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HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014
Civil service exams: one chance two many?
Gauri Kohli, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 26, 2014
First Published: 11:26 IST(26/3/2014)
Last Updated: 11:29 IST(26/3/2014)

Kunal Kishore was unable to clear the civil services examination despite making four attempts and had almost given up on his dreams to become an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer. However, the recent announcement by the Department of Personnel and Training that candidates would get two more chances to write the exam in all categories has got him and other aspirants back to their study tables, determined to get through the exams once and for all.

Respite for students­
Talking about an agitation by aspirants for changes in the civil services exam format, Kishore says, “Our main demands were according to the recommendations of second Administrative Reforms Commission. We wanted relaxation, a change in the pattern/syllabus of the examination, three fresh attempts and three years age relaxation. We also demand implementation of a sectional cut-off in both papers of the preliminary examination. This will ensure a level-playing field among all the aspirants,” says Kishore.

OBC category candidates who were allowed seven attempts can now sit for the exam nine times. There is no limit on attempts by a candidate of the SC/ST category.
Aspirants also say that the changes introduced in the preliminary exam since 2011 had affected the rural and non-English speaking candidates and the latest changes in the main exam made the competition more difficult for them. “The introduction of the CSAT format affected the representation of candidates from non-technical and non-English speaking backgrounds. This pattern became extremely biased favouring engineering and management students, and making it difficult for students of humanities. Two additional attempts would give the candidates more time to prepare and understand these changes,” says Sunil Kumar Singh, another aspirant who has been in the forefront of this agitation.

How it started
The UPSC’s decision to make significant changes in the format of the main exam in 2013 led to a major controversy. The commission issued a notification stating that the English language paper would be competitive and not just a means for qualification. After a series of protests by aspirants, the UPSC was forced to take a u-turn, as a result of which the marks scored in English were not taken into account while preparing the merit list. The Centre was also under pressure to shun the proposal to stop candidates from writing the exam in an Indian language if fewer than 25 candidates had opted for the language. In such a situation, the students were expected to write the exam in either English or Hindi. Another change, which sought to bar candidates from taking an Indian language paper as one of their optional papers if they had not studied in that language up to graduation level, was also revoked.

Other changes were, however, retained such as more weightage to the general studies paper and having only one optional subject of two papers, instead of two optional subjects. This was aimed at eliminating any unfair advantage for candidates going for ‘scoring’ optional subjects. According to Dhrubajyoti Banik, chief  knowledge expert, Triumphant Institute of Management Education, that also prepares candidates for the civil services exam: “Since prelims were changed to paper 1 and 2, students who were preparing as per the old pattern had been protesting. That is because along with core knowledge-based questions like general awareness, there are now other skills that are also checked, such as numerical ability, basic English comprehension and decision-making skills. These skills are important for future civil servants of any country. As administrators the civil servants also need to be checked on thinking ability, ethics and basic communication skills. Thus the new pattern, albeit slightly unpopular, is a very well thought-after decision.”

Important dates
Civil Services Preliminary exam or CSAT: Last date for applying is June 16, 2014. The exam will be held on August 24, 2014. The notification will be out on May 17, 2014
Civil Services Main exam: To be held on December 14, 2014, over a period of five days


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