Month after UPSC prelims results, aspirants who failed want lower aptitude test cut-off, eventual scrapping

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In early June a group of aspirants had moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) against the preliminary examination that had been held on 28 May. While the CAT petition had also requested for a stay order on the results while the case is being heard, the tribunal had refused to do so. ThePrint has seen the copy of the petition.

The petitioners had then approached the Delhi High Court on 26 June, but the HC only asked CAT to speed up the hearing.

While the matter is scheduled to come up for hearing at the CAT 20 July, the results for the UPSC preliminary examinations were declared on 12 June. According to media reports, more than 14,600 candidates qualified in the examination for which over 10 lakh aspirants had appeared.

“The CSAT exam requires only 33 percent marks to pass. But even a serious [scholarly] candidate finds it hard to get that much. It is especially tough for aspirants from Hindi and humanities backgrounds,” alleged Ayushi (who identifies by a single name only), one of those who want the qualifying marks to be lowered and the test to be scrapped eventually.

While claims have been made that the CSAT in its current format gives an edge to those from engineering backgrounds — which some engineering graduates admit to be true — a perusal of UPSC selections over the years also shows a growing number of entrants from engineering backgrounds.

Ayushi was one of a group of three aspirants and two lawyers — including Shubhash Kumar Thakur from Bihar, Hanumant Lal Patel from Madhya Pradesh, and lawyers Umesh Singh and Saket Jain — who addressed the media in Delhi on 10 July. Ayushi is from Uttarakhand. The lawyers are those representing the petitioners in the aspirants’ legal battle.

The three aspirants, none of whom have cleared the preliminary test, claim to be representing thousands of others who are part of a group on the social media app, Telegram. ThePrint has seen the group.

Other demands raised by the group at the press conference include the formation of an expert committee to solve the problems raised by aspirants against questions in the general studies paper, more transparency in lateral entries and an extra attempt at clearing the exam for aspirants who couldn’t appear for the test in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 owing to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Candidates belonging to the general category reportedly get a maximum of six attempts to clear the test. For candidates from other backward classes (OBC) the number of permitted attempts is nine and for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) candidates there is reportedly no such restriction.

“The global pandemic has impacted everyone in this world and we were not spared either. This demand has been endorsed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances Law, and Justice, as well as backed by more than 100 members of Parliament from across political parties,” said Thakur. ThePrint has seen the document with the signature of the leaders.

Meanwhile, explaining the aspirants’s issues with the general studies paper, lawyer Umesh Singh claimed that it had 47 multiple-choice questions with vague and random options that encouraged guessing rather than testing the real understanding and rewarding the diligent efforts of sincere candidates.

“The paper is a clear case of introducing subjectivity even in a multiple-choice paper and selecting by chance rather than by merit,” he alleged.

Amit Kilhor, who teaches at the StudyIQ tutorial and has appeared for six UPSC mains exams and cleared two of them, also told ThePrint that the CSAT 2023 paper was the most difficult he had seen till now.

ThePrint has reached UPSC over email for a response on the allegations. The article will be updated once a response is received.


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‘Engineers to benefit’

CSAT was introduced in 2011 as part of the UPSC (preliminary) examination to assess the analytical skills, reasoning ability and aptitude of the aspirants.

“According to the UPSC syllabus, maths questions in CSAT are to be restricted only till what is taught up to class 10. But in this year’s paper there were more than 25 questions which were out of syllabus,” alleged Ayushi.

Aspirants present at the press conference in Delhi also alleged that “engineering-level questions” were being asked in the exam.

“Many questions [in this year’s paper] were taken directly from previous IIT and CAT [common admission test for management programmes] exams. All these things made it extremely tough to solve the paper within the given time,” lawyer Saket Jain claimed.

The aspirants have also alleged that only students from engineering backgrounds are benefitted in the CSAT exams.

“India is a diverse country, students from all backgrounds have the right to become civil servants, but if such questions are asked then only one background will get an edge, which is happening,” Thakur alleged while addressing the media in Delhi.

“The grievances of the aspirants are justified,” agreed Kilhor. “There is no doubt that only the aspirants of engineering background are benefiting from this,” he claimed.

Kilhor added: “But since the result has come out, now it is difficult to do anything about it it and the process of removing CSAT is also very long and complicated. It involves parliamentary committees and other steps.”

Meanwhile, students from engineering backgrounds, who appeared for the UPSC exams this year do not dismiss the allegations made by other aspirants.

Speaking to ThePrint, Mohit Singh, who cleared UPSC 2023 preliminary exams and is from an engineering background, said CSAT includes questions from logical reasoning and quantitative aptitude, which give an upper hand to people from technical backgrounds.

“This year, the level of questions asked in the CSAT was definitely a bit more difficult, but it becomes easier for students who have studied maths till graduation. Aspirants coming from humanities background study maths only till Class 10,” he explained.

Interestingly, the UPSC’s annual reports also highlight the gradual rise of engineering students clearing the exam over the years. ThePrint has seen the data available on the UPSC website.

Before the launch of CSAT in 2011, more humanities background aspirants were selected than engineering ones, the reports show. According to UPSC’s annual reports, in 2009, 47.2 percent of the selected candidates were from humanities backgrounds, 28.2 percent from engineering, 15.2 percent from science and 9.4 percent from medical science.

But since 2014, engineering backgrounds have dominated the selections and their share is growing yearly. Engineers made up 50.7 percent of the selections in 2014, 51.3 percent in 2015, 55.2 percent in 2016 and 64 percent in 2022, show the reports.

(Edited by Richa Mishra)


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