In Conversation with
M. Arsalan Gul (FSP)
21st in Pakistan CSS 2020-21
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background.
Muhammad Arsalan Gul (MAG): I did matriculation and FSc from PAF College, Sargodha. Then, I did BE in Mechanical Engineering from Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, KP. Afterwards, I worked as a trainee in SAP Pakistan for a few months. During that period, I changed my profession from mechanical engineering to data science and did few certifications in this field. So, when I went to Australia after my written exam of CSS, I worked as a data analyst at a startup in Sydney.
JWT: Since you have been allocated to Foreign Service of Pakistan (FSP), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
MAG: The most important thing about FSP is that it gives you the kind of exposure that no other group can provide. The chance to represent Pakistan at the highest bodies of the world is very enticing. Also, it is a very challenging job considering the ever-changing dynamics of region as well as the world especially after the coronavirus and the Afghan War. So, it keeps you in a growing environment to remain in sync with the world. Moreover, while in Australia for a year, I interacted with the Pakistani diaspora and got to know their views and what they expect from our foreign office. So, it provided me a good motivation to go for FSP as my second choice.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MAG: Acing the written part of CSS exam is a skill and every person has a different approach towards it. So, create a system that suits you best. In order to do that, consider these points:
1. Self-Assessment. You should know what your strengths and weaknesses are regarding the CSS exam, e.g. what is your study habit, can you study for 8-10 hours daily, can you transfer your thoughts into a well written paragraph in English language, etc.
2. Making notes is a good practice to consolidate all the data regarding a specific topic.
3. Quoting references from recently published books, journals, reports, etc.
4. Instead of cramming every recommended book, try to think in terms of Why, What and How of a topic to develop your analytical skills.
5. Do a lot of written practice to get the required confidence
6. Take mock exams as it is of paramount importance to nullify your anxiety that may overpower you and lead you to failure.
7. Hard work
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy for these ?
MAG: I adopted a 5-point strategy in this regard:
1. Tackling the hard stuff first, i.e. English Essay, Précis & Composition and Islamiat.
2. Getting essays evaluated and working on mistakes thereof.
3. Not letting English Composition paper get on my nerves. Preparing for all the components rather than just Précis.
4. Studying Islamiat from different, original sources. Quoting ayats in Arabic.
5. For Current Affairs and Pakistan Affairs, aspirants should first get the timeline of events for a specific topic. No need to memorize it. Just get the background knowledge necessary to understand the current events in that domain. Then, start working on Implications, Reasons, Way Forwards of disputes, etc.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
MAG: The following strategy can be fruitful in this regard:
1. Your answers (in all subjects) should be properly structured with introduction, body and conclusion.
2. Introduction should hit the target in first few lines. Write in simple and plain terms the basic theme of your answer in first few lines of the introduction. Don’t focus too much on history.
3. Self-explanatory headings are the key as these facilitate the examiner.
4. Arguments must be logical, relevant, coherent and non-clichéd. They should also be strengthened by giving and nullifying their counter arguments.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
MAG: The general rule is to write 5-6 pages for a 20-mark question. Since you have very limited time at your disposal, try to complete an answer in 35 minutes. If you think time is running out, give most solid arguments first.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his/her preparations?
MAG: A new aspirants needs to adopt the following strategy:
1. Start with getting some general and background knowledge.
2. Assess your strengths and weaknesses in terms of subjects.
3. Identify your strongest and weakest subject without any preparation.
4. Formulate a mental plan to divide time till the commencement of CSS exam.
5. Start slow and gradually gain pace.
6. Find some mentors; they can be really helpful in the start.
7. If it’s your first attempt, prepare like it’s your last and there are none left.
My Tips on
Selection of optional subjects
The basic rule to choose optional subjects is to put each subject to test based on these three conditions:
1. Educational background. If you have bachelors in Political Science, opt for it. For Engineers, I would suggest considering mathematics at the start.
2. Interest. If you don’t feel a little bit of interest in a subject, don’t go for it.
3. Availability of teacher. This means that do you have someone who can check your questions and give you a feedback. If not, it’s better to go with other subjects.
1. Try to consolidate data on one topic, i.e. all events, sources and every bit of info regarding that topic on 2-3 pages. This will help you in revision during mock tests and actual exam
2. Include quotations and other relevant information at the top of the paper, in this way you will remember them.
3. Keep updating them.
Revision should be done on a regular basis. From January onwards, all the time must be dedicated to revision.