If approached well, exams can add joy to the classrooms and childhood



It was a different era when I studied in school. Exams at that time were trending, acceptable and necessary. We called them by different names and they were a regular feature during our school days. Term papers, unit tests, half-yearly assessments, final exams, and yes, of course, surprise tests. No child or adult is fond of exams. Ask the teachers. They detest checking hundreds of answer sheets. As we speak, educators in various parts of the world are building an education system where exams will be scrapped. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in India is planning to do away with school exams from 2021.


In the classrooms of the future, students will no longer have to sit for exams; instead, they will be busy working together to solve the problems of the world. I am all for the changes in the education and assessment system. After all, marks and grades don't reflect the true worth of a child. However, I am a supporter of exams. Maybe because I have fond memories of sitting for exams and collecting the marked sheets. Forget about life skills like time-management, learning how to complete tasks under pressure, improving writing speed, testing your knowledge, valuing healthy competition, and more - I simply feel terrible for the future generations for reasons beyond the significant lessons.  


Do you recall your classmate, who always asked for an extra sheet? While you struggled to fill the one provided in the first go, this one individual would grab the attention of the entire class by asking for another sheet. Which kind of student were you? The one who'd scribble until the answer sheets were snatched away or the one who had enough time left for a revision as well? I recall taking different coloured pens on the exam day and writing down the sub-heads in black or green, just in case the teacher didn't have enough time to read through the complete answers and wanted to award me marks in a hurry. My peers hated me for that, and certainly remember me for that too!


Aah and the joy of last-minute revisions when the school bell would ring and the teacher would walk in and instruct you to leave the books outside the room, and you'd quickly turn to a Page 52 to take a last look at the formula to calculate the volume of a sphere. The joy would be doubled if the first question in the paper happened to be the one you remember well. The anticipation of receiving the corrected answer sheets was another big moment. The entire class would sigh together as the names were called out. Next, we'd assist each other in calculating the marks just to make sure that a half-mark here or a full-mark there had not been missed out. Plus, we'd hatch plans on how to disclose the Math or Chemistry marks to the parents. We'd strategies and make our friends promise not to disclose their marks in front of our mum-dad, just in case they'd scored better. We'd bond over a 90+ and A grade, just as we did over a 40+ and C grade.


My growing up years were rich with smiles and tears, and marks and grades. They were also filled with comparison and pressure. And somewhere in between all this, I learnt how to be sensitive to those who fared poorly, encouraged myself to do better next time, and more. As I pen this, I recall the night before the exams, when we'd sharpen the pencils and put clipboards in the bag. And how at the end of it, our index figure would hurt (depending on how tough our grip on the pen was). The pain is similar to what you get when you text too much, but the emotion is different.


Ask me to choose between writing exams vs. the idea of scrapping them, I'd choose the former, and also fill you up with stories on what we did on the last day of the exams. Exams can indeed add joy to the classrooms and childhood if approached well.


This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.


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