Cracking the CSS (Central Superior Services) exam is the most coveted and cherished dream of almost every person who is in search of social recognition, power, prestige, authority, and a financially stable future. But clearing the CSS Exam is considered a hard nut to crack. In this write-up, we will discuss some viable strategies for CSS preparation.
The CSS exam usually takes place in the month of February every year against a very few seats almost around 260 and thousands of candidates in Pakistan compete to grab those vacant positions and make their way to the prestigious civil services of Pakistan.
However, when a candidate newly steps into this field, at first he gets befuddled as to what should be done, how should the preparation be started, what course should be followed, etc. In this short write-up, we will untangle this mystery.
If you are a novice in this field, you should first know the nitty-gritty of this exam. In the CSS exam, there are in total 12 subjects, out of which six are compulsory subjects, and six are optional. The total marks for the written exam are 1200, 600 from compulsory and 600 from optional respectively. To clear the written part, a candidate must secure 600 marks in aggregate out of 1200 marks.
The compulsory subjects in the CSS exam are:
- English Essay (100 marks)
- English Precis and Composition (100 marks)
- General Science and Ability (100 marks)
- Current Affairs (100 marks)
- Pakistan Affairs (100 marks)
- Islamiat (100 marks)
To clear the written part, a candidate must secure 40 percent marks in English Essay, English Precis and Composition, and Islamiat; while to clear GSA, Current Affairs, and Pakistan Affairs, a candidate must secure 40 percent marks in aggregate. For optional subjects, a candidate must secure 33 percent marks from each optional subject.
A candidate has a great variety of subjects arranged in different groups for optional subjects, and one can opt for one subject per group. The optional subjects must be chosen in order to make 600 marks in total. To see the subject groups, please visit the FPSC Official Website.
One must select the optional subjects wisely by taking into consideration one’s aptitude, liking, taste, academic background, and the past years’ scoring trends.
Now, the real question is how to prepare for CSS Exam, or how to crack the CSS Exam!!
The most commonly asked question is ‘can a person prepare for the CSS exam without joining any academy?’ The answer is a big ‘YES!’
There are plenty of examples of people who prepared at home and cracked the CSS exam. Miss Shanza Faiq (the topper of CSS 2018) is the most glaring example. There are numerous other prominent CSPs who have cleared CSS and got allocations in their desired groups without joining any academy.
All you need to have is a proper guideline and the right resources at hand. I agree that academies do provide guidelines. But, why waste time and money for academies when you have internet and plenty of other resources today for guidelines!
Following are some prerequisites or guidelines for you if you are looking for a smart approach for CSS preparation.
Improve your English
Firstly, you should know that barring Islamiat (a choice of language between English and Urdu is given in this paper), the exam/paper of all the subjects is taken in the English language. So, in order to clear the subjects, one must have a sound grip over the English language. Mainly, your English grammar and sentence structure must be immaculate. Your vocabulary must be built enough to convey your thoughts and knowledge to the examiner. You must avoid spelling mistakes in your paper. Without having a proper grip over English grammar and sentence structure, I’m afraid you would flunk the subjects even if you have a good command of the specific subjects.
Here, a question arises as to how to learn or improve the English language!!
Develop a habit of reading. Be an avid reader to be successful. As a beginner, you should start by reading English newspapers, some books like English novels, Magazines. Here, I know confusion is arising in your mind and I must address that before moving further. Why should we read English novels and waste time when there are a lot of other subjects to prepare in such a short time span? Well, do not spend more than 30 minutes or an hour in English novels. Just read two to three pages and finish the novel in a month. This will improve your English language and add to the vocabulary as well as break the monotony of preparation. A simple hack to get command over English is to read, read, and read….then try writing a few paragraphs on the topic of your own choice in English. Keep reading, and see the difference within months.
Reading newspapers will also help you in other subjects. You can partially prepare your Essay Paper, Pakistan Affairs, Current Affairs, and International Relations by reading newspapers daily. Moreover, this will also help you in developing analytical skills and would enable you to critically analyze the situation. See, how the newspaper is going to help you in multitudinous ways to crack CSS Exam…!
To learn essay writing for any competitive exam, read this article.
Now, let’s talk about how to prepare the English Precis and Composition paper.
Mainly, there are the two most difficult areas in this paper; English vocabulary and Precis Writing.
The English vocabulary is asked in objective paper cum idioms and phrases in the subjective paper of CSS English Precis and Composition. A quick hack is to prepare by making notes of the past 5 to 10 years CSS papers, especially ‘the synonyms and antonyms, and the idioms and phrases’. (In my case I prepared the synonyms and antonyms, and the idioms and phrase from 1985 onwards for this subject)
Precis writing is easier and there is nothing to worry about it. Solve the precis paragraphs from the past papers in the proper way. To know the essential of precis writing, read this article.
How to Write an Answer in CSS Exam?
The paper presentation matters a lot in any exam. As you are going to communicate with the examiner indirectly only through the answer sheet, make sure your answer sheet leaves a positive impression on the examiner. The following points must be followed in order to write answers in your CSS exam in an effective way:
- Never compromise on neatness.
- Use a black or blue pointer or marker for headings, and a highlighter to highlight the information you do not want the examiner to skip.
- Start your answer with an introduction, showing the examiner that you have understood the question and now setting a stage for an answer.
- For the 20 marks question, 4 – 5 pages are more than enough.
- The most important foundation of the answer that underpins your arguments or analysis is the theories. Always Justify your answer on the basis of theories. Every subject of CSS has some specific theories that are usually highlighted in the syllabus too. For example, different theories of Feminism in Gender Studies, International Relations has its own theories i.e. Realism, Liberalism, etc. Similarly, Sociology and Criminology are based on their own theories. Always support your answer with the relevant theories. Devoid of theories, your answer will carry no weight.
- Make maps, diagrams, charts, or graphs where you deem important as they will assist the examiner in checking the answer, and ultimately you will be awarded good marks.
Work Smartly | Prefer Smart-work over Hard-work
Preparing without planning will lead you nowhere. You should follow the 80:20 formula, which focuses on 80 percent planning and 20 percent execution.
Before you start the CSS preparation, you should be very clear about the resources for preparation. You must arrange the books and reading material first. Be vigilant on every new development in the world because the examiner is surely going to ask that in the relevant subject. Read from diverse sources. Make google your friend in preparation as it provides you up-to-date knowledge and information. Do not rely on others’ notes, and make your own notes.
You must be very clear about the remaining subjects to the remaining days’ ratio. Make a clear timeline and prepare the subject in accorded deadline.
Moreover, analyze the pattern and trend of the questions from the past paper and prepare accordingly in a smart way.
The time-management is a very important factor in CSS Exam. Saying this based on personal experience, without proper allocation of time to questions and without appropriate writing speed, you would find it really hard to attempt all the questions in a given time period of 3 hours.
For that, be very selective about your writing material and must do some writing practice beforehand. Hence, learning time-management is an important strategy for CSS preparation.
‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’
FPSC has enlisted a number of recommended books for CSS preparation for each subject. However, personally, I don’t think reading those books is a necessary precondition to prepare for CSS. Moreover, somehow it is also a fact that not a single book among those enlisted covers the whole syllabus. Please understand, I am not denying the value and importance of those books. It is obvious that reading them will considerably increase your knowledge bank and improve your grip over the particular subject.
The thing is you will have to utilize diverse sources for preparing the whole syllabus. Do not expect that one book will cover the whole syllabus. Also, not necessarily reading the recommended books are mandatory. Prepare from any source you feel comfortable with.
Examiner Reports of a few CSS exams are available on the official FPSC website. Go through the reports and learn what is actually demanded by a candidate and where a candidate lags. Those reports will be helpful for you in determining a sound strategy to kick-start your CSS preparation.
Be Financially Stable or Independent
Though this heading is slightly irrelevant to the topic under discussion, before investing your years for CSS, make sure that you are either financially independent or your family is financially stable to support you in this cause. Given the precarious economic situation of the country and bleak chances of success in the CSS Exam, one must have some option B in hand. It isn’t wise at all to put all the eggs in one basket.
Stay Calm and Composed | Do not Panic
Allah says in Qur’an, ‘Man gets whatever he strives for’.
Moreover, our belief is ‘we get what is best for us’. Indeed, Allah is the best planner.
This should be our firm belief. Struggle without pressure and you will surely get through. Put your faith in Allah and keep praying along with preparation.
As the CSS journey is nerve-wracking, learn to handle the pressure and try to stay calm, because, under pressure, our performance plummets.
Also, the passing ratio in CSS Exam is not more than 3 percent on average. So, try your luck and do not worry as it is not the end of life.
To cap it all, keep yourself abreast of all the latest happenings and development in the world. Focus on your English language. Also, develop analytical skills to crack the CSS Exam. Moreover, work on your writing speed and neatness as paper presentation matters. Lastly, give your best and leave the rest to the Almighty.
I hope I have been successful in explaining the basics of CSS preparation. In case I have missed out on some important points, or you still have some doubt – feel free to contact me using the contact form.