My mother must have had the nightmare of her life before she suggested to me that I write ‘KAS 2016’. Little did she know that this ‘examathon’ was going to be a test more of her son’s patience and mental resilience than anything else she might have thought. Indeed,what started off ostensibly as something as innocuous as an examination turned out to be the proverbial sword of Damocles that threatened peace and stability of the examinees at every juncture of its unparalleled run. Apparently it is still grinding along, thanks to the wonderful body at the helm of the affairs (as a sad reminder, the exam is close to three years old now, a could-be contender to the Guinness book of world records!). One can only wish it ends as soon as possible to relieve every stakeholder of his or her miseries because there can be no denying the fact that it has taken a toll on everyone involved, intriguingly even on those who micromanaged the entire process, courtesy the rigmarole of endless protests, litigations, and petitions. Much as I feel for those who couldn’t make it to the Mains list (and to whose ranks I humbly belong), I am all the same happy for all those who are soon going to be let free from its stifling clutches (provided, of course, no inauspicious events further turn up). So while we are shy of only a couple of weeks, hopefully, before the final announcement is pronounced, a retrospective look into this overly-stretched mammoth of an exam becomes mandatory. I must add here that this article is not meant to disparage the efforts of all those brothers and sisters of mine who sweated blood to crack this hard nut nor is it essentially a tirade against the commission responsible for the logjam.I intend merely to bring into focus the entire timeline of the state’s top examination for the concerned to mull over the fact that the right kind of approach coupled with a ready faculty of enterprise could have circumvented such a dead end!
The Prelims Fiasco
There was much brouhaha immediately after the preliminary stage was conducted. To the utter delight of many the GS paper was a cakewalk. However, when it came to discussing the Optionals (this format has recently been supplanted as PSC is toeing the line of UPSC where there’s only GS paper for the prelims), there were varied reactions. Many candidates averred that the difficulty level of the optionals varied and this set off the stage for what was to turn into a hotbed of complaints (I opine in this particular instance it had more to do with “the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side” thing because there was a marked division of opinion in my chosen optional too). The real trouble, however, started when the results of the prelims were out. Many candidates asserted that their scores were well past the cut-off mark (270.477) but their names were missing from the selectees’ list. This provided the first instance in the uncongenial litany of litigations and other legal claptrap that hallmarked this dubious exam. A review of the results revealed many a skeleton in the cupboard—Some frightful mistakes made by the examiners who had checked the papers, glaring enough as to provoke incredulity, even risibility, but human error was cited as the reason. This reevaluation, however, led to the disbarring of 429 candidates (who were featuring in the earlier selection list) from writing the Mains because a new cut-off was pegged at 277.275 which they were falling short of.This provided enough ground to the malcontents to stir up a controversy to have the results reframed. But a double whammy was in the offing: If the lot of 429 was to be included, another 2300 couldn’t be left out because they satisfied the criteria of writing the Mains too. After much ado and clangour, all the claimants were, willy-nilly, admitted to the Mains part of the examination after they had expended their time and energies over the same.
The Mains Conundrum
Because of the prelims snafu where the intake capacity was arbitrarily skewed to cover up their bloopers, PSC gave fresh time to the newly admitted lot for writing the Mains. There was a divided opinion again over this thing, with senior candidates who had at this point begun to lose patience protesting against what they felt was an unnecessary protraction. Sometimes it appeared that the whole examination was jinxed right from the outset as the dates of the papers were rescheduled every now and then,sometimes because weather threatened deferment and at other times because there was a court hearing. And because tumultuous affairs must climacteric endings have, the Mains results upped the furore of the dropped candidates exponentially. The charges levelled against PSC this time were their having resorted to digital checking of papers–a novel concept which apparently even UPSC hasn’t dared to adopt yet–and the unprofessional way with which the whole business was dealt with from the start. As is always the case with such ding-dongs, PSC is trying hard to walk the ‘elephant’ out of the room as soon as possible while the other party (the dropped candidates) is hellbent upon halting the process to put things in perspective. So there is a constant shuttling back and forth of negative vibes and energies with neither of the sides willing to relent whereas the selected candidates are bearing the brunt of this absurdity for no fault of theirs. All in all the sole outcome is the siphoning off of energies and time of everyone embroiled in this predicament.
“A primrose by a river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more” ~Wordsworth (Peter Bell)
When a top recruiting body finds itself wringing its hands over conducting an exam smoothly, it calls into question its efficiency, resourcefulness, and vision, among other things. Chance errors and extraneous elements must not be piggybacked on to account for inherent weaknesses and fecklessness. A mere exam that lasted for the better part of three years and with the clouds of despair and doubt looming large over it still testifies to the fundamental flaws within the system itself. A clear-cut modus operandi seemed to be wanting right from the start. This lack of tight approach was evidenced by frequent rescheduling of various papers, arbitrary tweaking of the rules laid down by the commission to quell dissent, and providing grounds to the dissatisfied students to resort to sloganeering and protesting for having their demands met. There is no shame in looking up to the commissions of other states or UPSC for adopting a watertight strategy. Furthermore, one issue that constantly sprang up was the alleged soft spot of the commission towards certain optionals as was let in on me by many seniors who were of the view that a clear-cut dichotomy between optionals indeed did exist, i.e., Optionals were either high-scoring or low-scoring. In fact on the very first day of writing our Mains, I discussed the same with a senior mate who remonstrated with me that I had already halved my chances by opting for a very low-scoring subject. He had had the bitter experience of opting for the same optional but had ended up despondent, which explained his switching to a relatively scoring subject. Others corroborated this partisanship. This was a real downer for me and many other fledglings like me. And indeed it’s, for some reason, harder to score good in some subjects unlike others as clearly evidenced by past years’ results. To even out disparities in the scoring system (this disparity does factor in and cannot be done away with given the scoring nature of science subjects ), it’s par for the course to employ the statistical technique of normalization that takes into account this parameter. Some of the candidates who had opted for English Literature had even before writing the exam half given up for much the same reason. One could easily extend this sorry survey to other subjects and this continues to be a flashpoint.
Unless we are willing to embrace change and incorporate novel strategies for expediting our examination process, we are risking the sanctity of our higher institutions and regrettably the careers of our students. Throughout the gruelling course of the exam, I navigated a whole gamut of emotions and I think I can safely say everyone–even the selected lot–would assent to the same. ‘KAS 2016’ has undeniably set a bad precedent and one can only hope there is light at the end of the tunnel, especially for our future aspirants who are cherishing their precious dreams of serving the state.
The writer has studied Civil Engineering