by: Saeedullah Wazir, Islamabad
According to the annual FPSC reports, just 2.09 percent of the students who had sat the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams passed, with 92pc failing in English. To begin with, the essay paper is the most difficult and straight knockout paper. In English, being a second language, the fate of success or failure hinges on enviable proficiency and immaculate competence.
Essay topics are generally open-ended; do not have a planned ending, so it may develop in several ways. They are teeming with pregnant meanings, having two dimensions i.e. intellectual and practical. Unfortunately, due to lack of clinical and multi-dimensional understanding and knowledge, mostly candidates come up with unproductive work instead of balance between different dimensions. There appears to be a marked disconnect in cognitive abilities to handle a subject matter skillfully, rendering the whole exercise patchy and unconvincing. For example, there was an essay on ‘war on terror and human rights abuse’. Students badly failed to decode its global relevance and instead wrote on terrorism in Pakistan-specific context.
Candidates churn out scripts lacking in coherence, organisation and focus, ideas and thoughts exhibited little logical reasoning or research based facts and arguments. Imaginative and professional endeavors, the hallmarks of competitive candidates, are missing abysmally; majority of them did not know the basics of essay like well-defined vocabulary, graphic paragraphs division and grammar-related sensitivities.
Majority of candidates are not aware of the correct use of inductive and deductive approaches. An argument has one or more premises and one conclusion, a large majority of the candidates incorporated formulaic, conventional, crammed up material in the essays. They are unable to explore argument from multiple angles and substantiate it with facts and figures.
Owing to lack of rigorous practice and scientifically retained and accurate knowledge, candidates do not fulfill the criterion of required length, ranging from three to five thousand words. The essays are also replete with egregious errors of grammar, spellings and punctuation.
The outlines of the essays are not properly framed and implemented both in terms of sequence and utility. They are either too brief or much extensive paving the way for glossing over important points.
Words are the currency of communication. They use very conventional, elementary and contextually poor vocabulary items which render them unable to grasp ideas and think more logically, curtail power of persuasion and do not make a good impression on examiner.
They do not know the strategies of making précis writing in a befitting manner, which exposes their lack of practice and knowledge of how a comprehensive note is written. They overlook functional and communicative aspect paving the way for semantically and syntactically incorrect piece of writing. Moreover, they do not know proper requirements of the third person and past tense produce précis in paragraphs’ form, direct speech and weak vocabulary.
Translation from one language to another is a technical task requiring strong command over syntax, phraseology and etymology of words to effectively translate the given Urdu paragraph into true substance and style. Students, due to lack of exposure to English as a language rather than as a subject, could not come up with logical whole.
Students fail badly in grammar due to lack of expertise in writing conventions such as capitalisation, punctuation, spelling and other technical aspects.