By Sarkaritel August 8, 2014 10:22


CSAT Controversy


By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Will it be a case of ‘too little, too late’ or will the Government yield totally? Indeed, the raging controversy to scrap the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) preliminary examination for the UPSC has got both the Government and many Civil Services aspirants unnerved. The aspirants are anxiously waiting to write the exam on August 24 but are unsure about its dates and its pattern. At its end, the Government has yielded to pressure in Parliament and announced that the English content of the CSAT exam will not be counted, but this has hardly placated those agitating to revert to pre-2011 pattern. Along with this there is a section of former civil servants who are arguing that the Government appeasement is unwarranted.

The uncertainty is gnawing. The scheduled exam is already delayed by two months because the UPSC has changed the pattern of the Mains examination. Now it has fixed the date of the prelim exam in August, which normally used to be held in the month of May. At present it appears that the exams will be held on the fresh date with the cosmetic changes, but it hardly seems to have solved the main problem.

This is the second successive year when some students have launched an agitation to scrap the CSAT introduced in 2011. They are buoyed by the regime change in the Centre and like to press hard their point that CSAT doesn’t confirm to principles of natural justice and there is an uneven playing field being created through this method of testing.

The grievance to scrap the CSAT comes from a section of students who are uncomfortable for brain teasers and are pushed to elimination in the first round itself facing such questions. They have little choice either to forgo the exam or oppose the CSAT pattern. Adapting to the changing reality is forcing them to go back to school.

In 2011, the UPSC decided to introduce CSAT as a separate paper replacing the main subject paper in its Prelim exam. CSAT seeks to test interpersonal communication, logical reasoning, decision making, problem solving and English language skills. The paper carries 200 marks and along with General Studies the total marks of the exam are 400. A candidate has to score 315 plus marks, to qualify the prelim exam.

In the changed pattern, a good score in the CSAT is essential to qualify the prelim exam. But for those students who find reasoning difficult to handle it is impossible to clear it. Such students come from humanities and arts background and may have rural and regional profile. They are completely uneasy about new pattern testing and argue that the CSAT favours students of science, management and engineering background because the science stream students continue to hone their reasoning and aptitude knowledge after their 10th level well into their degree stage; the arts and humanities students are totally devoid of such content after their 10th level.

Such students after graduation who plan to write the Civil Services exams find it difficult to connect to class Xth level analytical academic content. They have to travel back almost 6 years into their studies and brush up their Xth level studies to come to terms with CSAT.

Notwithstanding the facts, that the CSAT questions are only of class Xth level, doesn’t put all the candidates on equal terms. As a matter of fact, many students who have mental block to math and reasoning have a great escape after 10th when they opt for arts and humanities.

Now such students who have to take CSAT may find a bit too strenuous to catch up with the past that they deliberately chose to give up. They find the core paper at their degree level much easier to study and be tested than going back to the school level and honing the lessons of aptitude and reasoning. This is the sum and substance of the problem.

Prior to 2011, preliminary exam use to have one optional paper and the common general studies paper. Normally, candidates scored high marks in the optional paper as they were fresh with it at the degree level. In the General studies paper they could answer substantial questions, leaving few aptitude questions to luck. In such a situation, they could still qualify the prelim exams, even if they were not so comfortable with the aptitude questions.

The complexion of the preliminary exam totally changed when the Aptitude Test was made compulsory along with the General Studies paper in 2011. Many aspirants found it rather tough to handle. While the science and engendering students readily adapted to the changes, the students from arts and humanities struggled to adopt the new pattern of testing. It is these students who want the CSAT to be scrapped and may like to see reverting to the old pattern.

To argue that the CSAT questions are of high school level and provides a level playing field to all sections is bit to hegemonic. It defies the logic of the principle of natural justice.

Broadly in India there are two formats of competitive exams for government jobs. One is based on testing reasoning and analytical skills and other test the comprehensive knowledge through written tests. The UPSC Civil Services examination, the Provincial Civil Services examination, the Judiciary Examination is all in the format of essay writing to tests.  The bank exams and other Public sector exams are geared towards general mental ability test pattern.

While there may be some candidates who may be comfortable with both the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) pattern and comprehension pattern, there could be some students who may not be comfortable with the GMAT pattern. As a matter of fact, they may find comprehension pattern of testing more suitable rather than GMAT pattern.

It is to such students that CSAT defies the principal of natural justice as it tries to sideline many students of arts and humanities background.  As a matter of fact, they argue that forcing the CSAT is a mere ploy to eliminate a large section of students in the first round itself.

Just scrapping English from the CSAT is not the solution to the problem, which is more fundamental in nature. The Government appointed committee that is looking into the demands for change should look into all the details before coming up with recommendations.

If the UPSC sticks to the changed pattern of CSAT it would be forcing the students to adapt to the new pattern or simply tell them obliquely not to write this exam. If it does so it should be infringing upon the domain of natural justice. The UPSC needs to be a fair arbitrator that offers a level-playing field to all the candidates across the country.

Rather than reworking on CSAT and make some cosmetic changes to placate some students, it would be more prudent if the UPSC reverts to the old pattern of examination. This may create a more level-playing field and suit the aspirations of the Civil Services aspirants across the country. All eyes will be on how best and how soon a solution is found. —INFA

(Copyright, India News and  Feature  Alliance)

By Sarkaritel August 8, 2014 10:22