CSS: Why are dreams of thousands shattered every year?

There are a number of issues that can be addressed to improve the speed, credibility, accuracy, and authenticity of the results issued by FPSC, writes Fahad Aziz.

CSS dreams

There is no question on the credibility of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC); also no scandal has surfaced in the last many years except leaking of examination papers in Quetta in 2019 where the accused was apprehended by the Federal Investigation Agency. However, there are a number of issues that can be addressed to improve the speed, credibility, accuracy, and authenticity of the results issued by FPSC.

On November 4th, the result of the Central Superior Service (CSS) written exam for 2020 was announced. A whopping 39,000 candidates had applied for the country’s ‘toughest exam’. Less than half that is 18,553 candidates sat in the exam and only 376 cleared the written exam which is a 2.03 percent passing ratio. This means 18,177 could not clear the exam – the majority of which had been preparing for many years.

The 376 candidates who passed the written part will be tested in the interview and psychological stages. The majority of candidates will clear the upcoming stages but not all will be allocated due to the limited number of vacancies. In other words, these candidates will be back to square one. All of their hard work, expectations, and time will go in vain.

Remember what a polymath and Founding Father of America Benjamin Franklin said “time is money.”

Is CSS worth it? Issues within the system

Failed candidates who give the most important years of their life to CSS ask whether is it worth it? Every year after the announcement of the written exam, students share their digital mark sheets (DMs) on social media. This year too, many candidates failed by just a few marks. Most of the students failed in English Essay. Some students said that they cleared the Essay subject last year but this time they got only 12 marks. Many students even received ‘zero’ marks in the subject. It is not clear why students were able to clear all the subjects sometimes with good marks but failed in English Essay. Even though low standards of Pakistani education and various other factors may play a role while a candidate is giving the exam, it still raises questions why all candidates are targeted in a particular subject. A checklist or criteria for a standard Essay should be provided by the Federal Public Service Commission to clear this uncertainty.

Read more: Why is Pakistan’s youth obsessed with CSS?

Secondly, there is a perception of scoring subjects in CSS exams. According to the majority of CSS tutors, some optional subjects are high scoring while some are low scoring. For example, it is said that subjects like US History, Gender Studies, and Criminology are high scoring while International Relations, International Law, and Indo-Pak History are low scoring. A senior Civil Servant, Mian Shafiq, who is also a CSS tutor and author said in an interview that one of his students, who is a graduate in Town Planning, badly failed in the same subject in the CSS exam. Last year, a candidate posted that she got only 17 marks in IR paper II despite being a gold medalist in her MPhil in International Relations from Pakistan’s well-reputed university. She also said that only 10-15 of her MCQs were correct. Whether MCQs are counted or not is also one of the questions raised by students.

Surprisingly, this scoring trend can be seen in a series of mark sheets of many past years. The students question whether FPSC examiners want us to opt for specific subjects?

Thirdly, candidates who sit in the February exam have to wait till October or November for the results. This wastes the time of students who are passionate about CSS and do not want to enter into any field until they are done away with all their attempts. Everyone attached to CSS knows that it requires a lot of time to prepare for the exam mainly due to a wide syllabus of 12 subjects – all assessed at least on graduation level. Preparing for many months or even years while sacrificing everything and then waiting for 10 months for results and finally failing the exam reduces a candidate into a useless, anxious, and sometimes depressed individual. It erodes his confidence; for he cannot do anything; he cannot be successful; he has wasted important years of his life, and he could have excelled in his field had he have invested so much time and energy in his field.

This is what students need to realize; they need to enter practical life. This will help them learn a lot.

What can FPSC do to improve CSS?

In order to help students, FPSC needs to carry out a number of steps. First and foremost, it needs to speed up the issuance of results. In this regard, it can introduce computerized exams. This will also help candidates and the government to prepare for the future. This could be made optional whether students want to handwrite the exams or type it on computers of designated exam centers. Computer labs of major schools in Pakistan can be rented out for the exams. For recruitment in the organization, Pakistan Air Force conducts tests, announces the results, and checks candidates for medical examination all on the same day. This is done with the usage of very simple technology.

Secondly, CSS exams should be divided into two phases based on the Indian model. The ‘preliminary’ exams with 6 compulsory subjects should be taken first and then ‘mains’ with 6 optional subjects should be conducted with a gap of 3 months. This will help in filtering out non-serious candidates, help in speeding up the results, and help in easing the burden on students.

Read more: Op-ed: Reforming the CSS exam system

Thirdly, FPSC needs to address issues regarding the marking criteria and scoring trends. A document like an examiner report must be issued while attentively answering issues discussed above so as to clear the confusion of candidates.

Finally, FPSC should also speed up the process of general recruitment tests for other departments. Most of those tests are MCQs based which should not take time given the speed of Optical Mark Recognition technology. At least, the results of those tests should be announced within a week.

In this regard, FPSC should learn from the testing service of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi which conducted a recruitment test for the Sindh Revenue Board. Soon after the closing date of applications, a written test was conducted on October 25, 2020. Within 15 days on November 09, the result was announced with proper information of all the candidates. On 15 November, a Group Discussion was held for written qualifiers. An interview is also expected to be held soon. The entire process is quick and transparent with no question being raised by any candidate so far.

On the other hand, FPSC takes on average a year to announce the results of MCQs based tests.

The majority of candidates will clear the upcoming stages but not all will be allocated due to the limited number of vacancies. In other words, these candidates will be back to square one.

CSS candidates need to be more competitive

Unfortunately, the standards of education are low in Pakistan, especially in rural areas which make up almost 57 percent of the country. Less emphasis is placed on critical thinking and creativity while cramming and rote learning dominate the education system. Most of the students learn when they enter practical life. They learn when they read, listen, watch, and do stuff on the internet or outside their schools, colleges, and universities. This is what students need to realize; they need to enter practical life. This will help them learn a lot.

Read more: My optimism brought me success in CSS: Rabail Kennedy

Although preparing for CSS helps in learning, gaining knowledge, and experience, this should be done while remaining in some job or self-employment. Here, career counseling can do magic if received during the college years. Students need to layout proper short-term and long-term plans for their life. A back plan will help them to not lose much when they fail in CSS or any exam. What Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk were doing in their teenage is not even being done in their 20s or 30s by the youth of this ‘young country.’ Remember what a polymath and Founding Father of America, Benjamin Franklin, said “time is money.”

Fahad Aziz Taherani is a former Assistant Editor at Global Village Space (GVS) News Portal and Magazine. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.


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