August 8, 2014

Row over UPSC CSAT

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Source: India Today

An unnecessary row has broken out over CSAT. A few pointers on what I feel about it:

a) It was not introduced in 2011 in haste, rather since 2001 recommendations had been made to overhaul the system to provide level field for all backgrounds' candidates. UPSC started with overhauling Prelim in 2011, then Main in 2013. Yes what UPSC should have done is- since 2008 or so, it should have announced that from 2011 a new pattern will b introduced & given syllabus in advance- then people would have had headstart of 2 or 3 years. Then 'extra attempt' for 'sufferers' who gave attempt in 2011 could have been avoided.

b) Hindi vs Eng: Most Hindi students coming on TV say 'Eng is not problem'. Translation is problem coz software is used for this. This is unfortunate- for sch a prestigious exam couldn't UPSC ensure a team of translators to provide proper translation of big English Comprehension passages? OK now that they know, translation needs to made correct. So I don't know who advised the govt to not include easiest 8 qns of paper- some proper advise to reprint Hindi translation even for Aug 24 would have helped. Coz even now this basic thing's not been addressed.
I anticipate that on Aug 24, many students will protest n burn vehicles again after 4:30 pm (or even during exam & risk being deprived of future attempts for disciplinary breach) coz they got same filthy translation. WHY DOESN'T GOVT/UPSC SOLVE DEEPER MALAISE than govt giving political statement like no compulsory English? Current decision leaves ground open for far more protests rather than solving anything, except applying invisible balm on Hindi heartland people for votes.

c) Science vs Humanities:  New format is actually fair. Tests basic skills of analysis by CSAT & basic knowledge of multiple fields via GS. So, if protestors say CSAT advantageous fr engineers/docs/MBAs/Tech ppl then so-called 'Tech people' can also say that GS disadvantageous to them & rather advantageous to Humanities people!! Look that's not the point- we all must understand that perfect question paper which is equally advantageous/disadvantageous to ALL cannot be made!! There will always be a field where one is weak, other is strong. UPSC via this pattern is exalting all to work on their weaknesses & come upto an expected standard of testing to be an All India Civil Servant. We need most capable, multi-versed ppl with highest ethical standards in the Services if India is to be a  developed nation. Barest minimum is to make yourself strong- OK if Hindi translation is bad that CAN & MUST be corrected. After all, hundreds of other dialect speakers are also taking the exam- not just Hindi speakers. The test asks for a minimum level of skills for all. 

d) Politics: Suddenly MPs stand up and demand question papers in all 22 languages, including Derek who ALWAYS asks quiz questions in English! Read this lovely article for more.
OK where were they all these years? Since over 60 years prelim question papers have been printed in English with Hindi translations in same paper. No one talked about it all these years- why now? VOTES HUH?? LINGUISTIC DIVISIONS HUH?? Why are you bent on making India regress in the age of Internet? Why don't U rather work on getting NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) and Bharat Broadband to every Panchayat of India?

e) Subjects: Very fair that mains pattern is now more dynamic. Person versed with everyday's newspapers can ace the exam today. Excellent that rote learning via 2 subjects has paved way for shining of true merit & generalist aptitude- because as officer one has to serve most diverse fields. If U wanna specialise, why don't U give Engineering Services & Statistical Services & other such govt exams?
And what 50% are people talking about for the topper?? U can analyse any year- UPSC deliberately scales the marks down so that it doesn't cross 55% to keep perception of toughest exam alive. Howmuch ever brilliantly one writes, still total marks will remain around 50% & that person will b in top ranks. In fact even this single subject paper should not be there- as really the markings vary wildly across subjects with some Literature subjects or science subjects getting too high marks compared to other humanities subjects & then even among humanities subjects there are wide variations. It's also unfair for those who graduated in a subject totally separate from that given in limited list of subjects. They have to take new subject and work doubly or triply hard to get decent marks.

So if TRUE LEVEL PLAYING SYSTEM is to be provided then syllabus should b made EQUAL FOR ALL, study material should be prescribed on Govt sites so that RURAL+URBAN students have same access & coaching centres' hegemony can truly decline (of course newspapers/mags etc. one has to prepare on own). Psychometric tests or increase in weightage of ethics will serve our country much better to get in good people at entry level at least.

I hope that UPSC makes desired changes so that it's fair for ALL & govt must not give knee jerk reactions just to appease a particular section of people. Rather it should take a path realising benefit for ALL students & of country as a whole.

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  1. The article is nice but there are quite a few problems with the language. 1. sms language, not something which can be appreciated by a person who has taste. 2: large descriptions which are not very specific and very informal. it exposes your emotional bias.

    1. Thanks so mch fr ur comment! Well, 2 things:
      a) it's been written FAST to COMMUNICATE on an urgent issue (not to appeal to anyone's TASTE)!
      b) And it's - BHAAVNAON KO's an emotive issue for lakhs! If article wouldn't sound emotional, it'd be a shame!

  2. Very well-expressed, Amrita.
    All relevant points here. I totally agree with your unbiased analysis & fair recommendations.
    Hope the UPSC isn't treated as a personal fiefdom of vested political party interests.
    High time we stop India from getting sacrificed & having to pay high costs owing to some irresponsible elements in the system.
    Thanks for referring to my Post as "lovely article" & also for linking it here :) Great!
    May the "TRUE LEVEL PLAYING SYSTEM" be in place fast so that it is fair for all the students of every medium as well as for our INDIA...

    1. Thanks so mch Anita! Yes I fully agree with U & I love your article too on this topic...keep writing! :)

  3. Good one, Amrita. It's more of politics than anything else. I would go one step ahead and say it's a mean politics which hits below the belt of any Indian with average intelligence.

    1. Thanks so much Sir! Yes I do agree with you- I hope 'sadbuddhi' dawns on our politicians for our India's sake....tall ask isn't it?!

  4. I agree to most points here Amrita. I think as an exam, it has seen a few changes and a lot of status quo as well. I do see a few reasons as to why they wanted to make it English and the reason for CSAT as well, as they are trying to cope for the new age of change. It does seem unfair for a lot of people preparing, but it is a tough place to be in.

    1) I am completely against the politicization of the issue, it is just a lobby to make sure they have their own votes
    2) Perhaps with the bigger picture, the use of a common standard might make sense.
    3) It is true that it has changed from the previous mug up and write type of an exam to the one which tests you on a rational front.

    I think there will be reservations from the ones who are at the losing end. But trying to look at it from the perspective of the commission, in a way it does make a certain sense..

    1. Totally agree with you Vinay! 'Lost in translation' is the grudge then it MUST b corrected asap! But plz dnt tinker with the finally scientific pattern of CSAT..!

  5. What a detailed analysis Amrita, I was seriously looking for this information about CSAT. I was hearing it, but never getting the right information about this row, which you gave here. Thank you so much Amrita.

    1. Most welcome Alok! Glad I could help! Actually, we all as Indians need 2 b concerned abt this issue...for we MUST NEVER watch our 'steel frame' getting diluted....

  6. I just have two points -

    1. An IAS aspirant should at-least know the basic 10th standard English.

    2. If it is conducted in Hindi for rural students who study in Hindi medium then it should be conducted in Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and all national languages for rural students who study in these languages.

    1. Well-said Gaurab! Yet I wanna say here that the exam has been alwez given in Eng+Hindi in same question paper..coz these r like recognised national languages of India+link languages of India!

      Since 60 yrs none had prob as translation was fine...but after CSAT came with long English passages which had terrible translations, the trouble started. The meritorious ones could not understand, hence could nt attempt almost half of CSAT paper- that's English, and came out to protest. And those rote-learners who can't think on feet used this as a way to butt in & elbow out CSAT itself!! And then issue became politicised!

  7. Very unfortunate if this gets implemented permanently.

    1. U r right Indrani...when will future of our India be in hearts n minds of final decision makers??

  8. Hi Amrita, this is Surya Kant. I reached to your blog via Insight.

    The CSAT row has become politicized undoubtedly but the protesting students have valid reasons on their part. First, the dramatic decline in successful candidates appearing in regional languages after CSAT introduction speaks for itself. Second, testing English language in an aptitude paper in prelim is ridiculous, particularly when there is a compulsory qualifying paper of English in mains. While weightage of both papers are theoretically equal, in reality it has nearly double the worth. And here, technical background candidates do have advantage. The regional languages other than Hindi too have similar grievances against Hindi because of prelim being held in just English and Hindi languages.

    While the government responded only to pacify the agitating students and political opponents, the row does indirectly draw attention to the long mooted idea of holding separate exams for All India Services and Central Services.

    1. Thanks a lot Surya Kant! I have rebuttal arguments to make!

      a) Truth is that since UPSC started tweaking the Prelim+Main qn papers since 2007 or so, with more dynamic/conceptual/analytical than static qns, % of successful candidates of regional languages have come down. This shows that regional language students who may have had limited access to only standard reference books than dynamic/contemporary analytical content [NOT THEIR FAULT...enough vernacular mags/newspapers giving nuanced analysis as found in Eng newspapers/mags r rare or not found] have been % wise coming down.
      CSAT was culmination against rote-learning - a true dynamic & thinking-on-feet pattern & that's how we see 'dramatic' drop from entry level itself since 2011. Also, in absence of authentic figures, I'd like to even say that those from regional lang who qualified prelim since 2011, were further unable 2 cope with ever more dynamic Mains. Hence, really the final # of ppl from regional lang becoming IAS/IPS came down.

      b) There are compulsory GS papers in Mains too. So why not scrap that in Prelims as well?!! Hence, this qualifying-Eng-paper-in-Mains vs why-Eng-tested-in-Prelims doesn't hold water at all.

      c) Like I've pointed out, all background candidates will have some or other advantage in ANY sort of paper that you set. However, I do agree that CSAT weightage may be brought down say from 200 to 100 marks so that 'highly intelligent ppl' who have not even slogged for a year, who simply sit down to 'try their hand' at CSE and also get through by getting min marks in GS while acing CSAT, would be discouraged.
      UPSC must encourage those who have really worked for at least a year! This way competition at Mains level is also held up. Also, another way to ensure this is- pass marks for GS in Prelim should be increased, rather than a 30/40 marks to at least 60 marks (30% of 200).
      In fact, an RTI reveals that some 1300 people or almost 10% students who qualified Prelim 2013 did not even care to sit for Mains. This is like squandering chances of 1300 serious aspirants who slogged it out for the exam! Hence, such "carefree attitude+intelligent" students who can ace CSAT without any practice, must be discouraged as they later do not care to sit for Main exam also!

      So yes, scope for making exam fair for ALL exists in current pattern. Reasoned judgement needs to be taken by powers-that-be rather than any knee jerk reactions. Hoping for the best- FOR INDIA'S FUTURE!

  9. and you must be a UPSC aspirant too!....the analysis that has gone reflects that..this discussion is old but all this uncertainty cost me my attempt this year....had csat been removed I would have written mains last year....but I still want csat to's the time constraint that is creating a problem rather than the questions themselves....2 min per question is the need...good to see this post.


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