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CSS Reforms: Clusters, screening & computer based tests

By connecting the dots we can draw a rough picture of the future of Competitive Exams (CE). Here's the detail of how Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) will conduct CSS and general recruitment exams in future. Exclusive report by Fahad Aziz Taherani.

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Federal Minister for Information and Broadcast Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday announced the introduction of screening test for competitive exams (CE). The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) is set to announce further details regarding the MCQs based screening test. All other rumors must be deemed unauthentic until FPSC issues any notice. However, this report provides an assessment of upcoming Civil Services Reforms.

Candidates preparing for Central Superior Service (CSS) exams have been surrounded with uncertainty due to the forthcoming reforms. By connecting the dots we can draw a rough picture of the future of Competitive Exams (CE).

FPSC may introduce Computer-Based Testing (CBT)

A major development can be seen in FPSC’s decision to hire a consultancy firm to digitalize the testing system, as the request for proposal document reveals. FPSC has taken this decision to improve the situation of its workload. In a screening test of Customs Intelligence Officer, FPSC cleared around 80,000 students in 2019 but their final exam is yet to be conducted. FPSC has to announce the results of numerous tests it conducted in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

According to the document, ” FPSC intends to ascertain computer-based testing (CBT) backed with digitized question data bank for speedy disposal of work without compromising quality, security, secrecy and integrity.”

future of CSS exam

Read more: CSS aspirants will undergo a screening test first before the examination

The document describes that there are two streams for induction/selection of candidates for various posts i.e., General Recruitment (GR) and Competitive Examinations (CE) and that the appearance of candidates in examinations/tests conducted for both the streams is mandatory. In GR both descriptive MCQs-based papers are administered and Competitive examination CSS comprises subjective questions along with Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs).

The proposed CBT will cater to the MCQs as well as the descriptive test/examination being conducted by the Commission.

FPSC’s digitizing project comprises of the following two components of Development of Question Data Bank (based on Prometric testing paradigm) and Computer-Based Testing by establishing computer futuristic iBT based testing labs in ten major cities across the country.

Source: Hiring of Consultancy Firm Proposal by FPSC

The computer-based exam is possible in Pakistan. Agha Khan Board uses the same advanced method to check the papers of their candidates, however, the adoption of the computerized system may take 3 to 4 years. The document allocates two years for the project.

FPSC’s aim to use advanced technologies is appreciable. It shows that the institution is serious about the issues in the recruitment process especially the delay in the announcement of test results.

Advisor for Institutional Reforms and Austerity of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussian gave an interview to Ansar Abbasi of The News. He talked extensively about the reforms in the bureaucracy. He gave a detailed outlook of the future bureaucratic structures and systems from civil servants’ induction, recruitment, training, performance, promotion, compensation, and retirement to institution building, devolution, accountability, and service delivery. However, he did not provide a rough timeline of these reforms.

In this article, we will examine the possible changes in the recruitment system of CE especially the method of conducting exams which may involve a screening test and a digital testing system shortly.

Cluster based examination

Talking about recruitment, Dr. Hussain said that the government plans to introduce a pre-requisite of domain knowledge to appear in civil services exams. Domain knowledge will help the recruiter to organize the candidates for specific occupational groups. Currently, bureaucrats who do not possess specific knowledge related to their job rely on clerks or juniors. Therefore, a cluster-based system will be introduced to allocate suitable candidates for each post.

SAPM on Establishment Shehzad Arbab in a 2019 interview to Saleem Safi told that the government will introduce cluster based examination where candidates will have to select specific subjects if they want to join a certain group. There may be three clusters:

  1. Administration group containing Police, office management and some other services.
  2. Foreign services group
  3. Commerce and economics group containing inland revenue, customs and commerce departments.

Dr. Hussain said, “We have to move towards a blended approach in which the relative strengths of the generalists and specialists are optimally utilized. Therefore, at the time of induction, we create incentives for candidates to match their preferences with some prior domain knowledge. There would be no restrictions on any academic qualification to apply and appear at the Central Services examination. You may be a doctor or an engineer, but you must appear in International Relations and International Law as optional papers if you want a career in Foreign Service. If you prefer to work in the Police Service, you must have chosen papers on Criminology and Civil & Criminal Procedural Codes as optional subjects.”

Screening test

According to Dr. Hussain, a screening test will also be conducted before the written exam. He conveyed the difficulty that the Federal Public Service Commission faces while assessing written papers of at least 16,000 candidates. It is important to mention that in CE-2020 of 39,000 students who had applied for it, around 20,000 candidates sat in twelve papers.

Read more: Is the CSS Exam Getting Difficult? Who is to Blame?

Dr. Hussain said FPSC will conduct a screening test containing multiple-choice questions (MCQs). He said it will help eliminate many people at the screening stage based on the regional/provincial and other quotas. He said the screened candidates, say 2,000, will go through a psychometric test modeled on the British Civil Service. After this round, the candidates will appear at compulsory and optional subjects’ written exams, and then the interviews.

Source: Govt’s top civil service reformer unveils reform agenda, The News

Based on Dr. Hussian’s interview, candidates will have to select occupational groups according to their optional subjects. Students who select International Relations and International Law can apply for Foreign Services. For another instance, students who want to join Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) will have to opt for Political Science subject. Although nothing is final; students will have to wait for FPSC’s response on it.

Read more: Govt decides to take special CSS exam in 2020