Aspirants who took the civil service preliminary examination of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on Sunday under the revised CSAT format have given a thumbs up to the new system.
UPSC had decided to make Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) a qualifying paper for the civil services exams following protests from various students' organisations. The examination format was revised in such a way that from this year Paper-II will be considered only as a qualifying paper. A candidate needs to score merely 33% in this paper and it will not be added to the total.
In effect, the results will be solely determined by the candidate's performance in Paper-I, which is a general knowledge test, provided one qualifies Paper II.
"Earlier, the first 25 questions tested your numerical skill which was followed by long passage type questions. Only 10 to 20% of the students could complete those questions. Candidates from technical background and those preparing for banking examinations could easily clear it. Most of them used to do well in prelims but could not replicate the same in mains," said Sandeep Verma, a sociology student who is giving his fourth shot in the exam.
"This year's prelim was for the real aspirants," he added.
Till 2010 the preliminary exam comprised of two parts – a general studies paper and an optional subject which a candidate could select from a list of 23. However, this system was changed in 2011. The optional paper was replaced by a second general studies paper which tested the candidates aptitude.
The move attracted widespread criticism from humanities students who felt that the system gave an upper hand to students from technical and science backgrounds.
This year, the number of current affairs questions in Paper-I was increased much to the candidates' delight. Moreover, candidates from Hindi-speaking regions were also happy with the quality of the translation.
"The best part was that there was no problem with translation. Earlier the translations were so bad that even Hindi-medium students found it difficult to understand the Hindi translations," said Neelotpal Mrinal, one of the aspirants who protested for a revision in the CSAT pattern.
Some changes were effected in Paper-II as well with more importance to testing a candidate's comprehension skills. There were more short passages with a single question worth 2.5 marks this year, compared to long passages followed by a couple of questions last year.
"Going through lengthy passages was a tedious process. With short passages, one can answer more within a short time," said Joseph James, who hopes to be lucky the third time.
However, engineering graduates felt they were at a disadvantage because of the changes.
"The reduction in the number of logical reasoning questions was a setback. There was no reason to make Paper-I the deciding factor for prelims. A candidate's general awareness is tested during the mains exam anyway. Earlier, we used to get more marks in Paper-II, but now we have lost that upper hand," said Karthik R, an engineering graduate.
Hindi-medium students, on the other hand, said comprehension type questions would pull them back. "The comprehension part was difficult compared to the previous year. Last year, the comprehension section had long passages followed by four to five questions of 2.5 marks each so one could score more marks per passage though they were long. But this year the passages were short, followed mostly by a single question. In effect, one could score only 2.5 marks per passage this year," said Umashamker Ladia, who is taking the exams for the first time.
The candidates are also apprehensive about high cut-offs as the examination was relatively easy this year.
The civil services examination is conducted by the UPSC every year in three stages - preliminary, main and interview - to select candidates for prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) among other services.
Lakhs of candidates try their luck every year, but only less than 0.5% make to the services. A total of 9,45,908 candidates had applied for the civil services exam this year. Only 49% of the total candidates or 4,65,882 candidates took the examination.