- Examiners repeating past question papers
By: Anwar Ali
Mediocrity is a hallmark of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), which is assigned with the task of conducting a countrywide yearly competitive examination, the Central Superior Services (CSS), for recruitment in Basic Pay Scale 17.
On February 12, the FPSC commenced the CSS examination for the year 2020. To facilitate mediocre candidates to traverse the field of national competition, whereas the papers of English essay, and English precis and comprehension introduced mediocrity by lowering the English testing standards, a paper of international relations reinforced mediocrity by repeating the questions asked in the immediate past.
On February 15, the FPSC conducted the CSS-2020 examination of international relations through two papers, Paper I and Paper II. Of them, Paper I expressed a dismal state of affairs, when the CSS candidates taking the exam found that the examiner failed to introduce fresh questions to invite novel ideas and trenchant analyses. Instead, to make up six subjective questions, the examiner preferred to pick up four questions from Paper I of international relations for CSS-2018.
The four repeated questions were these: Q.1: What are the points of convergence and divergence in Neo-Realist and Constructivist approaches to the study of state behavior in contemporary international politics? Q.2: Define the concept of strategic culture and highlight the major determinants of Pakistan’s strategic culture. Q. 3: Explain the concept of Economic Liberalism and relate its core interests with the concept of Neo-Imperialism or creating Economic Dependency? Q.4: Describe the concept of pre-emptive self-defence in the context of International Law and critically evaluate the legitimacy of US’ use of force against Iraq.
That is, in Paper I of international relations for CSS-2020, the examiner repeated exactly not one but four questions from Paper I of international relations for CSS-2018. Even a board examination of intermediate level avoids such a practice and the consequent ignominy. Nevertheless, the invidious practice of repeating questions, in substance or content, points out to the underlying six-pronged strategy of the FPSC.
First, the FPSC enjoys no control over the examiners that it engages for setting papers and checking the resultant answer sheets. The examiners revel in discretion in setting papers not by using their own minds but by preferring to copy and paste questions from the past papers. The implication is simple to understand: when an examiner despises originality and deplores freshness in asking questions, the candidates also follow suit. Answer sheets get replete with parroted banal and hackneyed ideas.
The examiners revel in discretion in setting papers not by using their own minds but by preferring to copy and paste questions from the past papers. The implication is simple to understand: when an examiner despises originality and deplores freshness in asking questions, the candidates also follow suit.
Second, the FPSC promotes ordinariness by forcing the CSS candidates to solve question papers of the past exams to prepare for attempting papers of the next exam. When the examiners counted on the past papers, the candidates would also bank on the past papers. An examiner sets a trend through the question paper. To follow the trend, the prospective candidates for next year would not prepare for new knowledge but they would look for trite concepts to master the present. The FPSC is complicit in letting an examiner set such a malicious trend favouring mediocre candidates and deprecating the preparatory efforts of studious candidates. The odious trend snatches an opportunity from brainy, brilliant candidates to surpass mediocrity.
Third, the FPSC constrains the CSS candidates to stay blinkered. Instead of encouraging the candidates to study latest published books and journals on ever evolving international relations, the FPSC is obliging the candidates to refrain from any such exploratory activity. The FPSC is making the candidates rely on stale rotting knowledge. The message is this: instead of exploring new avenues of knowledge, prepare the past trite questions to be successful in the future.
Fourth, the FPSC acts as an equalizer by obscuring the line of distinction between studious and mediocre candidates. The latter keep their knowledge circumscribed by seeking answers to the questions given in the past papers. The former felt forced to mediocrity when the knowledge they imbibed through general preparation is not tested. Such a question paper leaves studious candidates with the feeling of their knowledge being under-expressed.
Fifth, the FPSC facilitates the Urdu bazar publishers to churn out books claiming to have solved the past papers. The repetition of questions is like a windfall for local publishers to sell their books. Apparently, the FPSC has been reduced to a textbook board having connections with local publishers to print guess papers and bespoken answer books. By the way, the relationship existing between the officials of the FPSC and the CSS exam-preparatory academies is known to all and sundry. For instance, of many, one manifestation of the link is the leaking out of the list of names, addresses and contact numbers of the candidates who passed the written examination of CSS-2019. Understandably, the FPSC officials cannot disclose the list to CSS academies without seeking some financial reward. The CSS academies in Islamabad and Lahore are the major beneficiaries of such a favour that enables them to contact the successful candidates for conducting their mock interviews. The mock interviews offer a lifeline to these academies, which would claim that their students clinched positions when the final result were declared.
Sixth, the FPSC is discouraging adventure and challenge in the candidates. The fear of unknown keeps CSS candidates on their toes to visit libraries, read books, and learn new concepts to brace for an unforeseen challenge. The fear dissipates when the practice of repeating questions is introduced, though the practice is not new and exclusive to CSS-2020. Mere changing the CSS syllabus, as happened in 2016, cannot serve the purpose of reforms.
In short, the FPSC’s examination policy is short of meeting the challenges of time. The policy needs a serious review. Through the agency of the FPSC, a creed of mediocre candidates burgeons to the disadvantage of society, which yearns for brilliant officers to run the administrative affairs. The FPSC is supposed to tell the public the reasons for promoting mediocrity. The FPSC also needs internal reforms to sever the contact of its officials with the CSS academies and local publishers.