Many of the books I consulted for my preparation were published by JWT Publications. Very pertinent to mention is the monthly Jahangir’s World Times; it is immensely helpful for CSS preparation. I recommend it to all aspirants.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): Please tell us about your educational background?
Muhammad Asif Nawaz (MAN): I did my matriculation from Army Burn Hall College, Abbottabad, followed by FSc (Premedical) from Pakistan International Public School and College in the same city. I, then, did MBBS from Ayub Medical College, Abbottabad.
JWT: As you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
MAN: The opportunities the PAS carries for effective work and service, along with the vertical and horizontal mobility! I have heard there is never a dull day.
JWT: How much helpful did you find Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) during your preparation for CSS exam?
MAN: I found JWT immensely helpful during exam preparation. Many of the books I consulted for my preparation were published by JWT Publications. Very pertinent to mention is the monthly Jahangir’s World Times; it is immensely helpful for CSS preparation. I recommend it to all aspirants.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MAN: Knowing the right tricks to attempting the paper is the key to success in the written portion. A number of individuals who appear in CSS examination have impressive loads of knowledge stacked neatly in their heads. The difference is made by effectively translating that on the actual answer sheet. It is a competitive exam, you have to attract the examiners to read your answers and grade you accordingly.
MAN: Yes, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring; but I had decided not to worry about such details while preparing for the exam. You need to be confident in what and how you have studied; and in that sense, my strategy was pretty much similar for both compulsory and optional subjects. Building the process upon your knowledge and being content with it is evidently more important than dwelling irrationally upon the scoring trends. Sometimes, optional subjects may also yield really bad scores. So, being finicky is pointless.
JWT: How answers should be written to get good marks?
MAN: It is easier said than done, but be neat with your handwriting. It is also very important to invite the examiner to pay attention to your paper amidst the heaps they receive. Putting in a lot of headings always works. Garnish your answer with an ample dose of quotes, graphs, maps and statistics. Go back to the basics of using two colours: black and blue. And underlining your headings and drawing some margins never garnered a complaint from anyone!
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
MAN: Depending upon your writing speed and the size of your handwriting, devise a minimum length of answers. I never followed the word count religiously; there would be gaping imbalance between the lengths of different answers in the same paper; but as one question carries 20 marks, make it a point to write, at least, four pages per answer.
JWT: How did you structure your Essay? And, what was your strategy for Précis and Composition Paper?
MAN: I followed a standard procedure of drafting an essay. There are various, and you can choose the one that suits you best. Selection of the right topic is a critical point. Make one rough outline of the topic you intend to write on, and see if it works. In case of the affirmative, start writing your essay with the preformed ideas, redoing and restructuring them, as needed. Finally, make the final outline in the light of what you have actually written. And, remember: there are no headings in an essay.
As for Précis and Comprehension, I found this paper quite doable. True, some questions in this paper are quite difficult, but the easier ones make up for that.
It’s probably the high failure rate and the stress level associated with these papers that take heavy toll on the candidates. I would surely ask you to get your essays and Précis checked by a professional.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his preparation?
MAN: It is a very individualistic exam. So, it is important to do some introspection and judge your current standing before starting with the preparation. This also gives you an idea of your requirement of the time needed for preparation. If you know your basic weak points, work on them right away. And eventually come to preparing holistically, following the official syllabus. There’s nothing in CSS you cannot do; just some personalised planning and approach are the right way to go about it.
My Tips on: Selection of optional subjects
Some people go with scoring trends. It may be important, but I did not follow the path. Just pick the subjects you think are appealing to you – better if you have some prior knowledge of these. It is also wise to take up subjects with limited syllabus and those that overlap with others.
A very personal choice; some do it, some don’t. I gathered some juicy bits of information about my subjects, especially the volatile and/or unmissable parts, and jotted them down. Revising these would actually form the gist of my preparation.
Some subjects need to be revised often while others are more suited to your long-term memory. Revising optional subjects is the easier part since the syllabus for those is limited. The preparation for compulsory subjects often leaves little time for revision, and their preparation may go all the way to the examination hall. Just revise the vital bits of a subject before the exam, you can fill in on the explanatory and analytical parts of the answer with the knowledge you have already gathered.
Some Tips for Interview
1. When you are given a compliment by any member of the panel, spice it up with a humble smile.
2. The highest point in an interview is when you get to educate the panel. If they ask you something that is your forte, don’t let the opportunity go. Cling to it unless you are out of words (or breath). It not only creates an impression on the panel that you know “your” stuff, it also gives you a lot of confidence.
3. When they express a liking for something, hold your ground. Just because they like something, it’s doesn’t mean you need to turn liquid and go with their views. Always be honest, they appreciate it as well.
4. Sometimes you need to smartly outplay them, sometimes you need to flatter.
5. If the situation and temperature allow, do a little bit of comedy. Laughter never killed anyone.
My advice for fresh aspirants
I personally believe that we are all destined to do different things in our lives. Passing or not passing the CSS examination can neither be what defines you, nor can it be the end of the world. Just dive into this process of learning and experiencing, and make it worthwhile for yourself. Great things await you anyway!