In Conversation with
Uzair Ali Khan (PAS)
3rd in Pakistan; 1st in GBFATA, CSS 2019-20
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Uzair Ali Khan (UAK): I did my A Levels from Beaconhouse. I, then, joined LUMS from where I did my undergrad in Accounting and Finance, graduating with a high distinction.
JWT: Since you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
UAK: The horizontal mobility PAS offers, along with the chance to work directly in the field attracted me to this group. Serving in a variety of scenarios and positions helps one develop professionally.
UAK: A reading habit can provide a huge edge. Preparation for the written exam requires one to read widely and quickly, and then retain that information well. Therefore, if you already have a habit of reading regularly, your brain is already trained for the exam. You will be able to prepare faster, read more and thus have a deeper knowledge base.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
UAK: For all subjects, the strategy should be to make the best use of the Internet and your own research skills. Rather than relying only on one or two books, I made additional notes from the internet, whenever I felt that my knowledge about a particular topic was lacking.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
UAK: I think sticking to a routine during the written exam preparation, actively seeking guidance from seniors and mentors, and a degree of interest in my subjects helped me score well.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
UAK: The answers I wrote usually ranged between 5 and 7 pages; although in some cases I wrote a little less as well. The more important part is to make your answers visually appealing. I don’t have the best handwriting, so I relied on illustrations such as process maps, charts, graphs and diagrams. Furthermore, time management is key; there is no point in writing 8-10 sides for the first three questions and then writing just a side or two for the last one.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
UAK: No word limit! But make sure that you time yourself. My advice is to do a test run before the exam; sit alone in a room, and practice solving a full exam with a timer to reflect actual exam conditions. This will help you judge your own writing speed, how you deal with pressure and how much time you need to allocate for each question such that you can easily complete the full exam in time. Time management is very important and practicing before the exam can help you in many ways.
JWT: How did you structure your Essay?
UAK: For Essay, my mentors advised me that it is all about how you interpret, and then dissect a topic. My outlines consisted of a very brief introduction and a thesis statement, followed by main arguments. Then came the ‘way-forward’ section followed by ‘conclusion’.
For Précis and Composition paper, practice précis as much as you can and get your work reviewed by your study partner/teacher/friend. For composition, I looked through the 4000-word list but did not memorize them. You can also go through the idioms list, sentence correction rules, etc. and do practice exercises from any reputed book.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his/her preparations for CSS exam?
UAK: Start with either Science or Islamiat, while at the same time allocating some time each day for essay or composition preparation. Go through the syllabus carefully and ensure each topic is covered and nothing is missed out (unless you have the option to skip something). Focus on making your day productive, don’t over-exert. Dedicate some time each day to relax, and study with a calm, focused mind. In the initial month, while preparing for compulsories, keep researching what optional subjects you want to take. Discuss it with seniors, teachers and fellow aspirants. Most importantly, keep essay in focus because this is what makes or breaks your chances of passing the exam.
JWT: What areas should new aspirants focus while preparing for the CSS exam?
UAK: Essay should be the focus of all aspirants. Practice as much as you can. Practice does not necessarily mean writing full essays; even simply making outlines also helps. You can also simply discuss essay topics and ways to dissect and interpret them; such an exercise will sharpen your analytical skills that can help you on the day of the exam.
Selection of optional subjects
I took Accounting & Auditing and Business Administration because that is what I studied in university. This may be one way to select your subjects. The important thing is to find a balance between what you find interesting, and what you can study effectively. Some subjects may be very interesting but may take too much of your time to prepare, thus hampering your overall preparation.
Don’t rely on one book only. For each topic, do your own share of online research to get additional information and perspectives.
One way to revise is to make an even more simplified form of your notes by memorizing. This can be a bit time-consuming. The key thing about revision is to not be distracted. At times, it seemed like I could not remember a thing from what I studied, but the key is to remain persistent and keep going.
My interview began with questions on the Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill that had been recently passed. The conversation then moved to the rise of Hindutva and saffronisation in India. Conceptual questions from Anthropology (matrilineality and matriarchy) and Gender Studies (waves of feminism) were also discussed. Plenty of questions were asked about the Financial Crash of 2008, including the key players, causes and consequences. A few questions on Brexit were also asked. The interview was a great experience and I felt very comfortable. The key to success in interview is to maintain your composure.