Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tenth Standard Exams

I will write more about our examination system later. I am trying to inteview one of my nephews.
Meanwhile, someone wrote in my comments (among lots of abuses), that the Indian education system is ideal because it separates good students from bad students.
That is, of course, not the goal of an education system. The goal should be to educate, not eliminate people from the job pool.
But then I remembered a few details about the 10th standard exam when I took it, back in 1987. I don't think much has changed till now.

You start preparing for the 10th standard exam when you are in the 9th holidays. From then on, if you go out to play, neighboring aunts frown at you and complain to your mother. So you stay at home the entire year.
Here was the list of things we had to endure going into the exams:
1. Geography - you had to remember the imports and exports of a dozen countries. Most of them had the same imports and exports except for one particular item. For example Cambodia would export rubber, rice, teakwood and coffee while Laos would export rubber, rice, teakwood and tea. So you had to remember that little change. Somehow the question paper writers loved to ask about the imports and exports.
So you ended up preparing acronyms and match them like this:
Laos - rrtt
Cambodia - rrtc
and so on. The day of the exam you tried to mug all these down.
Doesn't this sound pathetic? I have more below.

2. Apparently the guys who were correcting the answer papers were paid by how many papers they corrected every day. So, their incentive was to zip through your paper. So, you wanted to convince them by using - wait for it - color pencils. You had a bunch of color pencils and you had to underline key items in your answer. Supposedly the paper evaluator would then just look at the key words and award you marks.
Let us say the question was:
Write about the weather conditions in North America

You could write a learned tract about how the weather is shaped by the Rocky Mountains and the North Atlantic warm current. You could explain that weather moves from West to East in the plains and all that. Or, you could do this:
Weather of the Rocky of the Mountains of the Atlantic Ocean of the North of the America..of the.

And then underline the key words with red pencil and you will get full marks.
I am not sure if this was a myth or not, but we ALL had color pencils. All of them were sharpened and kept in boxes where the tip would not break off. Our own teachers said this was true and they should know.

3. If you skipped a question, you wanted to REALLY bring that to the attention of the evaluator. So, if you answered question numbers 1, 2, and then skipped 3 and went to 4, then unless you did something drastic, the evaluator would assume your answer to question 4 was really an answer to 3 and so on. So you would FAIL!!!
So when you skipped a question, you wrote the question number down and then struck through the paper twice. And then you pray.

4. The worst thing was the Science exam in 1987. It had 40 "one word" answers as the first section of the question paper. Since we were all focussing on saving time, our teachers suggested a classic method.
You see, as soon as you get the blank answer sheets, you have to draw margins. You should do this BEFORE they give you the question papers, because then the bell will ring and your countdown starts. You don't want to be drawing margins when the clock is ticking.
So you draw the margins. During the exam, you should write the question numbers down and then draw lines after every answer.
Well, our teachers taught us ANOTHER way to save time. You see, you know that there are going to be 40 "quick" questions in the Science exam. So, why not write the question numbers down and then draw the lines BEFORE they give the question papers?
So we were all trained to do that. Most of us got the answer papers and drew lines next to each other with the question numbers.
Unfortunately, that year the science paper setters wanted to create a "tough" question paper. Their idea of doing this was to ask questions that required long answers in the first 40.
So, we got completely messed up when we were given the question papers. Some of us bravely tried to "fit" the long answers within the existing lines. Some others started erasing the lines. But these left black marks on the white answer sheet and your answer sheet did not look "neat".

5. Again the science paper was supposed to be tough - so the idiot paper setters asked questions from remote corners in the text book. For example, there is a small "Do it yourself" section at the end of each lesson. They asked questions from that section, because no one notices it.

This is what passes for examinations in our education system. It is simply a way to play mind games with the students and torture them to paranoia. I do not remember a SINGLE thing I was taught in 10th - other than the sheer terror of the exams.
Remember we all have "exam nightmares"? The ones in which you dream about ending up in an exam without preparing? These are only next in horror to the "naked sprint" dreams in which you are walking outside nude.
(The worst dreams are ones in which you go to an exam unprepared AND nude).
I wonder if only Indians get these dreams...after our exam freak shows.


Sridhar said...

To handle the one mark questions one of the science teachers coing 4-5 questions for every statement in the book. For example: Cinnabar is mercury's ore. He had given the following questions to prepare the students:
1. What is extracted from Cinnabar?
2. What is the ore of Mercury?
3. Is Cinnabar the ore of Mercury?
4. Is Mercury extracted from Cinnabar?

My uncle who was a teacher would prepare Tamil Medium students by asking them to get it by-heart all of the essays and would ask them to practice with daily tests, run by class leaders and group leaders. They would correct and key students' feedback would go to the teacher.

There was an essay that had a list of items as products of forests or some such thing. When my brother (who was under constant monitoring by our uncle because of his reputation in the school) wrote one of those tests, the group leader send the following comment to my uncle:

"அப்படியே மாற்றி எழுதி விட்டான்"

Thankfully, I remember only the fun part of 10th standard. I don't remember any of the history and geography stuff I should have studied in my 10th standard.

Anonymous said...

I am the one who spoke highly about the Indian education system (and thought that a pageful of slurs on my country deserved a fitting response).

You say: The object of the system should be to educate... yeah, everything sounds like a good idea as long as you don't actually have to define the terms involved.

The Indian education system might have its faults, but it is doing better than the silly "boost self esteem" approach of America. There are two major problems on US campuses; one is that of grade inflation and the other is that of insane amounts of money being spent on sport. The majority of college students in America now believe that they deserve a 'B' just for attending.

The Indian system does not lie to the students. Some kids are ... umm... well... plain stupid. In fact, a lot of kids are stupid... honestly, I would say that at anyone below the 90th percentile (I like 95 better) is solidly mediocre and needs to understand his/her limitations, not get shot of self esteem. And Indian education and Indian society in general does not buy into the idea that any kid who does not do well in school must have high levels of ability in some field or another. Americans believe that just because you are failing physics means that you must be good at music. Not true!

And please don't complain about schools not being polite and responsive in India. The school board system in America is the worst possible. You say you lived in Pennsylvannia. Remember the famous case of Dover vs Kitzmiller (2004); where the school board in Dover, PA, overrun by right wing illiterates, was planning to teach creationism (err...intelligent design) in schools as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution?

Anonymous said...

I read this post very late, I believe. It must be either your fault or your parents for making you fear for the exams. Its just a mad truth you need to work at your age to save your family; so is with the education.If you need to get some good course or job, you need to study well and the measure of your worth is exams.. I too underwent the 40 questions in science in 1991 batch and got 93/100 and stood school first in a governement school and that too come from a normal middle class family with little educated parents.. So, I pity you, that you werent taught to realise how exams are important and how to take them cool even at the younger age.. Even these days, I love to take exams..

again, to tell, I was not deprived of television or story books or anything so during those days..hopefully, you would create a such a good environment to your kids and not like yours.. I owe my parents and teachers for my positive approach towards education.