What do you aspire to be? A respectable citizen? An emblem of pride? A visage of success?
Surely, every Pakistani wants that exposed to the uncertainty prevailing in the state due to socio-economic issues.
The best way to achieve all this is often suggested through an attempt for the Central Superior Service (CSS) Exam.
Haven’t you always been told the CSS officers are the creme of the nation, the remarkable intelligentsia of the country having supreme authority and reverence?
Haven’t you yourself, once in your life, aspired to be one of these officers?
That wasn’t really a question after all. We all know the answer, don’t we?
The aspirants spend years of their lives in preparing for these exams and if they’re successful in the written part, another 3 to 4 months are invested in working up for the interview. One can not debate over the passion and vision that these aspirants hold regarding these exams. However, the methodologies, study patterns, paper attempting patterns etc. certainly require a great deal of reformation and rectification.
Almost every year, once the results of CSS examination are announced, there follows a severe criticism over the altering trends in this seemingly noble and prestigious service. Pity! The percentage of success in these exams for years has only seen a drastic downfall that has a multitude of obvious and ambiguous reasons that need public and institutions’ pondering.
I know many aspirants would rather wish to close this tab of sheer disappointment on their smartphones and laptops but just wait for a bit, would you? There is something valuable in my banter that you may reflect on and find a way out of this abyss.
Every year, among these criticism articles and blogs, an Examiner’s Report on CSS is released that serves as scripture for those finding out what went so wrong. Alas! No one pays heed to this report for fear of finding it either futile or redundant in its claims.
But let’s find a middle ground, folks, shall we?
I will break down the report for you in the simplest and most considerate manner and save you the pain of referring to it yourself. I know how gruesome the task of report reading can be.
I solemnly sympathize, pals!
So let’s set sail and grope for our land of reformation amongst false hopes and repetitive flaws.
General Flaws Found by CSS Checkers
1. Conceptual Ambiguity
The prime error examiners point out and to a great degree, lament in the CSS exams is lack of conceptual clarity with regard to any subject or its subtopics.
Why does it bother the examiner this much? How does its impact become so decisive in passing or failing the papers?
Ask yourself! Why do you think you’re going through such an extensive process of screening tests and interviews? Why do you think the bureaucrats devise this trying series of aptitude measuring scales? Why does your conceptual clarity hold such significance?
Well, this is too simple now. You are in for the most prestigious and honorable positions in bureaucracy the national system holds. You are part of a race that only allows the best amongst the nation to compete, let alone have faith in succeeding. How can you not have unambiguous stances, reasoned statements and rational concepts backed by strong evidence and deductions at this point?
Examiners deduce this happens due to varying reasons – lack of authentic research, an unhealthy dependence on academies and their objective reading material etc.
Don’t despair now, friends! We’re here to help. Be sure of that!
So how are we going to tackle this great obstacle in our path to success?
Well, get your notepads. Grasp your pens. Here pops the list:
- Aspirants should revert to decades-old methods of research if they wish their answers make a mark on examiners’ minds and scale up their chances of getting through CSS. This might ask for extended library visits. So, renew your library memberships!
- Authentic recommendations for reading materials from reliable sources will accentuate conceptual clarity. This will require considerable distancing from the materials, key books and notes, provided by academies coaching for CSS.
- Make your own notes. The reflexes established while physically noting down points for various topics and debates create a memory in your brain that unconsciously builds room for retention and reproduction in the exam.
These are some ways incomprehensive and dubious concepts on a subject can be strengthened. Hope this turns out helpful!
2. Stereotypical Answers and Approaches
Imagine you’ve been living in a far off valley all your life. You wander through its meadows and cliffs and along its riverbanks almost every day of your life. You, in short, know every sight of the place. Suppose a traveler, all on his own, visits your area.
Now, there’s a slight problem. He has no maps or expert navigation devices and is stuck in the middle of his journey, not knowing where to head now. He asks you for a way out of the valley since you’re a native. Which route would you suggest to him?
Obviously, the one you’ve been taking since childhood – crossing the less dense forest through the barren trek, asking the boatman everyone calls Mullah to take you to the other side of the river, crossing another less populated valley at the other bank and then, waiting beside the sandy road for a vehicle that could take you to the city.
Did you know the gypsies take a rather short alternate route? Yes, it’s via the wooden bridge only a couple of miles from your house.
You wouldn’t know that. And why is that so? Because you follow what the others do and do yourself no good resultantly.
What does this short account hint at? Probably not my story-telling abilities!
Ask yourself! Aren’t you in a race for CSS, trying against all odds to make it to the other side of this enigmatic valley? For sure, yes!
Are you certain if you or the other aspirants are preparing for the exam the right way? Well, not so sure!
This uncertainty and indecisiveness with regard to the method of preparation propels you to adopt the very course your fellow aspirants do. This may be done in peer pressure. But is it worth it? Surely not or you would have definitely witnessed better results each year with an ever-increasing number of CSS academies and a bundle of print publications for CSS preparation.
The examiner doesn’t get impressed with your answers because
- You cram and take concepts from the same reading material everyone else uses for preparation. Even the choice of words and terminologies becomes redundant and banal.
- The material in the publications for CSS by various private institutes and academies is outdated and shares just one perspective that turns out to be quite dogmatic.
- Readers imitate their teachers and instructors in their pressure.
- Aspirants fear sharing novel or personal intakes lest their answers don’t match the conventional approaches.
Hold your horses, pasl! All is not lost yet. There obviously are some tricks to help you out here:
- Never dread penning down your personal perspectives and opinions. That’s exactly what the examiners are interested in knowing.
- Think out of the box but really from within your personal and unique experiences! Don’t copy answers from your reference books and magazines. Read and formulate decisive opinions on your own.
- If you think you can’t produce new or unique ideas, try adopting novel approaches with revised methods of argument building. This will bring in the touch of individuality the examiners ask for.
3. Incoherence – Lack of Proper Structure
You may sprawl the paper with thousands of extraordinary words, exquisite expressions and distinctive jargon. That surely accounts for your extensive reading. But when it’s time to organize your answer into a comprehensive form, you’re stuck!
You think everything will go fine if following structure embodies your answer:
- An introduction, expose
- Breakdown of paragraphs in long answer questions
- Each paragraph starting with a topic sentence and encapsulating only one theme
- A conclusion summarizing your argument (mostly starting with the ever-favourite “in a nutshell”)
We have been taught this is the proper structure of attempting any paper since childhood. Isn’t that so? So, despite following this method, what is left that doesn’t impress the examiner?
The incoherence! In the entire answer and aslo, within paragraphs, there is a noticeable lack of structure or binding force.
How does it occur?
This disparity in content and form of the answer stems out of the incomprehensive research of the candidate.
Is there any way to avoid this? There always exists a solution, folks!
Once you convince yourself for carrying out proper research, there are a couple of tasks to do:
- Make organized and meaningful notes. Copy them again in this manner with proper form once you’re done with all the reference study. The sequential approach will make your responses in the exam quite meaningful and structured.
- Study both the topic and its criticism/critique by eminent writers and researchers in order to formulate a balanced inventory of all the dimensions a topic covers.
- Adopt an opinion and stick to it. Don’t play the smart guy with a neutral stance because there is a greater chance you’ll be unable to differentiate diplomacy from indecisiveness and having no opinion of your own.
- Practise extensively under supervision of an experienced scholar, fellow aspirant or a teacher. Without rectification, there seldom exists any chance of improvement in writing.
4. Careless Attitude of Candidates
This is quite a subjective undertaking. How does the checker assess a candidate’s attitude, his/her level of commitment to the services and a claim to a proficient understanding of all the subjects he chooses?
The sobriety and commitment of the candidates reflects in their argument building. If this is done with a mental calm, a proper form and a relevance to the questions asked, then the examiner believes in the genuineness and authenticity of the argument. If not, you’re in hot water because the only thing that impresses the examiners is if your responses radiate that you care and that too, care enough!
Aspirants should pay heed to the below-mentioned suggestions if they wish to tackle this issue:
- Take your time, in preparation as well as in attempting the exams. Time and energy investment will bring out the desired results.
- Teach yourself that CSS is not merely for power attainment but primarily for public service. This will appeal to your emotions on a deeper level and push you to do more! (only in the right sense, of course)
- Align your individual interests with the public interests and everything will make sense to you. You’ll start caring more.
5. Lexical Errors
This is the most easily targeted and singled out flaw the examiners discuss in their reports. This may include
- Grammatical errors
- Wrong use of tense
- Subject-verb disagreement
- No or wrong capitalization
- Not writing in the 3rd person pronoun
- Use of modal verbs like should and must that are more imposing than suggestive
- Wrong diction/jargon
- Aspirants usually are unaware of the specialized jargon (diction or choice of words) of every specific subject and tend to assimilate them in the exams of every subject
E.g. using the jargon of a technical field of study in a literature exam.
- Imposed and sometimes unnecessary use of wrong synonyms for common words.
- Spelling Mistakes
- Exercise books can help a lot but only credible ones e.g. Oxford Practice Grammar (by John Eastwood) and English Grammar in Use (by Raymond Murphy)
- Practise short paragraphs covering the topics studied in a day
- Read thoroughly keeping in notice all the spellings and sentence structures used in a piece. Exposure and a keen observation and way better than cramming rules of grammar and lexicon.
6. Errors in English Essay
According to the examiner’s reports of the present decade, this is the subject most dreaded and unimpressively attempted by the candidates. In 2016, for instance, 81% candidates failed this paper. Following errors were projected in the essays by the examiners:
- Bias between the attempting patterns of subjective and objective topics. For instance, topics requiring a huge input of personal stances (like poverty in Pakistan, martial law – a threat to freedom of expression etc.) were attempted rather well because lesser statistical references were required for these. Contrarily, objective/universal topics (as deforestation and climate change calling for immediate global action etc.) were attempted half-heartedly due to lack of extensive research, crammed knowledge and monotonous approach and viewpoints.
- Substandard structure was adopted to attempt the essay. No rules and regulations with regard to form coinciding with content were observed in the attempts.
- Absence of cohesion and coherence.
- No focus or attention observed in the essays.
- Grammatical errors
Though the exam seems difficult to be prepared, some tricks and tips will certainly help you out:
- Practice all the topics with equal interest and respect.
- Research thoroughly and keep in view resources to quote in the paper.
- Grammatical and semantic errors can be avoided by practicing and writing exercises in grammar books and getting them checked with caution by authentic resources.
- Formulate a layout for your essay by sparing 15 to 20 minutes at the start of the exam. This will save you from last-minute panic attacks and lack of cohesion in the form of the essay.
7. Errors in English Precis and Composition
The biggest folly lies in not knowing the meaning of precis at all and confusing it with paraphrasing and a cliched summary. The standard one-third is mostly ignored by the aspirants. Relativity and originality is a bygone concept in precis where candidates take a liberty with the wrong spellings and lexical choices.
- Candidates need to learn the significance of brevity of words in the precis by practicing a great deal.
- Examples, statistics and extra details are extracted right away from the precis.
- Lexical, semantic and grammatical mistakes can be avoided by using sentence structures and word choices that are simpler and well-known tot the candidate.
- HEC shall take some steps to study and keep a check on English Language Proficiency in Pakistan.
8. Errors in General Knowledge (Current Affairs and Pakistan Affairs)
“Oh, who doesn’t know how to attempt or prepare for this paper? We’ve been studying this since grade 1! Who doesn’t know about Pakistan? It’s our country. We know everything about it! Off with any flaws or suggestions!”
These are probably the remarks whirling in your brain! But behold! There’s more to the picture!
The candidates claim to have a wider knowledge of the country generally. But when presented with a query or scenario requiring some serious thoughts or their suggestions, they’re at their wit’s ends as to how the subject needs to be approached.
With no genuine concern or reverence for the international and national affairs, candidates usually bring forward no constructive suggestions that might be of national interest.
Think about it! Do you indulge in the blame game when presented with a global or native concern or do you generally feel inclined to grope for a solution to the problems?
The former is obviously more convenient!
- Guide book based information and crammed perspectives can be avoided through meaningful debates among aspirants and colleagues.
- Newspapers, magazines and research articles should be read on a daily basis and the contentious topics followed side by side for better insights.
- The Internet should be the last resort to study from.
9. Errors in Islamic Studies
Again, a topic considered very domestic but producing many failed attempts nevertheless. Pakistanis possess a very superficial understanding of their state religion because of two reasons:
- The educational institutions consider teaching religions as an extremist act and therefore, avoid doing it to the core.
- The Maulvi paradigm is so shady and unreliable here that the grave issues are best left undiscussed for fear of being labeled as a foreign agent or blasphemous or atheist, whom no one pays any heed.
Debating over sensitive issues in contemporary Islam is altogether avoided due to these reasons. Resultantly, what we produce for the examiners is a vague and unclear stance over our religion wrapped up in fear and dread.
- Authentic Islamic books and sane scholars shall be consulted for any ambiguous topics found in the syllabus.
- Original sources shall be quoted for accentuating novel dimensions in contemporary and primitive debates.
- Orthodox approaches for answers and counter-arguments shall be avoided for creating originality in responses. Be bolder! There ain’t that big a harm in it!
10. Errors in Major Religions
Although being an interesting area of research and debate, candidates take this paper for granted and this attitude then seeps into the papers as well. Historical reasons behind religious movements are entirely absent from the answers making every claim irrelevant and unreliable or at least unchronological.
- Don’t dodge the historical accounts of the religions (how were their decrees received by people living conditions of people for whom the prophets were sent, socio-economic trends, etc). These will help you memorize the religions and their commandments in a meaningful manner.
- Indulge in debates with people of different faiths for an intimate insight into their religions and their scripture studies. This works best for answering questions based on inter-religious harmony in Pakistan.
We may go on forever with tales of redemption but in the end, what matters the most is your dedication and determination to work on your flaws and find the right path to success.
So, keep your feet firm on the ground and face your follies and fancies with all the courage you can find in your journey!
Good luck, future aspirants!
Source: FPSC CSS Examiner Reports