Burning the midnight oil for board exams

Students feel elated when they score well and let down when they don’t.

“Ma, I have to revise this once again and I will be good”. My younger daughter said to me. She was burning the midnight oil. It was 1 am and she was still studying. The exams were around the corner. I looked at her and I was reminded of the day she was born. My joy knew no bounds. She had her eyes tightly closed, her lips were red, and she had her tiny hands under her chin. It was a beautiful sight. Filled with gratitude and pride, I watched her grow.

School life passed off in a jiffy and here she is, all set to take her Class-10 boards exams – one of the most important exams in India. Board exams here command a certain amount of tension and frenzy, which have only increased over the years.  

It was in the 90’s when I had taken my board exam. Then, scoring 60 per cent would entitle one to a first division and that’s what most of us aimed for. Those scoring 80 per cent and above summoned everyone’s admiration, while those with 90 per cent were placed on a pedestal. However, that has changed over the years as the aspiration levels continued to rise higher. In 2019, about 13 children topped the CBSE Class-10 Board Exams with a score of 99.9 per cent, while numerous others had scored 90 per cent. This year, perhaps, the threshold level would move to a perfect 100 per cent.

It then comes as no surprise that the run-up to the board exams is like a quarantine period, where parties are cancelled, TV cables are ripped off and mobile phone usage comes under strict vigil. The child is almost isolated and every moment is monitored for any wastage of time. This is also the period when a deep relationship blossoms between the parents, books and the child, where the sole focus is on acing the boards exams with excellent marks.

Marks: The inevitable truth in a child’s life

Marks! What is it with marks, I have always wondered? Are marks truly the defining parameter of a child’s life?

Going by the societal norms, of course, they are. How else do we distinguish between a good student and a bad one? Marks clearly indicate whether a child is brilliant, and help decide if he or she is eligible for the best colleges in India.

Students feel elated when they score well and let down when they don’t.

In fact, marks have the capability of generating multiple emotions in a student – ranging from anger, fear, jealously to elation, jubilation and a sense of superiority. These emotions are not restricted to children alone but can be found in parents too. They are equally affected, if not more, by the children’s scores. The most persistent question being, “How much did the other child score?” In case the other child had scored more, then the next statement would be, “Oh! How come you did not score as much as him?” This perhaps explains why, during Board Exams, both children and parents are under pressure, with some parents feeling as if they are the ones taking the exam.

When I look back at my growing years, as mentioned before, the pressure to score was not that much and I remember my parents always telling me to feel happy about studies and to enjoy it. I too have encouraged my children that way, but whenever they did not score well, I would be disappointed. This confused me a lot. On one hand, I was telling my children not to worry too much about marks, but when they did not score well, I was upset. Hypocrisy comes into play then.

Subjects: A wellspring to seek knowledge

As I continued seeking answers to clear my confusions, I came across an old article, written in 2016, where Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an Associate Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California opined, “Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest, and tying their experience to grades. Under such circumstances, genuine interest in learning for its own sake wilts.”

Mary further explained, “Grades can be an impetus to work, and can be really satisfying but when emotions about the grade overwhelm students’ emotions about a subject, that’s a problem.” She went on to emphasize that with grades in focus, a student begins to devote more mental space to the assessment than on the real subject matter. And that can be dangerous. She was clearly referring that children should have the ability to distinguish between studying to learn and studying for grades.

This meant studying can be divided into two parts – the first and most important would be to study with an aim of acquiring knowledge, to actually understand the significance of the subject and how to apply it wherever applicable. The second would be to focus on the technicality of marks – where a child ensures he or she is thorough with the topics, learns to write answers in a certain format, and acquires time management skills, among others.

When students begin to focus on gathering knowledge right from the beginning of their education, everyone of them will have something to take back from every subject. This would also mean that there can be no comparison between two students as far as knowledge is concerned, because each one’s take would be different. When children understand a subject thoroughly, they are bound to score well. However, under circumstances where they score less for some reason, that would not make them a bad student in their own eyes and in the eyes of others, because they already are aware of how much they know about the subject. Then, slowly marks may not be that much sought after, rather knowledge would be. This would bring a lot of relaxation, comfort and happiness in students and parents’ lives alike.

Echoing the same view, a well-known psychologist from Mumbai, Dr Sheba Singh says, “The focus should be on learning the concepts, skills and applicability, marks would then automatically follow. By writing answers which are exam-style or result-oriented, students are developing writing and organising skills, so there is actually no harm in learning how to write to the point and crisp answers that would actually help score marks. It would just be enhancing their knowledge further.”

I suddenly felt comforted and as I watched my daughter get ready for her exams. I wished her all the happiness. I prayed that she is able to feel confident about the subject and enjoy writing the paper thoroughly. Marks may or may not follow, but that will not affect the amount of knowledge she has gathered about the subject. Marks, after all, is one indicator but not everything that defines a child.

First Published:May 21, 2020, 9:10 p.m.