ABC of Civil Services | The purpose and meaning of personality test

Key to success
Facts should be digested and one should be able to use them without sounding like he/she has mugged it all.

The personality test of this year’s civil service examination is under way in New Delhi and will go on till the first week of April. Candidates usually post the questions being asked to them in social media and generally share about whether they were able to answer each question. One person commented not being able to recall most of the questions for some time after coming out of the interview room. This reminded me of a very important aspect of the process of personality test which people often overlook.

Though the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) defines the personality test as a “purposive conversation”, most of the candidates seldom understand the purpose and completely ignore the conversation part. For them, this last stage is all about predicting the possible questions and presenting perfect answers for each one of them. In short, the entire process becomes so artificial and mechanical.

Not the right way

Recently, a person showed me the answers he wrote down for certain expected questions. I strictly advised him not to do that but I am not sure whether he was convinced. He might have wondered how was he supposed to deliver quality answers without preparing them? Well, that is not how things work here.

Let me elaborate on the instructions given by the UPSC on this. “The candidate will be interviewed by a Board who will have before them a record of his/her career. He/she will be asked questions on matters of general interest. The objective of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service by a Board of competent and unbiased observers. The test is intended to judge the mental calibre of a candidate. In broad terms this is really an assessment of not only his/her intellectual qualities but also social traits and his/her interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership, intellectual and moral integrity. The technique of the interview is not that of a strict cross-examination but of a natural, though directed and purposive conversation which is intended to reveal the mental qualities of the candidate. The interview test is not intended to be a test either of the specialised or general knowledge of the candidates which has been already tested through their written papers. Candidates are expected to have taken an intelligent interest not only in their special subjects of academic study but also in the events which are happening around them both within and outside their own state or country as well as in modern currents of thought and in new discoveries which should arouse the curiosity of a well-educated youth.”

One needs to understand that the words calibre and alertness are emphasised here. It means that whether a person is able to think on the spot and answer various questions. Another factor, which the interview board checks, is whether the person has a natural interest in things around so that he/she is able to analyse things from all points of view before taking a stand. The word social cohesion mentioned indicates the importance of behaving naturally. This include responding appropriately to compliments, acknowledging the opposite point of view etc. All these indicates the importance of responding naturally during the personality test. This will happen only when a person thinks beyond the questions and answers. One needs to brush up facts related to current affairs as well as one’s background. But one should never get into a memorising mode. The facts should be digested and one should be able to use them without sounding like he/she has mugged it all.

This is why I was happy about the person who was not able to recall much after the interview. That means the person was immersed in conversation without thinking about each question and their proper answers. So, the simple thing to remember about the personality test is that it is a conversation with a purpose - engage in it with full concentration and you will be just fine.

(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants.)

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