WTI’s teachers as well as the administration, led by Sir Adeel Niaz, have been a constant source of motivation and support for me in this process.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Muhammad Awaid Irshad Bhatti (MAIB): I completed my high school education from Aitchison College, Lahore. Later, I did BSc from University of California Berkeley and Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Then, I completed my MPhil in Development Economics from Cambridge University where I worked on the comparative development in South Asia and effective means for human capital growth.
JWT: What feature of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) attracted you most?
MAIB: PAS has always been my aim and a motivation throughout the CSS journey. The Service provides optimal opportunities for personality development and creating positive impact on the society.
JWT: How has been your experience at the World Times Institute?
MAIB: I came back to Pakistan in March 2016 and immediately joined the World Times Institute (WTI). WTI’s teachers as well as the administration, led by Sir Adeel Niaz, have been a constant source of motivation and support for me throughout the CSS process. I had the avidity to work hard but needed a platform where I could get the requisite guidance on the course of action. And, I must say, the WTI has been instrumental in this regard. I took, every exam including the Test Series and the Mock Series, and scoring the highest marks therein allowed me to stay motivated and reinforce my preparation. Later, I taught at the WTI and that too helped me gain the exposure for the interview.
I was also a part of the WTI’s first-ever Super Class and through talented individuals, like Sir Sarmad and Ma’am Fakhra, I gained many insights into the preparation process.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to scoring well in written part of CSS exam?
MAIB: As I said, I took every exam in this process. So, if there is one takeaway from this interview, it would be: practice is instrumental for success in CSS. This is what refined my time management skills and helped me overcome flaws or shortcomings in notes-making strategy. I would advise aspirants to not focus on the flaws in a grading process because it is your own introspection that helps you constantly improve with every exam you take.
In addition, prudent notes-making is highly important for success in this prestigious exam. Time management is the key not only in the actual exam, but also before it. So, do make lengthy notes as soon as the process starts, consulting no more than two books, class notes and your own analysis. Later, convert them into short one-pagers by November, or so. Regularly check your notes through practice exams and keep updating them every now and then.
Moreover, learning exam-taking techniques is also vital. From menial things like margins to salient aspects like targeted content and diagrammatic representation, one needs to cater to the certain style of CSS exam as it allows the examiner to go through your answers with relative ease and focus on important aspects within your answer.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
MAIB: There are a few key points here:
First, understand that every subject has its own technique. Islamiyat, for example, not only requires a wide array of authentic references but also an application of Islamic values in the contemporary scenario. Similarly, the strategy for Current Affairs includes a multidimensional view, embellished with flowcharts and maps so as to effectively convey your viewpoint.
Second, a lot of people fail to focus on MCQs as they are rather unpredictable and difficult to prepare for. Although it is true that one can never be completely prepared for them, one can hedge the risks with an analysis of the past papers and the expected MCQs within the coursework and certain one paper MCQs books for CSS.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
MAIB: In Cambridge, we were taught to take arduous tasks in a very systematic manner. CSS is the most prestigious exam in Pakistan; therefore, it is vital to take a systematic approach to ace it. Limit your scope through effective targeting of the syllabus, keep a few books that directly target the syllabus and then make notes that can effectively prepare you for the exams.
In CSS, you get various viewpoints from all sides. So, the skill is to take away the points that appeal to your logic, and to incorporate them in your answers.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
MAIB: First and foremost, do write targeted answers. Let me quote an example to prove my point. If the question requires solutions to the Kashmir issue, you must focus on solutions rather than its historic background. This allows the examiner to know that you have fully understood, and answered, his underlying question.
Second, divide answers into various relevant subheadings. This allows the examiner to easily get the important aspects of your answer in a relatively lesser time, thereby having a better impression.
Third, use of flowcharts, maps and diagrams, as well as the use of markers for headings and salient aspects allows you to convey your point in a distinctive manner and sets your answers apart from others.
Here, I would like to add that getting your work reviewed by some peers and experienced teachers is always a key to improving constantly.
JWT: How essay should be structured to get excellent marks in this paper?
MAIB: There are a few things and I would highlight them here step by step:
First, it is vital to take time to fully understand the topic and effectively structure your stance to the question posed in the topic statement. Many able candidates, in the given pressure and time, fail to hit the bull’s eye, i.e. targeting the essay question, and fail this paper.
Second, focusing on the outline as well as the introduction is also vital. The outline conveys your ideas and trajectory for your essay whilst the introduction gives the examiner a fair idea about your command over English grammar and syntax. Write them in rough, re-read and then start writing the essay.
Third, main body of the essay should be a single, coherent and well-connected representation of your ideas. Always stay to the point and avoid controversial aspects. The reason I say this is that one should respond positively as it hedges the risk of an unpredictable examiner.
Fourth, do not memorize essays; rather work on developing new ideas. Draft outlines and conclusions as much as you can because it allows you to learn the skill of thinking on the spot. Topics in CSS Essay paper are of varying natures, and an apt thought process will surely help you with all sorts of topics.
Finally, your conclusion should provide an optimistic overview with forward-looking approach, covering the main aspects of the essay. Since you are aiming for bureaucracy, the criterion for your judgement is the way you approach problems and come up with pragmatic solutions to them.
JWT: How did you handle de-motivations you faced?
MAIB: De-motivations are a part of the process. Whenever I found myself in such a situation, I sought help from teachers, who didn’t know me, to critically assess my tests. Failure is the best source of learning about how to improve. So, never let any de-motivation overwhelm you. All the lows in life are just to make you stronger as a person and as a candidate.
My Tips: Selection of optional subjects
There are two main criteria for choosing your optional subjects:
First, consider the subjects you are good at through either interest or prior academic background. That would greatly help you in the preparation
Second, consider the scoring trends and syllabi for your subjects of interest. Your score in CSS is bolstered by certain subjects that yield high scores.
However, since the trends keep changing, the first criterion should be the determining and guiding factor.
With every class you take or topic you start, read the relevant material from two good books. Use the data to make long notes that cover a wide array of aspects and then convert them, at a later stage, into short notes.
Keep testing and updating your notes through repeated practice whether it be in an academy or through peers in your surroundings. Also keep adding contemporary events not only to the Current Affairs but also to other subjects.
Use your notes and analyses for revision just before the final exam. Practice would help you stay in touch and manage time in actual exam. Remember the results are only indicative of your progress, so take them as an opportunity to improve your preparation.
My advice for fresh aspirants
Through my result, I want to encourage the best talent in Pakistan and abroad to be a part of the bureaucracy to serve the country and contribute to correcting flaws in the system.
Merit prevails in the CSS exam and talented individuals even from humble backgrounds can get to the highest echelons of power. It is not undoable; it only requires strategic planning and good time management. Take it as an opportunity to learn and develop your personality not only as a potential civil servant but also as an individual.
My Interview Experience
During interview, I noticed that the panellists test the stronger candidates by asking questions that might not be their core strength. Hence, it is vital to expand your knowledge base. This can be done by diversifying the subjects you read and have a general idea about the country’s issues in various fields. I was asked questions on topics like the Treaty of Versailles, UN bodies, World Wars, Qatar crisis, Constitution, etc.
I was also asked about my degree in Development Economics and the theories therein. This was thus linked to the current affairs and the prevailing international political climate.
Your past achievements and jobs are also a major source of interview questions. My top position in IB exam was repeatedly mentioned and positively referred to in the interview.
Lastly, knowing about your occupational groups, especially your top preference, is also vital. I was asked various questions about the structure, the issues and my idea of PAS.
Overall, interview is to judge your confidence, apt and direct responses to current issues, and on-the-spot decision-making. So, stay positive and train yourself not for memorized answers but sharp-mindedness.