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CSS EXAM An Enigmatic Phenomenon?

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An Enigmatic Phenomenon?

This year was no different as when the final result of CE-2020 was looming over our heads at the end of April, the rumour mill started churning again. A creative one was that this CSS was low-scoring and only a handful of individuals could score more than 650 marks in the written part. However, it proved to be an absurd lie after I analysed the data. The data showed that as many as 23 individuals scored 700+ marks. So, in this write-up, I am going to tear down these myths and put forward an educated opinion based on the data collected through a survey conducted among 124 allocated individuals. Through this data, I will try to answer a few of the most sought out questions regarding CSS. This article will prove beneficial for aspirants at any stage of their journey as it will answer almost all their questions about all the stages of CSS journey.
To begin chronologically, the first question that an aspirant thinks about is the time required to prepare for CSS. This is purely an opinion-based question as every other person will give you a different answer. However, if we take a look at the CE 2020 data, we find an answer that offers some explanation into otherwise purely speculative answers.
The graph on the previous page shows two important metrics; first one being the number of aspirants who answered the following question.”How much time is required to prepare for CSS?” They had to choose among the following options: 3-5 months, 5-7 months, 7-10 months, 10-12 months, less than 3 months and more than 12 months. So, according to the survey, the highest number of respondents chose 10-12 months. Since it is a highly opinionated question, I didn’t rely on this metric (and upon the claims of respondents) alone.
The second metric in this figure is the total marks scored in the written exam by each group of said aspirants. This is to check the veracity of their opinions. It was done by cross-referencing this data with the average marks of each group of students in the written part of CSS exam. Now, we are in a better position to judge which opinion is better and I believe (also from my personal experience) that 7-10 months is the optimal time to prepare for CSS. However, each aspirant knows his/her own capabilities. Around 50% of the doctors suggest 5-7 months; 35% of the engineers also suggested the same. So, it all comes down to study habits and periods of concentration. If you have good study habits and can study 8-10 hours a day, you would require around four months to pass the exam. The above-mentioned data is from all individuals without considering their study techniques and routines.
Now, an aspirant comes to the stage where (s)he starts to look for guidance and a way to start preparation for CSS exam. The question an aspirant faces here is: should I join an academy, do self-study or contact a CSP for private mentorship? Based on the data, most of the candidates chose mentorship and self-study.
This can be surprising for most people yet it makes sense if we consider other statistics with it. The final allocations always have around 20-30% of people who passed CSS in their first attempt. And CSS preparation from an academy or institute is most useful for people who are from a completely different background than political sciences, and are also taking their first attempt. So, we get the idea that most of those people recommend mentorship who are in their second or third attempts, and don’t require the basics that are taught only at an academy. Therefore, for engineers and doctors, who are from a different background, and it is their first attempt at CSS, I would recommend attending a regular session at an academy.
Moving on to the next question which has plagued all (100% sure) aspirants, “how should one choose optional subjects?” Without any insight from the data, the conventional wisdom dictates that aspirants should choose subjects they have studied in their educational background, provided they have easy access to the books and a teacher who can provide them feedback regarding their answers and mock tests. Since the latter condition is not easily fulfilled due to reasons such as scarcity of teachers in far-flung areas and more money required for preparation, aspirants tend to go for subjects that are usually taught at academies. Now, with this reasoning, if we incorporate the data point we got from our analysis of the CE-2020 result, we can definitely reach a conclusion.
For this argument, let’s consider only the subjects given in Group 1 of the syllabus for CSS. The graph shows that International Relations (IR) was opted for by the highest number of students, but it had the lowest overall average in Group 1 subjects. People can argue that we don’t know the passing percentage of each subject; it might be that IR had the highest pass ratio. But based on the earlier argument of easy accessibility and teaching, it can be argued that most of the students choose IR as a 200-mark subject because almost all academies offer classes for this subject and a lot of books are, too, available on it. And since it has been happening for the past many years, I believe the question pattern of IR as well as its checking has evolved. The stringent checking of IR is to distinguish good ones from a plethora of answer sheets. This has raised the bar for getting high scores in this subject. So, to conclude, I would say that if you have access to good teachers and quality books on the subjects that you have studied during your educational background, don’t fall for the notion of short syllabus of IR or that it overlaps many other subjects. On a short note, people interested in joining Foreign Service of Pakistan or with a keen interest in international politics must opt for IR keeping in mind its tough competition to score marks.
Another question – in fact, a perpetual one as some of my batch-mates are asking it even after they have got allocated – that must be tackled here is: why should engineers, doctors and accountants join civil service because, after all, they have spent huge sums of money and time learning, and working in, that profession? Moreover, how will their background support them in a completely different field? And also what are the chances of success for people from such backgrounds?
The last question is an easy one. Engineers constituted the highest number of people who got allocated, followed by people from social sciences and some other non-major backgrounds.
However, a close look at the stats reveals that each background brings with it a plethora of possibilities for success. Some might shine now while others will shine at their own specific time. An interesting data point regarding this is shown below.
The figure explicitly shows that aspirants from the profession of medicine have higher average marks in interview than their counterparts from all other professions. These 15-20 marks can be a decisive element in their final allocation to a particular group or service.
Secondly, having a diverse background can become your secret weapon as you will, then, have the capacity to think out-of-the-box solutions for all the problems. Being in a field of facing dynamic problems every day, conventional knowledge loses its charm after sometime. But having a diverse background equips you with the knowledge to find structural similarities in your own field to problems of other fields. This opens a whole new vista of knowledge to you that others don’t have access to.
To further consider the impact of interview and written exam in the final selection, I went through the data to come up with an easy way to explain how many students didn’t get allocated to their desired groups because of below-par interview performance or just a minor slip-up in written marks. As many as four students out of top 20 who got allocated into coveted Pakistan Administrative service (PAS) were not among top 20 scorers in the written exam. Similarly, nine students who got allocated into PAS (or are in top 20) didn’t make into the list of top scorers in interview exam. This comparison explains the importance of marks in the written exam. However, it shows that there is still a handy chance to catch up through a remarkable performance in the interview.
Finally, I believe that one must remember that even with the choice of wrong subjects (only final result can reveal that) or believing in the aforementioned myths, CSS is a competitive exam at its core. For any exam, what you only need is proper guidance and hard work. From the days of my preparation for CSS, proper guidance has only meant one thing for me, that is, learning how to attempt the question, what kind of answer is suitable for which questions and finally, getting feedback to improve my answers. Feedback is the most important thing, according to my own observation and experience. One can get it in the form of private mentorship, taking test series and mock exams. Whatever way you choose, just make sure to get feedback on your answers. If you don’t get to know what’s wrong with your answers, you will not improve and your chances of success will be very limited. Hence, hard work and feedback are the keys to crack CSS exam.
The writer has got 21st position in CSS-2020 Exam and was allocated to Foreign Service of Pakistan.

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