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This article has been written by Ruchi Mulye, from University of Mumbai Law Academy.


THE GUEST SPEAKER: Brig. Harminder Singh has 35 years of experience in managing Human Resources under the utmost difficult and trying situations. He has a vast operational experience in Command Appointments including fighting in an actual battle in DRAS Sector during OP Vijay Kargil and commanding more than 1000 men in a super high-altitude area. He has a vast experience in personality assessment and training after having been trained at Defense Institute of Psychological Research, Delhi. He has conducted the selection of more than 3000 candidates while serving in the Army Service Selection Board (SSB) as Interviewing Officer.

THE HOST: Sammanika Rawat is the Head of Placements at LawSikho and a Career Coach. She is an internationally accredited Mediator and has worked in Banking and Infrastructure Projects as a corporate lawyer and has also been a proud environmental activist at the grassroots level.

What exactly is SSB?

Service Selection Board is an organization to assess candidates for the armed forces and to check the suitability of the candidates who report to the Service Selection Board. The principle behind the SSB is Mansa, Vacha & Karmana – the three ways of assessing the candidate. Mansa means the way one thinks and one’s state of mind which is evaluated by a psychologist. Vacha means the way one speaks which is assessed through the interview by the interviewing officer. Karmana means ground and physical action which is checked by the GTO i.e. the Group Testing Officer for two days. SSB is a standard protocol of evaluation which is carried out by a panel of three assessors. The testing cycle is five days long. Screening tests are conducted on the first day of the cycle, followed by psychological tests on the second day. The GTOs are conducted on the third and fourth day, along with interviews in the evenings. The last day of the cycle is the conference technique in which all three assessors meet and assess the candidate’s suitability to be elected as a trainee officer.  The testing is based on Officer Like Qualities (OLQ). All three assessors are looking for the same OLQs in a candidate.

Is it a personality development test?

It is not a personality development test but a test of personality. Candidates think technical or theoretical questions will be asked, however, which is not the case. As per the syllabus and training, it is a personality test so only the personality of the candidates is tested.

Does the SSB require any pre-qualification? Is there any preparation required?

The candidate should be robust, physically and mentally. The candidate must have a physical fitness routine and the ability to not break down under stress. Intelligent Quotient (IQ) is tested in Stage 1. The candidate should also have general awareness i.e. general knowledge of the world. Communication skills in English, both verbal and written are essential. The candidate should also develop hobbies, be a part of extra-curricular activities, sports and adventure activities. Being an extrovert and having a large circle of friends, reading habits, the ability to self-evaluate are also essential. Lastly, academics also play an important role. 

How are Stages 1 and 2 different from each other? 

Initially, there were no stages but now due to a large number of enrolments from candidates, screening is required and hence, Stage 1 was introduced to eliminate people who are not fit to undergo Stage 2. The main aim of Stage 1 is to check if the selected candidates will be able to cope with the Stage 2 testing. Stage 1 is the most important test because there is a large rejection rate. The rejection rate goes up to 80%. Candidates need to prepare well for Stage 1. Stage 1 consists of four parts – IQ test (verbal and non-verbal), the PPTT (where a picture is shown and the candidate is asked to write a story based on it), narration of the story and group discussion.

What does the preconceived notion mean?

Candidates often receive the wrong coaching. They are provided with a set of answers for questions that are asked. SSB is a personality test and therefore, two candidates cannot answer in the same way. The questions are personality-based and the same template cannot be applied to all candidates. Therefore, a candidate must never have a preconceived notion of what the questions would be like.

Can Stage 1 be elaborated further?

For the preparation of Stage 1, it is important to focus on the IQ test. Candidates should get good books that focus on verbal and non-verbal reasoning and practice under time pressure. The IQ test is the most important in Stage 1. In the PPTT, a picture is shown for 30 seconds and the candidate is supposed to write a story for 4 minutes. The candidate should see the number of characters, their age, mood, sex and the way they dress. There should be a heading to the story. The details that are in the picture should be the central part of the story. The story then has to be narrated for one minute. The candidate should be very good in communication and should be confident. People who have a stammer are often rejected. In the Group Discussion, the aim is to see how the candidate participates. Some candidates only give their views and don’t accept the views of others. They should have a mix of both, i.e. give their views and listen when others are giving their views.

On what grounds are the interviewers evaluating the candidate?

There are three rounds of tests in the SSB interviews. There is a psychologist test which is a series of four tests, i.e. thematic apperception, word appreciation test, situation reaction test and a self-description test. A projective technique is used to assess the personality of the candidate. A picture is provided and the candidate has to describe and write a story on it. The candidate projects its personality on the pictures and words. There are no right or wrong answers as it assesses their personalities. A goal-setting behavior is looked for in a candidate. When a candidate looks at a picture, he must set a goal and prepare a story to achieve that goal. 

The second in the series is word appreciation in which sixty words are shown in a PowerPoint presentation for fifteen seconds each. The candidate is required to make a sentence with the first idea that comes to his mind. It should be a full sentence but he is at a discretion to use or not use the word, or use any other form of the word.

The third in the series is the situation reaction test in which a book with sixty situations is given to the candidate and he is supposed to write a solution to those situations within thirty minutes.

The fourth in the series is the self-description round where the candidate has to write five paragraphs. The five paragraphs should include how the candidate’s parents, teachers and friends see him, how he sees himself and then a paragraph on what the candidate thinks he can do to improve himself. This section is not given too much importance.

The next round is the GTO test which is based on a group dynamic theory. A group is formed, segregated and then formed again. The candidate’s ability to behave in a group is tested. Then there are two group discussion rounds, the first one is based on current affairs and social issues while the second is a group planning exercise in which the candidate’s knowledge of map reading, scales, distances and public speaking is tested. There is a group obstacle race for which physical fitness is required. In this round, the ability to work in a group is tested and not individual performance.

After that comes an electorate round in which cards are given with topics written on them and the candidate has three minutes to prepare and three minutes to deliver on it. Qualities such as general awareness, social issues, public speaking and confidence are tested. The candidates are then given a command task in which they have to select subordinates and perform tasks.

How is the interview round conducted?

The interviews are based on personality and not on knowledge. Therefore, a candidate should focus more on personality rather than academic subjects. The parameter in assessing personality is that the candidate will behave exactly as they did in the past. The personality is based on two factors, hereditary and the environment one grew up in.

The first part of the interview is rapport building where the candidate is asked for five minutes without interruption so that he gains confidence. Simple questions about the candidate’s journey are asked.

Then the main part of the interview focuses on education, from Standard 10 to graduation. The things that are asked are percentage, school subjects, career, sports, extra-curricular activities, friends that they liked or disliked, teachers that they liked or disliked. Then the candidate’s family is talked about. The environment at his home which is very important for personality development, family’s education, his responsibilities towards family and the problems in the family, if any. The candidate is not rejected if there are problems in the family but it is evaluated if the problems have affected him mentally.

The candidate’s hobbies and spare time activities are asked including what they like to watch on television, reading habits, what they do on the internet and social media and how they spend their regular days and weekends. Then some questions about general knowledge are asked and then closing remarks are made.

What are the fifteen OLQs that are looked for in a candidate?

The fifteen OLQs that are generally looked for in a candidate are: Effective Intelligence i.e. time and resource management, reasoning ability, organizing ability, power of expression, social adaptability, cooperation, sense of responsibility, initiative, self-confidence, speed of decision, ability to influence a group, liveliness, determination, courage and stamina.

How to build mental stamina?

Mental stamina cannot be built overnight. The candidate must be mentally robust and should be able to control temper. He should face adverse situations, analyze and solve them. He must learn to prioritize things properly and make life organized. If a disciplined life is followed, mental stamina will develop.

Does good handwriting matter for the SSB?

A good handwriting does not matter although it should be legible. The candidate should have a good speed of writing because there is time pressure so he should be able to write fast. 

How should a candidate dress up for SSB?

The candidate should be formally dressed for three events – the stage 1, interview and the conference. The kinds of formal to be worn would depend on the season. 

Does legal knowledge matter? Does interning under the armed forces help?

Interning under the armed forces would help to a certain extent although legal knowledge does not matter. 

How much weightage is given to past academics and college/school records?

No separate weightage is given to academics although the overall progress is looked at. Percentage below 60 is taken as slightly negative. If there is a consistent drop in the candidate’s academics, then he is questioned about it.

What happens in the conference round and what is its weightage?

All three assessors sit together and discuss all aspects of the candidate. The rest of the information is confidential.

Does the candidate have to be good in sports or playing sports as a hobby would also suffice?

It is expected that the candidate should be above average in sports. It is not necessary to be a state or national level player but playing two to three outdoor sports well is required.

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