The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is respected for its impartial selection process and timely declaration of results which may not be the case for other examinations in India. But recently, there was a controversy in Kerala where a minister as a rebuke to certain allegations against him pointed fingers at the civil service examination. He mentioned the son of a top political leader from Kerala getting very high marks in the civil service interview was suspicious. He even stated that the person got only 600th rank after the written examination, but got 210th rank after the interview! This serious allegation against a constitutional body shows the ignorance about the interview process of civil service examination which is different from other examinations.
All about the test
The civil service examination has two parts: preliminary and main. The marks of the preliminary examination are not added to the final ranking. The main stage is divided into two parts - the written part and the personality test. The main written examination is for 1,750 marks (250 marks each for seven papers). The candidates need to make an aggregate cut off to qualify for the personality test. No minimum marks per paper is required. The personality test is for 275 marks. Again, there is no cut-off mark. The aggregate of main written examination and personality test is used for the final ranking. So, there is no separate rank list after the main written examination as claimed by the minister.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, the marks of the written test will be announced only after the final result. So, both the candidate and the interview board will not have any idea about how much marks the candidate scored in the main exam. This rules out the possibility of someone influencing the interview board to compensate for low written marks, as one does not know whether the score is low or high.
Now let us see how the process of personality test happens. First and foremost, one needs to understand that all the candidates will be interviewed by a board of competent and unbiased observers. Each board will have one member of the UPSC as the chairman (who is from Civil Service/Academics/Defence background) and four domain experts as members. Two of them will be retired officers (one from IAS who retired from the service at the level of secretary to the government and one from other services like IFS, IPS or Central Services). The other two experts are from academics: one from humanities and the other from science and technology. These experts are changed after every week.
The group of candidates going to face a particular board will be decided only on the day of interview where the names of candidates in a group will be presented to the UPSC chairman on a sealed envelope. The chairman marks the board’s number without opening the envelope. Then the respective envelopes will be handed over to the board chairman. Pre-arrangement and fixing are almost impossible.
An interview lasts 15 minutes to one hour (30 minutes in most cases). Once the candidate laves after completing the interview, the chairperson and board members will have a discussion on the strength and weakness of the candidate and then arrive at a consensus on the marks to be awarded. Normally the marks range between 20 per cent (55) to 75 per cent (206), but an outstanding performance may fetch 80 per cent (220). All efforts are made to keep each board informed of the pattern of marking happening in other boards for ensuring the degree of uniformity. From the afternoon of the first day onwards, each board is shown at the beginning of each session, an analysis of the marks awarded by the different boards to make them aware of the range of marks. This is to help in avoiding extreme marks as much as possible.
People who scored less than 50 per cent marks in personality test have managed to get into top ten rankings because of the high scores in written examination. Whereas people who were interview toppers with 75 per cent marks have failed to make it to the top ranks. When it comes to the children of political leaders making it to civil service, it's a personal choice and they never get any undue advantage.
Political vendetta should not be used for tarnishing the reputation of a constitutional body on which thousands of youngsters cast their hopes.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)