Why CSAT?

Exam Fever

The first Civil Service Aptitude Test is behind us and the dust has settled over the content, direction and syllabus. However, not many have delved into understanding the purpose of CSAT.  What does UPSC want to achieve through the incorporation of an aptitude test? How is it an improvement over the previous paper? And above all, what qualities are UPSC looking for in candidates? These, and many more questions, are yet to be answered.

Some feel that it is a process of sidelining test-takers from the vernacular medium, while others believe that it has been done to include students from science/engineering/commerce backgrounds; and there are plenty who feel that UPSC has merely added more burden (CS applicants) by including aptitude testing.  The step to include a separate paper for CSAT has been done deliberately. Here are a few benefits of including a full paper on aptitude testing in the Civil Services examination.

One has to understand the basic dynamics of incorporating a full paper on aptitude testing. Aptitude testing has been a small part of the preliminary exam for many years.

However, the number of questions were as low as 15 out of 150. The cut-off for the GS paper (for 2010) is close to 40 questions. So a test-taker could afford not to attempt these questions and still get through the prelims. This was not a healthy sign for any examination and, hence a change was imminent.

Second, more than 20 subjects were available for test-takers for the preliminary exam and there were a few highly sought-after subjects like Public Administration, History, Geography, Sociology etc.  These subjects were most sought-after because the scaling process favoured test-takers.  This is also one of the primary reasons why UPSC never divulged the scaling process adopted by it.

Third, as already told, the twenty subjects available for test-takers were of different difficulty levels and it was very difficult for the UPSC to remove the error of differential difficulty through another tool of scaling. It was impossible to maintain a uniform level of difficulty among all papers, and this breached the fundamental right of equal opportunity.

Fourth, if the main examination tests a candidate’s  understanding of a subject, then why do we need two steps of the same thing? (the preliminary examination also did the same). So, the preliminary examination was testing a candidate on a subject and then the main examination again tested the same candidate on the same or another subject.

One more benefit of including CSAT, if not a direct outcome, is that it improves the employability of CS aspirants. Most test-takers prepare for the examination in full-time mode. They prepare only for this exam and are not in a position to prepare for other examinations (given the exhaustive nature of the examination). By the time a test-taker exhausts his/her attempts, he/she is over age for many other examinations like PO, SSC, CDS, etc. So, through this analysis, CS aspirants should prepare for the examination in the right spirit.

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