Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Will new civil service exam syllabus checkmate engineering students? 10 observations

UPSC Toppers: What backgrounds are they from?
IF THE union personnel minister and MoS in PMO Jitendra Singh’s remarks on Sunday are interpreted, there is a possibility that the government may go in for a more level-playing field for the students belonging to arts and commerce vis-à-vis engineering students in future civil services examinations. While interacting with a group of civil services aspirants in New Delhi on Sunday, minister Singh talked about the allegation that the present syllabus and pattern of civil services/IAS examinations tend to benefit students from mathematics and engineering backgrounds. Here are 10 observations about preparation for the new syllabus:
 1. The panel has been constituted to revisit the entire pattern, syllabus and eligibility criteria for civil services examination conducted by the UPSC. This examination selects India’s top bureaucrats and diplomats including IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS etc.
2. The expert committee consists of leading academicians, technocrats and senior bureaucrats of national repute.
3. The primary objective of setting up the committee, as articulated by minister Jitendra Singh, is to provide a level playing field to aspirants from diverse streams of curriculum such as mathematics, engineering, medicine or humanities.
4. Another goal of bringing about changes as per the recommendations of the committee is to ensure that the youngsters taking up “IAS as a career possess a genuine aptitude for administrative job”, the minister told the group of civil servant aspirants.
5. The idea, according to the minister, is to ensure that the best and the most deserving with a genuine aptitude should get the opportunity to become a part of the administrative set up of rapidly developing 21st century India.
6. The minister then clarified that till such time as the recommendations of the expert committee are received and the government subsequently takes a decision on the same, the General Studies Paper-II (CSAT) in the civil services preliminary examination will remain a qualifying paper with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%.
7. And then, the DoPT’s decision taken last year to exclude the English portion consisting of 22 marks in the General Studies Paper-II of the civil services preliminary examination from tabulation also continues to remain in force.
8. The minister personally studied the question papers of the last 3 years of civil services examination.
9. And after studying those, he had come to a conclusion that the issue “deserved to be re-looked in the background of inputs received from different quarters”.
10. The minister also talked about an allegation that the present syllabus and pattern tended to benefit students from mathematics and engineering backgrounds.


  1. Engineers and Civil Services Examination
    1. In the Civil Services Examination final merit [last 2 or 3 years] list 97.5 % of the successful candidates are Engineers with the only rider that most of them got through with the Arts Subjects as Optional Subjects and only 2.5 % of them appeared for the examination with Engineering or Science Subjects as Optional subjects. So really speaking those selected are not really Engineers. It reveals two things.
    a. Engineering subjects are not “scoring friendly”, meaning, do not earn good marks for the same effort.
    b. It is easy to score good marks without much efforts by selecting an Arts subject.
    2. It only reveals that it is easy crack the Civil Services Examination provided:
    a. One has some good writing skills.
    b. One has mastered the examination writing skills.
    c. One is able to take pressure and do well in an examination. Most of the main-stream Arts students are not very structured in preparing for examinations in Arts even though they spend 7 to 8 years studying Arts. It helps engineers.
    d. One selects an Arts subject in which it is very difficult to differentiate the answers with a very good knowledge content from those verbose and “Broadly well-written” answers.
    e. Engineers are able to succeed and outscore mainstream arts post graduates because they are hard-working and methodical.

  2. In continuation:
    If a condition were to be introduced that one can select an optional only from among the subjects studied at the graduation or post-graduation level we will see a different result.
    97 % of the selected candidates will be Arts students!!
    At best a few more engineers or science students may make it to the list by selecting their subjects. But they will not be many.
    In any case it may not cross 10 %.
    About 90 % will remain to be Arts graduates.

    1. Just change the format of prelims examination and see the difference. As if now, it is prelims examination filtering process which resulted in lop sided selection of candidates in favour from science background. Mains examination is not the cause of imbalance. In 2015, this trend is definitely going to change due to new method adopted for merit list preparation at prelims level.

  3. The Civil Services Examination - The choice of Optional Subjects: The 63rd annual report of the UPSC shows the following details [See Tables 1 & 2] about the profile of the candidates appearing in the final [merit?] list. This is now set to change. Just for debating.

    Table – 1: Composition of the list of successful candidates: Disciplines pursued at Degree & Post Graduate level:
    Sl. No. Subject in which graduated %
    1 Humanities 28
    2 Sciences 11
    3 Medical Sciences 15
    4 Engineering 47
    5 Total 100
    Table – 2: Composition of the list of successful candidates: Optional subjects selected for the Civil Services examination:
    Sl. No. Subjects selected as Optional Papers %
    1 Humanities + Languages 90
    2 Sciences 6
    3 Medical Sciences 2.7
    4 Engineering 0.9
    5 Total 100

    Some Doubts: I have a few doubts which the experts may clear
    1. After spending about 8 years [sometimes even more] studying Technical, Medical, and Science Subjects why Arts Subjects were chosen as Optional Subjects by majority of the MBAs, Engineers, Science Graduates [even PGs / PhDs], and Medical Doctors?
    2. And how the above mentioned non-arts categories, who picked up and studied Arts Subjects so late in the in the race and purely for the sake of an examination, were able to score more marks with the Arts Subjects than those who studied Arts Subjects full-time at college?
    3. Is it a waste of time to study Arts full time in colleges? Is there no real teaching and learning in the Arts Subjects in the Colleges? Is teaching in Arts Subjects weak across the Nation? Is a scientific evaluation of knowledge in Arts Subjects not possible?
    4. Is it inherently difficult to score more marks in the Business, Accounting, Technical, Medical, and Science Subjects?
    5. Is the evaluation system adopted by the UPSC defective? Are the UPSC giving more marks for superficial knowledge in the Arts?
    6. In my view the marks scored in the Arts Subjects were mainly awarded for ‘expression’ rather than Subject ‘Expertise’. In the Arts Subjects are marks being awarded more for ‘Style’ and less for ‘Substance’? It cannot happen in the Science or Engineering subjects. To me, it appears, there is nothing called ‘expertise’ in Arts! Any comments? Yeas a little bit harsh! I am sorry.
    7. Is it that ‘expertise’ can be acquired very easily in the Arts Subjects in a couple of months even through private study? I am afraid, such easily acquired ‘expertise’ is often useless and is forgotten equally easily!
    8. My take: In the Engineering ans Exact Science Groups one cannot window-dress ones domain knowledge and easily cheat the evaluator as accurate answers have to be given. There is no room for obfuscation. In the Arts domains it is not the case. In the Arts domain many things are open-ended and whichever way one argues some marks can be scored. Any comments?