The selection of optional subjects for CSS examinations can be controversial depending on whom you ask. Some people say there is no method to it and one should select whatever they are comfortable with; whereas, others will argue it is an extremely important decision and should not be taken lightly. Either way, attempting CSS in itself is a huge decision so it makes no sense to take any aspect of it lightly. One should do their best to leave no space for error.
There are 45 optional subjects divided between 7 groups and a total of 600 marks worth of subjects must be selected. For example, one can choose International Relations (200), Business Administration (100), US History (100), Gender Studies (100), and Sociology (100) for a total of 600 marks. The list of optional subjects and requirements are attached at the bottom of this article for extra clarification.
The first aspect from which subjects should be analyzed and selected is a strategic one. This includes figuring out if the subject is high scoring, low scoring or average scoring, which is determined based on past and current trends. A subject is designated as high scoring if, on average, candidates have been scoring more than 70 marks in it, an average scoring subject would be one where the score usually lies in the 50’s and 60’s, and a low scoring subject is one that consistently delivers a score below 50 marks. Accounting and Auditing, Business Administration and Regional Languages are generally considered among the high scoring subjects. It goes without saying that a CSS aspirant would want to select a subject that is high scoring.
Past trends are important because they show when a subject was last targeted. Sometimes a subject is targeted and over 90% of people who selected it end up failing. For example, every 4 years later certain subjects are targeted and others are targeted after every 10 years. These trends also show a pattern of when a subject is low scoring or high scoring. A classic example is International Relations, which scores well every alternate year.
Personal interest should be taken into consideration because if one finds the subject boring, it becomes tedious spending time preparing for it and the student is prone to distractions. To avoid making things difficult during CSS preparation, one should choose something they find interesting. Some people absolutely cannot tolerate history, so they should avoid group 4 and choose something from another group in its place.
Another factor to consider is if the subject has any overlapping content with another, which means that preparing for one subject would be the equivalent of preparing part of another. This strategy helps with saving time and energy. Political Science has content that overlaps with 30% of Governance and Public Policy, 30% of US History, 25% of Public Administration and 10% of Gender Studies. It also helps with English Essay and Pakistan Affairs.
The second aspect from which subjects should be analyzed from is a tactical and operational one, meaning that factors such as course length and time needed to cover the syllabus are important. Before 2016, Indo-Pak History, Islamic History, British History, and even European History, all used to be subjects worth 200 marks but since then they are worth only 100 marks; however, their syllabi have not been reduced in length. When choosing a history subject, one should be cognizant of this factor and know that they are preparing for a 200 marks subject that is only worth 100 marks.
Furthermore, does the CSS aspirant have any background in the subject? Do they have a degree in the subject? Do they have any exposure to it at all? Is the subject one that requires Master’s level knowledge, Bachelor’s level knowledge, or no background at all? One must ask themselves these questions before selecting certain subjects. Computer Science, Economics, Accountancy and Auditing, Botany, and Agriculture and Forestry are all subjects that cannot and should not be selected without a solid background, otherwise they lead to failure.
There are 2 types of students: those who employ the method of rote memorization and those who are more conceptual, everyone else lies somewhere on the spectrum. Those who are strong at rote memorization should select different subjects than those who are more conceptual. International Relations is a conceptual subject and requires the application of clear concepts during the examination. Whereas, Political Science suits those who use rote memorization because it focuses on philosophers and constitutions.
Finally, the CSS aspirant should do some research and find out if the subject they are interested in has good books that are easily available. And if they intend on joining an academy, they need to find out if there are teachers available for the subjects they want to select. There are 45 optional subjects plus 6 compulsory subjects, which makes it impractical and unfeasible for any academy to have teachers for every single one.
At National Officer’s Academy (NOA academy), students preparing for CSS examinations are provided with expert professional guidance on subject selection. The 2nd day of NOA academy’s 3-Day seminar (first 2 days are free) is a 3-hour session with the CEO of NOA, Dr. Muhammad Atif Ali, who goes over every single optional subject in detail and discusses all of the above factors. On the 3rd day of the seminar, a team of highly qualified and experienced faculty members provide individual guidance and support based on the student’s education, background, interests and aptitude.
National Officers Academy