In Conversation with Aamina Ihsan (PAS) 18th in Pakistan, CSS 2018-19
Catch line: I joined WTI for interview preparation; tips and counselling I got there from the faculty as well as CSS-qualified mentors proved very helpful in getting good score in interview.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Aamina Ihsan (AI): Up to intermediate, I got education from Sufi Foundation School in my home district. Then, I did BS (Hons) in Mass Communication from Lahore College for Women University and later I got an MPhil degree in Media studies from Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore.
JWT: As you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
AI: PAS, to me, is the most valued occupational group since it offers experience in both field and policymaking. Moreover, it offers greater and better avenues for personal and professional growth. Above all, PAS offers an opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives. The most distinguishing feature of this occupational group is that in initial years of service, it allows an officer to have direct interaction with people, and later, on senior positions, participate in making positive contributions to policymaking.
JWT: How was your experience at the World Times Institute (WTI)? And, how much helpful did you find JWT in your preparation for CSS exam?
AI: I joined WTI for interview preparation; tips and counselling I got there from the faculty as well as CSS-qualified mentors proved very helpful in getting good score in interview.
As for JWT magazine, no doubt it played a decisive role in my CSS preparation; it proved instrumental especially in preparing for current Affairs and English Essay papers. It provides critical analyses on all ongoing national and international issues. In general JWT magazine’s argumentative style of writing is extremely beneficial for readers, especially CSS aspirants.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
AI: I believe, in order to score better in written part of CSS exam, it is highly advisable to consult minimum two books for each subject, and make pragmatic use of online sources. Moreover, a candidate who adorns his/her answer with proper introduction and conclusion, uses subject jargons, embellishes answers with graphs, charts and maps (where needed), makes use of accurate references and excerpts to support his/her arguments, can surely get very good marks. On top of it, as the saying goes practice makes one perfect. The candidates should at least make outlines of questions from past papers during the preparation phase.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
AI: For English essay, I used to make outlines and practice paragraph writing. And, for composition, I consulted two books of foreign writers. For General Knowledge papers, I relied on newspapers and magazines especially on Foreign Affairs and the Economist. For Islamic Studies, I consulted a number of books of both Islamic and western scholars.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
AI: I would say that following factors played a key role in my success in CSS.
- a) Prayers and support of my parents, friends and teachers
- b) My consistency and grit
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
AI: First of all, 10 minutes must be spent on selecting questions and making rough outlines of them so that you have to spend less time in thinking while writing the answers. Then, an answer should begin with a precise introduction which should send a clear message to examiner that you have properly grasped what is being asked. An answer interspersed with proper references of books, authors and quotations, facts and maps yields good score. Furthermore, one should make creative headings rather than relying on clichéd phrases. A critical appreciation paragraph should precede conclusion.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
AI: It depends on question, as a general rule, 5 to 6 pages per question would suffice.
JWT: How did you structure your Essay and what was your strategy for Précis and Composition Paper?
AI: I attempted essay on Higher Education and I tried to stay to the point and simple all along. In my view, the key strategy in attempting an essay is to write it in simple, logical, coherent and precise way. One should refrain from using long sentences, jargons and difficult expressions. Furthermore, in order to avoid incoherence and jumps between essay paragraphs and outline, I left first two sheets of answer sheet for final outline, which I only wrote, once I was done writing essay.
In Précis and Composition paper, I attempted grammar portion first to save time for précis and composition questions.
JWT: How did you handle de-motivations, you faced?
AI: I believe having a clear schedule helps avoiding de-motivation. I was also under pressure of having given up an excellent fellowship in the United States, which only further motivated me to do well. Overall, I am glad that I made this decision.
JWT: JWT: How a new aspirant should start his preparations?
AI: A new aspirant should acquaint himself with all important historical events and current issues by reading general books and newspapers .Since, we are living in information age, new aspirants can catch up on their knowledge gap by accessing different channels on YouTube,. In order to build solid arguments on national and international issues and happenings, candidates are advised to watch talk shows telecasted on local and International channels. Hence, a thorough, pragmatic use of all these avenues would help you make a solid foundation upon which you can build your preparation for CSS.
My tips on:
Selection of optional subjects
For that, I believe, you should keep in mind your aptitude. Similarly, scoring trend must be given due weight. In addition, try to opt for those subjects which complement each other.
Consult multiple sources while making notes: consult at least two recommended books, watch relevant short documentaries and add required material from newspapers and magazines.
Since, CSS exam schedule is very hectic, revision should go side by side during regular preparation. In order to revise maximum course, a candidate should have two types of notes: one long and full fledge.
My Advice for fresh aspirants
Since CSS is a competitive exam which hinges on a lot of uncertainty, do have a plan B in your mind so that there is something to fall back on if, unfortunately, plan A fails. Secondly, be consistent and have grit, it’s only through these qualities that one is able to realize one’s goal as there are proverbial no shortcuts to success.
Thirdly, I believe, new aspirants should join academy or access teachers having specialized knowledge in concerned subjects.
My Interview Experience
It was really good; overall environment was cordial. I was asked questions from my optional subjects and from current debates in Pakistan. Though I didn’t opt for philosophy as a subject, I was asked questions on existential philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre, particularly, chairperson asked me how existentialism relates to Simone de Beauvoir feministic ideas. Fortunately, I had read on this dimension and was lucky enough to answer to his satisfaction. Moreover, panellists took an interest in my favourite books – 21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari and Gulistan –e- Sa’adi by Sheikh Sa’adi – discussion went on as I was asked to elicit main theme and reasons for liking them. Later on, a panellist asked for my views on state of education in Pakistan, internal and external threats to security, status of women in Islam and gloomy condition of economy. Some questions were to elicit my suggestions on improving the overall condition of the country, particularly its economy.