The last time I wrote an All-India competitive exam was way back in 2011 when I wrote my 12th Boards and the CLAT (Common Law Admission Test).
Seven years later, I wrote another such exam last weekend, the prelims of the Civil Services Examination 2018 conducted by the UPSC.
And it was an interesting experience, to say the least.
Why Can’t We Have Competitive Exams In The Winter?
For starters, the weather these days in Delhi isn’t relenting. It’s hot, it’s sticky and very uncomfortable to even fathom venturing outside. Leaving at 7 in the morning to avoid the morning rush didn’t help either and nor did the half a dozen glasses of shikanji I had waiting outside the Kendriya Vidyalaya that was my exam centre.
It didn’t get any better when I and some 320 odd aspirants had to stand and wait under the sweltering sun to submit our phones and bags.
Clear, calm determination in the eyes of most of the aspirants there, was soon replaced by a weary exhaustion and frustration at having to wait in the sun on the day of their most important exam. As if Indian exams couldn’t get tougher.
What’s the Examination format?
The preliminary round of the Civil Services Examination is a two-part affair consisting of a General Studies (Current Affairs, Indian history, Indian economy, Environmental Science, Indian and World Geography and Indian polity) paper and the CSAT (English comprehension, logical reasoning and basic numeracy) paper.
The GS paper is a 200 marker, and is what determines qualification and the position of merit to the next round. CSAT, on the other hand, is merely a qualifying paper. In other words, a person needs at least 33% just so that UPSC marks the first paper.
Both are 2-hr MCQ papers but, while the GS paper has 100 questions, CSAT has just 80. Future note to the UPSC: Fewer questions doesn’t make me any less nervous about solving Math questions
How did I do (That’s what you really want to know, right :P)?
Well, considering I only had a month and a half of prep without any coaching, pretty decent actually. Knew a few of them, guessed a few more correctly. Not confident of making the usual cutoff of 105-115 but, I’d say I did decently.
Most people I talked to were ambivalent about it. Some found it fair, others found it a tad too difficult. Some (including me) didn’t like the fact that there were barely any questions on Indian medieval or ancient history while others were ecstatic about the many environmental and economy-related questions there turned out to be.
A few random observations
The brief period of waiting after the exams was just as illuminating as the month of prep that preceded the exam for me. I didn’t know anyone over there and was thus, left to my own devices. Alas, what I lacked in socializing with fellow aspirants/strangers, I made up with discreet listening and observation skills.
As soon as the exams ended, all one could see were aspirants, probably friends from college or coaching institutes huddling together to discuss their papers.
People fist-pumping after they realized they got an answer right, cursing quietly at a mistake they made, every little movement and emotion made me realize how much qualifying for the mains of the civil services examinations meant to people.
A lot of these aspirants had been prepping for six months, some others for over a year. And every one of them was highly motivated to clear the prelims and appear for the CSE mains in October.
Nothing suggests and proves the above more than the fact that most of these aspirants have been prepping for both the prelims and mains simultaneously (I didn’t because well, I didn’t know I could).
These weren’t people who had necessarily come first in their school or college classes. But, these were people who were all too capable to top the CSE exams owing to the level of hard work and dedication they put into their Civil Services Examination efforts. The CSE is reflective of the fact that often, in-born smarts are no substitute for sheer effort.
I slept my way back home on the new Magenta Line. By the time I got home, a mere 2 hours after, the answer key was already out. Imagine that. Definitively knowing how well you did on a competitive exam a mere hours after you’ve written it.
I didn’t go through it though. I mean, what’s the point? Every aspirant who writes any exam knows very well how he or she did on an exam. I did too.
What I really want to know, however, is how well other people did. After all, that’s who I and every other aspirant is competing against. No way to find that out (unless you believe those fake and exaggerated tweets online).
You’d think UPSC would let us know when the prelims results come out. Alas, no. No marksheet or cut-off is released. All one knows is whether they have qualified or not. Just the one line.
How cruel is that, eh? Apt for the uber-competitive Civil Services Examination.
Image Sources: Google Images