Focus on your ability to think critically and to apply the concepts you learn to real life.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Mohammad Murtaza (MM): I started school at Beaconhouse in Karachi. Later, in 2004, when my family shifted to Lahore, I moved to Aitchison College and after that attended LUMS for bachelors.
JWT: As you have been allocated to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), what was the feature of this service that attracted you most?
MM: The diversity of assignments and the ever-challenging nature of the job. Actually, PAS offers you a chance to be multidimensional. In my case, it is the best platform for me to contribute to public welfare with all my capabilities and skills.
JWT: How was your experience at the World Times Institute?
MM: I studied at World Times Institute for almost 6 months, including the 4½-month regular session and then the exclusive Super Class under the mentorship of Ms Fakhra. It was a huge pleasure and learning opportunity, especially as we met likeminded, passionate people and studied together.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MM: Don’t get too much tangled with the nitty-gritty. Your answer should be a holistic depiction of the overall issue. Also, make sure your arguments are clear and well-substantiated with facts, references and diagrams. Lastly, don’t just focus on past events. Your answers should be relevant, up-to-date and should also include your analysis on how this will affect the future.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
MM: I focused less on minute details and more on the bigger picture. I also made sure my answers were relevant to the present. Many aspirants put too much emphasis on the past. We need to change that approach and focus on the future.
JWT: What was the key to your phenomenal success?
MM: Friends. I was able to study with some of the smartest people and being in that company made me better equipped and more competitive. Academies like World Times Institute are a great forum for students to make such friendships.
Also, balancing my life during the preparation phase – with sports, leisure and academics balanced – helped me win. CSS is a marathon, not a sprint.
JWT: How answers should be written to get maximum marks?
MM: When you practice, read your answer and try to see it from an examiner’s perspective. If it is too text-intensive, boring, long and redundant, and doesn’t have diagrams/maps/flowcharts, or even the argument you made is not clear, you will not get good marks. Try to get your answers checked from random people and see if they understand it. A good answer should be understandable to all, easily.
JWT: Should there be some word limit kept in mind while writing answers?
MM: No. Write as much as you need to justify your views. However, maintain a balance between all four answers.
MM: My essay followed a fixed trajectory: Introduction (Opening + Thesis Statement) – Context – Exposition – Authority – Analysis – Conclusion. This allowed me to present my arguments clearly and coherently.
MM: I balanced my life. You cannot study for 6 months without a break. Sometimes, your spirit is low, sometimes it is high. Try to keep that balance and make friends that will make your journey a real fun.
JWT: How a new aspirant should start his/her preparation?
MM: Join an academy to seek proper guidance. If you can’t do that, take the syllabus from FPSC’s website and start studying on every subject one by one.
JWT: What areas should (s)he focus while preparing for the CSS exam?
MM: Focus on your ability to think critically and to apply the concepts you learn to real life.
My tips on: Selection of optional subjects
There is no perfect selection because high-scoring subjects are more time-intensive whereas easier subjects are usually low-scoring. Try to do what you like to do or you are capable of doing. Balance your time: take a few high-scoring, lengthy subjects and a few easy, though low-scoring, ones.
I used to make notes on my laptop as it is quite easy to review and alter those.
Do not study anything new after 14th of January – around a month before the actual exam. Have your notes ready by then along with the lists of things, concepts or names that you want to memorise.
My Advice for fresh aspirants
Be confident, be relaxed. You’re more precious than this exam. Only take it if you want to, not because you’re forced.
My Interview Experience
The interview is not a test of your knowledge alone; it largely focuses on your personality. Make sure that you are confident, smiling and self-aware. The best part of my interview was when the panel asked me questions on my personality, my subjects and my interests. For example, my favourite book is Nuskha Hai Wafa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Coming from an Urdu-speaking family, I was well prepared to answer any questions on that book; however, the panellists asked me if I was aware of any Punjabi poems of Faiz. This could have been a tricky question, but thankfully I recalled one such poem that I had randomly read (titled ‘Rabba Sachiya’). The panel was pleasantly surprised to hear my Punjabi recitation and that particular interviewer did not ask me any questions after that.
I got 238 marks, even though I had gotten my first five questions wrong, because I stayed calm and in persona.