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Hey guys, the polling is almost over and I think I have a fair idea of the

direction in which you guys want me to go. Since ‘my CSS journey/schedule’
option has fared much better than the subject selection one, I shall
expound upon how I went about tackling this seemingly gargantuan task.

Firstly, I returned from UK towards the last week of September 2017, and
spent most of October mulling between a career in law or the development
sector. Towards mid-October, my father suggested I give the CSS as a career
option, and pursue my other interests after the exam. I had never planned
on giving the CSS before nor had ever thought about it as an option, hence
it took me two weeks just to make my mind up. I remember the registration
for the exam was extended to November 2017, which was lucky in my case
because I made my mind up right at the last minute.

From the get go, I intuitively knew that I wanted to opt for subjects that
would not be ones that everyone was taking and would build upon what I
had already studied and had an interest in. The underlying rationale behind
this was:

A) If you opt for subjects that everyone is taking, such as IR or ILaw, it might
be harder for you to score amazingly because the competition is tougher;

B) If you take subjects you have a background/interest in, you can cover the
syllabus quickly and tackle ‘out of the box’ questions that are becoming
increasingly common in the CSS exam.

One of the main reasons I was able to successfully tackle this exam in a 12-
13 week time span was because:

A) I previously held world distinctions in Sociology and World Affairs in my A


and O levels respectively, and had studied sociology courses at LUMS, hence
did not need to spend too long studying either Sociology or Current Affairs
subjects;

B) I took Political Science with Constitutional Law; the advantage being that
Constitutional Law’s syllabus is exactly the same as Pol Sci Paper 2’s, hence I
did not have to study separately for Constitutional Law;

C) I took gender which was area I had a deep academic interest in, prior
knowledge of and hence was able to cover it within 2-3 days;

D) Governance and Public Policy was also covered in 2-3 days because it is a
largely common-sense based, general knowledge paper that can be tackled
by someone who has been reading newspapers regularly. A lot of the
theories in GPP were similar to the ones in sociology and political science,
and overall I found the subject to not be based on rote-learning;

E) I did not study pre-partition topics for Pak Affairs given the recent CSS
exam pattern, which is tilting towards post-partition, analytical questions.
This saved me a lot of time from cramming and note-making;

F) I did not study separately for either Pakistan Affairs or Current Affairs;
instead, I read Dawn daily (a habit I inculcated since I was a child), along
with The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, The
Hindu, research articles published in journals (can be accessed through
JSTOR or SSRN or a simple google search with the words ‘pdf’ written after
your desired topic) etc. This was a daily routine and I would set aside 2-3
hours every single day for newspapers and magazines; this meant that my
prep for both Pak Affairs and Current Affairs was taking place daily;

G) I did not study separately for either English Essay paper or the Precis
paper; I enrolled myself in an academy to take English classes but left after a
few classes when I realized I could tackle this on my own, building on my
own knowledge and writing style, rather than following someone else’s
pattern. Therefore, NO separate days were allocated for either of the
English papers;
H) The main subjects that took the bulk of my time were Political Science,
Islamiyat, General Science (because this was a new area for me, as I do not
have a science background as such);

I) I did not spend my prep time reading entire books on Pak/current affairs –
I skimmed a plethora of books quickly only to jot down 4-5 important points
from each and do not advocate spending entire months reading whole
books on topics; you simple do not have enough time or space in the actual
exam to regurgitate what you read in each book. Learn to study smart and
pick up important points from an article or book that you are reading; and
this is a habit that is developed over time;

J) I made and revised notes for subjects such as Islamiyat and Political
Science by condensing them each time, so that by the end, each topic was
squeezed within one A4 sized paper. This helped me immensely in revising
topics a day before each exam, and helped me retain points a lot better too.
Moreover, all my notes were handwritten and my ability to write fast and
read fast, I believe, played a significant role in enabling me to cover a lot of
topics in a short span of time;

K) I made a lot of maps and diagrams for topics, especially the constitutions
in Political Science, on large chart papers which I then hung on the walls in
my bedroom. Sometimes being able to visualize information helps in
understanding and retaining it. I also wrote all the quotes and ayahs for
Islamiyat on post-it notes which I stuck near my writing table’s wall in my
room, which again helped in me being able to memorize them;

L) The three months I spent prepping for the CSS meant that I did nothing
else; no tv shows, no social life, no job, no travelling - I knew that if I was
going to do this, then I was going to give it my all;

M) I went to an academy for psychological prep for the CSS interview after I
had cleared the written part of the exam (the psych prep is a whole
different ballgame altogether and consists of different tasks that I believe
one should go to an academy for, but only for a while). Moreover, I only
gave one mock interview because I found them to be an utter waste of
time;

N) The skeleton of my prep was based around CSS past papers and
moulding my notes around tackling repeated topics - which meant I skipped
a lot of topics and often during each exam, I remember having to attempt
one question solely on my own reasoning skills without being prepared
beforehand for the topic;

O) I did not give any mock exams which I believe helped me save an
immense amount of time

During my prep, I went all-in and spent about 15-16 hours every day
studying with no distractions – this went to 20 hours sometimes towards
the last days of the exam. I generally do not sleep more than 4-5 hours
every night, hence sacrificing my sleep was not an issue for me. I did,
however, utilize my time critically by spending each waking moment
surrounded by my books or my notes – even my car journey to and from
the library was spent studying. Moreover, I studied mainly in a library with
about 9-10 other students also preparing for the CSS with me – this ensured
that I remained driven and that I did not slack off or get lazy during my
prep.

For me, it is quite amusing to see people doubt my CSS journey and to
them, I can only say one thing – the CSS does not have to attempted
according to a ‘set’ or standardized way; it is imperative to build upon one’s
prior knowledge and academic background, and mould it to the exam’s
pattern, rather than the other way round. It is also important to select
subjects that overlap each other, in order to save prep time, and to utilize
time efficiently rather than wasting it.
Everyone’s CSS journey is, and should be, different; please stop blindly
adhering to whatever is being indoctrinated to you in academies or by so-
called CSS experts and gurus. If anything, I hope my example is a source of
motivation for you all to know that you need to introspect and figure out
what subjects work for you and what study style works for you. Moreover,
everyone’s skills and innate qualities are different – I can write fast and thus
was able to make notes quickly, I have been reading books since I was a
child hence have the ability to scan documents for useful information
quickly, I also have a memory that tilts towards being photographic, which
helps me in remembering information during exams. Furthermore, I have
always believed in giving my 100% to whatever I chose to do and have done
my utmost to excel in every academic endeavour in my life and I feel the
CSS was a tangible manifestation of all the knowledge and information I
have inculcated over the years. Which is why it is imperative to develop a
reading habit, and a habit to critically analyse and debate topics, from an
early age. It is extremely difficult to ‘learn’ good english or critical reasoning
skills or the ability to think on the spot and figure out how to analyse an
issue from multiple angles when put on the spot.

In the end, all I can say is - there is nothing that can stop you from achieving
your goal if you put all your heart and soul into it and if it is written for you
by Him; follow your gut instinct, build upon your innate strengthens,
interests and prior academic knowledge, read newspapers and research
articles religiously and make your own notes.

P.S A few others allocated with me this year have also cleared the exam in
2.5-3.5 months, hence again - it IS doable, but everyone has their own
strengths and weaknesses, their own abilities, academic backgrounds, prior
knowledge, academic/professional experiences etc. Someone with an
engineering background with no knowledge of social sciences will of course
take a longer time tackling sociology or gender or international relations.
This should be basic common sense for all those wondering and postulating
about my schedule; again, introspection and self-actualisation is the key
prior to delving within the realms of CSS!