Chapter 3 - Civil Services - A Brief Glimpse of Exam UPSC Notes | EduRev

Crack Civil Services in First Attempt by Divey Sethi, IRS

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UPSC : Chapter 3 - Civil Services - A Brief Glimpse of Exam UPSC Notes | EduRev

The document Chapter 3 - Civil Services - A Brief Glimpse of Exam UPSC Notes | EduRev is a part of the UPSC Course Crack Civil Services in First Attempt by Divey Sethi, IRS.
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     I try to enlist in this chapter the general and broad aspects of the CSE, such as, eligibility, scheme of examination, pattern of papers and so on. This chapter is most helpful to the aspirants who are not aware much about the civil services and are yet to decide whether to take up study for the exam or not. Those who have appeared in civil services even once may directly skip to the section of FAQs in this chapter which tries to tackle a bit trickier, tweaked and confusing issues related to the examination. Nowhere will I deal with questions related to the history of civil services - why is started? What was the pattern of examination in British period? What was the purpose of introducing civil services and such related questions which I feel are not relevant to the present context of the book. I only take up the present examination scenario and judgments related to any disputes regarding it.

  • Various services that recruits through CSE (as per 2015 notification)

(i) Indian Administrative Service.

(ii) Indian Foreign Service.

(iii) Indian Police Service.

(iv) Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service, Group ‘A’.

(v) Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Group ‘A’.

(vi) Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise), Group ‘A’.

(vii) Indian Defence Accounts Service, Group ‘A’.

(viii) Indian Revenue Service (I.T.), Group ‘A’.

(ix) Indian Ordnance Factories Service, Group ‘A’ (Assistant Works Manager, Administration)

(x) Indian Postal Service, Group ‘A’.

(xi) Indian Civil Accounts Service, Group ‘A’.

(xii) Indian Railway Traffic Service, Group ‘A’.

(xiii) Indian Railway Accounts Service, Group 'A'.

(xiv) Indian Railway Personnel Service, Group ‘A’.

(xv) Post of Assistant Security Commissioner in Railway Protection Force, Group ‘A’

(xvi) Indian Defence Estates Service, Group ‘A’.

(xvii) Indian Information Service (Junior Grade), Group ‘A’.

(xviii) Indian Trade Service, Group 'A' (Gr. III).

(xix) Indian Corporate Law Service, Group "A".

(xx) Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service, Group ‘B’ (Section Officer’s Grade).

(xxi) Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Civil Service, Group 'B'.

(xxii) Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service, Group 'B'.

(xxiii) Pondicherry Civil Service, Group 'B'.

(xxiv) Pondicherry Police Service, Group 'B'.


  • The scheme of examination 

     The CSE is conducted in three stages – preliminary exam, mains exam and personality test (interview). The preliminary examination is objective and qualifying in nature, that is, the score in preliminary is not taken into consideration while calculating the overall merit of candidates. The mains (subjective examination) score and the personality test score are added together to arrive at the final merit rankings.


  • The competitive toughness of examination

     The below given is the approximate data for the CSE 2014. Percentile required for each stage of exam is calculated taking as the total number of candidates who actually sat in the exam.



Applications submitted

Candidates appeared

Successful candidates

Percentile required


9.4 lacs

4.6 lacs








Personality test






     Thus, we can see that around 99.7 percentile is needed to get a seat in the final list. That means you should be among the top three people in 1000 aspirants!


  • The plan of examination 

     The present structure consists of four stages of examination;

A. Preliminary examination – The examination consists of objective multiple choice questions. This is of qualifying nature, that is, the marks attained in this exam won’t be added to the final score while deciding the rank. Yet it is of utmost importance as this is the first stage of examination and minimum score is required to get appear in the next stage. Moreover, due to the constantly changing nature of the exam, preliminary has been the most prone victim. At present it consist of two papers namely; paper 1 of general studies and paper 2 of general intelligence/aptitude. Both the papers are of 200 marks each. The general studies paper consists of history, polity, economics, geography, ecology, science and technology, environment and current affairs. The general aptitude paper, that is paper 2, consists of inferences of passages, mathematics upto class 10th level, decision making questions (may or may not be there), data interpretation questions and any other dimension of general intelligence may also be asked. However, for finalizing the list of successful candidates in preliminary examination the score in paper 1 is only considered for merit. The score in paper 2 must be greater than minimum criteria of 33 percent. The difficulties, detailed topic wise analysis of course and strategy to prepare for preliminary examination is taken up for discussion later on.

B. Mains examination – In the present scenario this subjective exam consists of total 9 subjective papers out of which 7 are considered for merit and 2 language papers are of qualifying nature. The 7 papers to be considered for merit are as follows;  


Maximum marks




General studies

GS 1


GS 2


GS 3


GS 4


 Optional subject

Paper 1


 Paper 2


Total marks



            As we can see, the whole GS has now been divided into four major papers and to some extent I must say that this change introduced for the first time in the year 2013 has led to more explicit listing of GS syllabus. Again a major change introduced in the same year was reducing the weightage of optional subjects in the overall scheme of examination, and thus, the aspirants are required to choose only one optional subject instead of two full subjects that were to be taken earlier (2012 and before). What all optional subjects are available, why only 4 or 5 optional sell as hot cake, what is the game of normalization in the score of optional subject and how to scientifically choose an optional subject which goes consistent with your area of interest and graduation is dealt in the next chapter “deciding the optional subject”.

The next comes the compulsory but qualifying part of the mains examination, that is, the two language papers one of which is compulsory English (paper B) and the other (paper A ) is to be taken from the list of the Indian scheduled languages given in the 8th schedule of constitution. Note that paper A on one of the indian languages will not be compulsory for the candidates hailing from the sates of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim (CSE notification – 2015). The minimum qualifying marks in both paper A and B is at present 25% of the total maximum marks. Now there is a big catch here. I have seen people who have done all the papers of mains quite well enough and who are pretty confident of the interview call but somehow they failed in the compulsory section of language papers. There seems a general tendency to avoid studying anything for these compulsory papers. What is even more disastrous is that once a candidate fails in compulsory language papers his/her score in any other paper will not be revealed because they are not even checked. Thus, it leaves a candidate devoid of a quantifiable assessment of his/her performance in the mains examination. Therefore, smartly tackling the compulsory papers without affecting your performance in evaluative papers of mains examination is utmost importance and this has been dealt in detail in the chapter on “preparations for mains examination.”

C. Personality test – The penultimate stage before one becomes a civil servant is the personality test or the so – called interview in the common parlance. The maximum marks of the personality test is 275 so that makes the total marks of CSE equal to 2025. However, there is no minimum qualifying marks to the interview. What qualities or attributes does the board judge in a candidate during an interview? It is written in the notification of CSE 2015 that “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.” But these qualities are judged not by interrogative cross examination but by engaging a candidate in a dialectical method of conversation, where in, the mature minds of the board elicit relevant information (or the lack of it) in a candidate and hence, form an opinion about the candidate.

Evident it is that human judgement is prone to errors and omissions as well as it is highly subjective. So how the UPSC tries to make an objective assessment of a process which is largely subjective and chaotic – as it depends on external factors – such as the mood of members, their physical and emotional state of mind, the timing of interview – whether it is in the beginning of the day, afternoon or the evening. Of course, subjectivity can’t be eliminated but there is a scientific strategy, a well-planned course of action depending on the external factors which can minimize the vagaries of chaotic manifestations in an otherwise highly subjective assessment process. All these have been written in a concise manner in the chapter “preparations for the personality test.”

D. Medical examination – This one is rarely considered to be an examination as such. I haven’t seen any instance of a person being altogether rejected from civil services just because of getting being medically unfit. One should understand that there are many physical parameters of assessment – a candidate may pass in some of these and be declared unfit in few of these physical parameters. However, generally this won’t render anyone absolutely unfit for all of the civil services. There are physical requirements for some of the services which are more stringent that that in other services, For example, police services requires more stringent physical parameters than let us say, administrative services. For the purpose of medical examination all the services have been grouped into technical and non- technical services. There are at present 5 technical services which requires more stringent criteria of vision, height, chest, chest expansion etc. These technical services are ;

  1. Police services – group A
  2. Railway traffic services - group A
  3. Delhi Andaman and nicobar services -  group B
  4. Pondicherry police services - group B
  5. Railway protection force - group A

All other services are considered to be non-technical services for the purpose of medical examination. The exact medical requirements, appeal against the decision of medical board, cautions to be taken before going for medical examinations, medical examination for physically challenged candidates etc will be dwelled upon in later chapter.


  • Eligibility Criteria for CSE

 The eligibility criteria for UPSC CSE has always been one of the cornerstone of controversies and also gets tempered with by political parties to get some vote mileage. A good illustration in this regard was when an extra attempt was announced in 2015 for any candidate who had appeared in CSE 2011, who would have been otherwise ineligible under normal eligibility norms. Now to understand eligibility norms let us divide it into four aspects – nationality, age, number of attempts and qualification.

A. Nationality criteria; 


Nationality criteria as per CSE 2015


Citizen of India


Citizen of India and person of Indian origin who has migrated from some listed countries such as Pakistan, Burma, srilanka and some east African countries with the intention to permanently settle in India


All other services

Citizen of India + migrant person of Indian origin (as stated form above countries) + subject of Nepal and Bhutan + Tibetan refugee who came to India before 1st January 1962.

 As our civil services is open to certain specific countries apart from Indian citizens, we are also allowed to take examination or otherwise apply for civil services of other countries, such as Singapore.


B. Age criteria; 

The minimum age is fixed at 21 years. The maximum age varies as per the category of the applicant and is given below;

Category of aspirant

Maximum age

Age relaxation










State of J&K born from 1980 to 1989



Defence service personnel disabled during any operation and released



Ex-servicemen, ECOs and SSCOs who have rendered at least 5 years of military service and then released (conditions of release to be seen from notification)



Blind, Deaf–mute and orthopedically handicapped persons



OBC/SC/ST covered under any other criteria also will be eligible for cumulative age relaxation. For example and OBC person born in 1986 in the state of J &K shall have cumulative benefit of age relaxation equal to 3 + 5 years = 8 years, that is, the maximum age will be 40 years for that person.

The age will be calculated as on 1st august of every year. Age proof for the commission is 10th/12th or university/graduation certificates. Strangely it doesn’t accept extracts from the birth records of municipal corporations as the age proof!


C. Number of attempts – This criteria has also been a source of controversy and appeasement to masses in the recent past. Earlier general category people were eligible for 4 attempts at the maximum. Now this maximum limit for general category aspirants has been increased and this has led to the sequential increase of attempts in all other categories. 


Maximum number of attempts


PH general





No limitation

PH general and PH OBC have same number of attempts everything else being same. I don’t know why there has been an undercurrent of the view point that higher the number of attempts the better it is. I am personally of the converse opinion. I strictly believe that two attempts are sufficient to clear CSE, in case of hard luck, may be the third attempt. Consider a person who devotes his/her prime time of career, the prime time of the youth, to the CSE preparation and even after 5 attempts he/she is unable to make into the final list. Can you just think of the state of mind of that person? I am of the view that instead of increasing the number of attempt, instead that it should be restricted to only 3 or maximum 4 irrespective of any category. Nevertheless, easier said than done – I know a lot of pressure groups are involved and how difficult it is to implement this particular change of reducing the number of attempts!


D. Qualification – The candidate must hold a graduation degree or its equivalent from any university of centre or state or deemed university or recognized college by UGC. Thus, parents should be very careful in selection of private college for the admission of their wards, as the degree some of these may be in dispute under judiciary. However, the aspirants who are in the final year of their graduation and are yet to be awarded the degree can definitely sit for the preliminary examination. But for mains examination be lest assured that degree is required. When you apply for the mains examination you are required to submit the graduation degree. Here even the provisional degree will suffice and original can be produced at the time of interview.

IN some cases where medical students are concerned, doing internship has now become a part of compulsory curriculum, without which MBBS degree may not be awarded. UPSC in this regard gives a leverage to the extent that the internship certificate may be produced at the time of interview or a certificate from the concerned authority from college that the candidate has completed all the requirements (including internship if any) for the award of degree.


These are the basic requirements of eligibility for CSE conducted by UPSC. One more peculiar one is that an aspirant should not be an IAS or IFS to take the exam again. He/she should first resign from the job in hand and then write the exam. This is done to discourage aspirants selected in IAS/IFS to write the exam again. Everyone know that there are some favorite cadres and others which are not preferred states in IAS. Similarly, some countries are more preferred and considered as “hot spots” of working/deputation in IFS. These are allotted based on All India ranks and vacancies available. People who are allotted the so called less preferred countries in IFS and ‘difficult’ states in IAS always have an incentive to write the exam again and upgrade their rank. However, we as a country need people to be posted in these tough domains whether in India or outside. Thus, UPSC has rightly made a tougher criteria for IAS/IFS to write the exam again. One has to take a huge risk of quitting the existing service and slogging again for UPSC.

In this regard, let me share an example of a person who got selected in IAS 2014 and in his category was the last rank holder. He was allocated one of the tough cadres of north eastern India. Evidently that guy, who hailed from Bangalore, vented out his frustration in the following words, “For the first time in my entire life I felt that this category of mine doomed me.” I knew exactly what he meant still I sat silent for him to say more. “Had I been general I would have landed in your service and spent the rest of my half-life in a peaceful manner. But unfortunately I am doomed in that tough terrain as I don’t carry any energy to write this exam again and I have no other equivalent job in corporate sector.”

Thus, my dear friends, this risk of being allocated hard areas and tough countries is pretty real. But someone has got to do it. Isn’t it? This must not demotivate you as the government provide enough opportunities of deputation later on along with preferred posting criteria after one hard posting of specific tenure. I also advice my IAS friends in tough areas that the life is indeed much bigger that it should not be painted in a single pale color by this so-called tough scenario!

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