The tyranny of the English essay -- CSS 2019

Daily: Competitive Weekly
Date: 19.02.19

The essay writing journey of “My best friend” taking a “Morning walk” ended in the English
essay paper, the first one of the examination given by the Federal Public Service
Commission (FPSC) to the candidates of the Central Superior Services (CSS) on February

For many, the English essay paper was curtains. Taking the rest of papers became
instantly optional – or perhaps unnecessary. The battle lines were drawn. The FPSC
flabbergasted the candidates with the kind of essays given. The essay paper of 2018 failed
to be a model paper. Instead, the essay paper of 2017 took precedence over others: these
were thinking essays. The essay paper of 2019 was redolent of the essay paper of 2017. Ill
prepared, many candidates preferred to call it a day, though a minority had the temerity to
run the gauntlet of attempting the rest of papers.

The English essay paper of 2019 inflicted its tyranny and the victims were mostly those who
relied blindly on the guesswork prophesized by various academies (across the country)
claiming to prepare the prospective candidates for the CSS examination. Prognostication is
that the essay would take its toll claiming maximum casualties, if the FPSC remains
disinterested in proffering some solace – concessional pass marks.

Since December 2018, various kinds of essay guess had been taking rounds. Topics
mostly bruited about were allied to water crisis, economic crunch, terrorism, illiteracy,
democracy, corruption, overpopulation, women rights, judicial activism, religious extremism,
gender equality, good governance, social media, populism, protectionism, feminism, hybrid
war, Brexit, globalization, new world order, and the CPEC. The comfort with these topics
was that a prescribed material was available. The required effort was only the cramming
and regurgitation practice. The CSS (preparation) academies, which are ubiquitous now,
not only issued their top ten topics as a sure guess but they also churned out the answers
to the topics pronounced. In return, the academies amassed monetary gains. The reason
was that this formula of prediction had worked efficiently for the essay paper of 2018. At
that time, certain FPSC leakages had whispered out that the essay paper of 2017 was a
dispiriting experience and hence the FPSC would not repeat the pattern. Consequently, the
essay paper of 2018 was everybody’s guess. As if they were scrying with a crystal ball, the
foretellers proclaimed the validity of their prediction.

In the essay paper of 2019, out of given ten essays, only two essays carried the guessed
terms, if not the topics. The first such essay was at number 6, “New waves of feminism and
our culture.” Here, the FPSC succumbed to its branded obsession to choose at least one
from the three topics: women rights, gender equality and feminism. In the market (both
publishing and mentoring), on these three topics, there are available bespoke essays
larded with quotations hoarded by generations of civil servants as patrimony or bequeathal.
This is the downside. The challenge, however, in this topic was that what new waves of
feminism had smashed the cultural shores of Pakistani society recently. For instance, the
past one decade witnessed two major sources of feminism. One bombarding Pakistani
society through the social media (and the internet), whereas the other offering Pakistanis a
practical experience on women rights, liberties and emancipation through staying in western
countries by availing themselves of the facility of immigration. Education alone was not
enough, though education buttressed up both the sources. Any candidate surmounting this
challenge would cross the bridge. Nevertheless, it is estimated that around 40% candidates
might have attempted this essay.

The second such essay was at number 7, “Democracy and illiteracy do not move together.”
If the past essay papers served any purpose, these two terms, democracy and illiteracy,
are hackneyed mocking the quality standards set by the FPSC. These terms are the refuge
of the candidates graduating from “My best friend” and a “Morning walk” category of
essays. This is the downside. The challenge, however, embedded in this topic was that
what critical appreciation could be advanced on the direction of the topic. Writing in favour
of the essay topic could easily made the essay narrative and not analytical, exploratory or
argumentative. If not all, most candidates must have favoured the topic. That is, they might
have written in the favour of the topic, and this is where lay the catch. For instance, a
democratic electoral process founded Pakistan despite the fact that most voters (the
Muslims under the Separate Electorate) were illiterate and poor. If democracy and illiteracy
do not move together, where the decision of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent to have
a separate homeland stands. Any candidate overcoming the challenge of writing a critical
review on the titled essay before concluding the essay would cross the bridge.
Nevertheless, it is fathomed that around 50% candidates might have attempted this essay.

On the list, the essay at number 9, “Expanding information technology: a curse or blessing,”
must be a cakewalk for the candidates from the information technology background.
Similarly, the essay at number 3, “Urdu literature and Progressive Movement,” must have
helped the candidates loaded with the background of Urdu literature to feel enraptured with
surprise. These two essays inadvertently favoured the respective specialized areas. In
entirety, other than these four essay topics, the rest of six topics were excellent.
Nevertheless, what is the point in excellence (to earn any accolades), if these topics are
rendered unattempted.

Out of the rest of six essays, the essay at number 2, “New war fronts lie in economic zones,”
was a dodgy one. A weird category of candidates must have attempted this essay just to
give vent to their knowledge on the US-China trade competition (construed as a trade
conflict). This was a tricky essay because there is present no war front currently chasing
any trade conflict. Moreover, at least three economic zones were to be identified to show
trade conflicts that could mature into three war fronts in the future. Hardly can any CSS
candidate venture beyond the US-China trade conflict to comment on international
economic zones and potential war fronts.

Interestingly, on the one hand, six essay topics were outstanding commensurate with the
standards of a countrywide competitive examination, whereas on the other hand, the four
essay topics were sitting ducks.

The obverse side of the matter is two pronged. First, it is not known what talent the FPSC
intends to search amongst the candidates through the trite topics. Though the chance of
predicting the essay topics has lowered compared to the last year, this area invites further
attention. Second, in three hours, to write a satisfactory essay of 2,500 words on a topic is
very difficult. Topics have to be reflecting thinking essays, to be attempted impromptu, but
the word limit should be lowered

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