CSS: Probing the Examination

By Anjum Altaf

It stands to reason that a poor selection test would be unable to identify the best candidates in any given applicant pool. Given the importance of the civil service I reviewed recent CSS written examinations and discovered serious issues of intellectual ineptitude and quality control.

Questions from the 2015 and 2016 examination papers whose scans are posted on the official FPSC website were reviewed. Those mentioned below are faithfully reproduced without  correcting for errors of spelling, capitalization, punctuation or grammar which the alert reader would spot easily. Commentary is avoided for lack of space leaving the reader to identify problems which range from the amusing to the highly problematic. Some would merely confuse applicants while others might force them to dissemble or risk being failed.

Starting with the less serious, a question from the compulsory English Precis and Composition paper asks applicants to correct the following sentence: “We were staying at my sister’s cape’s code vacation home.” From the British History paper: ““Margarte Thatcher is judged to be best post war Prime Minister of England.” Discuss.” From the History of Pakistan and India paper: “Political Parties are responsible for the imposition of Marshal Laws in Pakistan. Comment.” From the Economics paper: “Discuss the Rostow’s stage of growth with special reference to Pakistan.”

Two questions from the International Relations paper: “Critically discuss the fundamental factors of “Greece Economic Crisis” which need huge financial assistance from European Union and IMF as a debt relief to create “a breathing space” to stabilize economy and explain out-of-the-box solution for the crisis-ridden country.” And, “Critically discuss main political, socio-economic and strategic hurdles between “Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations” and how can both countries come out from the Cold War scenario?”

Two questions from the Comparitive (sic) Studies of Major Religions paper: “What was the secret of success of Buddhism and its effects on the Hinduism? Discuss.” “Describe the effects of biography and teachings of great preacher of Hinduism “SHIRI RAM Chandar G” on the society?”

Two questions from the Sociology paper: “Youth is an asset of any nation but Pakistani youth is inclined towards youth bulge. What strategies being an expert suggests the state to put the youth on positive track? Give your suggestions in the light of sociological theories.” And, “Why social stratification is an inevitable for a society? Explain its determinants in the context of Pakistani society.”

Some questions are out of place. From the Anthropology paper: “What are the major Contemporary Social Problems of Pakistan?” Some lack meaningful details. From the English Literature paper: “After their gift exchange, are Della and Jim richer, poorer, or just about where they were at the beginning? Have they made a wise decision in sacrificing their most precious possessions?”

Some questions reveal a sloppiness that comes in the way of a proper understanding of the question. Consider this from the General Knowledge paper: “Jinnah in his Presidential Address to the annual session of All India Muslim League in March 1940 said, “The problem in India is not of an inter-communal character, but manifestly of an international one, and it must be treated as such.” Write note on the Two Nation Theory and the Lahore Resolution of March 1940 in the light of this statement.”

From the Governance and Public Policies paper: “Do you support the representation of public opinion information diffusion in the policy making process? Support your answer with valid justification in the context of policy advocacy.”

More problematic are questions that really allow only one answer to avoid putting a candidate’s chances at risk. Consider this from the General Knowledge paper: “Discuss the prospects and challenges to the construction of “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” How will CPEC become a game changer for the region?” From the compulsory Islamiat paper. “Argue for supremacy of ‘Wahi’ as the solution of human problems against other sources of knowledge.” From the Islamic History and Culture paper: ““Administration of Justice” has been the policy of Muslim Rulers throughout History. Explain.”

Other one-sided questions are ambiguous in addition. From the Islamiat paper: “Highlight the importance of Zakat and prove that economic stability of a society can be ensured through its effective implementation.” Some questions combine many of these problems: From the Islamic History and Culture paper: “The Spanish Muslims established the foundations of Knowledge which become the mile stone of progress in Europe. Explain.” And, “Muslim culture in Pakistan is being dominated by European and Hindu Culture. Do you think we need Renaissance and Reformation? Explain.” From the Political Science paper: “Discuss the features of Turkish model of democracy keeping the distinguished position of the armed forces in the Turkish politics.” From the Public Administration paper: “It is easier to make a constitution than to run it. Discuss in the light of Politics Administration dichotomy.” From the International Relations paper: “Discuss the “Moral Dimensions of Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme.” Explain its essential features and justify its offensive gesture which maintained the national and regional strategic balance.”  

The following problems are quite obvious: The questions exhibit very poor command of the English language and manifest thinking in Urdu while transcribing in English. It is ironic that applicants are asked to write their answers in a language over which examiners have such poor control. There are factually incorrect, incomplete and misplaced questions. Most importantly, there are questions with only one safe answer and where matters of faith are asked to be scientifically proved.

It was Oscar Wilde who quipped that “In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.” This kind of examination would surely rule out the wise in favor of the dull, the timid, and the clever – those who memorize appropriate answers, refrain from speaking their minds, and say what would curry favor. A selection mechanism cannot identify selectees wiser than the selectors. That might explain the dilemma of the civil service in which each cohort is weaker than the one it succeeds. The order is the reverse in societies moving forward.

And consider that this is the state of the premier examination in the country. What might be the fate of the testing of lesser mortals is best left unexplored.

This opinion was published in Dawn on April 11, 2017 and is reproduced here with permission of the author. The first two articles in this series are CSS: Danger Alert and CSS: Why English?

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3 Responses to “CSS: Probing the Examination”

  1. Iqbal Akhund Says:

    Deplorable but we are using here a language in which we do not think. More serious problem with some of the questions is their ideological bent e.g. the position of armed forces in Turkish politics ; domination of European and Hindu culture over Islamic culture in politics

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Iqbal Sahib: You have rightly identified the more serious problem. I feel we should review the compulsory papers and the purpose of including questions (if they can be called questions) that have no room for disagreement. It seems the intention is to screen for loyalty to a particular narrative.

      You must have come across Strobe Talbott’s observations on the relative strengths of bureaucrats from India and Pakistan. I documented them some years back (https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2008/01/16/leadership/). And standards have been falling ever since.

      On language, it is not clear why we are using English if we do not think in that language. The selling point of using English as the medium of instruction is that it would make us globally competitive. The real outcome is that we have failed to master English and forgotten our own languages as well. I have tried to argue this point in an earlier article on the CSS (https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/css-why-english/).

  2. Anjum Altaf Says:

    An editorial in Dawn:

    https://www.dawn.com/news/1332730/the-decline-of-css

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