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The Exam – Argument & Acceptance!

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By Roli S

Board examinations are going on and the air around the country is heavy with anxious anticipation. The anxiety of, both, parents and students is palpable. Though most parents and students put up a brave front when confronted but I know the act and the bold pretense. A lot is being done by the parents, teachers and students themselves to deal with the exam monster. In our country of more than a billion, even our prime minister takes on the responsibility of calming the tense nerves of students who are going to appear for the board exams. I have been following the ‘pareeksha pe charcha’ quite keenly myself and learning a lot from it. After all, we all need words of encouragement sometimes and, during board exam times, students, teachers and parents need as much help as they can get, to acquire a positive state of mind and stay motivated. But, here, I am going to write about my relationship and experience with examinations!

As a teacher who has taught grade X students who take the very first public exam of their life, I have had my stories to share. In my average class of forty students who would prepare for the board exam, I knew for sure that almost all of them had given the best in their given capacities in the pre-board examination. I had done the best I could do to help them prepare for the examination and everything then simply came down to those numbers that will occupy their report cards once their results are out. I have seen proud, smiling and relieved faces of parents whose wards had fared well in the pre-board examination. I have also seen parents and students with tear filled eyes and dejected and hopeless expressions on their faces as the marks secured by wards are not up to their expectations. I have seen satisfaction and despair in my classroom. Sitting there observing the dance of hope and despondency, I often questioned the relevance and importance of these standardised examinations. How could we put a stamp of success or failure on these diverse, distinct, varied souls when they were all solving the same standardised question paper? Anyway, a lot has been written and spoken about the relevance of standardised testing, but all the arguments in favour of it have really made me think. Arguments like, “I don’t want anyone who failed even twenty percent of anything to teach me whatsoever on the same topic. People either know or don’t know what they are doing. Pretending to know shouldn’t be an option. And the school students should know this fact from the very beginning, as they take their examinations.” And then some arguments are harsher, like, “Of course, it is very important to pay attention and give importance to a board exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleaning, and street vending industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact.” That is when I decided to explore more about careers and the potential that these teenagers carry with them. In a diverse country like ours, not all are going to become doctors, engineers, pilots, scientists or for that matter even teachers and professors! Sure, there are many other skills and professions and many more examinations in a lifetime than the board exams! Having said that, I agree that every time a youngster faces a public exam, as parents, teachers and well-wishers, we always want them to get good marks! Because that opens so many doors for their future! But then disturbing news coming out of the coaching towns like Kota again made me change my mind and I began hating these competitions and examinations! Sure, there must be a better way to channelise all the energy and potential of every youth who is willing to work hard!

So, when this time a dear friend’s son who was also my student at one time reached the milestone of appearing in his first board examination, I found myself at a loss to speak a few encouraging words, to wish him well. I was confused and at a loss to share a few meaningful pearls of wisdom. ‘You are good, you can do it. Do not stress, remain cool, it’s like any other exam, etc.’ A few words came out of my mouth. As if the smart teen really needed to hear that!

I remember, back when I was in school, when things were more normal. I remember how hard everything was for me. Every exam, every essay. I remember thinking how it would be easier to pass out than to write the first word on an empty sheet of paper. Every – Single – Time. And my teachers and friends always said to me, ‘You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. Stop worrying. You always do well.’ And I hated to hear that because they were right and somehow, I managed to do reasonably well in the exams. But just once, I wanted someone to acknowledge how hard taking an exam really was. The fear, the passing out and the headaches and the heartaches, I wanted someone to say it out loud so that I could hear it. Just once. And then I’d just get on with it. But I’d know that my teachers and parents knew, like teachers and parents of numerous other children, that it wasn’t fine at all, this taking of exams and all that. It probably never would be. But we’d just continue with it. Like we always do. Like many parents do. Like many students do. Like many teachers do.

Education is an important route to success, but let’s not forget that the education systems around the world are imperfect. It doesn’t suit everyone’s learning style, everyone’s temperament and personality which can be frustrating and demoralising at times. So, if you or your child have struggled through education and examinations, do remember that exams don’t define you. Also remember that sometimes you have absorbed a lot more than you think and you just fail to reproduce it on your exam answer sheet within the minutes stipulated. So, make those big plans for yourself, but map out a clear route to get there and be realistic about the hard work and the time it will take. So, today, I am rethinking and reimagining the words that I would have liked to share with my friend’s young son who is appearing in his first public exam. And these would be that exams can sometimes feel like everything, especially when one has worked hard for them. But it’s in the challenging moment of the exam that true character and resilience are revealed. Only if you have the courage to “dare greatly” and go for it with all your capacity will you stand a chance of succeeding, not only in one board exam but in all the other examinations of the academy called life!

(Roli S is an Educator and Author based in Thane)