Civil Services, Government of India, India, Stories

Data: Share of Candidates Attempting ‘UPSC CSE’ First Time and Clearing the Exam Declining


Data from the UPSC annual reports indicates that the share of candidates attempting the UPSC CSE for the first time and clearing the exam is steadily declining. From 61.9% in 2013, the share of candidates who appeared the examination for the first time went down to 49% in 2020.

The Civil Services Exam (CSE), administered by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), is undoubtedly the most difficult and sought-after exam in the nation. Every year, approximately, a thousand positions, including the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), and Indian Police Services (IPS) are filled. The total recruitment process takes nearly 15 months and candidates must endure more than 30 hours of rigorous testing through the entire examination procedure. Factly’s earlier story on the UPSC CSE examination can be read here and here

Today’s story looks at the emerging trends and similarities in the examination process and results.

Half of the applied candidates do not even appear for the examination.

Annually, lakhs of candidates apply for the CSE. However, only some of them turn out and actually appear for the examination. For example, in 2022, out of the 11.35 lakh candidates, only 5.73 lakh candidates (50.51%) appeared for the examination. The same pattern can be seen in previous years as well, where the turnout is less than 50%. In fact, 2019, 2022 and 2023 are the only years where the turnout is marginally higher than 50% in the last decade. This has been the case with the rest examinations conducted by UPSC. 

The low turnout is crucial to understand because UPSC spends almost half of its sanctioned budget outlay only for the purpose of the conduct of Examinations. Such lower turnouts are a depletion of both financial and human resources. 

Additionally, as per the information provided to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in the 2023-24 Demands for Grants report of DOPT, the entire examination process takes nearly 15 months to complete. The committee observed that such long and lengthy recruitment processes take a toll on the physical and mental health of the candidates. It recommended that any recruitment process should not take more than six months to complete. It further asked the UPSC to examine the reasons for such lower turnouts and share the findings with the committee and also address the same.

Share of candidates appearing for the first-time declining

The difficulty level of the UPSC Civil Services Examination is such that very few people clear it in a single go. Usually, candidates dedicate a good number of years to get through the examination. The data of the candidates appearing in the UPSC CSE preliminary examination validates the difficulty level of the examination. It is found that the share of the candidates who are appearing for the first time in UPSC CSE prelims declined from 61.9% in 2013 to 49% in 2020. This also means that there are a greater number of candidates reappearing in the exam than the ones who are newly attempting.

Further, the share of candidates who cleared the examination in their first attempt and were recommended fell from 14.8% in 2013 to 8.4% in 2020. At a cumulative level, the share of candidates who cleared all the stages of the examination in one to four attempts fell from 85% to 66% during the same period.

Women’s share in the final list cross 30% for the first time in 2022

Like many other professions, civil services have also remained a male-dominated profession. The glass ceilings are slowly being broken, with more and more women choosing to apply and appear for the examination. From 2010 to 2020, the number of female candidates who applied and appeared for the CSE examination grew by approximately 135%, whereas the number of male candidates who applied and appeared for the examination grew by 74% and 62% respectively. 

There is also a positive growth rate in the women’s selections over the past few years. The share of female candidates out of the total recommended candidates was 22% in 2010. After ten years, in 2020, female representation rose to the decadal highest of 28%. Following a marginal decline in 2021 to 25.8%, the year 2022 recorded a historic figure of 34% female representation. It is worth noting that female candidates have a greater conversion rate than their counterparts towards the later stages of the examination, as observed in our earlier story.

Apart from the increase in share in total, women also are dominating the list of top scorers. Of the top 25 rankers, 14 candidates were females in 2022.  

Optionals: Geography and sociology still opted by many, PSIR new entrant in the most opted list.

The UPSC optional subjects play a significant role in the UPSC mains exam, accounting for one-fourth (500) of the total marks (2025) in the UPSC exam and therefore play a critical role in determining the final rank in the merit list. The candidates can choose any one of the 48 optional subjects that are offered. 

The data from 2014 to 2020 indicates that geography and sociology are still among the top 3 subjects that are opted for the most by the candidates. Subjects such as History, and Public Administration are losing appeal and are being replaced by Anthropology and Political Science and International Relations (PSIR). One of the likely reasons behind such choices adopted by the candidates could be the possible overlap of the syllabus of optional subjects with the syllabus of General studies. 

The success rates of different optional categories can be read in our earlier story for a better understanding of the rationale behind the candidates choosing any optional.

Featured Image: UPSC annual reports


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