Need for a level playing field in Manipur Civil Services Examination

Shougrakpam Ratnamani Singh *

Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) Building in Imphal
Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) Building in Imphal :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

There is a very common opinion among the serious candidates of the Manipur Civil Services (MCS) Examination conducted by the Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) that the current pattern of the main examination does not provide a "level playing field" as it leaves much to be desired insofar as the scope of scoring equally good marks in the various optional subjects is concerned and that even a casual analysis of the trend of the few preceding examinations often reveals a clear bias/tilt towards a few optional subjects such as Public Administration, Education, Economics and Zoology.

While some of these optional subjects had often given the candidates very high marks which are considered admirably high and 'game changing' with respect to the civil services examinations including the one conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for recruitment to various services including IAS, IPS and IFS, the other optional subjects had not given them good enough marks to make the cut, thereby clearly revealing the glaring discriminatory nature of the present pattern of the MCS main examination in more ways than one and a very strong case for improvement in the selection process.

A glance at the table given below showing a brief analysis of the most common optional subjects opted by the top 20 candidates of the MCS examinations of 2013 and 2014 may help in putting things in perspective with respect to the need for a change in the pattern of the main examination so as to provide a better level playing field to the candidates:

Sl.No. Optional Subject No. of the candidates with the optional Subject as one of the two Optional Subjects (out of the top 20 candidates) % of the candidates with the optional Subject as one of the two Optional Subjects (out of the top 20 candidates) Average marks of the candidates for the Optional subject (among the top 20 candidates)
- - 2013 2014 2013 2014 2013 2014
1 Public Administration 10 10 50% 50% 410.10 408.80
2 Education 10 15 50% 75% 407.30 399.27
3 Geography 4 2 20% 10% 374 419.5
4 Economics 4 0 20% 0% 458.25 ----
5 Zoology 3 1 15% 5% 454.67 419
6 Manipuri 1 4 5% 20% 319 400.5

* Source: Data available on the MPSC website:

It is clearly seen from the above table, among others, that the most scoring optional subjects like Public Administration, Education, Economics and Zoology had given the toppers very high marks which could change the "game" in their favour as a score of around 400 marks in one optional subject out of a total of 600 marks may be considered "game changing" marks in the civil services examinations including the MCS examination and that Public Administration and Education had produced a very large percentage of the toppers.

This is really a cause of great concern for the candidates with other optional subjects in view of the fact that the MPSC in all likelihood does not do moderation/scaling of the marks obtained by the candidates in the optional subjects to neutralize the considerable differences in the marks arising out of the differences in the difficulty levels of the questions in the various optional subjects.

It won't be out of context to mention that the UPSC which conducts inter-alia the Civil Services Examination had changed the pattern of the main examination since 2013 and the present pattern comprises seven papers of 250 marks each: one common essay paper; four common general studies papers and one optional subject consisting of two papers.

There is a general feeling among the candidates that the present UPSC main examination pattern provides a better level playing field and is a fairer and improved one compared to the previous pattern as the number of common papers has increased to five (5) while the number of the optional papers has come down to two (2); which means that out of the total marks of 1750, only 500 marks pertain to the two optional papers of one optional subject.

In other words, this means that the overall weightage given to the optional subject has decreased and this in turn augurs well for providing a better level playing field. It may also be emphasised here that unlike the MPSC, the UPSC adopts a unique technique referred to as 'moderation' in case of the optional subjects in order to neutralize and do away with the undue and unintended differences in the marks obtained in the various optional subjects.

While no pattern of the examination can completely be free from some inherent weaknesses, there should be a continuous endeavour to improve it as recruitments play a very vital role in the overall scheme of things for achieving the myriad goals of good governance. What can be the best pattern that we can think of? It will not be an easy question to answer.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that the present pattern of the MCS main examination needs to be changed in view of its apparent failure to provide a "level playing field" and the changing realities of the time. Won't it be a good idea to adopt the same pattern used by the UPSC so that our candidates will have an added advantage of preparing for both the exams by studying the same syllabus?

Won't it be in the interest of fairness and of providing a better level playing field if the number of common papers is increased, thereby increasing their share of the total marks while the weightage given to one or two optional subjects is reduced? There may be several better options before the MPSC if it desires to improve the pattern in its quest to recruit the most deserving candidates. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Note: The views expressed are personal.

* Shougrakpam Ratnamani Singh wrote this article for
The writer served in Central Secretariat Service and currently at the Ministry of Human Resource Development, GoI, New Delhi and can be reached at ratnamanisingh(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on December 10, 2014.

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