The Final Frontier

Thud- Thud, Thud-Thud.

While this onomatopoeia might sound like a part of a super hit Bollywood action film just before the action climax, it actually was a part of something quite mundane. It was the sound that resonated among all the Class 10 students just before the reading time of the paper.

The Class 10 board exams were the first major exam that any 15-year-old had ever taken in his short life and this exam was always viewed with a spirit of awe and fear. It also had highly magical powers. For example it inspired a religious fervour in all students. The temple trusts of our country started receiving a healthy amount of donations, from those who had previously not even donated a penny to God. For me personally I started praying to God just before leaving home to give the exams. Whilst going to give the board exams the feeling in students was a mixture of a battle hardened warrior who is fighting a lone battle, and a lamb who is being gently led to the slaughter. In the class (or examination hall as it is grandly proclaimed) we all tried to act “cool” yet with every minute we knew that great ecstasy or misery approached us faster than a bullet train. We all tried to lighten the mood by cracking jokes or by jokingly discussing innovative ways to cheat, however in this age of Covid-19 and social distancing these were swiftly suppressed. At least an attempt was made.

The CBSE (The Central Board of Secondary Education for the unacquainted) in this board exam suddenly managed to gain the spotlight twice in a schooling calendar year rather than their usual solitary spotlight during the months of March and April, and they planned to announce themselves with a bang. First from announcing the format of the answer script late and publishing the sample question papers late, to changing the rules of the examination frequently, they really announced their presence and authority over students and teachers alike in style. For the students, they acquired quite a divine status with absolute control on their (students) futures with the setting of the question paper.

When the students received the question paper, the expressions on the outside were one of calm contentment yet internally they were slightly flummoxed (at least I was). I had expected a paper which would be slightly tough (let’s face it, Boards are for assessment purposes) but not a paper which would be twisted and would require students to have a certain amount of common sense. But after looking at the paper I was able to use elimination and solve the question paper (at least I thought so) for Maths, Social Studies, Science and Hindi to a certain extent. But in English the questions were subjective with the answers very close to each other and therefore solving most of the questions in the paper became a little short of guessing. An appropriate simile of how the questions were in a meme on the internet: (These are not actual questions in the boards)

Q) Orange is

A. a fruit

B. a colour

C. a company

D. a butterfly

Q) An armless man has a gun in his pocket. Is he

A. armed

B. unarmed

During the paper, my peers had expressions that ranged from happy to complete despair. Some of us had faces which had the calm temperance of a sage who is philosophical about such trivial matters such as exams. Some of us gave up all hope and became artists and doodlers of the repute of Michelangelo and Sam Cox with very elementary tools of ball points and the back of our question papers. Some were furiously scribbling and others were staring at the backs of teachers and students as if they could somehow read their minds and get the answers of the questions which had us stumped.

After the collection of the paper, all students came out acting like Albert Einstein and Charles Dickens (in Maths and English) and remarked there was absolutely no way they were getting full in that exam. After reaching home, students hoped to relax a bit and maybe watch some shows after going through a highly intense and harrowing event. However there was no time to relax. The exams were held on every alternate day with a long gap between Maths and Hindi. One other thing that most students liked to do was to consult the answer key available in most national dailies made by so called “experts” (they were not CBSE produced) and was fraught with mistakes. In fact in a light hearted remark one of my friends said that the answer keys should be used to eliminate what was not the answer.

All in all, I was slightly off colour during the Board exams, which was not helped by the type of questions set by CBSE. They were perhaps trying to compensate for a string of high scores for students in 10th last year with a string of low scores in our batch so that the law of average prevails. These exams were like no examinations before, providing an insightful vision in human character and causing students to question their naïve perceptions, “If I work and study hard, I will surely score extremely high in the exams.” Yet despite this, I feel we should all sympathize with the CBSE, who have had to conduct exams from the most connected cities to the remotest of places in India and who have to assess lakhs of students’ knowledge and skills, and after all put forward their best foot forward in conducting a fully MCQ exam for the first time in their history. With that, I hope and pray that CBSE can recognize the student’s concerns and assess this paper lightly and create a far more systemic subjective paper in the Second Term Board Exams.