The CSS bug catches everyone; school kids, undergraduates, graduates, doctorates, as also working people among them. After all the Civil Services is one of the most prestigious careers in Pakistan one can aspire for.
But working people face some unique constraints when they decide to jump onto the CSS bandwagon. Constraints of time, resources, energy, focus, and responsibilities. Those preparing for civil services exam full time are to a large extent free of such constraints.
However not all these constraints are hurdles. Some are blessings in disguise while others can be overcome with the right planning and effort. After all when we are determined how can a 9-5 job stop us from realizing our goal?
Make the Best Use of Time at Your Disposal
This might seem a most obvious thing to do when preparing for the CSS given the fact that you have very little time to devote exclusively to CSS preparation so it makes sense to utilize it most effectively. But the question is How to make the optimal use of time in our hands?
You might have heard in coaching classes and from your friends that one has to prepare for 15-18 hours every day to crack the CSS. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Working people don’t have the luxury of dedicating 15 hours daily to CSS preparation. Nor is it required. Instead, get smart with your preparation. Instead of trying to cover the entire syllabus, be selective. Pick the sections that are easy to score and cover.
For CSS these topics include current affairs, geography, politics, comprehension, passage, decision making, and statistics. These topics are easy to score off and can be prepared while traveling and in your free time not just while preparing in your study time.
GK based topics are fun to read for most, make sure you don’t pick a tedious topic as these require forced effort and greater focus, two elements that are in short supply while traveling or during office hours. The best way to build your knowledge base is by reading things that your find interesting and which excite you.
Do you like to know more about the facts of Pakistan or maybe about sports or philately or just anything. This is the right way to read a year book.
Map based questions are also easy to score off and if you dedicate even 15 minutes to studying the atlas everyday you can get almost all the map based questions correct in the exams. But maps cannot be mastered in just 10 or 15 days. Doing so will leave you more confused that confident. Rather, develop a habit of going through the atlas once daily.
The best approach to start with atlas study is to glance through the maps to just get an idea of the country, its coasts, oceans, states. After you have familiarized yourself go for more in-depth study by focusing on physical geography of states, national highways, mountains, glaciers, rivers, islands, inland seas etc.
For studying maps I recommend the Oxford Student Atlas which is the recommended atlas by experienced CSS aspirants and past CSS toppers as well. The maps are detailed, font is quite clear and information is accurate.
Another way to make the most of available time is to read the newspaper or a good magazine in your free time. The Dawn is high quality newspapers. If you can’t get hold of the former go with the latter. When reading newspapers focus on editorials and news articles that are of relevance to CSS preparation.
So you can see having less time is no reason to not prepare for the CSS. By making the right use of limited time, you can turn this seeming liability into an asset. Leave the more time consuming topics like Science, History etc. to weekends and holidays or early morning schedule.
Get More Done in Less Time
The thing with time as well as money is we tend to waste a lot of it when available in excess. The same hold true of civil services preparation. Aspirants who have been preparing full time for two or more years tend to become less productive make less than optimal use of time at their disposal.
As a working person who is hard pressed for time you should make the most of the limited preparation time you get. If you read Tim Ferris’s excellent book The Four Hour Work Week, he speaks of the 80/20 principle (first propounded by economist Vilfredo Pareto) which states that we get 80 percent of the work done in 20 percent of the time, the rest is usually wasted.
You can use this principle to telling effect in your CSS preparation. Focus on getting the maximum done in least amount of time. For this you will need to prepare a list of things to study, the most important first. Then assign just enough time or slightly less to cover these topics but not too less as this will put undue pressure on you. You will feel an urgency to cover the chosen topics as compared to studying without proper planning or strategy.
Develop a Routine and Stick to It
Developing a routine will enable you to develop focus and prepare the syllabus within a short time. Developing a routine is even more essential for working people due to limited time available to them.
Pick a time slot, maybe in the evening or night or early morning where you can study uninterrupted for 2-3 hours. Some people prefer late night study while others like the calm and serenity of early mornings. Take your pick but stick to it. Even 2-3 hours of dedicated study coupled with the above tips to read a magazine, newspaper, year book or atlas during the day hours can be an effective preparation plan.
Obviously you will need to take some pains to stay awake late or wake up early to study but then cracking the CSS while working does take some extra effort. But the fruit is well worth it.
You Don’t Have to Leave Your Job to Prepare for CSS
I get queries from working people asking should they leave their jobs to focus on CSS preparation.
Well, let’s confess while putting in a year of dedicated preparation is ideal not many people have the luxury of leaving their jobs.
Especially those handling familial responsibilities as well. In that case let me assure you, you can very well prepare while working. Many people have cracked the civil services exam while working and you can too. The new FPSC pattern is such that you no longer need to focus exclusively one subject to sail through.
Rather the focus is on general knowledge, environment, public administration, English grammar and gender studies. All these topics can be very well prepared while working at the same time. This is what the above tips are all about. At the most you should take about a month off from the job, if possible, before the CSS mains.
Having a Job Has its Own Benefits
Yes this is true. The CSS exam is such that if you crack it in the first or second attempt you’re on the top of the world but as the years and attempts roll by, there’s a sense of insecurity that can impede your preparation, hinder your focus and thus further heightens the insecurity in a vicious circle. Much of this insecurity is economic in nature as you invest your most productive years in an unknown territory.
Working people are to a large extent free of such insecurities. They have a job to fall back on. This in turn helps them be calm and collected and solely focus on their preparation without bothering too much about possible failure. And remember, preparing without thinking about the end result is actually the best way to prepare for this exam.
Even though it’s quite difficult to achieve such a poised state of being. Secondly, people with jobs can invest some resources in important coaching activities like test series, mock interviews etc which are luxuries not everyone can afford.
The other big advantage working people have is during the interview stage and this can be huge. The interview panel looks favourably upon someone who has reached the interview while working as this means they have something to fall back on and have previous job experience as well. People working in the public sector especially have an edge as compared to someone who has been preparing full time for years.
Most Useful Online resource for CSS Preparation
For website links and Facebook pages, I personally find official page of CSS Times to be most relevant for FPSC, NTS and other competitive exams. Follow their official Facebook Page CSS Times. CSS Times is also one of the most acceptable source for various components of the exam by many aspirants.
Like CSS Times Facebook Page to get daily CSS
Have Will? Will Do
Ultimately it’s a question of will power. Are you prepared to overcome these hurdles to achieve your cherished goal? The same holds true for those preparing full time. No amount of time or coaching can see you through if you don’t take action, don’t utilize the time and notes available at your disposal.
So buckle up and take action. Preparing for CSS while working is seemingly hard but the journey is very much possible once you decide to undertake it. Do so today.