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Decoding the CSAT Fiasco

Decoding the CSAT Fiasco

By Krati Gupta

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

The Pattern: The Civil services examination is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for selection of candidates to various administrative positions such as Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Foreign Services (IFS) , Indian Police services (IPS) etc. With approximately 50 to 60 lakh applications being received yearly and a mere 0.3% success rate, this is considered to be one of the toughest examinations worldwide.

It consists of two rounds: The prelims and the mains (written examination and interview)

The prelims consist of two papers: One on General studies and an Aptitude test

The mains consist of nine papers: Two of which are qualifying, while the remaining seven are compulsory to pass.

The Changes: Till 2010, prelims consisted of two papers, one being general studies and the other was to be chosen among 23 optional subjects.

In order to stress more on analytical abilities rather than rote learning and theoretical knowledge, the existing pattern was revamped and a Civil Services Aptitude Test was put in place, which tests applicants on basic numeracy, interpersonal skills, decision making, mental ability, logical reasoning and English language comprehension skills. The general studies paper remained intact.

Prelims are qualifying in nature and the marks scored are not added to the mains total.

The Controversy: There have been heated debates and protests by candidates who feel that the CSAT has a predilection for English speaking and engineering/science background students. Owing to this, the government has asked the UPSC to delay the prelims, which were supposed to be conducted on August 24.

In a nutshell, the protesters have put forward the following points:

1. The CSAT is biased in the sense that mathematical and numeracy based questions are easier for engineering or science background students to crack as compared to those from arts and humanities stream.

2. The English comprehension skills tested also create a hiatus between the urban and rural applicants. The latter, being mostly from Hindi medium educational institutions, find it difficult to comprehend English related questions.

3. The General studies paper has 100 questions and a cut-off of 30 marks out of 200, while the CSAT has 80 questions and has a cut-off of 70 marks out of 200. Thus, people who perform comparatively badly in the GS paper still qualify,while the same does not apply for the CSAT.

4.The CSAT paper is printed in both English and Hindi. Google translate is used to translate English questions to Hindi. Anyone who has used Google translate can tell you how many blunders can be created while using this tool, because it gives literal meanings of the word rather than contexually specific ones. This puts Hindi medium students at a disadvantage.

5.It is claimed that due to the change in pattern after 2010, the number of humanities students being shortlisted for mains have considerably fallen while the engineering/science stream students are on a rise.

The Solutions: While there have been discussions in the parliament regarding postponement of the examination until a final solution is found, it’s time to dig deeper to see what the actual cause behind all this trouble is. Scrapping CSAT will only seem to be a populist measure and not a concrete solution, because engineering students can then demand scrapping of the GS paper on the same grounds, as it is based on history, social sciences and economics, all subjects related to humanities.

In my opinion, it is not too much to expect from a civil service aspirant to be proficient in basic grade 10 mathematics. The English comprehension passages tested are of a grade 10 standard as well, and the language is taught in every board irrespective of the main medium of instruction.

As far as quantitative aptitude is concerned, these subjects are not included in the curriculum of any B. Tech course or science stream. While the main problem lies in the English to Hindi translation, the UPSC can also consider printing the paper in all 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. This will ensure a level playing field for all aspirants across various regions of the country and make it more inclusive.

Krati is currently a Pre final year student pursuing chemical engineering from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad. She loves watching movies and posing for pictures. Apart from juggling between the concepts of thermodynamics and heat transfer during college hours, she is a greenhorn at writing and is highly optimistic about exploring the vast horizon in this field . She believes penning down her thoughts will make at least a small difference to the world.

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