How to Ameliorate CSS Exam


Renowned British statesman Sir Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” His words, indubitably, hold true to everything and to every field of life as improvement is a phenomenon that should never stop.

A change happened in Pakistan when in April 2015, the Federal Public Service Commission took the radical step of revising the syllabus for CSS exam. This was a highly welcome move and was hailed by everyone with a hope that it will be instrumental to recruiting only the talented and brilliant people as fresh blood to country’s bureaucracy. Notwithstanding its significance, it was just the beginning of a long reform process of ameliorating the CSS exam as it is not all about syllabus; other aspects of the exam like number of allowed attempts, pattern of question papers, etc., do also need attention of the policymakers.

In this write-up, various aspects of the CSS exam, with practical suggestions for its improvement, have been discussed briefly.

As we all know, CSS exam is basically three-layered — written exam, psychological assessment and viva voce — and each layer needs to be fine-tuned.

First of all, we take up the written part.

The written part of the CSS exam, over the years, has become a potpourri of some so-called trends. It is an oft-observed phenomenon that while choosing optional subjects, the first thing almost all aspirants consider is the ‘scoring trend’. It is because of this factor that subjects like Regional Languages, Geography, International Relations, etc. are opted by a vast majority of candidates while subjects like Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, etc., get utterly neglected. Also, many aspirants with background in literature or business studies end up in opting subjects like History, Journalism, etc. This tendency must be discouraged as it only promotes rote-learning. Moreover, the FPSC policymakers should consider the matter of changing the pattern of question papers because in the present scheme of things, candidates have to write some traditional answers in order to secure better marks. This kills their ability to analyze things deeply and find solutions thereupon. The principal focus should be on assessing the analytical abilities of the candidate, not the strength of his memory.

Rumours still are aplenty that the FPSC is going to conduct a screening test for CSS 2017 exam. The principal reason behind this could be the enhancement of age limit as it, definitely, will increase the number of aspirants. Although JWT, in principal, supports such a test because it can serve as a tool to sift only the serious candidates, yet what is more advisable is to make it more subjective in nature after the pattern of India’s Prelims wherein an aspirant has to appear in 2 papers — General Studies and Aptitude. We can imitate this model in Pakistan after tailoring it to our indigenous needs.

After the change of syllabus, there was a lot of gossip that a cluster-based examination system is going to be announced for CSS from 2017 by abolishing the existing generalised system. This idea was the brainchild of former Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Dr Ishrat Hussain, who recommended it for CSS for certain services because, in his opinion, in accounts and audit group certain officers became part of it who could not read out balance sheet. However, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the idea is, in effect, a distrust on the Specialized Training Programmes (STPs) — even for Pakistan Audit & Accounts Service (PAAS), it’s an 11-month-long training programme for the probationers through which the new officers are transformed into professionals and equipped with adequate knowledge of the principles and techniques of modern finance, accounting and auditing. So, instead of introducing a cluster-based exam, the STPs should be meliorated for it’s the STP where new officers are imparted the requisite skills to perform their duties efficiently and effectively.

Another ill that has plagued the whole CSS process since long is the quota system which is, undoubtedly, antonymous to merit. This system is discriminatory in nature as it deprives many really talented candidates of the opportunity to achieve their dreams. An analysis of the recent years’ data on allocation of successful candidates reveals that many successful candidates, especially from Punjab, could not get allocated despite securing high aggregates but many those who were far behind them in terms of marks actually won allocations. This practice must end now because in an increasingly digital Pakistan, almost all candidates have equal access to available sources of study. However, there is no harm in maintaining the status quo for only the minorities and the disabled candidates as they need to be encouraged to come into the mainstream.

Another good move can be the elimination of multiple choice questions (MCQs) which, barring English and General Science & Ability papers, consume one-fifth of the total marks of a paper. Preparing for MCQs requires only the memorization of some basic facts about a subject which is to the detriment of a candidate’s analytical skills.

Next comes the second layer i.e. Psychological Assessment which serves as a key to assessing a candidate’s abilities and skills. Moreover, this is the process by which the personality traits of a candidate and his aptitude for the civil service are assessed. This too needs improvement. Before this process starts, a candidate has to wait for 6-8 months after taking the written exam to find whether he has got through or not. This long wait can be cut short if FPSC makes arrangements for early announcement of the result. It is especially important because an inordinate delay in the announcement consumes nearly two precious years of a candidate’s life before he actually starts his job and earns something.

As regards the process of psychological assessment, the gravest matter of concern is that at the time of making final allocations, hardly any weight is given to the psychologists’ opinion. This imperils the prospects of selecting only the true civil servants. The FPSC should take extreme care that only the highly professional psychologists are taken on the panel and their opinions must also be given due weight while allocating the new officers to different groups.

On the other hand, psychologists should also perform their task with great care and being cautious that their opinion can build or destroy the future of a candidate. The whole process should be structured in such a way that the real inner self of a candidate comes out because with the current pattern there are many examples where even such people got allocated who would have been adjudged abnormal had there been a focus on exploring their hidden personalities.

Then comes the viva voce where FPSC panellists interact with each written-qualified candidate and interview them in order to judge their suitability for the civil service. It has been observed that most questions the honourable panellists ask are related to the subjects the candidate had opted for in the written part. It too needs to be changed. The worthy interviewers, instead of judging candidates’ knowledge on the subjects they had appeared in, should assess their actual mental capabilities. Let it be very clear that a civil servant is not supposed to teach others rather he is to serve them through efficient service delivery and solve their problems by employing his mental abilities. The worthy interviewers should try to elicit the interviewee’s opinion on matters related to the job he will be doing in the field.

Pakistan is mired in numerous problems and only an efficient and delivery-oriented bureaucracy can pull it out. The new officers that the FPSC recruits will be, in future, assisting the governments in policymaking processes with their best inputs. Moreover, being the policy-implementation arm of the government, the civil servants should be capable of extracting the maximum results from the policies in the best interest of the nation.

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