The declaration of the final marks of 761 selected candidates in the Civil Services Examination 2020 has reignited an old debate — are candidates from reserved categories awarded lower marks, or in other words discriminated against in the interview? This year, among the top 10 rank holders, rank one Subham Kumar has been awarded the lowest mark in the interview. Kumar comes from Kushwaha community of Bihar, which is enlisted in the OBC category. But the final list of the selected candidates does not mention the category. This could be possible because his family might be in the creamy layer, not entitled to claim reservation.
Table 1 gives an entry point to examine whether there exists any pattern in awarding of lower marks to the reserved category students despite their higher score in the written examination. And if such a phenomenon does exist, what could be the cause?
I statistically analyse data on written and interview marks of selected candidates in the Civil Services Examination 2020 conducted by the UPSC, and find the correlation between the category of candidates and their interview scores.
Category wise comparison
The statistical comparison of category wise written marks shows that candidates of the General Category received highest average marks (783.16), followed by the OBCs (759.96), the EWS (756.23), the SCs (739.92), and the STs (736.26). A similar pattern is observed in the interview scores. The other two statistical measures — Standard Deviation (SD) and Range (Minimum, Maximum), in Table 2, help us very little to test the above-mentioned claim.
The simple statistical analysis of Mean, Standard Deviation (SD) and Range is unable to decide the degree of truth in the above-mentioned claim. Hence, I use more advanced statistical measures, i. e. correlation and testing statistical significance.
Test of correlation coefficient and significance
The Pearson correlation measures the relationship between two variables. It measures degree (perfect, strong, moderate, weak, none) and direction (positive and negative). The positive direction means increase in one variable would result in increase in another variable, whereas negative direction means increase in one variable would result in decrease in another variable and vice versa. The correlation does help us establish a relation between two variables, but it does not tell which variable would be the cause and which would be the effect (outcome).
Table 3 shows that there exists no correlation between written and interview marks of all candidates analysed together. But a category wise correlation tells us a different story. There exists a weak positive correlation between written and interview marks of general category candidates. This means that higher marks in the written examination has the possibility of leading to higher marks in the interview as well.
However, for the OBC candidates, there seems to be a weak negative correlation — higher marks in the written test could lead to a possibility of lower interview score. So far as EWS, SC and ST category candidates are concerned, there exists moderate negative correlation between their written and interview scores, which again implies that the increase in the former would mean decrease in the latter.
The significance test of the above-mentioned correlations reveals that the relation between written and interview marks of OBC candidates is statistically insignificant. Whereas for General, EWS, SC, and ST candidates, it is statistically significant. This means that the general category candidates who score higher marks in written examination are awarded higher marks in their interview too, whereas EWS, SC and ST category candidates are awarded lower scores in the interview despite scoring higher marks in the written exam.
Since the interview is conducted after the written examination, it cannot be said that the higher/lower marks in the interview is leading to the lower/higher marks in the written examination. Only conclusion that can be drawn is that the candidates of EWS, SC and ST, have the possibility of being awarded relatively lower marks in the interview despite their high marks in the written.
Possible causes behind lower scores
Is the higher marks of EWS, SC and ST candidates in the written examination a reason for awarding lower marks in the interview? We are not aware about whether interviewers are provided information about written marks of candidates. So, we cannot reach this conclusion. Prima facie, it appears that caste-based prejudice could be leading to the award of lower marks to the SC and ST candidates. But the award of lower marks to the EWS candidates gives us a counter-intuitive argument. It seems that the cultural background of the candidates play a role in interview scores.
The interview panel is given a detailed application form (DAF) that consists of information about candidates, including their category, social and education background etc. This information may consciously or unconsciously trigger their (interviewing board members) inherent biases. The selection board can be biased towards reservation policy per se, which could result in awarding of low marks. The disclosure of information about social and educational background in the DAF could also be resulting in having a negative impact on the performance of the candidates before the interview board. According to a report of the World Bank, such things can happen after disclosure of identity.
The above analysis is based on the marks of selected candidates only. A nuanced picture might emerge, if data on all candidates who appeared in the interview is available. This story can also change, particularly for the EWS candidates, if data on religion gets added, because the category also consists Muslim aspirants.
Arvind Kumar (@arvind_kumar__), PhD Scholar, Department of Politics & IRs, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)