In conversation with Ammar Hashmi, the CSS qualifier from Multan, he scored 588 marks overall!
More than 30,000 passionate individuals prepare for the highly competitive CSS examination every year, while over 50,000 aspirants take PMS attempts across Pakistan. However, many of them face a common problem – lack of guidance and direction. They are often left with unanswered questions and confusion about how to approach the exams. This is where the CPF steps in to help. Recently, the CPF had an exclusive conversation with Ammar Hashmi, a CSS qualifier from Multan. He shared his personal experiences and insights on how to prepare for the CSS exam, the challenges he faced, and the strategies he used to overcome them. This interview is a must-read for all CSS aspirants seeking direction and guidance. So, if you are one of those aspirants seeking guidance and inspiration to prepare for CSS or PMS exams, CPF is the perfect platform for you. With its comprehensive resources and expert guidance, you can enhance your preparation and achieve your goals.
Please introduce yourself to CSS, PMS, and competitive aspirants!
I’m Ammar Hashmi, a mechanical engineering graduate from UET Lahore. I started preparing for the CSS exams in July 2022 and gave my first attempt in 2023. Alhamdulillah, I qualified on my first attempt, although did not score 600 but scored 588.
Kindly tell aspirants about your education and any extra circular activities!
I studied Mechanical engineering at UET Lahore (RCET campus) from 2018-2022. Along with my education, I was active in various student-led societies at the campus level. I was the president of the ASHRAE Rachna chapter (an International American Society). Apart from this, I was the provincial president of a national-level NGO named JZT Pakistan, striving to bring thalassemia to an end. Moreover, my hobbies include collecting coins and stamps, photography, and traveling. In addition, I love to play cricket, badminton, and table tennis.
What was your push factor for such a highly competitive examination, CSS?
Self-motivation was my push factor for such a highly competitive examination (CSS). First, I felt bad whenever I saw any problem and people complaining about it. I always wondered why they did not become a part of the system to rectify it. Thus, I geared myself up for this exam so that I could become a problem rectifier instead of being the one always complaining. Second, I wanted to change the outlook of the government officers as much as I could while staying within the prescribed boundaries, and I wanted to play a positive role in my country.
Can an academy help an aspirant prepare and qualify for the CSS examination?
I disagree with the fact that some aspirants believe that only the academy can help them prepare and qualify for the CSS examination. The only purpose of the academies is to make money, as they are running the organization for business purposes, not for community service. Thus, they just give you a brief overview of the topics. Other than that, they don’t add any specific value to your preparation. Instead of an academy, any specific teacher who is an expert in his subject can help you. Still, you will have to strive yourself to cross the line.
Why do most CSS and PMS qualifiers not recommend CSS or PMS preparation under CSS officers’ coaching?
The major reason for not recommending CSS or PMS preparation under CSS officers’ coaching is that they aren’t the subject specialists and can only provide you with what they had studied while preparing for their attempt. Thus, they lack most of the time in providing you with deep insights into the subjects and you, as an aspirant, find it challenging to grasp the concepts needed to attempt the exam comprehensively. If you have been to any officer, especially the ones selling their courses on social media, you might have noticed they made you baffled and frustrated instead of helping you become confident. I know hundreds of CSS and PMS aspirants dependent on CSS or PMS officers, and, unfortunately, most failed to qualify for the examination.
Another reason is most of the CSS officers cleared their exams years ago, and the subject dynamics since then have changed a lot, but they tell you to follow their strategies, which also proves fatal in the exam. Also, some newbies start teaching as soon as they enter CSA. This also undermines the quality of education as they also don’t have much insight into the subjects.
Are the solved past papers and notes shared in FB groups up to the mark?
The solved past papers and notes sharing in FB and WhatsApp groups are nothing more than just a time waste if you are a serious CSS or PMS aspirant. First, most of the time, the group or page admins just want to gain followers, so they post such stuff. Second, if it isn’t the case of followers, then the stuff is too old or outdated that it can’t be used to excel in the exams. Third, sometimes, it is stolen from various online or physical classes and thus incomplete. Thus, a serious aspirant should prepare his own notes if he or she wants to score well in exams; otherwise, it would just become a distant dream to clear competitive examinations.
Are following CSS or PMS officers on Social Media and listening to their tips and tricks helpful or time-wasting?
Following CSS or PMS officers on Social Media and listening to their mere tips and tricks is a waste of time. If one strategy has worked for that particular officer, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Having social media (except YouTube, as it helps often) is a massive waste of time for a competitive aspirant. A serious aspirant should avoid social media during his preparation, especially during the last few months, as it’s pretty addictive, diverts the mind from studies, and helps waste a significant chunk of time.
How much time did you study daily to prepare and qualify for the CSS examination?
I devised a timetable for myself that starts with me getting up and enlists everything till I go to sleep. I used to wake up in fajar and went to bed at nearly 12 midnight. In the daytime, I only had namaz breaks, meal breaks, and a few short breaks of 20 to 30 minutes. Apart from these, I had divided time slots for everything I intended to do during the day. So, cumulatively, I used to study at least 10 hours daily.
Did you make your own notes or follow any other qualifier? What was your strategy for note-making?
Yes, I made my own notes and never followed any qualifier on social media or in person. I followed a comprehensive strategy for note-making. First, I looked into the course outline as well as past papers. Then, I made my notes in pointer format, enlisting everything I needed to prepare to fulfil the subject’s contemporary requirements.
In your opinion, what is the key to making a difference in the written part of the exam?
In my opinion, apart from preparation, the primary thing is writing practice, which can help you make a significant difference in the exam. The aspirant must have practised attempting 4 questions within the given time and also have practised attempting two exams with a little break. This encompasses mental preparedness and greatly boosts the aspirant’s confidence.
What was your strategy to get through compulsory subjects to score good marks?
My strategy to get through compulsory subjects to score good marks was simple: prepare and practice. Starting with the essay, I used to prepare a specific domain and then practised a full-length essay. Second, I used to attempt at least one precis passage and one comprehension passage daily to gain a firm grip on the most critical parts. Third, I consulted a teacher in the beginning who helped me understand the dynamics of the current affairs paper. Thus, I looked into the past papers, analyzed them, and prepared them accordingly.
Fourth, Pakistan affairs, I followed quite a similar pattern as of current affairs but for topics engulfing Pakistan. Fifth, in GSA, I was good at maths; thus, I practised every question I encountered from any source, be it a book or the web, and practised all the questions from past papers. Also, I revised almost all the science portions with a particular focus on past paper questions. Last, Islamiat, I carefully observed the trends in the past papers and devised a pattern which has been followed for years in a paper setting.
Then, I prepared accordingly and got almost all the questions per the analysis. Moreover, the answer to MCQs is either you know or you don’t know, so don’t waste much time. Try to attempt within 5 to 8 minutes and utilize the remaining time in making outlines while attempting the paper. Thus, analyzing things independently is the key to scoring good marks in compulsory subjects.
As per Sir Syed Kazim Ali, English has been the basis upon which your knowledge and perspectives are judged in the CSS and PMS examinations. Do you agree?
Yes, I agree entirely that English is the basis for judging your knowledge and perspectives in the CSS and PMS examinations. The first reason is that an aspirant has to attempt every paper (sometimes except for Islamiat and language paper) in English. Thus, having a good grip on English becomes a key to success. Second, the essay paper is comprehensive and enough to judge an aspirant’s calibre, as writing a hundred-mark essay isn’t a piece of cake.
What is the best strategy to attempt a 20-mark question to score the maximum marks?
The best strategy to attempt a 20-mark question to score the maximum marks is quite simple. Read the question statement twice or thrice, try to understand what the examiner is asking you, and make a rough outline on the back side of your sheet and enlist all the points that come to your mind. Do this for all the four questions you intend to attempt, and then start attempting them one by one. This way, you will not have to think about what to write and omit. Also, doing so will help you analyze which question you should attempt first. After doing so, start the question by making a brief outline. By following all these steps, an aspirant can score good marks. Past papers’ questions published on the Cssprepforum website are also highly helpful, as they are attempted by those who scored the highest marks in particular subjects. They helped me a lot to know how to attempt questions.
I have attached some of my 20-mark question links below for the aspirants’ reference. You can visit them to find the best way to attempt a question to score high.
Which session of Sir Syed Kazim Ali did you enrol in, and how did you plan the preparation for the rest of the subjects along with the rigorous course?
I joined the Extensive English Essay and Precis Session of Sir Syed Kazim Ali, and with this, I started preparing for the GSA Paper. Then, as time passed and I adjusted to my routine, I started Pakistan affairs and other compulsory subjects as sir himself teaches about 20 marks questions. If you carefully take the lecture, do the assignment daily, and leave nothing to tomorrow, you will have ample time to focus on other subjects.
How did Sir Syed Kazim Ali help you prepare for the English essay and precis papers to qualify?
First, Sir Syed Kazim Ali thoroughly taught everything in his course. Not only did he teach us, but at the same time, he compelled us to practice multiple times so that we could grasp the topic, be it an essay or a precis paper’s component. As stated earlier, the more you practice, the more you will learn about your preparation and will work on rectifying your mistakes. He not only assigned us the tasks for our practice but also checked them, told us our mistakes, and compelled us to improve those mistakes. His strategy helped almost many of us qualify for the essay and precis paper.
If you want to excel in your English writing skills and become a confident and fluent writer, you must join his extensive session without any second thoughts. I have personally witnessed the remarkable transformation in my friends and me who enrolled in his course. Not only did we improve our essay and precis writing skills, but we also learned how to effectively communicate through articles, blogs, and research articles. I always suggest all my friends and serious aspirants join him because he not only helps you prepare for English essays and precis papers but also enables you to communicate confidently and fluently. Indeed, his session is meticulously designed to cater to the needs of competitive aspirants who are determined to succeed in the CSS and PMS examinations.
What was your strategy to structure your essay, as you had learned under Sir Syed Kazim Ali’s mentorship?
My strategy to structure the essay during the exam was straightforward, as taught by Sir Kazim, and I stuck to it. I read the given topics, used the elimination method to eradicate the topics I won’t be writing on and was left with two topics. Then, I chose one topic I felt more comfortable writing on. After selecting the topic, I made a rough outline on the last page and enlisted all the points. After doing so, I started writing on the main sheet. I started with the thesis statement, gave a basic understanding of the topic, and then hit the topic by enlisting the most relevant points. Most importantly, I referenced facts and figures in almost all the points to prove my stance. Ultimately, I gave the antithesis and critical analysis before concluding the topic. This way, I structured my essay, which helped me qualify for the exam. Apart from the structure, the thing that helped me the most was the credible references in almost every point. To know more about essay attempting techniques, I suggest you keep reading all essays published on Cssprepforum because each essay is checked by Sir Kazim.
How was your experience with Sir Syed Kazim Ali during your English essay and precis learning session?
My experience with Sir Syed Kazim Ali during my English Essay and Precis learning session was excellent. He isn’t merely a teacher who teaches essays and precis; he is a mentor who teaches life, too. He aims to build the character of a future civil servant so that our country can eliminate the quagmire of poor governance. Also, I must say he also teaches a lot of things regarding other compulsory subjects, especially the techniques on how to attempt a 20-mark question in the most sophisticated manner to gain maximum marks.
How much did the Cssprepforum website help you learn the art of attempting essays and questions?
While I was being exploited by some academies in Multan during my preparation, one of my friends recommended the Cssprepforum website. It is nothing less than heaven for CSS aspirants. Here, I found a lot of solved essays and compulsory and optional papers. Having the solved papers is not a big deal; the main thing for me was the strict maintenance of quality standards at the website that complemented my preparation and helped me qualify for the CSS examination.
How should CSS or PMS aspirants choose optional subjects?
CSS or PMS aspirants should choose optional subjects by considering a few parameters. First, they should check if any subject matches their previous course of study and whether they have a good grip on the subject or not. If they have a good grip, they must opt for that subject. Other than that, the aspirant should check if any subject matches his interest; if yes, he should opt for that too. Suppose these parameters don’t enable the aspirant to choose his subjects. In that case, he should go for subjects that complement his preparation for other subjects like environmental sciences, as it will ultimately help the aspirant in essay papers, Current affairs papers, and even Pakistan affairs papers.
Does learning English writing help CSS and PMS aspirants qualify for the examinations?
As stated earlier, English is the epicentre for the success of CSS and PMS aspirants if he or she wants to qualify for the examinations. Almost every paper needs to be attempted in English; thus, a good grip on English will ultimately complement the aspirant in every subject. Moreover, the decisive factor in most cases is the essay and precis paper, which can’t be qualified without a good understanding and practice of English.
Can an aspirant qualify for the CSS or PMS examination in 3 to 5 months?
An aspirant qualifying for the CSS or PMS examination in 3 to 5 months is a marketing gimmick to sell online courses in various subjects. In fact, humanly analyzing, it’s near impossible for a newbie to jump into this stratum and qualify and even get allocated a total study of 3 to 5 months. While talking about the bare minimum, it also depends upon your preparation as some aspirants can prepare thoroughly within 12 months, and some even take 2 years. So, it’s your own self that will tell you whether you are prepared or not. Moreover, the supervision of a good mentor, sheer determination, complete focus, and thorough practice are some of the essential aspects of your preparation.
How should new aspirants start preparing for the CSS or PMS examination?
New aspirants should start their preparation with English, and for that purpose, they should join Sir Syed Kazim Ali. Not because he is my teacher but because I haven’t found someone better at doing what he does. Along with the enrollment in his English course, the aspirant should start with GSA as it is a relatively easy subject and will serve as a building block in enabling the aspirant to adjust his routine.
Should CSS and PMS aspirants join officers or expert teachers for their exam preparation?
Joining officers has now become a tainted thing as most of the newbies and most too old officers are teaching, and they are both unaware of the contemporary and evolving demands of the subject(s) they are teaching. On the other hand, joining expert teachers is the way to go without any doubt. If the teacher has experience teaching aspirants and has good insights about the demands of the examination, then it is good; otherwise, the expert teacher will help you grasp the concepts of the subjects and the rest of the research will be on you to mold the learnings according to the exam requirements.
Kindly tell aspirants what they should avoid while preparing for the CSS and PMS examinations?
The first and foremost thing that the aspirants should avoid while preparing for the CSS and PMS examinations is social media. It is addictive, consumes much time, and diverts the serious attention of the aspirant from his studies. Second, the aspirant should not be a staunch supporter of any political party, as his extra advocacy for that party will undermine his neutrality and his stance in the exam. Third, the aspirant should not listen to and act upon everything from other aspirants and so-called teachers on media platforms. Instead, he should devise his own strategy to excel in the examination.
How did you manage the physical and mental stress during exams? Any tips for the fresh aspirants feeling nervous about appearing in examinations.
As far as mental stress is concerned, it’s just a matter of confidence, and it will be high when you have done enough practice beforehand. So, to become mentally strong on the exam day, the aspirant should at least practice once before exams in the morning and evening schedule of attempting to complete the paper as per the date sheet and timing. Doing so will tune his mind according to the paper attempting in actuality and will help him efficiently manage time. Thus, the more such practice, the better. Also, try to sleep nearly at 12 midnight and wake up in Fajar and pray to the Almighty for success, as without Allah almighty’s will, our efforts are nothing. Moreover, think of it as just an exam, and the world will not end after this exam. This will also help you calm yourself a bit before the exam. Further, after 2 to 3 exams, you will start to adjust to the routine, and your mental pressure will be relieved.
On the other hand, giving 2 papers daily is nothing less than an extreme physical exercise in which you must write 6 hours continuously with a good connection to your thought process. Short sleep cycles also exacerbate physical stress. Thus, try to get at least 5 hours of sleep and remember that you only have to revise the course in just 2 hours, and you can’t learn anything new on the eve of the exam. So, by damaging your sleep, you are losing potential marks in those things you have already prepared. So, just revise and let your mind relax in the nighttime. This will surely help you overcome the physical stress of a hectic day.
Should an aspirant think about which attempt he or she will make even before initiating the preparation?
No, that would be nothing less than a blunder or a disaster to think like that. The aspirant should start the preparation, and two months before the exams, he or she should analyze whether the preparation is enough to qualify for the exam. If the answer from the inner self is yes, then the aspirant should go for the attempt, and if the answer is otherwise, he or she should refrain from going for the exams, prepare more thoroughly, and take the exams in the next attempt.
Some academies are overhyping the preparation of MPT. Is the difficulty level worth the hype, or is it just a marketing gimmick?
MPT is just a test of basic knowledge taken in multiple-choice questions, with 33% as the passing percentage. Thus, I believe it is nothing more than a marketing strategy to sell separate courses and make some extra money from the aspirants. MPT is usually arranged a few months before the final exams, and if an aspirant thinks that he or she needs a course to even prepare for the MPT, he or she should better not make an attempt as MPT encompasses basic concepts and someone who has studied for the CSS final examination with a bit seriousness, doesn’t need any kind of coaching for MPT. So, just take it easy, understand its structure and prepare yourself by practising mathematics questions and revising the English aspects, and you will be good to go. In my opinion, the best MPT book I have ever studied and recommended is nothing but CSS Screening MCQs Book by Howtests. The book is freely available. I recommended it to everybody, and no one scored less than 130.