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What is the real competition in Civil Service Exam ?

With 5 lakhs candidates taking the prelims exam, any student would be scared about the numbers of applicants. There are only a limited number of vacancies every year (around 1000, for all the 24 services (IAS, IPS, IFS ). The government has said that it will not raise the number of seats available for direct recruitment through the civil services exam. The reasons cited by the UPSC are that limited capacity of the training academies and a strict government policy not to compromise on the quality of the officers. With such a large number of aspirants competing for the limited seats, any student might wonder, who the real competitor is.

Preliminary Rejection

Clearing the civil services exam is no easy job and it has no shortcuts. Students have to plan their study and work accordingly. Because, all toppers have had access to the same syllabus and the only thing which made the difference is the preparation and proper timetable. Regular reading of newspapers, practising essay writing, mock tests, would boost their confidence. If then why several lakhs of application get rejected after Preliminary exam ? The reason is simple, lack of proper preparation and seriousness. For example, in the year 2016, around 15,000 aspirants were selected for mains exam after 5.5 lakh aspirants who wrote the preliminary exam. The rejection of around 5 lakh candidates, clearly says that they weren't serious enough in their pursuit towards the civil service exam. Besides, there are several thousand candidates pursuing IIT and IIM entrance exams also have written the preliminary exam. But civil service exam requires, a different type of orientation compared to university level examinations or other entrance exams. And there is a vast difference between the syllabus of the graduate and post-graduate courses at various universities and the syllabus of the civil service exam.

How to approach mains' exam ?

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) uses writing tests to assess the analytic and critical abilities which are necessary for any aspiring candidate in the mains exam. The commission believes that these skills will enable the candidate to form an unbiased opinion or judgement in diverse situations. So a thorough dedication and serious preparation are required for clearing mains examination. During the exam, the candidate must fully understand a question and answer them. Every question has a 'topic' and a 'directive'. Common directives are 'Examine', 'Comment', 'Analyze', 'Evaluate', 'Discuss', 'Critically Examine'. So a candidate must study the directives in the questions and give a precise answer. So, writing skills will greatly increase the success rate of a candidate. Hence, the only way to become successful in the exam is practice. Not just regular practice, aspirants must follow essay writing every day (at least thrice a week) keeping in mind the different directive words, the demand of the question and the word limit. Besides, aspirants must write fast and think fast in the exam hall. During the writing test, candidate must follow a pattern: introduction and all the paragraphs should lead to a logical conclusion. Moreover, they shouldn't repeat the question or introduction at the end. Essays should avoid severe criticism and always conclude on a positive note.

The Final Lap

After the mains exam, around 2,500-3,000 candidates are called for interview. The Interview is conducted by UPSC Interview panel, which poses questions, seeks views and assessing the objective appreciation of a candidate regarding different issues of national and international significance. It also tests the candidates in areas related to their personal profile as disclosed in their 'detailed application form' (DAF) submitted to the UPSC. The objective of the personality test is to assess the thoughts and overall personality of the candidate and not merely on academic knowledge. Besides, the interview panel tries to assess in the aspirants, is her/his sincerity of purpose, balance of judgement, clarity of thoughts and expression and think critically. During the interview, around 300-500 are generally, rejected for the lack of communication. So the real competition is among the 2,500 candidates who are very serious in their preparation.

Here is an interesting table below, which reveals the competition levels for the last ten years:

Year Number of aspirants for Prelims Number of aspirants took the Prelims Number of aspirants qualified for Mains Number of aspirants called for Interview Number of Vacancies
201494742845160216900 (approx.) 33081364
20161136000 (approx.)550000 (approx.)1544529611200 (approx.)

Here is a statement showing the number of Vacancies and the Candidates Recommended by the Commission for the years 1995-1996 to 2004-2005.

Year Of Exam


Candidates Recommended

1995 98 49 165 333 645 101 49 192 303 645
1996 125 57 174 383 739 138 59 212 330 739
1997 89 43 166 323 621 94 46 215 266 621
1998 53 28 114 275 470 60 30 142 238 470
1999 53 27 97 234 411 63 30 127 191 411
2000 54 29 100 244 427 58 34 128 207 427
2001 47 39 97 234 417 52 42 131 192 417
2002 38 22 88 162 310 38 22 88 138 286
2004 NA NA NA NA 385 - - - - -
2005 NA NA NA NA 325 - - - - 325
2006 NA NA NA NA 425 NA NA NA NA 425
2007 NA NA NA NA 309 NA NA NA NA 309
2008 NA NA NA NA 638 NA NA NA NA 638
2009 NA NA NA NA 414 NA NA NA NA 414
2010 NA NA NA NA 468 NA NA NA NA 468
2011 NA NA NA NA 879 NA NA NA NA 879
2012 NA NA NA NA 921 NA NA NA NA 921