Education Plus

CSAT: what the numbers say

Photo: G. Moorthy  


Given the huge protests against the changes in the UPSC entrance pattern, we thought this week of looking at whether the data bears out some of the protestors' contentions. We're making it clear right here that we are not taking a stand on whether the CSAT is good or bad - for that we'll direct you to The Hindu's extensive news coverage of the issue and the opinion pages.

One of the key contentions of those opposing the CSAT is that the new format has made it easier for English-speaking students to make it through, and harder for those more comfortable with Indian languages. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, a further bone of contention is that the preliminary examination is in English and Hindi only, and not in the other 20 languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution (while the main exam can be taken in any of the 22 languages).

The biggest hurdle to answering this question through data is that the UPSC in its annual reports puts out data for the main examination only and not the preliminary examination. So most of data here is going to refer to the main examination only. We're looking at data for two exams - the compulsory Indian language paper and the essay paper which can be written in any language.

Language speakers

Nearly 12,000 students appeared for the main exam in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. Of these, 11,810 had to take a compulsory Indian language paper (with exceptions for students from some north-eastern states). Using these numbers, we were able to roughly estimate the mother tongues of students appearing for the main exam. Of course, it is possible to take the exam in a language that is not your mother tongue, but that is less common and so this is a near estimate.

How has this changed over the last decade, and, more importantly, given the immediate context, since 2010, the last year of the old pattern exam? The proportion of Hindi speakers to the whole has dropped considerably post-2010 and the major gainers include Malayalam and Marathi speakers. It's notable though that the proportion of Hindi speakers appearing for the mains is still considerably higher than the proportion of the general population who said that Hindi was their mother tongue - 41% as of the 2001 Census.

Language - mains

Now that we have a rough idea of what their native language is, what language are those appearing for the main exam choosing to write their other papers in? (Students have the option of writing the exam in English or one of the Eighth Schedule Indian languages.) This is a complicated picture.

English and then Hindi have always been the two most popular languages to write the main exam in. However one distinct change following the introduction of the CSAT changes in 2011 is the big spike in the proportion of students taking the essay paper in English.

It is true that more students are getting their undergraduate degrees in English and growing more comfortable with the language, but you cannot have an increase of 20 percentage points between one year and the next without some significant change in the profile of students. Those who have been protesting the CSAT have argued that the new format is easier for those from English-speaking backgrounds, and the numbers do seem to indicate that far more English speakers are making it to the mains from the prelim stage than those who are more comfortable with Indian languages.


What of the other criticism, that those from engineering and medical backgrounds are now more likely to crack the new type of exam? Yes, there is a change in the profile of those who make it to the mains and those who are finally selected; the proportion of those from engineering and medical backgrounds who make it to the main exam has doubled since 2004 (the furthest back there is comparable data for) and those from such backgrounds who make it to the IAS have gone from a third to nearly two-thirds of all those selected.

What hasn't however changed significantly is the caste and gender background of those making it through.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 6:20:15 AM |

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