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22 Lessons from CSS ’22 Exam

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22 Lessons from CSS ’22 Exam

Passing CSS exam is everyone’s dream, but turning it into reality needs not only hard work but also knowledge and skills to attempt the papers effectively. Most people excel at the former but falter at the latter. However, it must be noted here that the first key to success in CSS exam is to understand its nature, make a robust plan and execute that with full sincerity. Some people learn the wisdom the hard way, i.e. through experience and practice, while some are fortunate enough to learn that from others’ experience, without following the long and hard route.  Here are the 22 lessons I learned from CSS 2022 exam and I would like to share those with all JWT readers.
1. Analytical thinking 
The first and foremost lesson to learn is that keeping in view the CSS Syllabus for 2016 and onwards, every aspirant needs to improve his/her skills of analytical thinking for attempting a paper. Most of the questions asked in a paper require your own opinion and not that of a book or an article. While covering a topic, one must not only memorize what the author has written but should also critically analyze that and develop one’s own opinion on the topic. For example, before 2016, the question on a government system would require to prove which system could be more suitable to Pakistan: parliamentary or presidential. But now, the question requires you to develop your own system that you think will best suit Pakistan.
2. Objective is as important as subjective 
Most aspirants focus on subjective part, and ignore the objective one. I interviewed a few of my friends who have qualified CSS and have been allocated in top 4 groups, and they all agreed that focusing and preparing for objective part makes all the difference. Every CSS aspirant must give time to practicing the objective part as much as the subjective portion.
3. Mental health
CSS is, indeed, a game of nerves. For achieving success in that, it is imperative to have a strong mind. If you feel stressed or anxious during the preparation phase, don’t panic; it’s normal to feel so.  To overcome this problem, take mini breaks, sleep for 6 hours a day, move your body and pray or meditate for 10 minutes a day so as to calm your nerves.
4. Smart study
Many people have problem in sitting for longer periods of time for study. Many are either unable to memorize the stuff or they get confused by hundreds of topics they have to cover. Well, smart study is the best solution. Make a list of topics for each subject keeping in view the syllabus and past papers and once you cover one, tick that off! Use flash charts, visuals, sticky notes for memorizing something. Take mini breaks. Use YouTube and the Internet or play word games on Google for building your vocabulary and solve MCQs online when you are bored. Find ways that can suit you best to make the study period interesting.
5. Writing practice
Practice, practice and practice. This is the key to success. I can’t stress more on how it can make a huge difference. No matter how much you read or study notes, if you are not doing writing practice and taking mock exams, it will not get you where you want to be.
6. 5 minutes rule
I invented this ‘5 minutes rule’ for myself in 2022 exam practice. Most of the times, it happens that we study a topic from a single book or even multiple books, but, at the end of the day, we hardly remember anything. For this, the best remedy is to study a topic and then, for 5 minutes, close the books and imagine it in your mind to know that what you remember and, if you have to attempt a question on this topic, what will be the sequence or what points will you write. You may also write that in short points or draw images on a page.
7. Choose optional subjects wisely
While choosing optional subjects, we usually see if the subject is scoring and easy to cover and we have a prior knowledge of. However, what I have learned is that there is another important aspect: don’t choose an optional subject that most aspirants choose. I have noticed that a vast majority of the aspirants who cleared CSS exam had unique or different optional subjects than the majority of their fellows. Also, a subject that is selected by majority, e.g. History of USA is often targeted by the examiners. Choosing a different line will protect you from that as well.
8. Using jargons 
This is the number-one thing that majority of CSS mentors will tell you. If you attempt an entire paper and still your marks are low or you failed the paper, it is because you didn’t use jargon of that specific subject. Such as in Islamic Studies, we must use ayahs and especially write some in Arabic. In International Relations, we must use words like hegemony or apply theories like realism and liberalism while answering a question.
9. Use of flowcharts, graphs and maps
Flowcharts are the most effective way to make your examiner read what you have written. It also shows that you have a thorough understanding of the topic. Also, a tip is: when you want to write many things and there is shortage of time, you can convey your ideas, through flowcharts, maps and graphs, in a short time, without leaving anything.
10. Guiding the examiner
There are hundreds of papers that an examiner has to assess in a limited time. To make your paper stand out and to score high, it is imperative that you guide the examiner in doing his job. This can be done by writing important words like a date, an author’s name, and a theory with a blue or black marker to make it prominent. Also long headings, instead of a one- or two-word, short heading, will guide the examiner to get the idea by just reading the headings; rather than reading the whole paragraph that most examiners don’t even check.
11. Time management 
You would have heard a lot that you must manage the time at your disposal while attempting a paper, and give approximately 35 minutes to each question. This is not a cliché. You have to keep this is in mind that every question is important and deserves same amount of time. No matter how much you know or attempt paper well, if you do not manage your time effectively, you will never be able to score high or even pass the paper.
12. Analyzing Essay correctly 
The first step to write an essay is to analyze the topic. We usually have all the skills to write a good essay, but, in Essay paper, topics are often confusing. Without knowing what exactly the examiner wants, we attempt the paper and eventually flunk that. Therefore, before attempting, analyze the topic from all angles correctly.
13. Selection of topics
In CSS, it is almost impossible to cover all topics and syllabus, especially for second or third revision before exam. Umar Riaz, who is a topper of CSS, taught me a method: divide syllabus into three portions, A, B and C. Topic in portion A are the most important ones as those appeared more than once during the last 10 years. Portion B consists of topics that have appeared at least once and then in portion C are topics that are part of syllabus but never appeared in exam. Then, divide your time accordingly, e.g. 50% of time for group A, 30% for group B and 20% for group C topics.
14. Stress-control during exam
Most of the time, it happens that no matter how well prepared you are, you find yourself, especially in Essay paper, having topics that are difficult for you to write on. You stress out and it worsens the situation. At that time, controlling your nerves is vital. There will be many instances like this and learning about and working on how to control your nerves will get you through.
15. Having a mentor for guidance 
A mentor plays a significant role in accomplishing your goal. It may be a friend, a sibling, a teacher or someone else. Your mentor is the person who is brutally honest with you and checks on your progress and identifies your mistakes. Through mentorship, it becomes easy and you remain on the right track.
16. Group study for motivation 
For those who often get distracted or are doing a job, group study and discussion is the key to success. A group keeps you motivated and can help you in topics you don’t understand or don’t have time to cover. If someone doesn’t want to join an academy or have a mentor, a group can definitely help.
17. Cover syllabus not books
Covering lots of books for a single topic is neither a wise option nor necessary. Most people spend their time in reading many books and notes for a single topic – or read whole topics that are not even in syllabus. A wise thing to do, especially if you have 6-8 months to study, is to cover topics given in the syllabus. It can be from YouTube, a book, the Internet, newspaper or journal articles; in fine, anything. It is not important how much knowledge you have on a single topic, what matters is how much you can write on a single topic.
18. Believe in yourself
We all are afraid of CSS. We feel like those who clear CSS exam are something like super humans. And, we are not wrong to assume that because 99% of people fail CSS. However, it is not that they are super humans; they just believe in themselves. They know that through right techniques, mental strength and prayers, everyone can do it. So, just believe in yourself!
19. Never go by trending topics/shortcuts
Aspirants usually go by covering only trending topics or what a CSP or an academy mentioned will appear in question paper, i.e. they look for a shortcut. Well, there are no shortcuts, and please never believe in that, because CSS has become unpredictable, especially after 2016, and there are new surprises every year. So, be well-prepared and honest in your effort.
20. Math in GSA
Math portion in GSA has 40 solid marks. We usually spend time on the theoretical section and ignore the math portion. GSA is a subject that offers a perfect opportunity to score 70+ marks. Focus on math portion and practice it as much as possible to score high.
21. Pakistan Affairs vs Current Affairs paper
Aspirants who take CSS exam, especially those making their first attempt, don’t know that if a question on same topic appears in two different papers, especially Pakistan Affairs and Current Affairs, you have to attempt that differently. This is a very common mistake most people make. In Pakistan Affairs, you mention history while attempting a question; for example, one on Pak-US relations, but, in Current Affairs, you will have to directly address the question in current scenario without going into history.
22. Enjoy the process
CSS is such a unique and beautiful journey on its own. While you focus and aim for passing the exam, enjoy the process. There is so much that you learn every day. This exam tests your nerves and emotions; it develops your stamina and disciplines you. After taking CSS, every test, every exam becomes so easy. Either you pass or fail, you will always remember the journey and knowledge you have gained in the process, and it will guide you in every step of your life.
These were the 22 lessons I learnt myself in CSS 2022 exam. May be some of you already know these and for some it may be completely new. But, CSS is all about learning from mistakes, improving and never giving up on your dream.

The writer is a CSS aspirant.

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