CSS Strategies for Books, Newspapers and Magazines readings

By Shahid Iqbal

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” 

Being aspirants to the competitive exam, we go through lots of study materials daily. Unfortunately, due to a widespread lack of proper guidance and holistic understanding, we are confused and grapple with issues randomly most of the time. The aspirants in most cases due to the lack of direction, random and irrelevant readings, and inconsistency in behavior are faced with disappointment.

The FPSC conducted exams last week; many of my friends took their exams. While in a productive discussion with them, they told me about the complications they faced during the exam regarding time management, understanding of the given topic, and most importantly, being unable to revise the subject before entering the examination hall. Resultantly, it compelled me to write this article and help those fresh candidates who are entering into the race and many other aspirants like my friends and me to be in a better position to cope with such complex issues faced by many of us during preparation.

In my teachers’ opinion and my broad exposure in western institutions, CSS is not difficult but different; it requires clinical and scientific understanding of the subject matter accordingly. The key to succeed in competitive exams lies in extensive reading and holistic understanding and inking down what is studied. To solve the mystery of CSS, the students are required to master the skill to decode and link topics methodically and read suggested books, newspapers and other authentic journals with philosophical understanding.

Common complications faced by the students:

  • Lack of understanding/comprehension
  • Subject selection
  • Lack of apposite guidance
  • Time mismanagement
  • Random and immaterial readings
  • Digital tutorship
  • Lack of command over English language
  • Lack of appropriate study plan
  • Being unable to take short but comprehensive notes
  • Being unable to decode the dimensions of the topic
  • Taking pressure as exams approaches near
  • Nonseriousness in attitude

Here are a few helpful reading strategies that will help to cater to the prevailing challenges:

Subject selection and appropriate guidance:

It is the first and the foremost requirement to be fulfilled. A good choice can make your journey more convenient and fruitful and a bad one can sink your ship. As it is said, experience is very expensive, not everyone can afford it. Learn from the experiences of your seniors. Therefore, before getting into it, know your strengths and understand the trends of the subjects by consulting experienced teachers and seniors aspirants.

Know your syllabus first:

To start preparation for any of the subjects, its mandatory to know the syllabus, it should be on your fingertips. That will help you save your valuable time and energy.

Books selection and reading patterns:

After you are done with your syllabus understanding, now its time for you to select authentic and credible books  suggested by the board of  the FPSC. Sadly, as a nation we are faced with the dilemma of bibliphobia and rely more on short, readily available and run-of-the-mill material available in the market. As I have already mentioned, CSS is not difficult it is all about being different as a student we should select credible and standardized readings that enhance our creative skills, polish our critical thinking and broaden our mind spectrum. As one of my teachers used to say that read one substantive and thought-provoking book 10 times rather than reading 10 books one time and  unsystematically.

Time management:

As someone has rightly said, ‘there is no time like the present.’ Value your time and utilize it to the best possible extent, it is a skill that comes with practice, manage your time, dedicate hours to practice writing, especially English essay minimum twice a week and formulate a fixed timetable to do away with your subjects on time.

How to read newspapers and magazines:

For any competitive exam, it is required to imbibe the habit of reading a newspaper and other periodic journals daily for one to two hours but being specific and purposeful in the selection of relevant reading is the most important and effective strategy. Being a CSS aspirant, you would be hard pressed for time and it is important not to take more than an hour or so for your daily newspaper reading. Reading a newspaper should be taken as a textbook reading rather than a novel reading, so it is important for the aspirants when they sit down to read a newspaper they should be holding a pen and paper and underline all the important and relevant data regarding domestic and international politics, new trends in politics and business, national GDPs and other political, economic and technological developments in the world and pen it down on a paper. One should skim through the news headlines once to make sure if there is any relevant article in other sections of the paper but one should never skip reading the opinion and editorial sections. It will help you grow your knowledge about contemporary affairs and improve your vocabulary. To improve your speed you must understand how articles are written in newspapers in order to read them effectively. It is said that reading is the reverse of writing.

Newspapers follow a technique called the ‘inverted pyramid’. As per this technique, the gist of the whole article is mentioned in the first paragraph itself. Then, they expand it giving additional details which may or may not be relevant for you. Therefore, you don’t have to read through the whole news item to extract relevant data for your notes.

Relativity and comprehension:

It is perceived that CSS has a scattered syllabus and is impossible for the candidates to cover it in due course of time but this is not the case. As a matter of fact, CSS studies complement other subjects in many ways, for instance, the water crisis in Pakistan is a topic that is relevant in three of the major subjects, Pak affairs, Current affairs, and English essay. To overcome this anxiety of scattered syllabus, finding relevance and critically evaluating the given topic is a time-tested technique that will save your valuable time and reduce your efforts.

How to compile questions from different sources:

As there are certain topics which are part of the syllabus but are not answered or mentioned in any book, to answer those questions and understand, the students are required to consult different dailies and periodic journals, other research websites, go through critical overviews, and collect and compile relevant material, e.g., Economic Challenges in Pakistan and Changing Security Dynamics for Pakistan: Challenges to National Security of Pakistan are the questions frequently asked by the examiner in the question paper but are not comprehensively answered in any book. In order to compile such questions, the students are required to critically understand the topic and then collect data from different sources and give it a shape of a full-fledged question and keep it updating to the last day of exam.

Why making notes is important?

Making notes is essential for the preparation of Civil Services examination and there are several reasons. One, notes makes you to understand the given topic clearly. This is because you have to pick up important points and condense them in few words or sentences while making notes. Second, writing down any information helps you to remember it much better. Thirdly, making notes is a good practice for thinking and writing about the given topic. Fourth, well-made notes help you to avoid going back to voluminous study material. Lastly, notes remind you of the most important points of each topic and help you in your final revision.

Note taking techniques:

As you read different books, papers and journals underline and write it down on a paper at times you are reading it. There are two types of note taking methods:

The first type is called linear notes. It is a method in which you condense the material you have read using headings and subheadings and jotting down the most important points.

The second one is called pattern notes for this type of note taking we have to begin the topic at the center of the page. Each line radiating from it represents a branch of the main idea. Each point is written as briefly as possible using a keyword or a phrase. It is a better method to adopt because it is more flexible than making Linear notes. One can add extra information to it at any point without any problem. The second advantage is that we can see the whole pattern in one go without actually turning the pages. Thirdly we can indicate the links between different topics more easily than we can do in a linear method. Another advantage of pattern notes is that it is exceptionally useful when making notes from memory for revision as you keep jotting down points as they occur to you. This makes it easier to revise for exams and writing out essays as only brief keywords are used. Lastly, it is easier to remember as notes are made in a shape format.

 Thumb rules for taking notes:

  • Keep it extremely simple and organized, with bullet points.
  • Refer to as few books as possible as too many sources will only confuse you.
  • Abbreviations should be used to save time while making notes.
  • Make sure that your notes have points which you will want to remember, it is a choice and the important points alone deserve to be a part of it.

Shahid Iqbal is a keen and hardworking aspirant to CSS and PMS.He studied at Peshawar. He specializes in Management and Administrative Studies from London School of Economics. He runs a Facebook page, CSS Essay, Precis and Current Affairs with Saeed Wazir.He has command over regional and global contemporary studies and voluntarily  teaches US history at G 9/2 at Saeed Wazir’s CSS ESSAY AND PRECIS center.

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