Sunday, July 17, 2011

CSAT - A level-playing field

The much-awaited Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) finally happened on June 12. CSAT, which replaced the optional paper in UPSC Prelims (Civil Services Exam) had given rise to much speculation and anxiety among students. Aspirants preparing to appear for 2012 and the subsequent years also had a keen eye on the paper. There have been reports from various centres that as many as half of the registered candidates did not turn up for the examination. But for those who actually attempted the paper, it was a pleasant surprise with most questions coming under the 'attemptable' category. There were ample questions based on common sense and generic aptitude and with reasonable preparation it would have been possible for most candidates to do well.

UPSC had to walk the tight rope between bringing in relevant aspects of testing for the first time into UPSC entrance examination formats while not favouring or jeopardising any particular section of the candidates. The balance act, we have to say was done to perfection.

The paper consisted of 80 questions out of which around 37 were based on the 10 reading comprehension passages. Reading comprehension passages were taken from various sources but maintained a strong social theme. Featuring among the passages were excerpts from Nehru's "Discovery of India" and Gandhi's "Ethnic religion". The passage on 'inclusive growth' was from one of the economic surveys published by the ministry of finance (available online on the ministry of finance website). Another passage interestingly was taken from an op/lead article of a popular newspaper. Evidently, all the passages were concise and dense but were written in simple English. It belied the fears of candidates that vocabulary would play a major role in solving RC based questions. The questions required you to analyse the passage and provide inferences based on your understanding of the passage.

Another commendable aspect of the paper was the unique way in which questions on mental ability and data interpretation were set. Almost all of them were conceptoriented. There was very little number crunching to be done. Students from nonscience background can heave a huge sigh of relief that UPSC has been sensitive to their apprehensions. Common sense and basic application of high school mathematics would have seen you cruising through these questions.

Logical reasoning based questions were perhaps the toughest of all the questions to crack unless one was prepared sufficiently to tackle such questions. With candidates being asked to evaluate syllogisms and implication statements, it was both tricky and time consuming.

The much talked about question type of decisionmaking and problem solving had eight questions based on it. Further, these eight questions did not carry any negative marking and understandably so in the wake of the fact that it is very difficult to zero in on the perfect answer. Between appropriate and not so appropriate there often exists a very thin line.

Now what this means for those preparing for the coming years is that everybody has an equal shot at doing well. CSAT is a welcome improvement over the obvious confusion over equating scores in different optional in prelims. However, there is no denying that the comfort level with English language is going to be a key factor. Although the paper is bi-lingual and apart from nine questions which are singularly meant to test your English language skills, all others have a Hindi translation. Unless you have been a Hindi-medium student, there are good chances that words you find difficult in English will be found to be equally, if not more, abstruse in Hindi. Maintaining a wide range of reading will ensure that you are not put-off by any whichever topic on which the passage might be based. Also reading speed might be crucial. This year, most candidates were not able to complete the paper. With reading comprehension making up half the paper, you would be expected to read around 10,000 words, understand and be able to draw inferences whenever asked to. Thus the importance of a good reading speed cannot be overstated. For mental ability, data interpretation and data sufficiency topic, a basic but concept oriented study should be emphasised.

Thus, CSAT is no tougher than it needs to be. It stresses analytical and objective thinking and certainly is the way ahead.
{Couresy:Ed. times}

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