In Conversation with
Muhammad Hamza Abbas (PAS)
13th in Pakistan, CSS 2019-20
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Muhammad Hamza Abbas (MHA): I did my O-levels from SICAS Lahore, A-Levels from Lahore Grammar School (LGS) and Bachelors from University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, in Environmental Engineering.
JWT: Since you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
MHA: PAS is arguably the most diverse field that CSS offers; from public dealing to policymaking, it covers all aspects of public service. For me, personally, the most captivating aspect was the fact that its job description was congruous to what I had been doing at WWF Pakistan. The only difference being that it gives you an active and more meaningful role in bringing about a change in the society.
JWT: How much helpful did you find Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) during your preparation for CSS exam? And, how was your experience in the World Times Institute (WTI)?
MHA: Although I have never been a regular student of WTI, its mentoring role is not hidden from any aspirant. I did partake in the mock examinations that WTI conducted back in December 2018, and I must say they were really helpful in identifying my flaws which eventually enabled me to rectify them in time. WTI should be proud of the students it has produced over the past many years.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MHA: In my humble opinion, the right amount of motivation and consistency is the key to acing not just the written part of CSS but also the interview. CSS is inarguably a humongous task that without the aforementioned, I believe, becomes impossible to accomplish.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
MHA: Although I had a considerably good educational background, yet I never underestimated English Essay and Précis; I dedicated my weekends to these two, making sure that I attempt at least one essay a week. Moreover, for Islamiat, I focused primarily on the Quranic references making sure that I prepare at least 5 for every topic. For Current Affairs and Pakistan Affairs, I followed a rather unorthodox approach; I used to make soft notes on every relevant topic adding and subtracting in them in accordance with the changing contemporary scenarios. Lastly, since I was a science student, I did not worry much about General Science and Ability.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
MHA: Principally, I believe my zeal and resolve to get what I had aimed for enabled me to succeed in this competitive exam. However, if we talk about my strategy, then I ensured that I take very calculated steps. I had maintained a 6-month comprehensive schedule and made sure that I abide by it every day. Usually, I followed a routine of 20 days per (optional) subject excluding the weekends which, as I said earlier, were dedicated to English.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
MHA: First and foremost technique is to understand the requirements of the questions; what exactly is it referring to? In what depth is the answer expected? Once you figure this out, the next step should be the formation of the chronology in which the answer is to be devised. It should always be in the following format: Introduction, problem statement, main body/arguments, way forward, and, lastly, conclusion.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
MHA: Not as such. One should only focus on giving equal time, ideally 35 minutes per question. Generally, a 6-page answer would suffice; going more than that will not be of much utility.
JWT: How did you structure your Essay?
MHA: I structured my essay with a comprehensive outline, followed by an introduction, counter argument, a number of arguments substantiating my stance, case studies supporting my arguments, way forward (optional), and finally a conclusion. As far as my time division is concerned, I used to take the first half hour to finalize my topic and then making a rough outline; the next two hours were dedicated to essay writing; the remaining half an hour was utilized to proofread and to write a neat outline.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his/her preparations for CSS exam?
MHA: I believe the first step should be to understand fully the demands of CSS. The best way is to analyze the syllabus as well as relevant past papers. This practice will give you a rough picture of what you should be expecting and will consequently give you a direction to start your preparation.
JWT: What areas should new aspirants focus while preparing for the CSS exam?
MHA: Having a good command over English language will help you immensely. A good command over this language will translate into better written expression, which will not only help you in passing the English exams, but will also aid you in writing exceptionally well answers in the remaining compulsory and optional subjects, thereby, increasing the probability of scoring high in all your subjects.
Selection of optional subjects
A four-pronged approach (in the given arrangement of precedence) should be followed: interest, academic relevance, overlapping nature and scoring trend. Unfortunately, most aspirants only look at the scoring trend before deciding upon any subject which, to me, is not, at all, the right approach. If you are interested in a subject and have academic relevance with it as well, then scoring trend will not even matter since your probability of scoring better in that subject will increase exponentially.
While reading any material, short notes should be made side by side, as it is easy to learn and remember and organize those. During the revision, the organized short notes come handy.
There should be greater time for revision. If possible, I recommend, last 2 months be spared for this process.
Advice for fresh aspirants
Only one advice: Knowledge is power. Therefore, be extremely cognizant of your strengths and weaknesses. Rather before starting your CSS journey, draw an SWOT analysis of yourself. Once you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you will be in a much better position to improve your chances of succeeding since you will have the opportunity to manoeuvre those in your favour.
My Interview Experience
My interview experience was very pleasant; it was a 30-minute-long interview, covering an array of opinion-based questions. To begin with, a couple of questions regarding my profession and professional life were asked. Then, they asked about issues pertaining to Pakistan and then some global issues also came under discussion. They, then, asked some questions with regards to the contemporary affairs of the bureaucracy. Moving on, the panel from time to time enquired about my hobbies, and personal interests concluding the interview by asking about my New Year resolutions.
For interviews, my advice to all the candidates would be to stay calm, and cognizant of the expectations of the panel. In a nutshell, composure is the key to acing the interview.