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The hopeless odds of Indian civil service aspirants in charts

Reuters/Brian Snyder
Civil services aspirants go through a tough selection process.
  • John Samuel Raja D.
By John Samuel Raja D.

John is co-founder of How India Lives.

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Come Sunday, against the backdrop of a linguistic debate, about a quarter of a million Indians will take the first of three tests to join one of the several government services as officers. Besides a three-step process spread over roughly one year, with elimination at each step, the hopefuls, most of them aged between 21 and 32 years, will battle slim odds in these civil services exams. Here are four charts that trace those odds of success from four different angles.

Choice of taking the exam

The first of the three steps is a preliminary exam. This consists of two multiple-choice papers, spanning subjects from current affairs to world history, problem solving to English language comprehension skills.

The second paper is currently at the centre of a controversy, with a section of candidates saying the English portion is disadvantageous to those not well-versed in the language. On Friday, after strident and occasionally violent protests, the government decided to exclude marks from this English portion from the grading for this year, and advised students not to attempt this portion.

Step two are the mains, which comprises nine papers. And lastly, there’s the interview. Candidates are filtered at each step, with the biggest drop happening at the first step, shows data from the Union Public Service Commission, which conducts the civil services exam.

Back in 2011-12, the latest period for which data is available, a total of 243,236 candidates sat for the prelims. Only 999, or 0.41%, were finally selected. This is still better than the odds in 2004-05, when the government approved only 453 posts, which resulted in just 0.26% of candidates appearing for prelims being finally chosen.


Choice of college

Between 2004-05 and 2010-11, the latest period for which data is available for this metric, the selected candidates came from 251 Indian colleges. Delhi, the seat of power, led the way, with three universities/colleges featuring in the top 10 and accounting for 17% of the selections.

In the list of top 10 universities, the two big gainers in 2010-11 were Anna University, Tamil Nadu (from 24 selections to 35) and IIT-Delhi (up from 13 to 29). The big drop off was University of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (down from 22 to 11). Interestingly, in 2010-11, five selections were from colleges in the UK.


Choice of educational qualification

Students of engineering and humanities accounted for 71% of candidates chosen for mains. But when it came to going from mains to selection, it was students of medical science, followed by M.Phil and PhD, who showed a superior conversion rate.


Choice of optional subject

At the mains stage, of the nine papers, candidates have to opt for two optional papers from a long list of 51 subjects, including 26 languages. Five subjects accounted for 70% of the subject selections.


But in terms of conversion from mains to selection, none of these five subjects featured in the top five. This list was led by Urdu, with a conversion rate of 41%. This is skewed by a small sample size: only 22 people chose it, of which, 9 made it. If one applies a filter of at least 100 students taking a subject, these are the top five.


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