Essay and Answer Writing → Chapters from Book

Why Civil Services Papers are Subjective?

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. -Benjamin Franklin
We all know the importance of writing. We have been writing our examinations right since our childhood. Even when we get into a job or profession, we have to write letters, emails and many reports in our organisation. We may also have to write essays in many competitive examinations for the employment of the job. Essay writing is an important means to judge the suitability of a candidate for a particular job. It is widely used as a means of selecting the right candidate by the corporate, by the colleges and universities and by the government organisations.
Have you ever wondered why Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) tests your Essay-writing ability in Civil Services Examination (CSE), when they are already testing your knowledge and understanding one a plethora of subjects like History, Geography, Science, Maths, Economics, Law, Culture, Ethics and Integrity, etc.? After all, the contents of your essay would come from your knowledge and understanding of the other subjects, which have lready been tested extensively in the Prelims and General Studies papers of Civil Services (Mains). So, there must be something else that can be tested in Essays, but not tested in others papers, which has led to the UPSC introducing essay paper in CSE in 1992.
Another question that comes to our mind is why the UPSC does not simply conduct an objective type test for selection of the civil servants like many other competitive examinations such as Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for selection in IITs and other Engineering Colleges , NEET for selection in Medical colleges or CAT for selection in the Management colleges in India? In order to understand the purpose of descriptive answers and essays in the competitive examination, we must know about the two types of tests that are used for judging the suitability of a candidate for the most prestigious jobs in Government in India.
Two type of tests
There are broadly two types of tests for selection of a candidate for a job or for higher studies.
1.Objective Type Tests
2.Subjective Type Tests
1. Objective Type Tests
An objective type test is one which is free from any subjective bias either from the side of the candidate or from the side of the examiner. In this type of tests, the selection of the correct answer is made from the list of several alternatives; or you may have to supply one or a few words or a number as the answer.
The objective type tests assess your knowledge of the subject. It can be fact based (Delhi is the Capital of India) or rule based (2+2=4).
The questions are framed in such a way that there is only one right answer possible for every question. If you know the answer, you can get the full marks, else you get no marks. In order to discourage guesswork, most objective type tests have the provision of negative marking as well for incorrect answers.
Objective type tests measure your objective knowledge and they ensure perfect objectivity in assessment. The objectivity is so high in such tests that even a computer can check the answers.
Objective type tests are extremely useful to assess what you know.
The Civil Services Examination (Prelims) is an objective type test that evaluates your objective knowledge. However, it is used only as the screening test and its marks are not counted when the final merit list of the candidates is made. However, the objective type tests suffer from the following limitations:-
·Intelligent guessing is possible often by elimination method
·Cheating and copying can be done easily
·It can’t test many traits of the civil servants like their ability to provide practical solution to difficult real life problems of life, or the ability to present complex ideas logically in a coherent manner.
·It can’t test the linguistic skills which is quite important for civil servants
·It can’t test the personality, character and beliefs of a person, which is extremely important for a civil servant occupying top positions in government.
The real world problems often don’t have just one solution or one alternative. Objective type questions can’t test an individual’s ability to understand and solve such complex problems of life.
2. Subjective Type Tests
Gustave Flaubert, a highly influential French novelist, who is often considered to be the leading
exponent of literary realism once said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe”. We can know deeply about a person from his writing because our writing is the manifestation of our core thoughts and beliefs. It is no wonder, therefore, that the recruiter often use essays as the means to understand the deepest thoughts and beliefs of a candidate.
In order to understand how essays test the deepest thoughts or beliefs of a person, let us understand the concept of signature. We all know that a signature is used to identify a person. The bank teller hands over your cash or transfers huge amount of money from your account after verifying your signature on the cheque. He knows that the signature of each person is unique and can’t be replicated easily by another human being.
Signature is called हस्ताक्षर  in Hindi which means a word written byhand.
We all learn writing letters and words from the same book where these words are printed in identical manner like shown in the picture below.
Why Civil Services Papers are Subjective?
However, when we write the same words by our hands, they are not the exact replica of the printed words, but get written in a unique manner by each one of us. This shows that every person in the world has a unique signature because every person in the world is unique. Some experts can actually make a lot of prediction about your personality from your signature or handwriting.
If one single word of your signature can tell so much about you, imagine how much a person will know about you if he reads a subjective answer written by you or an essay that runs into more than 1000 words.
When we read an essay or article by a person, we get to know a lot about the thoughts and beliefs of the person.
Hence, an essay tests not only what you know, but also who you are.
The descriptive answers of the questions asked in the civil services examination also test your knowledge, your deeper understanding of an issue besides your core thoughts.
The questions in the Civil Services (Mains) and essay paper are unusual and unpredictable. There is no standard or right answers to the complex problems of life. Hence, you can’t prepare the right answers in advance. Time is so limited during examination that you can’t plan or organize your thoughts. You can only pout your heart and mind out impromptu. Hence, when you write descriptive answers or essays during the examination, it helps an examiner know your knowledge, thoughts and beliefs at a much deeper level to judge your suitability for the job.
Essays in Civil Services
Essay writing is not just the test of your knowledge, but also a test of your personality, aptitude, thoughts and beliefs. It tests your skills of presentation, organisation of ideas and the communication of the ideas in an effective and understandable language in order to measure your critical, analytical and argumentative skills. Contrary to popular belief, essays are more than just a test of your command over the language or the test of your vocabulary. What’s a good vocabulary without great ideas? And what good is the worth of an idea, if it is not presented well?
With respect to Civil Services, the primary objective of the subjective answers and long essays is to assess the skill of the aspirants to formulate and draft policies and government papers. Imagine, an IAS officer drafting a policy full of grammatical errors and incoherence. Even if he has a great idea, unless he presents it well, he is likely to make himself, nay the government, a laughing stock before the public! Essays help assess this very aptitude of effective presentation which none of the other papers in the Civil Services Examinations can do. This is why the essay paper is unique and an intrinsic part of many assessment and admission process including the Civil Services.
In Civil Services Mains, the Essay Paper typically consists of two sections-Section A and Section B. Each section usually has 4 topic options. The aspirants must choose one topic from each section and write essays in about 1000-1200 words each. The maximum marks of this paper is 250 and the duration is 3 hours.
Despite having as much weightage as other papers, the paper of Essay remains the most underrated and neglected section by most aspirants. People tend to take essay writing lightly and it is no wonder why most civil services aspirants struggle to score well in their Mains examination, though they have excellent knowledge of the subjects.
In short, Essay writing is an art and an expression of your deepest thoughts and belief. It can be mastered partly by innate talent of imagination and creativity, but largely by practice and exposure to different ideas. We can improve our writing skills by reading quality literary work of the best writers of the world. We shall discuss in detail how to develop and hone the Essay-Writing skill later in this book.
How to use this book
If you are one of those aware people who understand the importance of the essay paper and want to do well in it, that’s enough to take you forward. All that is expected from you is you will and the book shall show you the way. There is no prerequisite to using this book except having a basic knowledge of English and a deep desire to learn. Please follow the instructions that are provided in the book and practice as much writing as you can to develop the skill of writing.
Why Civil Services Papers are Subjective?
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