The Civil Service Examinations, or as they are popularly known the UPSC examinations, are the recruitment process for the posts of middle-level civil servants in the various departments of the Indian Government. The top examinations of the UPSC exams are the Indian Administrative Service or IAS, Indian Police Service or IPS and Indian Foreign Service or IFS – the All India services. There are many other divisions and corresponding posts below that as well. The UPSC examinations offer the largest scope of federal employment in the country.
The examination is conducted in three separate phases – the prelims, the mains and the personal interview, after which the final list of candidates is declared. However, the examination has witnessed many minor and some major changes in its examination pattern as well as the subjects included and the types of questions asked. Earlier, a lot of emphasis was given on traditional science, history, and geography. There was a certain amount of predictability about the questions since those were unchangeable facts and often repeated. But with time, more and more importance is given to scientific and technical concepts, to environmental and public health awareness and to a general idea of current affairs.
Here are the 5 major changes that the UPSC exams have gone through in the last few years.
- In 2009, the syllabus of the prelims concentrated more on the science, technology, and environmental concepts: Before 2009, the main topics covered in the preliminary round of examination usually dealt with history, geography, science and a little bit of general knowledge. Around 20 questions were assigned to history, 30 to 40 were kept for geography and 40 to science. The questions on general knowledge were very basic ones based on sports, books and authors, scientific discoveries, great feats and likewise. But from 2009, that changed. The UPSC prelims shifted gear and focussed on more current political and economic affairs, and that meant the candidates had to stay up to date with what is happening in the country instead of mugging up facts from books. More technology, environment and general public awareness based questions turned up in the prelims papers.
- In 2011, the CSAT was introduced instead of the optional second paper in the prelims: Prior to 2011, the prelim examination had two papers – one was the General Studies which still exists, and the other was an option elective. This changed from 2011 when the CSAT or the Civil Service Aptitude Test was introduced. It was compulsory and included basic but essential skills like comprehension, communication, logical reasoning, decision making and analytical ability, basic numeric problem solving and data interpretation and a comprehensive command over the English language.
- 2013 saw quite a few changes in the number of papers: For the UPSC mains, the two optional subjects were brought down to one paper. The general studies papers number was also increased. Previously there were only two. In 2013, they increased it to 4. The previous two papers were divided into three papers, and the fourth paper on ‘Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude’ was a complete new addition. The total allotted marks for essay type questions in the mains were also increased. Earlier it was 200, but now it was 250. But on the other hand, the maximum number of words to write for each essay type question got decreased. After 2013, the weightage for the optional papers got reduced to 24% from a whopping 52%, and the general studies paper got a weightage of 48% from 26%.
- In 2014, there were some changes in question pattern: The essay paper previously had only one essay with 250 marks and the topic had to be chosen from four options given in the question paper. In 2014, the number of essays was brought up to two essays, with the marks and words divided. But the number of options remained unchanged. 2014 saw some beneficial improvements for the general candidates as well. The age limit for general candidates was increased from 30 to 32, and the number of attempts they could try was increased from 4 to 6.
- 2015 changed the status of CSAT paper: Before 2015, the general studies paper and the CSAT paper were both considered for merit in the prelims examination of UPSC. But there were protests from the public and the examinee bodies to change its status to a qualifying exam. Finally, in 2015, that happened. The council gave in to public pressure and turned CSAT into a qualifying examination with a cut off percentage of 33%. There was qualification added to the GS paper as well. It was declared that the GS and CSAT papers had to be passed by the candidates in order to sit for the UPSC mains.