EVOLUTION OF THE SERVICE SELECTION PROCESS
A very warm Namaste and a resounding Jai Hind!
The Indian Armed Forces select their officer candidates through a very detailed and refined process. At the core of the system are the Services Selection Boards, which employ psychological and other techniques to find out whether the candidate (who has already cleared the written examination conducted by the UPSC) is suitable for the Armed Forces.
The process has evolved over time and has been used in one way or the other, by some other nations’ Armed Forces also. We today have a system which has stood the test of time and evolved to suit our particular requirements.
In this blog post, I shall share with you a short history of this evolution. The facts have been culled from my own notes, taken in classes and interactions with instructors, during my training as a Group Testing Officer (GTO) at the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR).
Service Selection Process in the West
It was in 1917 that the US Army instituted Intelligence Tests, primarily aimed at suitably distributing recruits to various branches. These were known as Army Alpha and Army Beta, for verbal and non-verbal reasoning.
In 1927, Germany followed suit with their own Psychological Tests. They used complicated special tests, which included the candidates’ life history culled from party records. Each Army Corps had a Psy Section and later, a Corps of Military Psychology was formed.
The United Kingdom followed in 1940, after the UK War Office accepted the Psychological Testing system, using some of the earlier German models. In 1942, the War Office Selection Board (WOSB) was set up, later followed by a number of other Selection Boards.
It was now that the system we follow today in our Service Selection Boards started taking shape. The candidates were required to visit the Board for three days and had to fill up a medical and biographical questionnaire. They were made to undergo a psychological and an Intelligence test and all were interviewed by the President or the Deputy President, who were senior Army officers. Some candidates were interviewed by the Psychologist and groups of eight to ten candidates (similar strength of groups prevails even today) were given ‘group situation tasks’ by ‘military tasking officers’. The process ended with a Board Conference.
Service Selection Boards in India
In the pre-World War II era, the British Indian Army started using a system of a written examination and an Interview Board. However, during World War II, the written examination was dropped and short interviews, conducted by one of the Provincial Selection Boards, were instituted. Successful candidates were again interviewed by a Central Board, leading to high wastage rates.
Psychological tests were introduced in 1942 and in Feb 1943, an Experimental Board was established in Dehradun in the manner of the WOSB. Initially, candidates were tested by both, the Central Interview Board and the Selection Board. However, a Defence Consultative Committee of the Government of India found that the Selection Board (SB) could handle larger numbers and gave better results. The Central Interview Board was replaced by the GHQ SB, under the Directorate of Selection of Personnel of the Adjutant General’s Branch.
Eventually, five Army SBs, one Air Force SB, one Naval SB and one Independent Board for women candidates were established. Interestingly, these boards also tested officers reported as ‘misfit’ by their Commanding Officers! In 1945, once Emergency Commission stopped, the boards switched to screening ICEOs for permanent and short service commission, as well as candidates for JSW (as the NDA was initially established) and Military Wing (IMA).
As a matter of interest, Cadet Ashok Datta (A-26) had the distinction of being the first ever cadet who got “A” rating at SSB. The SSB took this as a case study and monitored his career while he was at the JSW (later IMA) and thereafter. He proved the SSB rating right, as he became the Academy Cadet Captain in JSW, won the President’s Gold Medal for being the best all-round cadet and later repeated the same at IMA. Unfortunately, his brilliant career was cut short, when he passed away as a Lt Col at a young age.
The system was reviewed by a committee, which in 1948, recommended that the system being followed by the SBs was sound and best suited. Based on its recommendations, the Psychological Interviews were stopped and a Psychological Research Wing was set up. In Aug 1962, this became the Directorate of Psychological Research.
So much for the history of evolution of the Service Selection Process. We will next take a look at the Service Selection Boards, as they stand today. And that, dear friends, will be the theme of my next blog.
See you with more about the SSBs then.
Till then, Farewell. Stay at Home, Keep Safe!