In Conversation with
Muhammad Ali (PAS)
10th in Pakistan CSS 2020-21
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background.
Muhammad Ali (MA): I hail from District Sheikhupura. I did my matriculation from Hashmat Memorial High School and topped in my area by securing 93 percent marks. Afterwards, I got first position in my college (Govt. Islamia College Civil Lines, Lahore) by obtaining 92 percent marks in FSc. Having such a splendid background, it was all natural for me to get admission to University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, from where I graduated in Electrical Engineering.
JWT: Since you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
MA: PAS has always been my first priority. It is a group that not only offers a fast-paced career path but also provides a canvass for horizontal mobility. For me, multiplicity of experience is an essence of life. PAS is the only group that gives an opportunity to experience that diversity in various fields.
JWT: How was your experience of preparing for CSS at World Times Institute? And, how much helpful did you find Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) during your preparation?
MA: To be honest, World Times Institute has been my trusted partner during my CSS journey. I appeared in mock exams conducted by WTI and those gave me a clear image of my standings.
Moreover, JWT magazine broadened my vision and understanding of the subject matter.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MA: Brevity is the soul of wit. Good presentation, clarity of ideas, precision and brevity do make a difference. While writing an answer, one should hit the topic directly instead of grappling with irrelevant ideas. I never made any outline in my answers. Instead, I would deal the requirements of the question in a direct manner. I must say, quality of the content surpasses quantity.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
MA: Consistency is my key to success. Had I lost hope after my first attempt, I would have never tasted such a phenomenal success of getting 10th position in Pakistan.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
MA: In military terms, it is said ‘the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war’. Likewise, musicians do practice for hours to learn any new symphony. So, there is no alternative to practice. One should not only focus on improvement of the content but should also attempt past papers. For English, one should get one’s work evaluated regularly. One should substantiate answers with Quranic verses while attempting Islamic Studies. A rule of thumb is to be relevant to the topic.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
MA: First and the foremost, do know your limits. You are not supposed to write a PhD thesis. Answers must be relevant and to the point. Embellish your answers with headings and keywords in order to make them eye-catching and presentable for the examiner. Besides, adorn your answers with maps and make them aesthetically fine. My answer never exceeded 5 pages of the answer book.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
MA: Nothing is limitless in this material world. Those athletes fail to compete who have no idea of their limitations. Likewise, one should set one’s limits during mock tests of CSS. Three hours decide one’s trajectory in any paper of CSS. Given my writing speed and question-handling ability, I set upper limit of my answers to 5 pages of the answer book. It worked!
JWT: How did you structure your Essay and what was your strategy for Précis and Composition Paper?
MA: My essay structure was simply natural – a to-the-point outline, followed by relevant content. My approach was very calculated. I relied on a set pattern of essay writing that I learnt from my mentor.
In Précis and Composition paper, I put an extra effort in memorizing GRE world list so as to get maximum score in objective portion. For practice, one should attempt 3 passages for précis and 1 essay per week, and this exercise should continue until the final exam starts.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his/her preparations?
MA: First of all, a new aspirant should come out of fear of failure. He should believe in incremental change. He should set realistic targets, and remain consistent and dedicated to achieve those. A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. Without fear, one should take that single step.
JWT: What areas should the new aspirants focus while preparing for the CSS exam?
MA: A new aspirant should give attention to his/her support system. (S)he should accompany positive people who believe in struggle and encourage initiatives. Second, (s)he should focus on quality of the content. Instead of relying on handy notes, (s)he should go through standard books and prepare his/her own notes. This way, (s)he will be able to gain deep understanding of the subject matter and his/her analytical ability will be polished. Shallow knowledge never works in CSS. Always dive deep.
JWT: What should be an ideal time table for a new aspirant to make sound preparation for CSS exam?
MA: CSS is a game of chance that starts after hard work. I, therefore, believe that at least a year should be dedicated for satisfactory preparation. Six hours a day and 365 days a year – this is what worked in my case.
My Tips on:
Selection of optional subjects
In my case, I never analyzed scoring trend of any subject during subject-selection process. I simply chose those subjects which suited to my aptitude and appealed my inner self. For me, CSS subject list was like a buffet dinner – spicy and appealing. I opted for Punjabi without any consideration of scoring trend. I chose it due to my interest in Punjabi Sufi literature. Keeping my own journey in view, I would suggest that one should know the wavelength of one’s aptitude before selecting any subject.
A new aspirant should have the ability to skim data while making notes. Mere reading is insufficient. Comprehension is important. Make short bullet notes of your own to make a difference.
Repeatability is equal to ‘expert ability’. If you repeat, you become expert. This tip rewards in CSS. Do revise your subjects on periodic basis.