How to Fail CSS

How to Fail CSS 


My wasteful efforts began in the following manner: I believed in a mythical six- or nine-month plan that could work for me to ace the CSS examination. Somehow, I fell into the delusion that CSS is just like any other routine exam which doesn’t honour the background of a student. I assumed that the route to a good preparation, ergo success in CSS examination, is same for every candidate. I took the examination for granted and treated it in a casual manner like a short course which could be prepared in the manner of an instant, precooked recipe that is available to all and sundry. I thought all I needed was some of the vital ingredients such as educational background, reading habits, subject selection, experience in taking exam and burning midnight oil to sail through.

Some lessons are bitter and my three failed attempts made me realise, “There is no short cut to a place worth going.” Preparation for CSS examination is a long haul and requires patience, motivation, planning and a genuine desire to be curious about the travails of the journey. Time, like truth, is in short supply when it comes to CSS. It means that I like many other students preparing for the best and wish that I had all the time, but I never had enough of it. I realized that being fully prepared is a ruse as no amount of preparation would suffice for the expansive reading material that the exam entails. So, what mistakes I made which often made preparation a nightmare for me?

I chose wrong books for preparation. There is a broad range of reading material available in the market. Two aspects must be considered while selecting a book: One, whether the book is for compulsory or an optional subject; two, a very well written book on Pakistan Affairs would not suffice. Various issues would have to be prepared from a variety of sources. For compulsory subjects such as Pakistan Affairs, General Science and Ability, Islamiat, and optional subjects; selection of two or more books for a single subject is inevitable. Something interesting happened at the time when I was to select the books. I was overtaken by the perfectionist syndrome which captivated me for a couple of weeks and instilled a perilous doubt in my mind about the quality of the reading material. I wasted tremendous energy on some topics out of the fear that I wasn’t preparing up to the mark, and somehow the notes I was making were low in quality. It soon dawned on me that perfect was the enemy of good. Quality of answer improves with the passage of time, practice and after repeated appraisals of the issue at hand. There is no one-stop solution to writing a good answer.07-14blackboard

The importance of distribution and allocation of time dedicated to compulsory as well as optional subjects cannot be stressed more. In my case, I had failed to realise that preparation for compulsory subjects would enable me to pass the CSS examination. Instead, I dedicated a large duration of my preparation to optional subjects, thinking it would enable me to secure allocation among top occupational groups.  For me, it turned out that there exists a fine balance that must be maintained to prepare for compulsory as well as optional subjects. It is no brainer that every subject in the optional and compulsory stack is important.

It is a candid confession on my part that I didn’t heed the advice of looking at past papers. Past papers are windows into the mindset of examiners as they give specific cues about the trends that have been following or would follow. They lay bare the requirement stated in questions, the topics which have appeared and the breadth of course material which has been covered. I now understand that review of past papers even prior to starting the preparation is important as it can shape the priorities in preparing for different issues. It is helpful in saving time and energy by leaving more room for feedback and introspection.

I have been a victim of poor preparation methodology and bad advice regarding CSS preparation. My self-destructive preparation roadmap was like this: I read a material, memorized it or wrote it down or made some notes of it. I championed notes-making and filling registers with regurgitated material. I never made an interactive conversation with the reading material, asked questions about the purposefulness of the reading or drew inferences from the messages contained in the material. I now realise that I had better approached the reading material with a genuine urge and curiosity to explore the reading scholarship. Instead of being hungry for acquiring and preparing notes, I should have read voraciously, understood the material and then jotted down my own contemplation.overburdening-specific-team-members-is-another-reason-why-it-comapnies-fail-1

Let me admit that reading and writing habits matter a lot in the preparation of CSS exam. Regrettably, I, too, tried to tread the path most frequently trod, and was unable, like most aspirants, to avoid the pitfalls of reading more and learning less; craving to write more and then writing less, thinking that only a good write-up is worthy of an attempt.

I am now absolutely convinced that qualitative and quantitative readings are of great importance in preparing for CSS examination. Qualitative reading in CSS parlance means reading quality material that is based on thorough research and is derived from renowned sources such as international and local writers of repute, Time, Economist and Jahangir’s World Times magazines, and lastly daily Dawn. Same advice holds for books for optional subjects. Quantitative reading is based on the notion of how much reading material and how many sources would be enough for an exhaustive preparation for the examination or for a particular paper.

“I don’t have any extraordinary skills, I am just passionately curious,” said Albert Einstein about himself. I think where I had gone remiss was the expression of my curiosity through written expression. After all, CSS exam requires a genuine urge to know about different things and how they operate. The compulsory and optional papers are fashioned in a manner to gauge your imagination, knowledge, insight and learning through written expression. Thought-provoking questions are asked about current affairs of the country and the events that are shaping the position of Pakistan

in the international community.AdobeStock_134858969

I confess that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity offered by the CSS Essay and Comprehension papers to hone and build strong writing skills. The topics offered in the Essay paper didn’t pique my curiosity and I went for the run-of-the-mill preparation style. I couldn’t realize that imaginative thinking and curiosity would aid me in acing the Essay paper as I went for the same old safe bets like preparing for essay topics on democracy or national integration.

The Précis and Composition paper was intended to teach reading; understanding the reading material, writing in concise manner and avoiding common grammatical mistakes. This very paper is a lynchpin of CSS examination as it enables an aspirant to gear up for the challenge. Its preparation is helpful in all papers. It measures and builds a variety of skills such as a strong vocabulary, answer-writing, identifying common errors in written English, embellishing written expression with felicitous phrases and idioms and helping in précis writing. The entire setup of this paper exhorts an aspirant to immediately start writing practice. Capitalizing preparation over a period of time through persistent practice and getting written material checked pay maximum dividends in the examination. Sadly, I never took this paper seriously and, hence, paid a heavy price.  Failure-App-Economics

CSS examination doesn’t throw a lot of curved balls at students. Once in a blue moon some particular papers are extremely knotty. The DNA of the test has not changed dramatically over a period of some 48 odd years. It does honour the proposition that it is an exam of competition. An exam entailing intense competition honours competitive advantage on the basis of educational background. Consider a student having a specialized degree in International Relations. He would certainly be comfortable while opting for International Relations as an optional subject. On the other hand, a student who has not studied International Relations during his graduate or undergraduate studies would find it relatively difficult to compete with such a competitor. However it is, in no way, to suggest that students who have not studied International Relations should not opt for this optional subject. Extraordinary circumstances could restrict choice of optional subjects. The only downside here would be to compete against persons who are already having an unfair advantage over the others.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) appearing in all papers, save that of English essay, can be a real game-changer for an aspirant. I had never thought that getting 3-4 more MCQs correct than an average student can help me secure a strong position. I would be fairly comfortable by gaining at least 40 more marks than any other student. This is precisely the point where I made the terrible mistake of not preparing well for the MCQs. I should have looked at MCQs which had appeared in past papers, scoured through more reading material and anticipated the importance of some reading material which could figure in future MCQs.

As written earlier, I repeatedly made the same mistakes which led to failure in CSS examinations. I narrate my failures here so that the prospective aspirants may take benefit of the hindsight I have acquired after repeated failures. I believe preparation should always strictly adhere to time limits. Competition is cutthroat and there is no other substitute to achieving success than hard work. CSS exam is a test of nerves as it takes a heavy toll on patience and power to retain information. Consecutive papers certainly test the mettle of candidates as they are required to repeat and reproduce their preparation in a matter of two to three hours. Efforts invested in preparation would bear fruit when they simulate exam day conditions and anxiety. I think that my story would raise concerns among many students not to choose the recipe for failure. Aspirants have a lot at stake in this examination and they deserve the best for their bright future.

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