Nothing scourges CSS aspirants more than English essay paper. It has become no less than a nightmare scenario for most of them. I often find students getting very good marks in Précis & Composition paper, but failing that of essay – sometimes by a very small margin. The examiner awarding 37 or 38 even 39 marks in this paper is nothing short of a sadist. This is downright cruelty. There are, however, various causes of low scores in the said paper. The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), too, is responsible for certain causes but let us not discuss this aspect at the moment. Through this article, I would address the students so as to make them acquainted with certain facts and giving necessary guidelines for this crucial paper.
Having taught English to CSS students for about 30 years, I have arrived at certain conclusions. The students would do well to pay heed to the main cause behind their dismal performance in this paper, that is, their inefficient and very limited study of good essays and relevant articles in newspapers to gain necessary knowledge, and get latest information regarding topics most likely to be asked about in the examination. English, or for that matter any language, demands continued reading in order to acquire a reasonable command of it. Time is of the essence in this regard. Students with weak background in English need to give regular and sufficient time to acquire the skills and command of English.
All English-language newspapers are good. Renowned and established writers contribute to them. But, in my view, Daily Times is most suitable for CSS aspirants. There are seven to eight articles in it daily; most of them very relevant to the essay paper and helpful in updating the information. The students should make it a point to read this newspaper daily. Along with preparation for the essay paper, the students will be in a much better position to tackle their general knowledge and current affairs part of the syllabus. Besides, Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) is a great help for CSS aspirants.
There are many kinds of essays, e.g. personal essays, reflective and imaginative essays, essays of experience, futuristic essays, etc. But, considering the requirements of CSS English essay, the students are advised to focus on essays discussing current economic, political and social issues, especially Pakistan-specific essays.
Essay writing is as much a craft as an art. While art depends for its expression on inspiration, craft requires preparation, apprenticeship and systematic hard work. A creative bent of mind is a prerequisite for producing a work of art. Even those who are not gifted with extraordinary creative abilities should not despair of writing worthwhile essays. Craft of writing essays can be learned and developed by efforts and systematic practice. A man of average intelligence and an open mind can produce essays of considerable merit. Students and candidates for competitive examinations should go through the examination papers for the last few years and prepare a list of essays. It is useful to keep a register or a notebook for this purpose. A portion of the notebook should be used for indexing the titles. Similar titles can be grouped under broad subject headings.
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Current Economic and Social Issues: Issues of poverty, terrorism, extremism, energy crisis, water crisis, Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan, USA, Russia, China, the Muslim World at large, essays concerning education and health, eradication of poverty, population control, women’s empowerment and communal violence, judicial, police and civil service reforms, fall under this grouping. Academic grounding in Political Science, Sociology and Economics can be useful in attempting write-ups on current issues. A lot of ideas and material on burning issues is available in daily newspapers, magazines, various journals and on the internet. A candidate will do well to make habit of scanning through a few newspapers and magazines regularly to keep abreast of the significant occurrences in the world.
Some Useful Tips: It is useful to prepare the outline of an essay. Introduction should be impressive and striking. The student should be able to demonstrate his/her understanding of the essence or keynote of the topic of the essay in the first paragraph. Moreover, the psychological or scientific justification of a concept or quotation should be furnished in the opening paragraphs. The main part of the essay should elaborate the various aspects of an issue or the amplification of a concept with facts and figures or easily comprehensible references from current affairs or history. Each paragraph should normally contain one idea, and a new paragraph should be written when a new idea is taken up. The length of the paragraph or the number of ideas can be varied to suit the time and length prescribed in the examination.
Concluding paragraph of an essay should indicate the considered opinion of the writer about the way a burning issue should be tackled and the safeguards that must be observed in preventing the issue from becoming intractable. Ideas that have worked in different parts of the world can be reiterated for adoption. An essay should not be allowed to keep dangling; it must be concluded by giving a finishing touch by way of some eminently practicable suggestion. An essayist should know the facts, but he must remember that an essay is not merely listing or enumeration of facts. It is an interpretation of, and a comment on, facts. Interpretation should be in line with the principles of rationality or with the observed characteristics of human psychology. A good essay is as much a revelation as a good poem. The reader has to be stirred out of his complacency by bringing to his notice a new or relatively unknown aspect of a problem or an issue. While it will be difficult to say new and original things about many topics, it will always be possible to put forth familiar things in a new and interesting manner.
A candidate for competitive examinations should do well to develop a friendly relationship with the dictionary which he should frequently consult whenever he has the slightest doubt about the exact meaning of a word or a phrase. A compact essay written in accurate and correct language will impress the examiner much more than unwieldy essay full of mistakes and written in slovenly language. Improvement in essay writing goes hand in hand with a mastery over language in general. One should, therefore, develop a regular habit of reading a few pages penned by great minds on a daily basis.