Is the CSS exam getting difficult? | Pakistan Today

Is the CSS exam getting difficult?

  • Coaching academies have a negative role

By: Anwar Ali

The fault is in my stars, a trite excuse to obscure one’s underperformance. Another vindication could be that the marking system employed by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) is inconsistent and inconsiderate. Of course, in the examination of the Central Superior Services (CSS), which the FPSC conducted in February 2019 across the country, 372 candidates passed the written portion whereas 14,521 candidates failed to do so. Is the CSS examination getting difficult to pass?

There is a school of thought focusing on the number of failed candidates, apportioning the blame of failure to the marking system of the FPSC. Reliance is placed on the Detailed Marks Sheets blaming the FPSC (or its examiners) for targeting certain subjects for “using questionable stimuli and highly controversial methods of discouraging candidates from opting for certain optional subjects in the CSS exam.” The school also thinks that the FPSC applies an astringent marking scheme. If things were so simple!

Passing the CSS examination is not getting difficult. Prospective CSS candidates make it difficult for themselves

Any conclusion contingent on the study of the detailed marks sheets is dubious in two ways. First, there is available no credible method applying which any school of thought can get access to the marks sheets of all or most across-the-country CSS candidates who passed or failed the examination. Practically, a few, which may amount to a dozen, a hundred, or even a thousand, can be studied to derive a conclusion. Nevertheless, such a conclusion remains non-representative and non-exploratory given the total number of candidates exceeding 14,000. Second, the marks sheet is also handicapped in revealing the kind of questions a candidate selected for answering and the way the candidate answered the questions in the CSS examination. Both factors– the selection of questions and the mode of answering them– hinge on the kind of preparation a candidate did before taking the examination.

Looking at faults in the preparation of optional subjects, one can identify four main problem areas.

First, with the change of syllabus and the optional subject-selection scheme in 2016, the choice of combination for optional subjects shrank. Consequently, more candidates opt for International Relations, International Law, Political Science, US History, Criminology and Gender Studies, overlooking their own aptitude for an optional subject. More candidates means more competition to produce a high quality answer sheet to secure high marks in a given subject. Candidates with the background of science find it difficult to comprehend subjects entailing history such as International Relations, International Law, US History and even Political Science. Similarly, candidates with the background of arts and literature face problems in understanding scientific subjects such as Geography and Public Administration. A nefarious role is also played by CSS coaching academies, which push prospective CSS candidates to select a subject taught therein. These academies deceitfully claim that they have a faculty of high quality to coach (or teach) candidates a short route to sure success. To prospective candidates, a faculty member is introduced as a high scorer last year in, for instance, International Relations. Prospective candidates do not ask that they want to be taught by the teacher of the high scorer and not by the high scorer himself. Their silence militates against them eventually when the FPSC declares the result.

Second, many CSS candidates presume that if an optional subject scored highly last year, it would also score likewise next year, whether or not the candidate is prepared in the subject. Advertently, prospective candidates rely on the high-score probability of an optional subject, and not on their own effort to score high. Candidates read low quality books thanks to the (mis)guidance offered by CSS coaching academies sprawling across the country. In the market, Urdu Bazar, there are available low-priced published books consisting of material downloaded from certain websites. Either a writer offers plagiarized material or a writer is just a compiler and falsely claims himself as a writer. An Urdu-Bazar publishing wizard would publish it giving a glistening coloured title page to attract the eyes of a reader. Garbage in; garbage out. These are cheap books by both price and quality. Here, the FPSC can also be blamed for recommending too many books against each subject in its 2016 syllabus to make a CSS candidate indecisive about which book to read preferably for what area of a subject. Moreover, through its 2016 syllabus, the FPSC deliberately promoted certain local publishers who advertise their books through the FPSC recommended locally published magazines. Sometimes, the publisher of a book and a magazine is the same. An account is that certain officials of the FPSC (dealing with syllabus recommendation) were bribed to do so. An improved version is that certain FPSC officials are partners in the business which flourished in this way, for a monthly or regular monetary compensation.

Third, most CSS candidates hope for a replication of questions asked previously from optional subjects, though the same is their attitude towards compulsory papers. Past papers are prepared not as sample or preparatory papers but as final or conclusive papers. An insult to injury is added by guess papers issued by the CSS coaching academies, a few of them claim to have access to the FPSC insiders foretelling broad areas of question setting.

Fourth, most CSS candidates delude themselves by gauging their performance through mock written tests held by CSS coaching academies. The environment of mock written tests might help CSS candidates to get an exam-simulated ambiance beneficial for those who did not experience it at a standard university. Other than the exam atmosphere, mock tests are quite deceptive because not only the questions asked are selected mostly from the past papers, but also non-professionals posing as examiners mark the answer sheets. On top of these, coaching academies instruct their examiners to be lenient to the candidates lest they get discouraged. In this way, the marks scored resultantly are not a true representative of the level of preparation of prospective CSS candidates before they undergo the FPSC held examination.

In short, passing the CSS examination is not getting difficult. Prospective CSS candidates make it difficult for themselves.

The author may be contacted at: [email protected]