Lakshmi R Krishnan of Ashtapadi house, Anchal in Kollam was placed first among girl candidates in the Combined Defence Services (CDS) exam conducted recently. The exam involves gruelling procedures that test not only the knowledge of the candidates but also their mental and physical abilities. After clearing the written exam, the candidates have to face a five-day interview. Lakshmi relates her experiences with Onmanorama and offers tips to aspiring students.
When to start preparations
The CDS exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) can be cleared by systematic studies over a couple of years after degree, says Lakshmi. "You should be thorough with the school textbooks. Current affairs need to be up-to-date. However, in the interviews, it is the personality of the candidate that is tested. At this stage, more than knowledge, it is the attitude of the candidate in different situations that is key to success," according to the topper.
Tips for written exam
Lakshmi applied for the short service commission for women. The written exam for this post comprised two sections: General Studies and English.
"The syllabus for General Studies is the same as the Civil Service examination. You need to constantly update your grasp over current affairs. Special attention has to be given to defence-related matters. Moreover, you should have in-depth knowledge of NCERT science textbooks," she says.
For the English paper, the cut-off marks would be high, adds Lakshmi. "Questions cover all aspects of the language, including grammar. I based my preparations on the last 10 years' question papers," she informs.
"As there are negative marks, never attempt questions which you are not sure about," advises Lakshmi.
The five-day interview
The interview conducted by SSB (Service Selection Board) lasts five days.
On day one, a screening test of 100 marks is held. Next, an image is displayed for 30 seconds, based on which a story has to be written within four minutes. A discussion on the candidate's story follows. Entry to the next stage depends on the performance in this round.
On day two, psychological tests are conducted. "Eleven slides would be shown and a story has to be created connecting them. Ensure that the story is positive," says Lakshmi.
The next comes the 'word association test.' "Sixty words would be displayed for 15 seconds. Candidates have to create a sentence with those words. Again, try to be positive," is the topper's advice.
'Situation reaction test' is the subsequent challenge. "Sixty situations would be suggested and in 30 minutes candidates have to demonstrate how they would deal with each circumstance," informs Lakshmi.
Finally, all candidates have to write a self-appraisal. "Describe what our parents, friends, teachers as well as enemies think about us. Include your positive as well as negative traits. Explain your strengths. Expect these questions in the personal interview also," she says.
In the personal interview, the panellists and the candidate shake hands twice – before and after the appointment. "Ensure that you clasp their hands firmly," suggests Lakshmi.
The next is 'G2 task.' "There are individual as well as group tasks. Your ability to tackle various challenges would be tested," reveals the CDS topper.
"In the personal interview, a 15-member panel would sit around you and shoot questions. They want to know how you react to certain situations. I gained an advantage in this section as I was not tense at all," says Lakshmi.
Each move of the candidate is analysed from the moment he or she steps into the SSB centre. All tests seek to evaluate the mental strength of the aspirants. "Face each challenge calmly," suggests Lakshmi.
The biggest challenge
Among the various challenges during the interview, Lakshmi felt that the physical tasks were most tough. "I had read about those tasks earlier, doing them with real materials proved to be difficult. I could complete only five individual tasks. In total, 10 tasks have to be finished in 10 minutes," informs the topper.
In the command task, a situation, some obstacles and a few materials would be provided to the candidate, who can also select two aides. "To complete the task, only the ideas of the candidate and the aides can be used. The officer present at the spot may try to intervene; but you should stick to your idea," says Lakshmi.
Meanwhile, the obstacle task involves clearing three hurdles within 10 minutes. Lakshmi says proper planning is needed to succeed in this test. "Complete the easy tasks first and then take up the tough ones. Repeat if the initial attempts fail," she adds.
While appearing for an interview, a candidate should be dressed suitably. "Instructions in this regard would be given in the call letter. For CDS interview, a formal attire is needed; shirt and pants are preferred. The shirt has to be tucked in. If the candidate likes, a suit can be worn over the shirt. Churidhar is allowed, but formal shoes are compulsory. Sleeveless dress, T-shirt and three-fourths are not allowed. Dark and faded colours have to be avoided," says Lakshmi.
Regarding ornaments, she suggests: "I did not wear any jewellery or ornament during the interview. It is best avoided."