Analysis of Screening Test at SSBs

Former Deputy President of 19-Services Selection Board, Colonel RK Sinha (Retd) analyses the screening tests at the SSBs as part of an ongoing series on SSB reforms.

Analysis of Screening Test at SSBs

Editor's Note

The screening test at SSBs was introduced about 20 years ago to reduce the large number of candidates reporting for SSB interview to a manageable number for the full SSB selection procedure. As per this procedure on the first day of the five-day long selection procedure all the candidates are put through a 'screening test.' The successful candidates undergo the full SSB interview over next four days.

The percentage of screened out candidates in this screening test are over 50% and vary from batch to batch. Sadly, the screened-out candidates include even those that have come for the SSB interviews after passing an open competitive national written Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination.

To say the least, it is sad and unfortunate that for last two decades the SSB candidates, including UPSC passed, continue to undergo such a short, opaque, and subjective screening test where in over 50% screened out candidates fail to understand or comprehend the difference between those who were screened in to undergo the full five days of the SSB procedure and those were screened out on the first day itself. Are the compulsions and constraints on the SSBs to reduce the number of candidates of all batches the fault of the candidates?

How can the SSBs justify that their opaque and subjective screening test for past two decades has selected the right candidates for full five days SSB interview? Can the SSBs, the Recruiting directorate, Service headquarters or the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) validate or certify that the screening tests haven't screened out the most suitable, talented and best of candidates?

It is obvious that for the past two decades the constraints and compulsions of SSBs have adversely affected thousands of deserving candidates who were neither heard nor given a fair chance to display their trainability and potentiality factors that they found in abundance in the screened in candidates and even those that were cleared after the full SSB procedure, reported to academies, and presently serving in the Indian Armed Forces. Col RK Sinha (Retd) explains the full screening test procedure of first day of SSB and what it actually comprises of.

He brings out some of the glaring drawbacks and shortcomings in both the test and testing methodology itself and even goes beyond to suggest how to overcome these with a view to make the system objective, fair and just to the extent possible within the constraints of the organisation. The faults brought out are indeed glaring and need immediate rectification. Where there is a will there will be many ways to overcome them! Let the readers peruse and draw their own conclusions.

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Pointwise Anomalies & The Way Out

  • All the candidates are seated in a big hall, where a blurred/hazy picture is screened for 30 seconds.
  • The candidates observe the picture and based on their perception, they write a story in about three minutes and thirty seconds. The paper is taken away from the candidates. The entire process takes about 30 minutes.
  • After a break of 10-15 min, the candidates are formed into groups of 10 to 20. They are ushered in front of three assessors (Interviewing Officer, Group Testing Officer, and the Psychologist).
  • The GTO/Psychologist briefs the candidates about the conduct of individual narration of story in 1 minute along with description of the projected picture. He also instructs them to discuss in amongst themselves and arrive at a common story.

For a group of 10 candidates this should ideally take 45 minutes:

  • 7.5 minutes for ushering and briefing by the GTO/Psychologist)
  • 10 minutes for individual narration of the story, with a minute for each candidate.
  • 20 minutes for the group discussion (GD) amongst candidates.
  • 7.5 minutes for the compilation of results by the three assessors.

Thus, the ideal time taken for 200 candidates (20 groups of 10 candidates each), should be:

  • 20 groups × 45 minutes = 900 minutes = 15hours (If 1×IO available) and 7.5hrs (If 2×IOs are available)
  • Therefore, total time taken for a batch of 200 candidates should take 15 hours 30 minutes (If 1×IO is available/8hours (If 2×IOs are available)

Shortcuts Applied to Reduce Time & Finish the Job:

  • Increase the group size from 10 candidates to 20
  • Reduce group discussion time from 20 minutes to 10 minutes


  • Fish market scenario in GD.
  • Many candidates do not get opportunity to express themselves due to shortage of time.
  • Excellent candidates are screened out as they cannot express in that chaos.
  • Most surprisingly, even the previously recommended candidates get screened out and thereby doubt the veracity of the system.


  • How is an IO and the Psychologist, trained to preside over Picture Projection Description Test (PPDT)? Is it not an ad hoc arrangement?
  • If more than 16 candidates are selected for second stage, a single IO in a board cannot do complete justice to the interviews in four days. When both IOs are available, the figure doubles to 32 candidates.
  • By bringing out the above figures, the aim is to highlight the constraints with which the system works. Also, the squeezing out effect will always be on the candidates. The system will automatically adjust itself leaving the candidates high and dry.


  • Have one or more interviewing officer on attachment/Temporary Duty/Posting per board so that three batches of 10-12 candidates each, can go through the screening test simultaneously, giving each candidate time to express & therefore portray his/her personality.
  • Three × IOs will be able to manage 48 interviews without much problem.
  • Since IOs and Psychologists are not specially trained for assessing a GD and are only an addition to the GTO, let the assessor’s group be reduced to two (GTO+IO or GTO+Psychologist). This will ensure three sets of screening test going on. simultaneously, thereby only 10 to 12 candidates per batch will be permitted. This will allow them more time to the group to debate.
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Additional Suggestions

Add another filter to the system to weed out the physically weaker candidates entering the armed forces and becoming liability to the training academies and eventually to the army

Two×Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) and an Officer or a local unit can be tasked to make the candidates run a mile, do push-ups and pull ups with “Satisfactory" timings/standards of academies held during ' Screening Tests' on Joining. Candidates with Failed (Below Satisfactory) standards be dropped there only.

The second filter of candidates should be the existing screening test, to be conduct in the afternoon. The above two filters will weed out the physically weak, as well as those with lessor mental ability. The conference & result, which is undertaken on the fifth day morning, should be conducted in the evening, thereby giving additional four hours to the IOs to conduct their interview.

Projected pictures should not be hazy. Even today, some are clear pictures. The hazy pictures compound the problem further when the projectors are not good or the existing halls, where the pictures are projected are not completely dark due to various reasons. Modern day candidates have not seen the villages, many of the present slides/pictures shown are village based. The DIPR must review the present pictures/slides and update them to evoke modern day responses.

About the Author

Colonel R K Sinha is the former  Deputy President of the 19-Services Selection Board (SSB). He is an alumni of Sainik school and got commissioned on 12th May, 1974, in 26 Air Defence Regiment, which is the senior most AD Regt of the Indian Army. He did his Masters in Psychology and Management from Allahabad University.

The officer commanded two units ie 322 AD Regt and 26 AD Regt (Parent Unit) of the Indian Army. Apart from serving in Nathula sector, the officer served in Selection Centre East, Allahabad as Deputy President of 19 SSB. He took premature retirement from the army in 2005, after serving for 31 years.

After retirement from the army he has served as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a multinational IT company & Director of a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) course in a college affiliated with Pune University.

Views expressed are the author's own and do not neccessarily reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India.

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