Service Selection Board (SSB) – A Delusional Quagmire

It requires guts to do something new, and something good. It takes guts to take initiative. When the teacher asks to come forward in class for a task, it takes guts to raise ones hand and accept it.

Passing the SSB has generally been a quagmire for candidates aspiring to join the Indian Armed Forces. Often it has been seen that, highly motivated, qualified and well trained candidates fail to make the mark when it comes to passing the SSB. This brings a delusion that the candidates who pass the SSB are biologically wired from birth and those who do not have the required ‘Officer Like Qualities’ or OLQs do not stand a chance even after training or coaching. I have seen candidates getting selected after failing multiple times, and this proves that there is certainly a way to develop the traits or OLQs that are required for clearing the SSB.
A number of SSB coaching institutes and experts are available who claim that they have the key to the SSB, however if one was to analyse their results it will be evident that their success rate may only be at par or slightly above that of the SSB itself. A few years back it was proclaimed by many experts, that SSB did not encourage coached candidates and if it was found out during SSB, that a particular candidate was coached, then he or she was likely to be rejected. I can set aside this notion as I personally know many candidates who took coaching from experts before the SSB and also admitted the same and still got selected. Since last few years there has been another notion that due to the shortage of officers in the Armed Forces and low success rate of SSBs, the SSBs themselves are encouraging candidates who are coached, as these candidates are easier to train by the academies. Most aspirants are usually caught in these type of notions before and during the SSB and often end up on the wrong side of the selection board.
So what is it that the SSB requires, and what are the steps that a candidate or aspirant can take in order to improve his chances of getting selected. Most experts will list out the officer like qualities under five major heads viz. qualities of the mind, qualities of the heart, guts, liveliness and qualities of the limbs.
It is well known that the SSB uses a three pronged evaluation method in order to evaluate all these qualities in a candidate. The three types of tests used by SSB in order to determine whether a candidate qualifies the above given criteria or not are Psychological Tests, Group Tasks and the Interview. A candidate has to undergo numerous tests during the SSB, all of which can be clubbed under one or the other of these three methods. A detailed study of these tests is beyond the preview of this article, however, in the subsequent pages, I will cover these qualities and the attributes that fall under them one by one, in their correct parlance for better understanding of the candidates.
1. Qualities of the Mind : 
Mind is the most important part of human anatomy. Not only it possess great powers but it is also the most determining factor in distinguishing human beings from each other. No two minds can be the same however there are certain basic qualities of the mind that are required in an officer of the armed forces. These qualities are built further in the training academies and continue to develop over years of service in the forces. The basic qualities of the mind that the SSB looks for in an individual are:-
(a) Effective Intelligence: Intelligence can be described as ‘the faculty of reasoning, knowing and thinking or the mental powers’ of an individual. However ‘Effective Intelligence’ is the application of this intelligence in day to day situations of various natures. I will highlight this trait through a simple story. ‘An architect was required to build a rectangular room in an open ground, however he had no instruments on site, to lay the walls at 90 degrees to each other. A simple mason on the site then took a piece of rope and cut out three pieces in the ratio of 5:4:3 using a brick as a single unit. He then placed these pieces of rope, end to end, on the ground, in the form of a triangle’. Anyone who has studied the Pythagoras theorem would know that this resulted in a perfect right angled triangle. The mason then used this triangle to plan the walls at 90 degree to each other. From this story we can see that having bookish knowledge is not enough to clear the SSB, one should be able to use basic concepts and adapt them to solve day to day problems.
(b) Reasoning Ability: We all reason with each other in our day to day lives. In SSB the candidates are given real life or fictitious problems to discuss and solve. Proper reason can only come after proper understanding of the problem. This requires good comprehension abilities or in simple words, a candidate should be able to understand written or verbal instructions fully, correctly, logically and quickly in order to prepare his or her reason in a clear, crisp, concise and logical manner. Most candidates face problem in this kind of tests due to their weak verbal communication in English. They can overcome this problem by practicing in groups under supervision.
(c) Organising Ability: The Armed Forces Officers are required to perform complicated tasks on ground during both peace and war. An officer is also a leader of men and has large material resources under his command. In order to use these men and material in the most economical and efficient manner, an officer should be able to organise tasks effectively and efficiently. An individual low on effective Intelligence and reasoning ability cannot have strong organising ability as his thoughts and plans will lack practical approach and will not be understood clearly by those following his orders.
(d) Power of Expression: We all have seen the power of expression depicted in various patriotic movie dialogs. Sometimes a loud mouth and an assertive voice or aggressive posture are misunderstood as components of Powerful Expression. The candidates need to develop strong verbal and written communication skills with ability to remember, analyze and organize his or her thoughts in a logical and orderly manner so as to be able to provide valuable inputs for the task given. The ability can be developed through group discussions on topics which require use of all mental aptitudes.
2. Qualities of the Heart: After mind, the heart is considered to be the second most important factor that effects human psychology. In SSB, the factors of heart relate to our inner feelings and behavior and are not cardiological factors. These factors determine our relations with our friends, colleagues and how we contribute to the organisation and community. The primary attributes of heart, that are desired in a candidate are:-
(a) Social Adaptability: We all often come across people who are reserved and do not get quickly in a group. Such individuals may be very good in various disciplines individually, however they have an aura which keeps them at a distance from other people or vice versa. In the armed forces, people are required to adapt to their social surroundings very quickly, both at work and at home. They are required to live and work together as a family. Thus aspirants should make positive efforts to be socially adaptable. Some common things that restrict individuals from being socially adaptable are under confidence, body structure (too tall, fat, dark etc.), family or social background, lack of knowledge, week communication skills etc. To overcome these shortcomings, aspirants need to take expert advice and improve on their mental and physical strengths. They should make more friends and engage in group activities, discussions etc.
(b) Cooperation: An individual who is non cooperative will not be socially adaptable. We all have our own likes, dislikes and beliefs. However when it comes to a life in Armed Forces, cooperation is must at all levels. Once again this factor can be developed by engaging in group activities, tasks, excursions etc.
(c) Sense of Responsibility: A carefree life may be good for many, but an officer of the Armed Forces is expected to command men and material in both peace and war. He has to be ready to lead these men in war, where it may be a matter of life and death. He has to control and use vast resources and equipment provided to him in field by the taxpayers money. We all would expect such a person to make judicious use of these. Thus such a person is expected to have a sense of responsibility. Generally it is seen that the eldest sibling in a family has more sense of responsibility than their younger counterparts. The candidates can develop these qualities by taking more responsibilities at home, school or when in a group. The teachers and parents can also contribute in developing this by making them more independent, giving them more responsibilities in day to day domestic and school chores.
3. Guts: No guts no glory! we all have heard. Often I hear young boys and girls challenging each other, to do ridiculous rowdy things like driving at break neck speeds, damaging public or school property, misbehaving with others etc. in the name of ‘Guts’. If an individual is unable to do such acts they would say ‘tere mein guts hi nahi hain’. We all must understand the difference between guts and rowdism. It is rowdy to speak loudly or shout at someone or abuse someone, while it takes guts to speak the truth, be upright and accept our mistakes. The main qualities that candidates should work on under this factor are:-
(a) Initiative: Yes, it requires guts to do something new, something different and something good. It takes guts to take initiative. When the teacher asks for someone to come forward in class for a task, it takes guts to raise ones hand and accept it. Initiative also comes with knowledge and experience. Candidates should participate in group activities in order to develop this quality. They should also take care, to not be over enthusiastic and force themselves on others in order to demonstrate their initiative. Taking the initiative to follow a logical and correct plan of another candidate is better than forcing a wrong course of action or plan, in order to demonstrate own initiative.
(b) Self Confidence: Knowledge, experience, good communication skills, clear thinking etc. are the key to self confidence. Once again confidence is more about self assurance based on inner positive feelings, built on a strong foundation of knowledge and experience rather than a brute external show of raw body language.
(c) Speed of Decision: There are jobs that give lot of time to make decisions, where people can take help from various other sources. However as an Officer of Armed Forces, one may be required to take quick decisions which may be detrimental in life and death situations. The best example that comes to mind is that of a fighter pilot, flying alone, at speed of thousand kilometers per hour, hundreds of kilometers away from his base. He will have to take independent and lightning decisions when faced with challenging situations. Armed Forces Officers at times do not have the luxury of time while it comes to taking decisions. Once again, taking quick decisions comes with knowledge, experience and practice. One may not always be right, but with time, experience and practice, people like fighter pilots become so good at taking decisions in that their actions and decisions seem instinctive. The SSB only checks whether a candidate has the basic abilities or aptitude to develop his decision making powers through training. Candidates can groom themselves by taking decisions in day to day things and then analysing them and learning from their mistakes.
(d) Ability to Influence the Group: When candidates reach the SSB, they are required to live together, they are also encouraged to mix around with each other. Candidates start sizing each other from the first contact that they make. An individual with knowledge, good communication skills, neat and positive outlook and a positive body language is likely to have more influence over others. This influence carries on during the various group tasks and discussions assigned to the candidate during the SSB, helping him in faring better than the others. These qualities cannot be developed overnight but only be groomed by improving on all aspects that are required by the SSB.
4. Liveliness: The above picture shows the impression that a lively person and a gloomy person make. A happy family, a good friend circle, a balanced life and satisfaction are the key ingredients to be lively. Candidates aspiring to join Armed Forces should keep these in mind at all times and bring positive changes in their lifestyle so as to be lively and cheerful.
5. Qualities of the Limbs: 
Nature has given all human beings the same number of limbs, muscles, bones etc. or we can say that all human beings are more or less equally equipped as far as our physical attributes are concerned. However still, when it comes to utilisation of this body we can see that a number of people outperform others many times over. For example Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps have the same hardware as all other human beings, however they manage to outperform the average human being many times over in running and swimming respectively. A lot of people are not able climb a few flight of stairs, whereas some can climb the Mt Everest. The answer to this is that, the key to all our physical abilities lies in our brain. I have come across many candidates who are very keen to join the armed forces, they are also ready and willing to train their body and mind for the same, however when it comes to going slightly beyond their physical or mental limits they give up.

Different candidates may require different stimulus in order to develop these traits. We all know the story of young prince Sidhartha changing into Lord Buddha .

This was also highlighted to me over informal meetings with various psychologists and GTOs who have served in various SSBs all over India. A number of candidates are not able to write the word association test, picture perception and description test , situation reaction test etc. from the beginning to end with the same zeal and start showing signs of mental fatigue. The candidates need to condition their minds and bodies in order to develop the required qualities of the limbs and mind. Three most important qualities of limbs are:-
(a) Determination: This is one of the most important quality that a candidate must possess in order to clear the SSB. It can best be understood by a famous dialogue of Salman Khan’s film, ‘Wanted’, which says ‘Ek bar jo maine commitment kar di, us ke baad to main khud ki bhi nahi sunta’ . Candidates willing to join Armed Forces must make commitments to themselves for various tasks, for example running five kilometers at a stretch when they can run only two, or reading a full book in one day, or writing a long story. The idea should be to try to exceed their own physical and mental limits every now and then in order to realise their true potential. The candidates should take pride in making these commitments to themselves, friends or parents and live up to them by making sure to complete them in time.
(b) Courage: When we talk about courage in SSB perspective, a candidate must have the mental courage to try to go beyond his physical limits. He or she should have the courage to take initiative, courage to be first, courage to accept mistakes etc. Courage is also linked to our determination and the more determined we are the more courageous we become and vice versa. For example, a candidate who makes a commitment to himself to run five kilometers and fails to achieve it due to lack of determination, is not likely to have the courage to make the same commitment again. However if he or she achieves it in the first attempt, the candidate will have more courage next time and can make an even bigger commitment, like running ten kilometers.
(c) Stamina: As covered in the previous paragraphs, along with determination and courage, the candidates should have mental and physical stamina to undergo the rigorous testing of SSB without showing signs of a weakening resolve. The candidates, do get tired during tests, however they should have sufficient reserve to go further if required. The aspirants can work on these aspects by regularly practicing physical and mental mock tests of various types in a time bound manner.
In the above paragraphs I have highlighted the key aspects of human personality desired by the Armed Forces in a candidate in order to be selected as an officer. I have also discussed some basic ways by which the candidates can enhance or develop these attributes. However these are not exhaustive and cannot be applied universally on all candidates. Different candidates may require different stimulus in order to develop these traits. One of the best examples in history of changing the personality of a person is that of transition of young prince Sidhartha into Lord Buddha after seeing the four sights, i.e. an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a holy man. This tells us how daily life examples or situations can change our personalities. An expert SSB coach, can create or simulate such situations for a candidate, in order to mould his personality as desired.
The candidates aspiring for a career in Armed Forces should first use the ‘Johari Window’ in order to know more about themselves and their personality. They should then try to develop a conducive environment around themselves based on the above inputs in order to develop the required traits in their personality. They should not take any shortcuts or try impersonate these traits during the SSB as the three different testing methods i.e. psychological tests, group tasks and the interview will show different results leading to failure in the SSB. Candidates should take training or guidance only from reputed, qualified and experienced trainers.

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