Less than 2% of all applicants cleared the CSS Examinations 2023, many of whom were appearing for their first attempt. You may have heard that most people fail the exam the first time they try, but if you want to know how to pass the CSS exam on the first attempt, you’ve come to the right place.

How to Pass the CSS Exam in the 1st Attempt?

As you read on, we will take you through the several optimizations you can make to your study plan, optional subject selection process, English essay preparation, and much more. Passing the CSS exam easily requires not just endless hours of study, but more importantly, excellent time management, both before and during the exam.

In light of that, the first place to turn your attention to is your choice of optional subjects.

Evaluation is the Key to Success

There is another mistake students always make while preparing for the CSS. they neglect the benefits of paper checking. However, continuous evaluations help them to work on their weaknesses. It is very easy to study all the time. But, CSS is a written Exam in its first phase. The student has to show everything on the paper. Those who lack writing skills can never ace it. 

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Play to your Strengths: Selecting Optional Subjects

Your choice of optional subjects could quite literally make or break your dream of passing the CSS exam on the first attempt. There are several factors to consider, none of which will be fully satisfied, but the key lies in striking a balance.

To determine your preferred optional subjects, we recommend you do a pros and cons analysis based on the following categories:


By skills, we mean the prior knowledge and experience you have with a particular optional subject. One of the most vital parts of managing your preparation time is reducing the amount of new knowledge you need to learn.

The CSS subject syllabi are very lengthy so even with 6 months or a year of preparation, it becomes quite impossible to retain everything if it is mostly new to you. The more you already know about a particular subject and the language it uses, the better your odds of being able to manage your study schedule, especially if it's your 1st attempt of the CSS exam.

Personal Interest

Although people usually discount this important aspect, picking a subject that you already have an interest in, even if you haven’t studied it academically, can also save you much time and effort.

Each subject has its own unique terminologies that require learning. Having a personal interest in the subject means you’ll probably already know some of it, and that which you don’t will become fairly easy to learn.

Nature of the Subject

Knowing what types of questions appear in particular subject tests (open or closed-ended), along with the length of their respective syllabi, can help you plan out your selection in terms of workload.

Overlap of Curriculum

As minimizing workload is key to passing the CSS exam in your first attempt, assessing to what extent different subjects have overlapping curricula can give you a huge edge.

If you would like a detailed walkthrough of how to do this entire analysis for yourself, feel free to read through our article on the 15 High Scoring Subjects in the CSS Exam.

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How to Pass the CSS Exam English Essay

With over 92% of candidates failing this section on average, the English Essay is worth taking a close look at, as we learn how to pass the CSS Exam.

Although there are many other nuances to account for to pass this section, you can start by focusing on how to select essay topics in the exam, how to structure your essay, and improving language skills.

CSS English Essay: Topic Selection

Your choice of topic should primarily depend on your knowledge about the context of the question, as well as making a choice between open-ended and closed-ended questions, based on your unique skill set.

It would also be wise to go for the type of questions you have practiced with the most, and that revolves around topics covered in your optional subjects, so you have plenty of examples to choose from.

For a detailed guide on topic selection, check out our article on How to Write an Essay for the CSS Exam.

Structure, Structure, Structure!

We can’t emphasize this enough, the structure of your essay is one of the most important aspects to focus on. Without a well-drafted and detailed outline, as well as precise introductory and concluding sections, your essay could never secure passing marks.

Language Skills: Read As Much As You Can!

This goes without saying, but for the English Essay section and even for many optional subjects, regular reading is essential. Not only does it help you hone your language skills, which you will be assessed on in the essay, it also keeps you up to date on the happenings of the world.

In subjects such as Pakistan Affairs, Current Affairs, or Political Science, among others, having knowledge of domestic and international news is essential, since many questions ask you to analyze contemporary events. Needless to say, keeping up to date on news, is then a significant step towards passing the CSS exam on the 1st attempt, or even in subsequent ones.

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What to Read to Pass the CSS Exam?

Through our discussion of the CSS English essay, we can imagine the importance of reading has been stressed enough. Knowing what to read for the CSS exam is then the next logical step.

The course content for CSS subjects is very wide-ranging so the lists of sources can be endless and do depend on your choices for the optional subjects. However, it is essential to consult the following sources regularly:

1. Newspapers - Here you should be looking at international and domestic news about political events. The editorial pages are also a must-read. Ideally, you should read English newspapers so that you may simultaneously improve your language skills.

2. CSS Specific Magazines - There are several CSS magazines available online that you can go through. These will keep you up to date on the latest happenings in the world of CSS, thus improving your knowledge of the exam itself. If you want reliable and engaging information in this regard, do check out the CSS Chronicles.

3. Recommended Books - The list of books you could potentially read is endless, but here are a few suggestions as a starting point:

I) Why Nations Fail (2012) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

II) Pakistan: A Hard Country (2012) by Anatol Lieven

III) 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) by Yuval Noah Harari

IV) Acing CSS (2018) by Bilal Zahoor

Although this is not technically included in “reading”, you might also want to consult the following sources online as well, for information:

1. Crash Course: World History on YouTube.

2. Ted-Ed on Youtube.

3. Local and international news channels

4. Official government, media and research institute, accounts on Twitter

5. Nearpeer’s CSS Online Preparation Courses

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Study Plan: How to Prepare for the CSS Exam?

Last, but certainly not least, how you organize your preparation time is crucial for successfully passing the CSS exam, in your first attempt (or even other attempts).

In this regard we would recommend you break things down into the following categories, that you need to be mindful of:

Making Notes - This is absolutely crucial for your preparation. You MUST make your own notes instead of relying on others. When you make your own notes, not only are they organized in a way that suits your own personal ways of thinking, but it also helps you learn the necessary knowledge.

This is why writing lengthy and detailed notes covering the entire syllabus is essential.

Alongside these, however, you also have to make condensed one-page notes for your last-minute revision. This will save you time and effort when revising before the exam, while also improving your ability to sift out the most relevant information.

Using diagrams, tables and charts is an excellent way to summarize information, so work on using those tools more efficiently.

Past Paper Analysis - Much of the challenge posed by the CSS exam comes from the structure of the papers and the way questions are phrased. A detailed analysis of the types of questions asked coupled with examiner’s reports, goes a long way in allowing you to pass the CSS exam on the first attempt.

If you can learn what the examiner expects from candidates in response to a particular question, half the job is already done. Scoring trends can also give insights into the relative difficulty of particular papers over the years, and aid you in your analysis.

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Mental Health - This often overlooked aspect can really be the determining factor when it comes to passing the CSS exam. Although people take it for granted, a significant barrier for CSS candidates is the pressure that builds up as you go along the process of studying.

Be mindful of how you’re feeling and make sure you don’t give in to negativity easily. If you find yourself demotivated, take a break, clear your mind with a relaxing activity and then resume your work.

Ideally, you should also avoid discussing your CSS exam preparation with too many people. Collaborative study with your peers is essential, so don’t be completely isolated, but blocking out the noise of other people’s opinions is also just as important. So learn to strike that balance by blocking out any unnecessary comments that demoralize you.

Read More: How to Clear CSS Exam on 2nd/3rd attempt

Advice for the Future

If you’ve read till here then you’re already well on your way to passing the CSS exam on your 1st attempt, and we wish you all the best in your endeavors.

Our final piece of advice, however, is not to obsess over the result once you have taken the exam. It takes anywhere between 6 to 8 months! So instead of spending that time being anxious about how you performed, have faith in yourself. Use that time to catch up on everything you missed while preparing for your CSS exam.

We hope you found this article useful for your aspirations. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the CSS exam, please feel free to use our round-the-clock free CSS counselling service, for all the answers you need!

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