A Window to Current Affairs Based Questions
In my two previous articles in these columns, I have presented my own perspectives on what an IAS interview session is all about, how it is conducted, how marks are allotted etc. Also, I have explained how bio data based questions (i.e. questions on your Detailed Application Form) need to be prepared. In the present article, I am taking up the current affairs based part of the interview with insights on how such questions come up in a natural way and how to attempt them. Given the fact that there is so much that can be asked on current affairs, a good perception about the likely issues is imperative for an outstanding performance .
What comes under current affairs?
Everything that is current is current affairs. This is, however, only a limited definition of current affairs from the point of view of IAS interview. A larger definition would be: those issues and events which generate common interest and are given repeated importance in media and intellectual discourse constitute current affairs. Thus, everything reported in newspapers, TV news channels can be current but not current affairs. Only those issues which occupy repeated attention of civil society, and which are taken up for debates, discussions, analysis can be called current affairs. For instance, a cold wave sweeping entire north India is a current issue, but it becomes current affairs when it is linked with climate change or some other phenomenon. Similarly, elections in many states are going to be conducted for their assemblies in coming months, but all news related to it can not be called current affairs. Only the enduring issues such as, dynastic politics playing out in UP, Supreme Court ruling banning use of caste , religion, in campaigning, need for simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and state assemblies are current affairs related to upcoming elections. Rest are just current news. Such distinctions are important to understand in order to stay close to relevance during preparations.
Current affairs : Mandatory part of interview: The IAS interview can be conducted in many formats. It may be based on bio data based questions, or optional paper based questions and so on, but whichever way it goes, it is with certainty that some questions will be asked on current affairs. While some may be asked just a few questions, other candidates can be fired with a volley of such questions. Since, IAS interview board is interested in eliciting you opinion on certain issues, current affairs provide a huge opportunity to the interview board to ask opinion based questions. Thus, It is only rarely that questions based on current affairs will not be asked from a candidate.
Coverage of current affairs: Usually, only the most current issues are taken up during the interview unless a context is created necessitating framing questions on older issues of current affairs. For example, it is unlikely that questions will be raised now on causes of Brexit. What has become relevant about Brexit now is the modality of exiting the EU by UK. Invoking article 50 of EU charter, or whether the present PM Theresa May will choose a “ hard Brexit” or a “ soft Brexit”, or, for that matter, the shape of Europe in post- Brexit Era are issues likely to be raised during the interview. Similarly, on climate change, instead of asking about Paris Conference, they are likely to ask about emerging issues like Trump’s threat to come out of it, why temperatures have constantly risen in 2014, 2015 and 2016, effects of rise in temperature of the arctic region etc. In other words, only most recent current issues that have captured media and public attention will be asked by the board. I would recommend to look up last 3-4 months currents events carefully. Events reported just a few days before the interview session or even on the day of interview are more likely to be asked as they are still fresh in the minds of the members of the board.
Classification of current affairs: Unless one has structured and classified various types of current affairs intelligently and efficiently, one is bound to get lost in the ocean of information. No matter how much current affairs you have followed, you may not be able to answer the questions framed on them unless you have found a way of doing them. Remember, you are not covering current affairs to answer questions the way you did in the mains written test. The way of preparing current affairs for the interview is quite different from the way you prepare for the main examination. While each current question in the written exam. requires to be written in 8-9 minutes, a current affairs question in the interview is to be answered just in 4- 5 minutes. Secondly, in written exam., secondary questions will not be asked, but in interview, follow up questions can be asked. For example, in written exam. there may be a question as to why Trump has threatened to take USA out of Paris climate deal. But in interview, there will be follow up questions also e.g. why Trump calls climate change a “ hoax” created by China. Once you have answered it, another question may pop up as to what is Chinese stand on Trump’ s conceptualization of climate change.
It is, therefore clear from the above examples that preparation of current affairs from GS point of view will not take you very far in the interview. You need a paradigm shift in current affairs preparations for the interview. It necessitates clubbing current issues under broad headings and then prepare them from all angles. For example, you should club together all issues relating to environment and then prepare on the entire range of related issues. The major headings under which one can club current issues in different bundles are:
*Polity and governance
*Policies, schemes, programs of govt
**Environment, animal rights
* Social justice issues
* Health issues
* Science and technology
* Ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, surrogacy, termination of pregnancy etc.
How to find current topics which are important: Since current affairs cover a huge canvas, it is important to locate relevant and likely topics intelligently. One should look at the content pages of leading current affairs magazine like FRONTLINE, YOJANA, DOWN TO EARTH, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY etc. You will get a window to relevant topics through such an exercise. One should also look up some reputed international magazines and newspapers such as ECONOMIST, TIME, NEWSWEEK, etc. because their coverage on international issues, environmental issues is far moré extensive.
What the board likes to ask on current affairs: The composition of the board is such that each one of them, besides being domain experts, is a current affairs expert. The members know that they are supposed to test the candidate on current issues. Therefore, they themselves read a lot on important areas to enable themselves to ask questions. Some members even make a list of current topics and frame questions in advance and list them in their diaries and they have been noticed by the interviewee to ask questions from their diaries. Nothing wrong in that. But the usual practice is that they will frame questions spontaneously at some point in the interview session. The current questions are never framed the way you expect it, i.e. ,in information mode or mere statement of facts. It should be clear to all that interview is never a test of your knowledge, but of your true, authentic and natural personality. Therefore, the questions on current affairs will also be framed seeking your opinion, judging your mental alertness, assimilation power etc. Let me explain this by citing examples.
Example I: A lot keeps happening on international affairs. So, new terms, phrases have come up in recent times. The board members will be excited to know the meaning and significance of these terms through questions . These terms are:
* Post truth world, or, post fact world
* Disruptive politics
* New normal
*Economic and cultural nationalism
* Hard Brexit and Soft Brexit
There are indeed more such terms to know. The board will ask you to explain the meaning of these terms. Therefore, while preparing current affairs, do focus on current terminologies which define the contemporary international relations.
EXAMPLE II: Apart from terms, they will ask for your opinions on certain issues. Trump has questioned the” One China policy” that the US has purused so far.. i. e. not recognizing Taiwan and dealing with the mainland govt. of China. A straight question will be: why USA has pursued a one China policy and what are the implications of its revision under Trump. Similarly, they may ask you: USA and Russia have been on adversarial relationship since cold war time, what Trump means by stating that US relations with Russia is “negotiable”.
EXAMPLE III: The present world is coping with the issue of global warming. Paris deal and Kigali deals have been inked to combat the rising temperatures. Obviously they may ask you about the features of these deals and their effectiveness. But more importantly, they will ask you such questions: What is the meaning of “Geoengineering”, or, how you, as an individual ,can help reduce the carbon footprint.
EXAMPLE IV: Jallikattu, a bull taming sport, popular in Tamilnadu, has been banned by the Supreme Court. But there is an agitation against the ban and people, led by the CM himself, are asserting their right to this sport. The board will ask you a situational question on this . The question can be: You are the Chief Secretary of the state. You have to implement the supreme court decision on banning jallikattu. But there is a popular movement demanding an ordinance by central govt. to overcome the ban and the sport is being practiced despite supreme court ruling. As chief secretary of the state, will you allow Jallikattu as demanded even by the CM?
EXAMPLE V : Simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies are being mooted. The board can ask a question like this: Do you favour simultaneous elections. If you say yes, you do support it, then there will be another question as to how it can be held simultaneously given the fact that assemblies and Lok Sabha get dissolved mid term due to various reasons inherent in parliamentary democracy. Thus, one question on simultaneous election will not end at that. There will be more related questions. You have to answer all the related questions on simultaneous elections with consistency of thought and argument.
Some useful suggestions on current affairs preparation:
1. Cover a wide range of current affairs from diverse sources such as various newspapers, reputed national ,international magazines.
2.To form opinion on the current issues, watch discussions ,debates on Rajya Sabha TV , BBC, CNN.
3. Frame likely questions that may be asked on a particular topic and prepare crisp answers that can be delivered verbally in 4- 5 minutes in the interview.
4. n your answer, don’t stress on facts and figures only. Put these figures in their context, logic, and reasoning.
5. If you are not aware about the issue, accept it and if you want to make a guess on the question, do it with prior permission of the board.
A note of caution: In interview preparations under inexperienced guidance of self -appointed experts, current affairs looks like a GS paper preparation. Classes on current affairs are conducted and all sorts of things which have least significance for the interview are discussed. Lengthy materials are reproduced from newspapers and served. These hold little value unless one understands the true nature of current affairs as stated above.
( S. B. Singh is a noted academician and IAS interview expert. He can be reached at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed are personal.)