Here’s the lowdown on CSAT

Is the aptitude test meant to level the field for all candidates and is there no difference between the aptitude test and the former preliminary exam?

Entry into the Indian civil services, considered the ‘steel frame of the Indian administration’, is through an extremely challenging test. Over the years, it has undergone many changes, the most recent being the alteration in the format of the preliminary examination (notified in 2010) and its emergence as the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) held in June 2011. Before CSAT 2011, there was one paper of general studies which carried 150 marks and a second paper where the candidate had the option to choose from 23 optional papers, carrying 300 marks.

Under the revised pattern, there are now two papers, each worth 200 marks. Henceforth, there would be two common papers in the preliminary examination which would provide a level playing field for all candidates.

Now, there are two questions every reader would want to discuss:

What exactly is the CSAT? Is it just paper 2 of the prelim exam or is the entire test (paper 1 and paper 2) the CSAT?
Is there a ‘point and purpose’ of the new format of the prelim exam, and will understanding it help chalk out preparation strategies? Well, before I answer the first question, allow me to present some facts which create some confusion. And then we may try to join the dots and try and find a reasonable answer.

  • The notification and further revelation to the notification never mentioned the term CSAT. Since the notification, the Union Public Service Commission, or UPSC, (which conducts it) has used the term civil services (preliminary) examination or CSP. Also, it did not name either paper 1 or paper 2.
  • On August 4, 2010, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, the minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, Prithviraj Chavan, had informed parliament that the government had approved the proposal for introduction of a CSAT in place of the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination.

The CSAT, it was said, would come into effect from the Civil Services Examination, 2011. This would enable screening of candidates having a right aptitude for the civil services.

  • The coaching fraternity devised their coaching modules as GS+CSAT, thereby terming paper 1 as general studies and paper 2 as CSAT.

Starting with the third point first, which claims that paper 2 is CSAT of CSP, we can say that this is the least logical of all. How can one part of the CSP be called general studies and the other, CSAT? It would have made sense if paper 1 was called Civil Services General Studies Test and paper 2 CSAT. So, in my opinion, paper 2 alone is not CSAT, and it could be market-lingo.

Now, point 2 clearly mentions that the changed preliminary exam was to be called CSAT, but the first point suggests that the UPSC never used the term CSAT when they notified the 2011 exam. It just stuck to CSP or Civil Services Preliminary Examination. So, what can we infer from this? I think CSP and CSAT are one and the same thing. I suggest that we can appropriately call paper 1 general studies and paper 2 general aptitude.

Now, let’s go to the second question, on the ‘point and purpose’ of this change. The ‘point and purpose’ of the change is to provide a greater degree of level-playing field to candidates of different backgrounds. Looking at the CSAT 2011 paper, some changes ensured that the test was as clear and effective as possible, while others were made to make sure that students coming from particular backgrounds would not have unfair advantages.

The writer is a CSAT expert and author of The Pearson CSAT Manual 2012


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