Cracking The CSS Reforms


Answering all queries in aspirants’ minds

Changes in CSS Exam

The Federal Public Service Commission on 16th of April 2015 notified the revised scheme and syllabi for the CSS Competitive Examination 2016, and onwards. The announcement has stirred up a hot debate among the CSS aspirants on the impact of these changes that is far more than only a procedural change of exam. With the stated objective of these changes being the need to align the subjects and syllabi for CSS exam — which were last revised in 1981 — with emerging global trends, and netting highly talented new individuals for the Civil Service, the FPSC came up with what appears to be a little more than mere reshuffling of optional subjects.

Demand for Reforms

Competitive Examination, popularly known as CSS exam, is undoubtedly the most sought after examination in Pakistan, with thousands of aspirants appearing in it each year. Aspirants from all over the country dedicate — after graduation — their three to five precious years to preparing for this prestigious exam. However, the monotonous trend that persisted without any significant change over decades had led to emergence of formula-type studies on the part of aspirants whereby they mostly relied on rote learning in order to obtain higher scores. The scheme of optional subjects had also been under severe criticism as most candidates preferred to appear in so-called ‘high-scoring’ subjects. Each year, during the interview process, FPSC would seek opinions of written-qualified candidates regarding changes they would like to see in the exam. Most candidates had criticized the discriminatory marking of optional subjects’ papers that adversely affected the final scores of numerous talented candidates who had opted for the “low-scoring” subjects. A number of educationists as well as analysts had also pointed out flaws in the outdated subjective system that tacitly promoted rote learning. Thus, it was expected that FPSC would come up with concrete reforms to realign the syllabi and overhaul the examination system to assess the true potential of candidates.

CSs-Reforms-1Let us now dissect the announced changes separately. While analyzing the changes, I would suggest some books also so that the students may start their preparations without wasting any time.

According to revised scheme of subjects, the aspirants of CSS Competitive Examination are required to attempt papers of 1200 marks in compulsory and optional subjects.


Some major and some minor yet significant changes that are bound to affect every candidate have been introduced by the FPSC in the syllabi for Compulsory subjects.

i. Uncertainty of English Essay

In the Essay paper, the FPSC has said that ‘candidates will be required to write one or more Essay in English’ from the given ‘wide choice of topics’. However it is not clear whether the essay to be written will be ‘one’ or ‘more’. However, the deletion of short essay from Précis and Composition paper has left the candidates confused as they have no idea as to how to treat two or more essays, if asked to write on, in one paper as short essay is very different in style and composition from a long essay. This equivocal change has left candidates guessing as to what strategy they should adopt to prepare for this most important paper.

Suggested Books: Top 30 Essays by Zahid Ashraf; Book of Essays by Col. Zahoor-ul-Haq

CSs-Reforms-2ii. Some Changes in Précis and Composition

This paper also has undergone some significant changes. Apart from deletion of short essay, marks of Précis question have been reduced to 20. Moreover, Urdu-into-English translation has been added wherein “Ten short Urdu sentences involving structural composition, significant terms and figurative/idiomatic expressions shall be given, to be accurately translated into English.” Pairs of Words will now need to be first defined and then used in sentences to differentiate their meanings. Grouping of (dis)similar words is also a new addition while 20 marks have been reserved for Grammar and Vocabulary part to test candidates’ abilities for “correct usage of Tense, Articles, Prepositions, Conjunctions, Punctuation, Phrasal Verbs, Synonyms and Antonyms, etc.”

Suggested Books: To the Point English and Discovering the World of English by Test Prep Experts; Discovering the World of Vocabulary by Adeel Niaz

iii. EDS becomes GSA

The favourite yet the dreadful subject of Everyday Science (EDS) has also been no exception and it has now been renamed as General Science & Ability (GSA). The Science part of the paper has been reduced to 60 marks; its syllabus, however, has been more elaborately defined. Some topics have been updated in Food Sciences and Information Technology sections.

For 40 marks of the General Abilities Part of GSA paper, candidates should learn and regularly practice some basic mathematical concepts like simplification, fractions, algebra, ratio and proportion basic geometry, etc. Logical Reasoning and Analytical Reasoning/Ability sections can only be mastered through regular practice. This part has basically been introduced to make the students solve “both complex and uncomplicated problems and concepts and making decisions that are sensible based on available information, including demonstration of the ability to apply logical thinking to gathering and analyzing information.”

It’s a welcome change especially for those having humanities background as it can help in enhancing one’s total score in this paper.

Suggested Books: To the Point General Science & Ability by Mian Shafiq; GAT General by Test Prep Experts

CSs-Reforms-3iv. General Knowledge Group Broken

The most crucial of all changes is the ‘presumed’ severance of the three General Knowledge papers. Previously, candidates were required to obtain at least 120 marks collectively out of 300 marks that the 3 GK papers i.e. EDS, Pakistan Affairs and Current Affairs, offered. In the new scheme, given the deletion of words ‘General Knowledge’ for all three papers, it seems that this facility has been revoked and now the candidates would have to secure at least 40 marks in each paper. It’s important especially for those who rely on EDS to make for any deficiencies in Current or Pakistan Affairs papers. Now, there’s no room for laxity and a comparatively lesser hard work in these papers.

v. Syllabi of Pakistan Affairs (PA) and Current Affairs (CA)

It’s the papers of Pakistan Affairs (PA) and Current Affairs (CA) in which the revision of syllabi has been the most conspicuous. Both these papers now have a remarkable focus on current issues. In CA, clear subdivision of marks has been given with three main sections: Domestic Affairs, External Affairs and Global Issues. In PA, the history part, especially Pakistan Movement has been substantially reduced and now there would be a greater emphasis on contemporary issues faced by Pakistan. Given the fact that every issue of Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) contains highly-informative articles on all such issues, it is, indubitably, the best choice to prepare for both these papers in a short time.

Suggested Books: Jahangir’s World Times (JWT); Quarterly Journal (QJ) Series; Pakistan & World Affairs by Shamshad Ahmad; To the Point Pakistan Affairs by Test Prep Experts

vi. Islamic Studies and Comparative Study of Major Religions

Although the syllabus for Islamic Studies has been widened, yet most of these new topics were already being frequently asked in CSS exams of recent years. However, in the new scheme, a sizeable weightage has been given to Islamic civilization and governance system as well. However, it has not been made clear whether the students will have to attempt paper in Urdu or English. However, since the syllabus has been drawn up in English language, there seems a strong tilt towards English For non-Muslim candidates, the alternative paper of “Comparative Study of Major Religions” has been introduced in lieu of Islamic Studies, with focus on five major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Suggested Books: Siraj Islamiat by Hafiz Arshad Iqbal Chaudhar; Fabric of Islam by Atta-ur-Rehman Khilji ; To the Point Islamiat by Test Prep Experts

CSs-Reforms-3vii. What about Objective (MCQs) Portion

After going through the groups of CSS optional subjects, we find Note-3 which reads, “The candidates should expect some objective type question (MCQ’s) in compulsory and optional papers.”

However, the exact allocation of marks for this portion has not been provided. So, it can be expected that the previous practice of 20 marks for objective part shall continue.


Keeping aside the changes in compulsory subjects, it’s the optional subjects where massive changes have been introduced.

I. Introduction of New Subjects

The most meaningful and substantial change is the introduction, in the optional papers range, of new subjects like Governance & Public Policies, Town Planning & Urban-Management, Gender Studies, Environmental Sciences, Criminology, and Anthropology. Owing to its great relevance to the civil services, there has been a growing demand that the subject of Governance and Public Policies be made a compulsory subject.

Inclusion of these modern and relevant subjects even in various optional subjects groups is a welcome change.

ii. Marks Reduced with Same/Enhanced Syllabi

The other most conspicuous change is that the marks of some subjects, erstwhile of 200 marks, have been reduced to 100 only but without any significant reduction in their voluminous syllabi. Surprisingly, in most cases, the content has been enhanced. The candidates who wanted to opt for Geography, British, Indo-Pak, Islamic and European histories, Law, Literature and science subjects shall now have to study more for half reward. Contrarily, marks of some subjects like Computer Science and International Relations have been enhanced to 200. However, marks of some subjects like Accountancy & Auditing, Economics, Political Science, Physics and Chemistry have not been reduced. This discrimination of subjects is beyond comprehension for most CSS aspirants. It is pertinent to mention here that the reduction in marks of ‘Law’ is not a wise move because during his/her whole career in Civil Service of Pakistan, an officer has to deal with all matters according to the laws of the country. Given its cardinal importance and considerable relevance to the civil service, it should have been made a compulsory subject. Nonetheless, this move warrants a serious thought on the part of policymakers in the FPSC.

iii. Regrouping of Optional Subjects

Perhaps the most controversial and debatable amendment to the revised scheme is the regrouping of optional subjects.

a. The Blue-eyed Groups I & II

The most noticeable aspect of this reshuffling has been the crucial Groups I & II combinations. Keeping in view the entire scheme, it becomes vividly clear that every aspirant MUST select at least 200 marks from one of these groups. This fact makes these groups all the more important but the subject combination given therein too becomes more questionable. One wonders as to what could be the rationale behind inclusion of the subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Applied & Pure Mathematics, Statistics, and Geology in the crucial Group I & II. How these subjects are relevant to public service that these have been rewarded with 200 marks?

Similarly, subjects of Accounting & Auditing, Economics, Computer Science, International Relations and Political Science have been placed together in Group I with 200 marks each. Again there seems no sense in combining these subjects as these are too dissimilar to be gathered in a single group. What makes these subjects superior to other subjects that have been ‘neglected’ in the new scheme? Remember it was the same discriminatory treatment of subjects — through marking — in the previous scheme that had been severely criticized and which led to a rising need for reforms. Adopting a new scheme with same discrimination towards optional subjects has put a question mark at the desired efficacy of these changes.

b. The Cruel Group VII

The most striking aspect of these changes is the ‘cruel’ placement of different subjects under one group among which a candidate can opt for 100 marks only. Journalism & Mass Communication, Psychology, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, Balochi, Persian and Arabic have been placed in Group VII. Yet again, totally different subjects from fields of science, medical science, social sciences, regional languages and literature have been grouped together. The only commonality among these subjects was that these were the favourite ones of most aspirants. Exam data of CE-2014 shows that a major chunk of candidates preferred opting for these subjects. Here is a look at the preferences of candidates appearing in CE-2014.

Isn’t it surprising that the top 5 most commonly opted for subjects of previous years have been grouped together with a restriction to select only one for only 100 marks?
It is clear that the FPSC has regrouped these subjects just to break the ‘trend’ that the candidates followed while opting for particular subjects. Is it fair for the FPSC to tell the candidates not to appear in some particular subjects while exhorting them to appear in others having no relevance to Civil Service? Only FPSC has the answers.

For reformists and serious candidates, these changes have been a disappointment, to say the least. A mere reshuffling of optional subjects wouldn’t bring any significant reform to serve the purpose of ‘netting high talent and quality fabric for the Civil Service’.

Impact & Response

The revised scheme attracted prompt response, mostly on the optional subjects, from all quarters. Many aspirants, who had been preparing for this exam for months and some even had finalized their preparations with enough confidence to appear in the upcoming CSS exam, felt disappointment and they are dejected at the sudden change of exam pattern. What compounds their despair is that these are just procedural changes favouring a few candidates over others and there is no objectivity or reformation behind these.

However, as discussed earlier, for CSS aspirants, there are other significant changes to cope with. Slight changes and revision of syllabi for compulsory subjects are certainly going to impact their studies. The uncertainty factor would definitely continue to haunt them during their preparations. Perhaps, it would take the upcoming CE-2016 to answer many a queries of hardworking CSS aspirants to start all over again.

Selection of Optional Subjects is the foremost task of CE-2016 aspirants. Many would be in a fix because of the debate on lengthy syllabi offered for 100 marks. They should rather focus on the content in syllabi and look for combinations that would strengthen their concepts for other subjects with similar topics. Those candidates who have already prepared for a subject should recheck the topics as they may need to make slight changes in their preparations.

Suggested Combinations

In the present scheme, over 90 percent candidates would be forced to appear in either Political Science or International Relations. Keeping in view the revised syllabi for Current as well as Pakistan Affairs, International Relations emerges as the most important subject as its preparation would complement these two compulsory papers as well. Similarly, Political Science now offers a good combination with British History and Constitutional Law. Candidates with Engineering or Physics background may find a useful combination in Physics, TP & UM, Environmental Sciences and Geography.

In recent years, aspirants have growing complains that papers are being made out of the specified syllabus. The revised syllabus is actually a representation of this paper trend. So, students should not panic rather they should continue preparing for the topics which have been asked in CSS exams of past 4-5 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *