In conversation with Apurwa Shah and Vidhatri Bharti on cracking JAG SSB

Apurwa and Vidhatri are currently in the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai and are undergoing training as Lady Cadets. Apurwa has graduated from UPES, Dehradun (2018), did her LLM in Human Rights from Symbiosis Law School, Pune and a postgraduation diploma in Child Rights Law from NLSIU, Bangalore and is also a tri-forces recommended candidate. Vidhatri has graduated from Army Institute of Law, Mohali (2020) and was working with Ernst & Young (EY) until she cracked the SSB.

“Its important to be mentally strong enough to learn that you cannot waste time when your next opportunity is waiting for you.”

“When it comes to mental strain, if you are confident with who you are as a person, it becomes a lot easier.”

They have been interviewed by Bhavna Harsha, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Army Law School, Mohali.

  1. Do you think instances/situations from everyday life prepare you for an SSB?

    Apurwa: Absolutely. SSS is not an examination, rather it is a personality test. There are 15 officer like qualities (OLQs) they are looking for and those they are very basic qualities. I think basic experiences in life, for example if you have to organise, if you have to take an initiative or if you are in a situation in which you have to react immediately. All these kinds of experiences do prepare you for an SSB. A very logical and thoughtful response is needed.

    Vidharti: As everyone would know and agree, SSB is nothing but a test of your personality and whether it fits the requirements of the armed forces. Our experiences from everyday life, our reactions to situations, our reflexes, stimulus we get in forms of situations/difficulties in life and everyday experiences are what shape us and our personality. We as individuals are nothing but a result of our experiences and hence everyday situations definitely help us prepare for an SSB. Hence, always striving to do the right thing in real life will showcase your good personality there.

  2. How does one identify the areas they need to work on while preparing for an SSB?

    Apurwa: First, you have to be well versed with the procedure. You need to understand what kind of tests are conducted and then accordingly you need to see what qualities you need. The next step is to identify the qualities you have and do not have and work on the latter. If you think physical training is something you need to work on, you can start right there. A lot of questions are asked from current affairs. One should also most definitely do a SWOT analysis, it is extremely helpful in guiding you as an SSB involves a lot of introspection. You will be tested on how you react so you will be putting yourself in your stories and will have to express that in a crisp, logical manner and you can do this only once you have understood it.

    Vidhatri: Introspection is something that is imperative to the SSB preparation. You cannot be a good officer if you are not even aware of your own flaws. Introspection leads to identification of weaknesses and also areas where there is scope of improvement. Knowing that let us say one is a procrastinator will eventually help the person strive to change that and will ultimately lead to a better and disciplined personality. Hence sitting down with a cool mind, analysing yourself through a critical eye but at the same time not being negative is what will help.

  3. When did you know JAG is the area you wanted to pursue?

    Apurwa: I am a person who usually plans ahead and I have always wanted to do law. I did not know how to spell lawyer but I knew I wanted to be one because I had seen my father go off to work as an advocate. He was always so well versed, confident and knowledgeable. I love law because it is so vast, it is unending. I did a postgraduation diploma in child rights law. I also knew I wanted to work for the community, my community of India so I focused on that. I learnt that there is nothing better than being attached to the armed forces and the JAG branch was the perfect combination of the two.

    Vidhatri: Well, I am from a completely civilian background. I always wanted to read law, thought of it to be empowering although I was not too sure about my career prospects. It was only after I took admission in the Army Institute of Law that I came to know about the Judge Advocate General (JAG) branch of the Indian Army. I got exposure into how elite the armed forces is as an organisation and credit would go to my alma mater. By the third year of college, knowing that there exists a career option where I will get to exercise my legal acumen as well as adapt a disciplined and adventurous lifestyle, I knew I wanted to pursue it.

  4. What are the 3 must do’s in the everyday life of a candidate preparing for an SSB?

    Apurwa:

    1. Discipline: If you want to join the armed forces discipline is a must. You need to have a routine, a schedule and the discipline to follow it properly. It has to be a well-rounded timetable which gives a holistic growth.
    2. Initiative: Taking initiatives in situations is important and that comes from a daily practice.
    3. Physical fitness: It is absolutely imperative that you keep up with your physical fitness.

    Vidhatri:

    1. General awareness: Reading the paper, analysing events around the globe especially India and the defence forces. 50% of the SSB will revolve around this
    2. Physical fitness: This goes without saying, basic fitness levels are a must. An everyday workout routine helps. The other 30% can be easily tackled with a fit body.
    3. Stable mental health: Mediating or even self-talk. Basically, engaging your mind to work towards your goals and having a positive outlook and having confidence in yourself and your preparation helps you work towards the rest 20%.

  5. Give us a general view of what you would be doing as a JAG officer.

    Apurwa: I am also looking forward to it so the basic knowledge that I have is that all the legal administrative work is handled by us. We will be advising and assisting on General Court Martial and JAG officers are present here. JAG branch handles the day-to-day activities centred around law.

    Vidhatri: JAG officers are basically aware all things law for the army. Assisting with court martials and advisory responsibilities are a major part of job. While a CO convening the court martial may not know the legal procedure and we, as lawyers, know the rule of law and how legal procedures work so we assist in the smooth convening of the court martials and the written drafts.

  6. Exactly how much legal knowledge is needed for a JAG SSB?

    Apurwa: Your legal knowledge is tested only in your interview. So it really depends, you might not even be asked a lot of legal questions. However, you must have basic knowledge of the Constitution, IPC, CPC, Evidence Act. Irrespective of you being a fresher or a repeater, you must know about the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) and what matters it handles, etc. You will be given examples to analyse and answer from a legal perspective. It helps to be updated on recent Supreme Court judgments and a decent analysis of the same.

    Vidhatri: It is only during the interview that we get to interact one on one with the testing officer. Your knowledge of everything, be it law or otherwise is directly tested here. For JAG and as per my experience, 50% of my interview has revolved around my legal knowledge and experience. A lot also depends on what your PIQ (personal information questionnaire, filled by all candidates screened in) contains, most of the questions that you are asked in the interview are directly related to what and how you have answered questions in the PIQ. Of course, you are expected to know more than a layman especially about subjects you have read throughout your law degree, questions that are situation based and analytical are also asked. Now that there is also a CLAT entrance requirement for future entrants, it goes on to show how important legal knowledge really is for a JAG officer.

  7. The physical and mental strain during the five-day SSB is considered extreme. How does one work on their mental and physical fitness?

    Apurwa: You need to have a basic physical routine in place to be able to handle the physical tests. Make sure you run every day, work on your arm strength and focus on the parts of your body which need work. When it comes to mental strain, if you are confident with who you are as a person, it becomes a lot easier. If you are disciplined, organised, well versed with your knowledge and current affairs then you are equally prepared to take on those tests and it is all about confidence. It is difficult to process the merit out but you have to stay optimistic and hard work always pays off.

    Vidhatri: To be honest, I do not think it is that much of a stress. For me, SSBs have been a very enriching experience. With respect to the physical strain, if you are physically active and have a good body clock, you would not feel any. Hence like I said earlier you need to have an active workout schedule if not anything, running a few km everyday will help. As far as the mental stress is concerned, you should never overburden yourself with studying and overanalysing things. As this is a test of personality your concentration should be on being your best self, being generally aware, positive and confident. Make friends, have a good time and take SSB as an experience and not a tough examination albeit having your ultimate goal in mind is necessary.

  8. Do you think people are not aware about the JAG branch as they should be? How can this be changed?

    Apurwa: People are not as aware of the JAG branch as they would be about the combat roles but I do think times have changed. It is very important that colleges take the initiative to make the students known about the various career options by the 1st or 2nd year. A basic orientation can be given on what the JAG branch is and students can start making career plans accordingly. There are plenty articles available now too so you are just one click away from learning about it.

    Vidhatri: This statement would have been true, maybe a few years back but now I think there is a lot of awareness with respect to this entry in the legal field. A proof of the same is the number of people we see for our screening at the SSB. There are at least 200 women reporting on a given day with about 3-4 date slots for a JAG SSB. The primary reason for not everybody being aware of the same is just the limited number of vacancies. Having just about 2-3 vacancies for women and 5-6 for men often also discourages people for taking this examination. I could have suggested the increase in the vacancies but it is important to understand that it is a specialised field and vacancies can only be subject to the requirement.

  9. How did you bounce back after your previous SSBs and get yourself to prepare for the upcoming ones?

    Apurwa: I think I knew when I was not about to make it in the merit so most times I would have just gotten that news and I would also have just a few days to prepare for my next one. It is heart breaking to be screened out or conferenced out but I think life is just like that and you have to stay positive. It is important to be mentally strong enough to learn that you cannot waste time when your next opportunity is waiting for you. You should know how to detach from what has happened and focus on what is next. Meditation is also something that helped me through the whole process.

    Vidhatri: I got recommended at my first attempt but unfortunately (or fortunately) I was Rank 8 while there were only 3 vacancies. When I got recommended as a fresher, I had a lot of previously recommended women with me and it was new for me to know the concept of merit. I did understand slowly and eventually took up a job so when the merit actually came, though I was disheartened, I did have something in my hand. I was drained of confidence and was screened out in my second attempt. However, I was absolutely prepared for my third attempt because I knew lack of self-confidence is the last thing I wanted and I knew that I just did not have to perform better than others and get recommended but perform my best and be in the top two ranks. Preparation for my upcoming SSBs involved me not sitting idle and regretting anything and so taking up a job helped a lot. The busy work schedules did make it difficult to manage the SSB sometimes but support from family helped.

  10. Considering the vacancies for women candidates is so limited, is there any advice for all the women preparing for JAG?

    Apurwa: Yes, it is less but then nothing is impossible. And if you set your heart on it and you work hard, there is nothing which you cannot get.

    Vidhatri: I would suggest that give your all for your first attempt but never have blind expectations, in case you want to go for a coaching or not take up a job during this time you can do that but in case of a failure do not sit back. Never lose faith after a failed attempt, always look back and think of why you wanted this and the limited vacancies and difficulty should make you want to do it even more.

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