I am determined to serve the Indian Army. There are many careers which give you rewards and opportunities to succeed, but there is nothing like serving your nation in the armed forces,” says Chandigarh boy Rishabh Mishra, who this year cleared the Combined Defence Services (CDS), conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). He is now preparing to tackle the next level, which is the Service Selection Board (SSB) test.
Held twice a year to recruit officers for the Army, Navy and Air Force, the next edition of the CDS exam will be conducted on September 8, 2013, at 41 centres across the country. It is meant for admission to the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun (250 seats); Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala (40 seats); Air Force Academy, Hyderabad (32 seats) for the pre-flying course; Officers Training Academy, Chennai (175 seats) SSC course for men; and Officers Training Academy, Chennai (12 seats) SSC non-technical course for women. Women candidates are eligible just for OTA.
Candidates declared successful in the written exam have to appear for intelligence and personality tests at the SSB, based on their preference by their respective service headquarters. Results of the test conducted by the SSB hold good for all the courses (IMA DE course); Indian Naval Academy Ezhimala course; Air Force Academy, Hyderabad, and SSC NT course at OTA, Chennai, for which the candidate has qualified the written exam, irrespective of the service headquarter conducting it.
A two-stage selection process based on psychological aptitude test and intelligence test has been introduced at SSBs. All candidates are put to stage one test on the first day of reporting at selection centres. Those qualifying the first stage are eligible for the second round. To get selected, candidates should score the minimum qualifying marks separately in the written exam and SSB test, as fixed by the commission and SSB. A merit list is then prepared based on the total marks secured by them in the written exam and the SSB tests. The final selection is made on the basis of merit, subject to medical fitness, suitability in all other respects and number of vacancies available.
For admission to IMA, INA and AFA, the written exam comprises three sections - English, general knowledge and elementary mathematics. Each of these papers is of 100 marks and two-hour duration. For admission to the OTA, candidates have to appear for two-hour papers on English and general awareness, comprising a total of 200 marks. The maximum marks allotted to the written exam and to the interviews will be equal for each course, ie, the maximum marks allotted to the written exam and to the interview will be 300, 300, 300 and 200, each for IMA, INA, AFA and OTA, respectively. The papers in all subjects will have objective-type questions.
“I referred to the RS Agarwal guide and NCERT books for the maths section. In most exams conducted by the UPSC, students find the general awareness portion tough to crack. I relied on Tata McGraw Hill Manual and magazines such as Pratiyogita Darpan, Yojana and Scientific Temper,” says Mishra, who is now gearing up for his SSB test.
Another candidate, Prashant Sharma, from Shimla, shares his success mantra. “I made it a point to read newspapers daily. This helped me master the English section and also to gather enough information to handle the general awareness section. English is all about knowing how to rearrange sentences, and having good command of vocabulary and grammar. Your NCERT books will come in handy for the GK portion,” says Sharma.
Besides the interview, the candidates will be put to intelligence and personality tests, both verbal and non-verbal at the SSB level. They will also participate in group tests such as group discussions, group planning, and outdoor group tasks. They will be asked to give lectures on specified topics. “This is not just to assess our intellectual qualities but also our social skills and interest in current affairs. Skills such as leadership, communication, ability to take initiative, ability to face challenges and how you conduct yourself in different situations are assessed. You should be honest and genuine at all times,” says Sharma, talking about his strategy for the upcoming SSB.
A permanent commission is allotted to candidates if they join IMA, INA and AFA while cadets passing out of the OTA get short service commission. The educational qualification required is a bachelors’ degree. Candidates wanting to apply for a technical entry should have an engineering degree.
How to crack it
Colonel (retd) DJS Chahal of Olive Greens Academy in Chandigarh, that prepares aspirants for the exam and subsequent stages of selection, says, “Staying up-to-date with current affairs, reading regularly and developing speed and accuracy while solving maths questions hold the key. Questions in elementary mathematics will be of matriculation level. For other subjects, they are likely to be of graduation level. Leave out an answer you have doubts about because there is negative marking. The course content is fairly large and, therefore, aspirants must give themselves enough time to prepare.”
“The tests conducted during SSB are specifically designed to draw out leadership potential of the candidates. Besides general awareness, spontaneity of exhibiting social responsibilities and group effectiveness are the basic ingredients being assessed. A candidate’s general demeanour is also taken into account and motivation to join the services assessed. Preparation for the CDS exam is a forerunner to the SSB process,” says Chahal.
What you must study
General awareness: Questions will include topics from history, geography and political science
Elementary mathematics: Topics for questions include number system, integers, rational and real numbers, square roots, compound interest, profit and loss, percentages, geometry, trigonometry and statistics
English: Questions will be designed to test a candidate’s understanding of the language and use of words