, I gave examination for life science stream,
optional's are botany and zoology, question and answers relating to
this stream are not of analysis type but more of an established facts( applies to sciences excluding maths), which must be presented in a proper manner so as to get maximum marks. Even in such instance there was crunch of time. Time management is a solution from individual's side, UPSC must also try to come up with an effective
solution to this problem.

from:  goutam chintala
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 10:11 IST

No one forms opinion on that three hours of the examination. These are built over a period of time through discussions,editorials of newspapers like The Hindu and so on. Of course,people do cram up details about issues. But opinions cannot be crammed. I wish the author the very best for his next examinations.

from:  Deepak
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 09:50 IST

It is an interesting read. Me being a ranker in last year's exam (and currently, in
training) can totally agree with the points made by the author of this article. Yet, one needs to come up with an alternative (and better) model, which unfortunately, is nowhere to be seen. Even the author didn't attempt to give his thoughts on how it should rather be modeled. My personal experience tells me, it is also important to test the most subjective aspects of the candidates like commitment for services and other 'good' traits and not just intellectual depth. More, the exam should assess candidate's opinions on topics like gender equality (Sexual harassment) in an objective way than subjective way (this is made in the training here, and I could feel the difference the objective assessment can make). These chances could only be made in the preliminary and personality test level , of course. For mains, we also need to probably understand the practical limitations of assessing 20,000 +

from:  Nikhil Pavan Kalyan
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 09:31 IST

Very Well said. The Mains Pattern needs to be changed and this should happen as early as possible. I was waiting eagerly for an editorial on UPSC's examination pattern for the impact it would have on making the change happen.

from:  Priyvrat
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 09:27 IST

Not in UPSC alone. Our examination system lays too much emphasis on memorisation of the already available texts. Drill in coaching centers helps some parrots to learn by rote in the type of questions asked in the previous years' tests. Reasoning ability, iterpretation of old facts in a new way, imagination, innovativeness, problem solving, human relations, are neglected. Knowledge is exploding these days. Redundance is increasing at a fast pace. By the time those recruited today retire, they would have become illiterate. Shifting emphasis calls for adjusting according to the changing circumstances. Examination reforms in UPSC and beyond is called for.

from:  Jaspal Singh
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 09:00 IST

This may be one of the most important op-ed of the year so far as India is concerned. Will it be given any thought? Sadly, no. The 'steel' structure that worked during the colonial period now to a dangerous extent consists of pliable mediocrity. And no one seems to care.

from:  C M Naim
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 08:23 IST

Given the time constraint and cut-throat competetion, The Civil Services Exam do
pose to be one of the tough nuts to crack. Held annually and written by at about 4-5 lakh odd aspirants its no joke to succeed in this exam. It is absolutely ruthless in a sense that, it not only tests the candidate's knowledge but also how strong mentally he/she is. This is because of the fact that only the ones who are determined to succeed and who have choosen to trudge the rough roads to beat all odds only manage to succeed finally. Now the good news is the adaptability with which the exam is being designed, progressing every year. Take for example N.o of questions from History have significantly decreased while those coming from Sci & Tech, IT have been rising.This is because in a multi-faceted society, to cater the needs of growing community one needs to be adept in these fields. Also the mere ability of memorizing a huge dump/pile of information just like their predecessors did is of no help .

from:  Rajesh Tripurneni
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 08:01 IST

The UPSC exams systems have been reviewed more than once. How does one really assess a candidate in a 3 hour exam and a half-hour interview that will stand for the next 35 years in public administration? According to a very senior HRD practitioner,success rate in selecting the best candidates in an interview is about 25%. While GS is good, what about Value Systems? What about skills in both analysis and synthesis of issues? What about group interactions? What about a "Vision for India"? Finally, there has to be a "weeding out" process, say, 3-5 years after the appointment, of "bad eggs" or indifferent officers. There has to be strict enforcement of the SRFR - that is another story.

from:  Prosenjit Das Gupta
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 07:50 IST

A good article telling the people about the format of the Civil
Services...The exam is more of an elimination system than a selective
system....the candidates need to be asked questions which help them analyse critical issues, which it does,but the number of questions must
be decreased...the same goes for the Indian engineering
services...normal Wikipedia information should not be entertained
is available in the internet...the answers must be more distinct and
should make the person correcting the paper, realize that the student
has made point and understands the issues thoroughly...

from:  Aravind
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 07:38 IST

It depends on what attributes are expected from the people who are qualifying the civil services examination. If so many difficult questions are asked and not enough time is given to answer them analytically, then perhaps the expectation is what is the breadth of knowledge the candidates have i.e. how much information they have on their finger tips to provide a reasonable answer. In essence this is testing the memory and the ability of the candidate to be able to hold loads of information, facts and details.

from:  Shyam Talluri
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 04:28 IST

And that is why it is the toughest Exam of the country and attracts young all over the country.
the Author has rightly said that one needs hard work, perseverance, consistency etc but cramming is not the solution . It is just the candidate should have an opinion about each and every thing happening around . and if one has an opinion about everything there is no need to cram. The questions asked in the exam like the endosulfan one - it just needs that the candidate should know
about the endosulfan and other properties. If he doesn't he's gone . All questions are General and not specific in nature.
Regarding the amount of study to be done , Yes , its too vast and hence make it more tough !

from:  Manu Jha
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 03:32 IST

One can take a good decision only when he/she remember all the dimensions of a problem at a given time. Hence, both understanding and cramming are required.

from:  subodh
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 03:26 IST

well said..we civil service aspirants face these problems..UPSC must
implement 2ARC report on exam or have another pattern which is really
able to test the depth of understanding and intellectual trait.

from:  santosh
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 02:33 IST

An article that can only e expected from one who wrote but
unfortunately could not clear the exams . I would like to add- In
those three hours what essentially is also checked is how fast you can
analyze things ; how swiftly you can decide on which questions to
attempt first i.e. your decision making abilities under intense
pressure , and how effectively you can communicate your thoughts .
That is what is actually tested and the present time given for writing
answers is good enough. What needs to be changed perhaps is the
Personality Test because no Personality can be gauged merely in 15-20
minutes;a more comprehensive examintaion on the lines of NDA perhaps
is needed!!

from:  Rahul
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 02:20 IST

Commission should weed out optional paper. But the question paper pattern for the GS should remain the same(More question in less time).

from:  Kumar Munna
Posted on: Nov 24, 2012 at 02:17 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

A visit and outcomes in superlatives

The centrepiece of the Obama visit has been the ‘nuclear deal’, whose sticking points were a U.S requirement of keeping track of all U.S.-supplied nuclear equipment and materials at all times which India was reluctant to accept, and certain aspects of the liability law which suppliers found ambiguous. The U.S. now appears to have moderated its demand »