WHAT IS A THEMATIC APPERCEPTION TEST?
Thematic Apperception Test is one of the many Psychological Tests used at an SSB Interview. It is another projective test just like the Word Association Test and the Situation Reaction Test, that is used to help candidates express their feelings in a non-threatening manner. This is done by asking candidates to create stories about ambiguous characters, scenes, and situations. Candidates are shown ambiguous pictures and then asked to make up stories about them. This allows them to “project” their own feelings and interests onto the picture. So instead of directly saying “I am scared.” a candidate would reveal the main character, similar in gender, age and mood to herself/himself in such a situation where s/he becomes scared of something else shown in the picture too.
HOW IS IT CONDUCTED AT SSB INTERVIEW CENTERS?
There are various ways in which TAT is conducted, using individual story picture cards for the candidate undergoing test to another way of projection on a Visual/ Digital screen for a huge group of candidates. Within the 05 day SSB interview, Thematic Apperception Test is conducted on second day along with the other Psychological Tests, such as WAT, SRT and SD. TAT is the third test of the day, conducted immediately after SRT. A total of 12 slides are displayed on a screen for a time period of 30 seconds each followed by 04 minutes given for writing the stories on the given answer sheets. Candidates need to be careful about putting the correct serial number and writing the stories in correct serial order. As discussed above, the pictures shown during TAT are purposely meant to be hazy, ambiguous and unclear. Another most important point to note is that the last slide is a blank white slide without any picture. All candidates are required to write a story based on their own ideas and feelings. The assessors instruct the candidates to write a story using all the things that the candidates see and perceive in the picture. They need to write a “STORY” and not just describe the picture, characters or the theme which they perceive in the picture. The story needs to definitely have a beginning, a main body where some action happens and what happens next as a result. Once the time gets over, candidates need to stop writing and move on to the next test.
WHAT DO STORIES TELL ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY?
In his article Praveen Shrestha, “Thematic Apperception Test,” in Psychestudy, November 17, 2017, https://www.psychestudy.com/general/personality/thematic-apperception-test, author says , “TAT focuses on how the person understood and made meaningful people’s motives, expectations, intentions and in social situations.” Let me explain this with the help of a picture. Look at the picture given below. The stories based on this picture can be innumerable based on the perceptions, experiences and personalities of candidates. There can be various plots that come out of this picture such as:
- a group of villagers mending a railway track
- a group of dacoits breaking the railway track for looting a goods train
- a group of young men working to build a path in between a mountain
- an Army building a bridge through a mountain with the help of young villagers
- a group of villagers stopping the dam from overflowing
- a group of villagers trying to build a dam to divert water towards their drought-struck fields
- a group of young men building a campsite for night-gazing picnic
- an engineering firm working on Highway road construction project
- a civil engineering company working on renovating a Heritage site in a village
- a group of men trying to repair the roofs before rain
All these story lines can be correct and logical, if woven together in the most constructive and structured manner. What an assessor will look at in these stories will be the signs of a person’s heredity and environment; how it has been used to weave the story and show the hidden personality traits of the person. Praveen Shrestha notes, “Researchers encourage the subjects to create as dramatic story as possible. It is a must for the story to have a title, a beginning, a body, a hero and the end. The general idea is that with their story, subjects reveal their needs, desires, along with their hidden motivations, expectations and intentions, which otherwise would not be out for display on the open…..” This means according to the life experiences, education and value-sets of individuals, the way the lines will be perceived to mean something concrete will be different for each and every candidate. Hence, in stead of mugging up stereotype plots, character descriptions and themes, it will be helpful if the candidates let their creativity take precedence over standardization. Candidates may remember the framework in which they have to write a story but they need not rehearse/remember and reproduce each and every detail of the pictures in a particular manner.
In context of SSB, the assessors are looking for 15 definite desirable behavioural traits more POPULAR as “OFFICER-LIKE QUALITIES“. The psychologist is looking for, in layman’s terms, problem-solving abilities of candidates. This can be evident through the presence of 04 Cs: Command, Control, Cooperation/Coordination/Competition( will vary depending on different personality types) and Completion of a situation. In most of these stories, if there is one person who is identified as the main character working with the others, it is a clear indication of the candidate being in “COMMAND” of the situation. Now if this main character has identified a problem or let us just say, a situation which requires extra attention; s/he tries to initiate some actions to solve the problem or recover the damage caused by the situation; one can say s/he is in CONTROL of the situation. While trying to control the damage, if the main character tries to co-ordinate efforts with other individuals/state/central government/agencies; it again shows his/her sense of COORDINATION/COOPERATION. On the other hand, if the main character is shown to pick up the hammer and mend the whole railway track alone, it definitely shows the high sense of self-centric actions. Finally, if the situation has been resolved with concrete consequences, it would mean COMPLETION of the task and the story.
HOW SHOULD A CANDIDATE WRITE A STORY?
Once again, candidates need to remember there is no right or wrong story but in fact, a relevant or irrelevant story which tells the psychologist about the presence of desirable behavioural traits hidden within a person which may not easily come out through direct testing tools such as a group discussion or an interview. For instance, many times candidates may write beautiful stories using standard plots from their past experiences without being clear about what the assessors expect to find in these stories. In such cases, they fail to use their creativity and power of expression to display their OLQs. Hence it is essential to understand, the psychologist aims at finding the presence of OLQs which would be useful to train a person as an Officer of Indian armed forces. The psychologist is not interested whether a candidate displays creative variety as in writing one romantic story, then a horror incident, then a sci-fi stint and then maybe a period drama! One needs to understand this is a test to choose OFFICERS and not a BOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR. The ultimate aim of the test is also to look for OLQs in the candidate’s projection of the subconscious.
In order to write a story which appropriately brings out the candidate’s personality and suitability for the job, it is essential to observe the picture completely. Candidates need to utilise whole 30 seconds to look at the picture and not jump to start writing a story. Candidates need to divide their attention to the lines on the screen in two ways: first look at the background, then look at the things in the centre. This will help looking at the picture on a whole and giving an idea about the theme of the story. Once this is done, then one can start writing the story. Keeping in mind the short time given for writing the story, the candidates can focus their attention on following broad aspects to weave their stories:
- Setting: What are the structures in the background and in the limelight?
- Main Characters and the Crowd in the background: Try to identify the general characteristics about these characters such as their gender, age and moods. Then, identify one of the characters as the main hero and then relate the others according to the situation to the main hero. Their relations need to revolve around and be defined with reference to the main character.
- Theme/Plot: This can be described with reference to the description of the situation in past, present and future time. The whole action of the story can be written as answers to three specific questions: what has led to this situation? what is happening in the present and what will be the consequence of this in future?
WHAT NEEDS TO BE AVOIDED WHILE WRITING STORIES?
Candidates need to remember this is a test of one’s Personality and not only literary or creative writing skills. Creativity is to be used to project the presence of desirable behavioural traits of one’s personality. Imagination and Creativity is to be used in an appropriate manner to build a well- connected, relevant and logical story. While doing so, if one imagines how a main character saves a child from getting hurt on the street, a lady from a chain-snatcher, an old man from a storm and may be a whole village from a flood; it is perfectly alright , IF and only IF, the picture provides a hint towards this direction. The HAZY or AMBIGUOUS lines of the pictures are not an excuse to every time imagine the main character to win an Olympic Medal or a Nobel Prize for that matter.
- Imagine a situation which is relevant to the picture shown on the screen. For instance, looking at the following picture, it is very clear that the story would revolve around the broad subject of “People coming together”. But if from this picture, one tends to perceive the main character to become a scientist who invented a medicine for COVID-19 Pandemic and also win the Nobel Prize, it may sound far-fetched.
2. The next most important thing which is to be kept in mind is the ability to look for a problem and then provide a solution to it also needs to be done judiciously. For instance, in the following picture there is an evident streak of hope, happiness and positivity which may put the candidates in a dilemma about how to create a “problem” and a solution in such pictures. Here, a word of advice that I would like to give the candidates is that in such pictures it would be better to concentrate on display of certain positive factors such as LIVELINESS, ABILITY TO INFLUENCE THE GROUP, COURAGE, DYNAMISM, ORGANISING ABILITY, POWER OF EXPRESSION, EFFECTIVE INTELLIGENCE. Such a situation may be exploited to show how the characters have come together, how they look after each other, how they are living together and overcoming all barriers.
3. Another important factor that candidates need to avoid is concentrating on negativity or pessimism even if the picture looks like one. In such pictures, what one needs to concentrate on is how the characters overcame the negativity or pessimism and resolved the situation. If required, creative liberties may be also taken to add more characters. For instance a look at the picture given below will suggest a character looking lonely, tired or even defeated. In such pictures, the streak of extra anxiety which is not otherwise evident in one’s personality may come to front. This is where candidates need to train their minds to see the “IMPROBABLE” but not “IMPOSSIBLE” stroke of good luck and consistent efforts which take the character out of the present/past dull situation.
At last, it must have become clear to candidates that this test is not just a test of their descriptive literary abilities but creativity and foresight. That means candidates need to avoid wasting time in describing the characters or the situation shown in the picture in great details. Instead they need to weave a well-connected story with these characters who display a mindset and behaviour similar to their own.
HOW TO IMPROVE WRITING STORIES?
Some definite steps that would improve the story writing skills of candidates would be:
1. Practice looking at any picture and deciphering it within 30 seconds.
2. Ear mark the characters, their gender, ages and moods. Instead of mechanically doing so, candidates can always save time and show their power of expression by using adjectives such as Ravi, a young man aged 30, was happily strolling in the garden. With the use of neutral adjectives such as thoughtful, pensive, speculative, tired ad so on, the degree of pessimism of a picture can be reduced towards positivity.
3. Candidates need to Practice at least one story daily for a month prior to going for SSB interview.
4. Candidates need to Practice writing 05 -06 stories at a stretch on a weekly basis.
5. One week prior to attending an SSB interview, practice 11 stories at a stretch. This will prepare you mentally and physically for the toll that such an exercise takes on your mind.
6. Try evaluating your own stories based on the amount of OLQs that you have displayed.
7. After writing all these stories, it will be easy for you to KNOW YOUR SELF better and then you can think of what to write in response to the BLANK SLIDE.