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A Complete Guide to Prepare CSS/PMS Competitive Examination

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By Muhammad Asim Jasra (PSP)

CSS?PMS is the most cherished dream of the educated youth as far as their academic-cum-professional pursuits are concerned. This brief writing will cover vital aspects of preparation for the CSS examination.

Why CSS/PMS?  

Here are a few of the factors that attract a large number of aspirants to the competitive arena.

  • Recognition
  • Role in the decision-making
  • Service delivery
  • Perks and privileges
  • Horizontal and vertical mobility 
  • Service structure

1. Appropriate subject selection

Subject selection is the fundamental decision that has a direct bearing on the success of any aspirant. The following points are to be kept in mind while selecting the subjects:

  • Certain subjects are primarily considered self-taught or general subjects without background knowledge or academic qualification. For example, Political Science, Criminology, Gender Studies, Punjabi (and other regional languages), History of Pakistan and India, and Public Administration. In such subjects, opinions and analysis of the aspirant are required. These subjects are recommended because they are comparatively easy to comprehend and are rated as higher on the scoring trend or potential.
  • Certain technical subjects can only be with a relevant academic background, for example, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Computer Science, Botany, Zoology, and the like. Even candidates with appropriate academic qualifications find it challenging to cover the syllabus and secure good marks. These subjects are not recommended as they consume much precious time with less time left for the preparation of remaining subjects and do not give a good score.

2. Reading

Reading becomes the lifestyle of a CSS aspirant. It is very much imperative to inculcate the reading habit in oneself. Please keep in mind the following points related to reading. 

  • Real only the relevant material. The art lies in knowing what to read and, more importantly, what not to read. There is a lot of information available on a single topic. It is necessary to apply the filter of relevance to what you read in light of the questions asked in the previous papers. One has to define and restrict the scope of reading on a given topic. Otherwise, it will not be easy to cover the syllabus. For example, you may find several books on globalization; reading all these books on a single topic may take months and years. For this reason, one should know what to read and what not to read.
  • While reading, one should be mentally alert to note the following important information to support one’s arguments.
    • Concepts
    • Quotations / Famous sayings
    • Proverbs 
    • Excerpts
    • Comparisons
    • Data/figures
    • Examples 
    • Case studies
    • Findings of Surveys 
    • Reports
    • Theories
  • Read and make notes. Reading without making notes does not pay you much.
  • Arouse your curiosity and read to search for the answers to your questions. What you read should stir your thoughts and produce original ideas.
  • It is always the best practice to think in terms of questions. Draft questions while reading. It is a kind of reverse learning. What you read should be the answer to some questions. Make notes of questions in the course of reading.
  • Read with care and appreciation. Read critically. Make your comment on the column of the book or the reading material. Put question marks where a question arises in your mind.
  • Make frequent use of the dictionary in the course of reading.
  • If you start loving to read books, books will become a fortress that will protect you from hours of loneliness and boredom.  
  • Neither any entertainment is so cheap nor any pleasure so lasting as reading.

3. Using dictionary 

It is advised that one should consult a dictionary frequently in the course of reading. One should consult a dictionary whenever one confronts an unfamiliar word or phrase. The reader should ascertain the meanings of the family of words (may also be called derivatives of one word) instead of one word and grasp the implications of all the words belonging to that family. For example, Act is one word. The following terms constitute its family or are called derivatives: Act of God, acting, action, actionable, action group, action-packed, activate, active, active list, active service, activist, activism, activity, actor, and actress. This practice will enable the reader to enhance his vocabulary in a single consultation. 

In addition to looking for the meaning of the specific word, one should read sentences given in the dictionary to elaborate on the use of the word in sentences. This would further clarify the meaning and nature of words, i.e., nouns, adjectives, verbs, and proverbs.  

There is another term called phrasal verbs, in which a single verb followed by different prepositions implies different meanings. Take the example of ‘Look.’ The following phrases are derived from the single verb that means other. 

  • Be looking to do something
  • Look him up and down
  • You are not looking at yourself today
  • Never look back
  • To look at him, you would never think he was old
  • Look after
  • Look ahead
  • Look around
  • Look at something
  • Look back on your childhood
  • Look into
  • Lookout
  • Lookup

I know it is very laborious and tedious to consult a dictionary whenever one confronts a complex or unfamiliar word. However, one should keep the following quote in mind.

“The more trouble you endure, the greater reward you have.”

The CSS aspirant should display this quotation in front of his study desk to have a constant and unending supply of motivation during the preparation. 

One may maintain a vocabulary register to note difficult words and their use in sentences.

Ascertaining the relevance of what you read

It has already been highlighted that sticking to the relevant reading material is very significant. For this purpose, the following two documents will help you determine the relevance of the reading material to the CSS syllabus.

  • FPSC syllabus: It gives an idea of broader outlines or topics.
  • Past papers: They help identify the specific aspect of any more general topic that is essential. 

For example, the first topic in the syllabus of Current Affairs is ‘Pakistan’s domestic Affairs- Political, Social and Economic.’ The following question related to the syllabus outline above has been asked in the Current Affairs Paper of 2021.

Question: Most of the major political parties have committed to the creation of new provinces in Pakistan. Should new provinces be created or not in Pakistan? Elaborate your answer by giving references from the recent province debate.

This question from the 2021 paper on current affairs suggests that creating new provinces that fall in the category of Pakistan’s domestic political affairs is essential. 

This way, one can have a fair idea of different vital aspects of a broader topic. I will not suggest that one should confine one’s preparation to past papers only. Instead, I want to point out that aspirants should prepare a CSS syllabus in light of past papers. 

4.Critical thinking

There are no two opinions about the fact that thinking is the basis of all knowledge and learning. The candidate should be able to improvise one’s ability according to the questions asked in the CSS papers, which require critical thinking or a personal opinion of the candidate supported by solid examples and arguments. The factor distinguishing the CSS examination from other examinations is that the candidates must attempt the questions based on their critical thinking. For example, read the following question from the CSS 2009 paper of Islamiat.

Question: Muslims arrange for the recitation and learning of the Quran by heart but neglect to understand and practice the Quran. What methods can be applied for the reformation of negligence?

A perusal of this question makes this point home to us that we need critical thinking to answer a big chunk of questions asked in CSS papers. 

For this, one should believe in the potential of one’s mind as it is the most powerful tool in the human body with a lot of storage capacity for knowledge. This knowledge comes to the conscious mind when one starts thinking critically.

 An essential thing about critical thinking is that it is a habit that can be inculcated after making conscious efforts in this regard. Follow the following guidelines:

  • Take a piece of paper and a pencil, and start thinking about a topic. 
  • Write the ideas coming to your mind
  • Keep this thing in mind no idea is stupid or silly. Write your thoughts without judgments. 
  • Think freely. Give your imagination a free ride. Set no limitations. Produce as many ideas as possible.
  • Make connections among ideas based on cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Evaluate the pictures in the final stage based on relevance to the topic in question.

“Believe that your mind is Aladdin’s lamp for you, and it is ready to do wonders for you if you acknowledge it and don’t take it for granted.”

5. Brainstorming

It is defined as group discussions to produce ideas on a given topic and solve any specific problem. In the non-availability of other group members, the same thinking process can be done alone. For this, minimizing distractions is very important. Distractions include electronic gadgetry, mobile phones, video games, television, and gossip with friends. Choose a comfortable place to sit. Think to generate ideas on a given subject. It is said that more heads are better than one.

6.Self-study versus Group Study

A comparative analysis of self-study and group study is given below:

You are the master of your routine. It depends on the availability of group members. It is recommended that the group be small, i.e., 2 to 3 Sobre and dedicated members are enough. You rely on your ideas. Your ideas multiply. Academic interaction with other group members may add to the quantity and quality of your thoughts. 

 Group study is a good idea, but group study should be carried out after each group member has studied the relevant material. Group discussion works as an interactive session among the members, which enables all the members to think critically and clarify their concepts by raising questions and answering them. Group study without individual preparation is a futile exercise. In case of the non-availability of group members, self-study is equally good as it saves time.

7.Making Notes

Aspirants should make their notes after consulting different sources and books. Why is it essential to make notes for CSS? You will only find some relevant material in one reference or textbook. You will have to consult different books. Compiling them in one place in the form of notes makes it easier to recollect and revise. On the other hand, writing notes allows you to arrange information and ideas in a logical sequence. Following the guidelines will help you in making your notes.

  • Instead of incorporating all the details, write your notes in the form of hints or clues.
  • Write as briefly as possible. Brevity will enable you to revise the syllabus during the Examination, as the real challenge comes during the Examination when time is short and you have to fix the whole syllabus.
  • Only quotations, excerpts of reports, speeches, or data should be recorded in detail, as we require them to be reproduced without any modifications.
  • Candidates should skip no critical data or argument, or information.
  • Write only those points which you have comprehended fully. Only include points that you have fully grasped.
  • Notes should be comprehensive, covering all the aspects asked in the previous question papers.
  • Make notes according to the topics given in the FPSC syllabus.
  • Ordinary concepts you can reproduce without preparation should be made separate from the notes. These points can be mentioned briefly in the form of hints.
  • Make the following points part of your notes as these points support or strengthen your arguments:
    • Concepts 
    • Quotations / Famous sayings
    • Proverb 
    • Excerpts
    • Comparisons
    • Data/figures
    • Examples 
    • Case studies
    • Surveys / Reports
    • Theories

8. Advantages of making notes

  • Notes contain all the key points which enable the readers to revise swiftly.
  • Notes keep you focused. 
  • Notes inform you about the aspect of a given topic that is not covered. For example, if you are reading material related to any specific topic, you will not know which element you have yet to cover. Only writing the notes on paper will make you analyze the missing aspect of a given topic. 

Just pass on to the next paragraph if you need help understanding the concept. There is plenty of relevant material. If you consult different sources for any given topic, you may confront reading material that you will find very difficult to grasp. It is outstanding to pass on. The following source or reading will clarify your concepts on that given topic.

9. Making maps, diagrams, and flow charts

Maps, graphs, flow diagrams add to the presentation of your paper and fetch extra marks. No scale is needed to draw the maps in the paper of current affairs. Do the practice of drawing rough sketches of maps. The candidate should draw a map in just 3 to 4 minutes- and not more than that. Map should be relevant to the topic. It should be labeled and self-explanatory. Practice drawing the rough sketches of the following maps.

  • World map showing the division of continents
  • Map of regional blocs i.e SAARC, SCO, ECO.
  • Map of Pakistan
  • Map of the Middle East
  • Map of Subcontinent showing Kashmir
  • Map of Kashmir
  • Map of the Muslim World
  • Other maps relating to the conflicts and issues

Flow charts and diagrams simplify the concepts for the examiner and make his task easier. Please keep this point in mind:

“The more you facilitate the examiner, the higher score you are going to secure.”

It is to be kept in mind that no such technique should be used in the Essay paper as it comprises only paragraphs. 

  1. Principles of Impressive Writing 
  2. Good writing skills are supported by reading, observation, imagination, and critical thinking. 

One should be clear in one’s mind about the topic on which one is going to write. One should develop the habit of clear thinking and expression. 

So, it can be said that good writing skills are the product of the following:

  • Clear thinking
  • Reading
  • Observation
  • Imagination

10. Role of practice

  Impressive writing is a skill that can be learned through practice. Try to write 2- 3 paragraphs daily.

11. Light and pleasant tone

One should try to write in a light and pleasant tone, though the tone of the writing may depend on the nature of the subject. Give lightness, grace, and ease to your writing. You can only make your writing interesting for the reader if you are interested in writing it.

12. Try to write in paragraph form

Always try to write in paragraph form. In paragraph form, one states the topic sentence first and then builds arguments in support of the topic sentence. This style of writing is called a simple style of writing. The first sentence in the paragraph is called the topic sentence, which is a general one. It is supported by the facts and figures in the following sentences. For example:

Corruption in Pakistan has increased over the years. Pakistan stands at 124th position among the countries of the world according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2020 published by Transparency International. Pakistan stood at the 120th position as per CPI of 2019. This poor ranking of Pakistan on the CPI suggests that the elimination of this menace in Pakistan has still been an elusive dream. And so on…….

It is a requirement for the essay to write in paragraph form without giving a heading. However, in other papers, a paragraph should follow the appropriate and specific heading. For example, if you are linking the state of political instability with the reduction in foreign direct investments in the country, you should give the title “Political instability; an impediment in the way of foreign direct investment” instead of giving the title: “Reason behind reduced Foreign Direct investment.” 

Though there is no hard and fast rule about the strength of a paragraph, the standard strength may be set as 5- 8 sentences. The following guidelines should be kept in mind while writing a paragraph:

  • Each paragraph revolves around one central idea, which is stated in the first sentence called the topic sentence.
  • Remaining sentences build arguments in favor of the central idea.
  • There should be one central idea in one paragraph.
  • Sentences should be in a logical sequence and order. The sequence of thoughts should be followed. The successive sentences should draw the keyword or think from the preceding sentences. For example, the Capital of Punjab is Lahore. Lahore is a historical city. (2nd sentence borrows the keyword ‘Lahore’ from the first sentence.) If you follow the logical sequence of thoughts, you are going to facilitate your examiner. 

“The more you facilitate the examiner, the more you will get from him.”

Connectors should be used to bring coherence to a paragraph. Certain connectors are as under:

  • Therefore,
  • Hence,
  • For this reason,
  • Owing to this factor,
  • However,
  • First, second, and the last
  • Consequently,
  • Similarly,

13. Avoid blunt criticism

Avoid blunt criticism. If you want to criticize, you should do it in a mild and balanced way with facts and logical arguments.

14. Your opinion should be supported by logical arguments

You should state your arguments from a personal point of view. It implies that logical arguments and data should duly support your personal opinion on any subject.

15. Relevance

What you write should be relevant to the topic in question. No irrelevant idea should be made part of your writing. For example, if you are asked to write on the topic of women’s rights in Islam, it is irrelevant to give the details of feminist movements in the history of the world.

16. Meaningfulness

Use simple and meaningful words to convey what you want to say. It is always advised that popular words should be used to convey the intended meaning. For example, if you want to refer to a rise in the price of commodities, using the word inflation is direct and appropriate. However, the use of appropriate synonyms is advised to avoid the repetition of a single word. Keep the following rules in mind while writing.

  • Prefer short words to long ones.
  • Prefer simple words to complex.
  • Prefer the popular word to the unfamiliar.
  • Prefer the direct word to the indirect reference.
  • Prefer concrete and specific words to the abstract term. If you are writing on the topic of global warming, it is better to use ‘greenhouse gases’ instead of pollutants.
  • Avoid slang 
  • Don’t use hackneyed quotations and phrases. 

 It is said that any word that does not add to the meaning of a sentence injures it. 

17. Length of the sentence

There is, again, no hard and fast rule for the length of a sentence. However, short and moderate sentences should be used as they give clarity. Long sentences may be used keeping in view the nature of the subject and the significance of the idea. However, writing long sentences requires a lot of care in order to prevent the possibility of grammatical mistakes. 

18. Getting what you write checked by a reliable teacher

It is very important to get what you write checked by a reliable teacher. Otherwise, you will keep on repeating the same mistakes again and again.

19. Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes 

It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle because a healthy body has a healthy mind. Only a healthy mind can face the challenge of the uphill task of the competitive Examination. Someone has rightly said that if he is given 8 days time to cut a tree, he will spend 6 days sharpening the axe. Optimizing your mind’s capacity is a pre-requisite for success in the competitive examination. You can optimize the capacity of your mind by adopting a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

Following healthy lifestyle changes should be incorporated:

  • Sleep early, around 10 pm, so that you can take sound sleep at night.
  • Get up early before sunrise. 

There is a famous proverb that says: 

Do not let the sun rise before you if you want to succeed. 

The habit of getting up early does not come alone. It comes along with other allied good habits, which are stated as under:

  • Start your day with morning prayers. In this way, you apply Allah’s will to your goals and aspirations. It is the best start you can take. 
  • Do exercise or go for a morning walk.
  • Make your breakfast around 8 am, which stimulates your metabolic rate to keep you physically fit and healthy. Do not delay your breakfast. It keeps obesity away from you in addition to many other health benefits.
  • Have around one hour of sleep around 2 pm to energize yourself if it is possible for you.
  • Do some sports or physical activity between Asr and evening prayers.
  • Eat healthy and natural food. Avoid oily / processed food, bakery items, and carbonated drinks. 

No one will fill the tank of his precious Ferrari car with substandard fuel. Here the question arises why do people eat junk food? Are their bodies less valuable than their vehicles?

  • Keep yourself hydrated always. Drink a lot of water.
  • Adopt the habit of being grateful all the time. Do not be the complaining one. Be grateful to Almighty for His countless blessings upon you. Gratitude creates and enhances positive energy in you. It gives you spiritual strength to rise and work hard.
  • Work hard but keep yourself relaxed. Keep the following quote in your mind: 

Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.

  • Try to share what you have with others. It will come back multiplied.
  • Learn the art of staying happy all the time, no matter your situation. Living a happy life is an art that can be learned. 

20.Time Management during the course of preparation

Better time management is the key to success. It comes from incorporating healthy lifestyle changes in one’s life. One such lifestyle change is to get up before sunrise and start your day early. It leaves enough time for study.

Divide your 24 hours into small time blocks.

First time block from 8 am to 1 pm (5 hours)

The first time block is a big chunk of time which comprise almost 5 hours that can be allocated to study.

2nd-time block from 1 pm to 2 pm (1 hour)

This is the time of Zuhr prayers and lunch break.

Third-time block from 2 pm to 3 pm (1 hour)

You make short sleep during this short interval to energize yourself.

4th-time block from 3 pm to  Asr  prayer

It is a short interval to study till Asr prayer.

5th-time block from Asr to Evening prayers

This time may be allocated to evening sports, walking, or any other physical activity.

6th-time block from evening prayers to one hour after evening prayers

You can offer evening prayers, have dinner and walk in this one-hour interval.

7th-time block (Night study time)

In the end, you study for a few hours up till 10 pm before you go to sleep.

In this way, you can allocate 9 to 10 hours for study along with maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Around 10 hours of study is enough for the day.

This timetable is just for example. Aspirants can make their own schedule keeping in view their own requirements and the number of hours available for study. 

21. Avoiding Distractions

In order to have more time for study, one should avoid distractions that waste one’s precious time. Examples of distractions are as follows:

  • Spending time on social media for purposes other than study
  • Attending unnecessary social gatherings

22. Making Revision

After making notes, you should keep on revising on a weekly or fortnightly basis. It is always good to specify one whole day weekly or fortnightly for revision of the notes. In this way, you can preserve data in your mind. 

23. Time Management During Examination

In all papers, an Essay paper being the exception, you are required to attempt more than one question. It is, therefore, required to calculate the average time for one question and adhere to that timeline.

For example, There are 180 minutes to attempt a paper. Twenty minutes may be left for a review of the paper at the end. Normally, the candidate is required to attempt one compulsory question of Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) in 30 minutes, leaving 130 minutes for the remaining four subjective questions. It means the candidates have to complete one question in almost 32 minutes.

24. How to attempt a question in 32 minutes

You may take 3 to 4 minutes for brainstorming/thinking and noting down the rough outline on the last page of the answer sheet to be labeled as rough work. There is no need to start writing with haste. Be composed and think about the relevant outline. Attempt the question in the remaining 28-29 minutes in the light of the rough outline. Leave space for the outline (finalized) at the beginning of the question, which may be added to the question after completing the question. Why is it so that we allocate space at the beginning of the question and allocate time at the end? It enables us to amend the rough outline and add finished outlines at the last minute. 

Why is it important to add an outline?

  • It keeps you focused. The relevance of the contents to the question is maintained. No irrelevant idea finds a place in your answer.
  • It gives a logical sequence to your answer. You become able to state your ideas in an organized way.
  • You get enough time to recall your memory and knowledge stored in your mind. 

25. Enjoy the current phase of preparation for the competitive Examination

In the end, a last word of caution for you. Do not take the preparation for the Competitive Examination as a kind of fatigue or liability. Take this as an opportunity to learn and change your life. Let what you read and learn to develop your personality. Once you have decided to opt for this field, now it is time to work hard with devotion and commitment. Just enjoy reading. 

Preparation for the competitive Examination is not just for the purpose of the Examination. It develops your personality and grooms you to be a responsible and efficient officer. 

Best of luck with your journey toward CSS!!! 

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