The Psychology of the Personality Test + 16 Suggestions for IAS Interview Candidates

by Neyawn


Last week, I e-met Dheeraj.

“Sir, he said, I am having a major problem.”

“And what is that Dheeraj?” I asked.

“Problem is I have my Civils Interview in August, and I have also gotten call for IFoS Interview, though dates are not out for that yet.”

“They are good problems to have Dheeraj,” I said. Imagine, not having these problems. What would you do then?

The Personality Test of the Civil Services examination is the most critical phase of your successful journey.

It determines what rank you get, which part of India you will live for the rest of your life, and even who you marry.

The examination requires that no less than graduates apply for the exam. And graduates being graduates, shouldn’t do things, unless you are fully convinced why you are doing things the way you are.

#1 CS Personality Test is not just a test of your personality.

Okay, I don’t want to ruin this for you, and in most ways it is a test of your personality, it is also a test of your preparedness.

In fact the personality Test is as much a test of your personality as the Mains Examination Current Affairs questions are of a level such that any well-educated person will be able to answer them without any special preparation.

I quote verbatim from the CSE Notification below:

The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers (Paper II to Paper V) will be such that a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study.

Source :This, on Page 31.

So, for those of you who are going easy on the preparation front, a good idea will be to take a look at the Interview transcripts available here to have a fair ideas about the kind of questions that are asked in the Personality Test.

#2 CS Personality Test rewards people with preparation.

Like most things in life, a well-prepared candidate shines out. You may be sometimes amazed at the effortless of some candidates on popular videos.

There are two things I want to tell you.

One, some people have high clarity, and are born that way. Just like some people are born beautiful or talented, or both ( damn! ) with a head full of dense hair that wont go away if they rinsed it with Surf Excel, while you may be taking vitamin supplements to just have that last strand of hair stay on your head.

Two, if you are not born that way, it takes a lot ( okay, read that as “some” ) of effort to look effortless. Effortlessness comes with practice. But most importantly, it comes with deliberation, reflection and digging deep as far as Personality Test is concerned. Often within oneself, but having a couple of good friends or mentors helps.

Every year, I see some brilliant kid who is high on effort for the Mains and Prelims, but takes the last part – the Personality Test lightly.


They can speak fluent English.

#3 Fluent English skills don’t get you marks

Here is the thing. I have spent a significant part of my life working with English-speaking-fancy-accent-DPS-school kids who take the Interview lightly just because they can speak English well.

And when you speak English well, everyone in Old Rajinder Nagar will tell you – “Tera toh ho jayega”

Like in most walks of life, I have often seen, and painfully so, good communication skills candidates score lower than the under-confident, not-so-great-speaker just because of the over-confidence.

You don’t get marks for speaking English. You get marks for answering the question.

To the point.

In as less words as possible.

Hear me out.

#4 You will be verified against your DAF.

A civil servant or a government officer /employee who has managed to secure a position in the Board of the Union Public Service Commission post retirement, has usually done a few things right in his career.

And no, before you get me wrong, it is not that he knows how to manage his political bosses.

It is his ability to do due diligence and make decisions, that don’t point fingers at him in the end.

I once met an old friend with a single digit rank in the IAS, and a wife in the IPS.

( The 2012-2016 selected candidates from forumias are all District Collectors & Magistrates ( DC / DM) and Superintendents of Police ( SPs) now – so these days – people I know from forum – from the inception days ( I like to call them – and myself – the “Originals” ) – everyone is either getting a District or having babies as we talk. )

As a probationer, he confided, he paid compensation for crop loss to a group of people who had lost their crops to hailstorms. And then, quite sympathetically he had had also awarded a few hundred farmers compensation for crop loss due to rampage by NeelGai ( a vermin ).

Until audit exposed that the same farmers who had claimed compensation for hailstorm, were also the ones who took the compensation for Neelgai attack.

For the same crops.

Double the payment. Same crop loss.

“OMG”, I said, “this is bad. How are you going to get out of this mess?”

Now, there is something called the honeymoon period in your selection. And no, thats not the LBSNAA. Its the probation.

During probation, your District Collector will treat you like a pal, something like “Delhi-se-aaya-mera-dost”, will often eat, drink and make merry with you.

You screw up the protocol even on CM’s visit, you can get away with it.

Probationer hai.

Saat Khun Maaf types.

Any mistakes you make -usually bonafide – the DC in most liklihood will protect you.

( Things change overnight, however, when you work as an SDM / SDO under the same DC – and thats because SDO is the man who has to do a LOT of work, and frankly the sultanate of a DC runs as good as his SDMs deliver.  So this relationship, once friendly, while a probationer,  usually suddenly turns into that of superior-subordinate, where you will be held accountable for any lapses.

Even the bonafide ones. )

Suddenly, the protocol kicks in.

This officer, let us call him X, was shielded by his DC because he was a probationer. Were he to be an SDM, it was likely that he would have an unsavoury remark like “failure to do due diligence” or worse, a departmental enquiry.

Now Mr X has learned to do due diligence for things he does, documents he signs, and people he says Yes to.

A successful bureaucrat, they say, is one who has managed to have a career without any complaints or allegations against him. This makes him avoid risk, and not approve things he does not understand.

Let me assure you that you have Mr X and the likes sitting in the Board, in varying degrees, who will try to verify, not so much your preparedness, as much as your authenticity and genuineness.

And there is one test of authenticity and genuineness – and that is – you are what you say on the paper.

The rest of the article banks on this hypothesis.

#5 Why you should give direct crisp answers to questions that are asked.

“Why has your district not off-taken from FCI the quota of food grains for PDS? How are you managing the PDS?” asked the Principal Secretary on one of the VCs ( Video Conference ) I was required to attend as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow.

“Sir, as you are aware that our district is amongst the worst performing district in Eastern India, with high amount of malnutrition among the tribal population …”

“Who made you DC?” asked the Principal Secy, in anger.

A silence followed.

“Sir, the DC is on leave. I am the person in-charge currently.” said the officer.

“Mr S, your district has a bridge made by railways that is annually damaged by floods. Is the bridge in fine condition?”

“No Sir, said the officer, now alert. I was coming to that. The bridge has been damaged due to which heavy vehicles such as loaded trucks and tractors cannot come. That is why PDS food-grains has not been off-taken from State and we are managing with old stock. We have written to Railways as it their property..”

The Board, and probably any officer or public facing official expects crisp answers, not because some “coaching has told you to give crisp answers”.

They expect crisp answers because, usually the people who beat around the bush, are not suitable for administrative jobs.

Worse, they are usually trying to conceal something. Usually a lapse.

Straightforward answers, with a suitable choice of words is something that is appreciated.

#6 No one is counting your gap years. or your 10th Marks.

“Why have you taken so many years? Why didnt you take up any job?”

A question that several old timers often worry about.

Another key issue most first time interview appearing students have is that they think the board will be fixated about their 10th marks. Or the gap years.

True. Alka Ma’am Board, and a few other boards have been nosey about that. But there are enough number of Rank 1’s who have gotten into IAS not in their early attempts.

Your gap years can be addressed with real reasons.

There are two ways to answer this.

#1 Sir, in my first attempt, I wrote the prelims without preparation, so wasted the attempt just like that. In my second attempt, I prepared but could not clear Prelims. In my third attempt, I cleared prelims, but could not clear Mains. In my fourth …

Story telling is something that not awarded well in government jobs. We have 1.3 billion people in over 700+ districts manned by an equal number of District Magistrates. If we heard each story, we would have little time for actual work.

A fair reply to such questions can be

– “Sir, I could not understand the demand of the examination in my earlier attempts
– “Sir, I could not get guidance in my early years..
– “Sir, I felt that with job, I will not be able to do justice to my preparation..

If you think for a moment or two – something not many people do – you will realize that the above answers fairly answer the questions asked on gap years, if at all.

In fact, they fairly describe what you took so long. I just chose the right expressions!

#7 Being overconfident is as bad as being under confident.

When forum folks get selected and go to LBSNAA, I usually make two phone calls.


The first one, usually when they join the Academy. And they share with me two things.

One, that they love the Academy, Mussoorie – and the clouds – and the view outside their hostel room – and that they have met their “best” friends in the academy – who will be their friends for life. Some of their besties – they say, sometimes giggling – are like soulmates.

Two, they have commonly observed that the alpha males in the Academy are not usually the ones who have scored very high in the Interview.

The quieter, more sober ones are the ones who have gotten high marks in the Interview.

( The second phone call, at the end of the training period, usually has quite a different take on the initial besties and soulmates. And I will answer that if you create a question on the forum. )

Trust me on this – more people get less marks for being overconfident – and for the lack of a better word – cocky – than the people who appear less confident ( unless you let the lack of confidence interfere with your communication )

But why would someone who is overconfident get less marks?

Resource curse, I say.

The smarter ones, usually ones with good communication skills, usually ruin things because they do not prepare as well.

The quieter ones, who are usually afraid, often end up beating the smarter ones, by their preparation.

This is so common year after year, that when I see a CompSci – Computer Science student from an IIT with the brightest brains and even brighter career prospects, appear for the Interview, I almost know that a Civil Engineer from Tier two college will likely beat him. Just because the CompSci sometimes is too smart to prepare for the Personality Test.

#8 The sixteen Rules for Personality Test, if you are appearing for it this year, or next.

I sum up my side in these best practices for the personality Test. Please note that we all are unique, and we often assume that other aspirant are like us, whereas the beauty of the examination is that the people whom make it to the Interview are very diverse.

Someone may a District Magistrate’s Drivers son, another may be a bureaucrat kid with both parents in the IAS and a degree from a Top College – wait for it – from London, another kid could be the daughter of a DGP from State in North India – and yet they all will be beaten by a housewife with two kids and a husband who does not work.

So, while all generalizations are bad, and you must speak to your mentor wherever you are, and prepare very keenly for the Interview, you can selectively choose to follow some of the pointers given below

1. The best insurance for a good score is via a good preparation for the personality Test. Good preparation means thinking, deliberating and reflecting on questions until you develop clarity.
2. Always prepare content in a Q& A format. If you keep reading endlessly, you will end up with a register on Rajasthan that will be thicker than Know Your State Booklet of KBC Nano on Rajasthan. Worse, you wont even find a publisher.
3. Group discussions help. Not whatsapp. Not telegram, but a friendly meet in the park, or a zoom call. You will see other people and you can always learn from others.
4. Prepare crisp answers. Not because a coaching told you to. But because when you are in the boards position dealing with 8 candidates for the past 20 days, you would also want crisp answers. Crisp answers are good.
5. “Why IAS?” questions is not the ball you hit a sixer on. Its not your magnum opus. It is not an emotional question. It is not your Harvard “Statement of Purpose” on a question “Why Harvard?”. It is also not your Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. Its an honest answer.
6. More people get rejected because of their answer of “Why IAS?” than they are selected. You can fairly treat it as a hygiene question.
7. If you have seven reasons why you want to be an IAS, none of the reasons are probably true. And no, a cheesy line like – “Sir, there are so many reasons I want to be an IAS, I dont know which one to choos” will have you drooling over in the web series script I am working on, its not actually a great line to use in the actual Interview.
8. Do not try to make the board laugh. It is usually a formal Interview. Wit is good, but do not plan it or over do it.
9. Do not laugh with the Board, if they laugh. Maintain a smile on your face, but do not try to participate in an internal joke.
10. Do not try to manipulate at all by saying something like – Sir, I am from rural background or a middle class family when your DAF says otherwise.
11. What you say is important. How you say it is even more important.
12. Do not keep thinking about the gap years. Thinking about the gap years increases the gap in your mind. So much so that you end up falling in it.
13. The PT is not about thinking aloud, or sharing your thoughts / thinking process with board members. It is about final answers. So if you have cracked an Interview with Facebook, Apple or Google, where you were asked to think aloud in a programming question, this is completely the opposite.
14. Try to maintain a gentle smile. It is difficult to award less marks to a smiling person. No evil smiles. No ear to ear grins.
15. Stay positive during the Interview preparation. Right now prioritize Interview Preparation over everything else. Even if you had a bad experience with the Board before, remember – they are going to judge you afresh.
16. If you don’t know what to do for the Interview, or if you are not enjoying the preparation, you are doing something wrong. Speak to a mentor or your teachers wherever you are. Untie the knots in your head.

Remember that you are in the last leg of your journey. This is the point where a lot of people will simply give up simply because of the toll – physical , mental and emotional – this exam has taken on them.

But this is not the time to give up. This is the time to be as positive as possible, and give it your best shot. You have come so far, don’t screw the last leg of this journey, even if you are too tired.

Take care of your emotional health. Do not think of what you will become and get emotional about it. Just focus on giving a good Interview. And having a good preparation for the PersonalityTest.

And I promise to you that the heavens will take care of the rest.

Until next time,


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By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member the founder of ForumIAS. He is a coder Mentor & Teacher by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. He has built ForumIAS - the community - twice. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn . You can also write to him at RxAxVxI@FOxRUMxIAS.COM ( remove the small "x" from the email ).