A few years ago, it was a common feeling among the young and restless Indians (including Puneri Punekars) that joining NCC was equated with joining the Indian Armed Forces. And so many of us found ourselves slogging hard even on a Sunday morning, while our other friends enjoyed Vada Pav and Chai in the happening College Canteens. Surprisingly most of my friends who were Appointment holders, participated in Republic Day Parades and represented India in Youth Exchange Programmes, went for SSB and came back not recommended in their first attempts. The reason for their failures, in their own words was, “that twelfth Blank Slide!”. They said they simply did not know what to write when they were shown the Blank Slide at the end of the Psychological Test called Thematic Apperception Test/ TAT. So when I went for my SSB, I had an advantage: I knew about the Blank Slide and did not let it be the syndrome that caused my doom. I succeeded, in fact, in my attempts and, in fact, I found this as one of the most interesting activities during my five day stay at the SSB centre. Maybe that’s why I thought about writing a blog Breaking the Myths about The Blank Slide at SSB.
Before we proceed to discuss elaborately about Breaking the Myths about The Blank Slide at SSB let us know something more about what is SSB and what is The Blank Slide all about.
What is SSB?
Services Selection Board is the nodal agency which undertakes the task of recommending suitable young Indian men and women to join the Indian Armed Forces as Commissioned Officers. There are various SSB centres in the country which recommend candidates to join Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force separately. Batches for conduct of assessment process including physical and psychological tests and interview are conducted separately according to entries such as NCC Entry, Non-Tech/Technical entry, Women Entry, Service Entry, NDA Entry, CDSE Entry and so on. For all the types of Entries assessment process is for the same duration that is five days, with two levels of screening, one on the first day and the other on the last day. After recommendation from SSB, successful candidates move ahead for the Medical Test, followed by which the National Merit List is declared.
What is The Blank Slide?:
During SSB, there are three kinds of assessments that every aspirant has to undergo, namely psychological tests, outdoor tasks and personal interview. The psychological tests are administered on the second day. They are the first Assessments administered as part of the Level II Screening. There are four Psychological Tests, namely: Word Association Test (WAT), Situation Reaction Test (SRT), Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and Self Description (SD). While the WAT is a manifestation at the unconscious level, the SRT and SD at the conscious level and the TAT at the sub-conscious level. Thematic Apperception Test is also a projective type of test used by the Psychologist to know about the personality of an aspirant at three levels: conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious level. In TAT, hence we find aspirants writing stories which tell the Psychologist about his/her childhood affinities/anxieties, needs, aspirations, family background, inspiration and motivation to join the Armed forces through the choice of the characters, their professions, moods, age and genders. Also, the stories give an insight about the presence of desirable behavioural traits and absence of undesirable traits required to become an Officer in the Indian Armed Forces.
The Blank Slide falls under the TAT. It is part of the twelve picture slides that are shown to all aspirants for a duration of 30 seconds and the aspirants are supposed to write a story that comes to their mind for the next 04 minutes. Unlike the last slide, that is the twelfth slide which is The Blank Slide, rest all slides will carry pictures which would be hazy and ambiguous, thereby giving scope for the candidate’s imagination to run wild. Hence in order to excel in the SSB interview, it is essential to know about the importance of The Blank Slide by Breaking the Myths about The Blank Slide at SSB and doing a reality check about it.
Breaking Myths : Now that we know what is The blank Slide and where does it feature in an SSB, let us move on to Breaking the Myths about The Blank Slide at SSB
Myth 01: Aspirants can prepare their story for the blank slide before going to SSB
Reality Check : The Blank Slide is the twelfth and the last slide of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). While candidates do not know what pictures will be shown to them in the first 11 slides, they are aware of the fact that the last slide is going to be The Blank Slide. The prior preparation of a story for The Blank Slide may upset the whole personality projected through the remaining 11 slides. For the appropriate progression of the thought process and for the projection of the real Personality of a candidate, it is always advised that the candidates should go with the flow and write an impromptu story that comes to their mind then and there for The Blank Slide. The emotional triggers at the venue of the exam may motivate the candidate to write a better story than a pre-planned story which may not match with the personality they have shown in the other 11 stories. Spontaneity is the key word in acing the Psychological tests.
Myth 02: Aspirants can prepare 04-05 stories for the blank slide
Reality Check : Just to reiterate the same thought told while bursting Myth 01, SSB is a test of a candidate’s Personality, which is the outcome of years spent in a particular environment and the genes one inherits through one’s parents. No preparation is required for a candidate to talk about his/her own personality. It will come out spontaneously after one writes the answers for various Psychological test, one after the other, over a period of 02-03 hours. Hence, no amount of preparation will help a candidate in preplanning what s/he will feel and be able to express once The Blank Slide is shown on the screen. If a candidate tries to do this and feels s/he can do it successfully, then s/he has not understood the meaning of the test in true spirit and would do at the cost of losing consistency and spontaneity of character.
Myth 03: The story for Blank Slide needs to be a happy story
Reality Check : SSB is recommending you for a job neither as the Screen play writer for movies by Dharma Productions nor as the dialogue writer for daily soaps of Ekta Kapoor. This is a projective technique to know your personality through various tests. If your life has been a happy one, all your stories including The Blank Slide will be happy ones. But, if your life has been a sob story and you have wandered in life just like the cloud without a silver lining, nothing can help you from expressing your true self. Even if you manage to memorize and pre plan your story for The Blank Slide, be rest assured it will not match with your real personality which will come out in other tests. Happy or sad, the story has to showcase you and your way of facing a situation in your life.
Myth 04: The story for the Blank slide needs to show one’s military orientation
Reality Check : TAT is a test to see your imagination, how you can think out of box, even when your present situation does not give you any prompt at all. If you were already talking about your military orientation, there would be no need to train you any further. What the assessors actually want to see in you is a reasonable presence of appropriate behavioural traits to become an officer. Rest there are Military Academies to train you and polish your Military Orientation. You could go on to write a story about how your family survived the Covid Pandemic, or you could write a story about how your sister decided to become a fashion designer, took the appropriate guidance and financial assistance from her surroundings and went on to become a role model for her younger siblings or you could write about how your Football team won the recent College championship. Any story would do, if and only if, it genuinely displayed the creativity in your personality to think out of box while being relevant to the picture, in this case The Blank Slide.
Myth 05: The story for the Blank slide needs to be your best story
Reality Check : There is nothing called the best or worst story, as far as TAT is concerned. Every story becomes the BEST story, if it is relevant to the picture shown, is logically constructed and displays your true personality. The aim of the psychological tests, including TAT is to be able to decipher your personality under a stressful situation such as a Job Interview. While doing so, the assessors will also try to establish if you can or can not be trained as an Officer. By revealing the characters, situations surrounding them and the actions they take to resolve a conflict, or spend some happy moments or overcome grief, you are trying to show unknowingly how you react in a similar situation. A candidate’s conflict resolution strategies, needs, aspirations and situational awareness come to fore as soon as The Blank Slide is shown on the screen. Your inability to express your emotions shows your lack of imagination. It also means how you depend on prompts or external help to motivate yourself in life. Hence whether you like it or not, your true personality will come out by the time you reach The Blank Slide. It may or may not be your best story, doesn’t matter, what matters is how true you are to your personality when you write a story in response to The Blank slide.
SSB is unlike any other Job interview. This is not a test of Intelligence or Rote learning of candidates. This is a test of consistency in your thoughts and feelings, words and actions. In order to assess this consistency, three independent assessors are entrusted with three different types of assessments. All the tests are administered on the candidates in a real life like situation, be it the psychological tests, group tasks or the Personal Interview. These tests are designed to help the candidates to project the appropriate behavioural traits of their personalities individually as well as in a group. Knowledge about the tests and how they would be administered would help a candidate to perform better in these tests. But over worrying about the tests and preparing to answer the questions in a fixed manner would only lead to being unrealistic. The more a candidate would try to be real the better chances s/he would have to ace the test.
And whether this Real person is suitable for the Armed Forces or not is a different question.
Keep reading to know how to be a suitable person for the Indian Armed Forces in my next blog.