Well, you wanted English exams in India

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Comprehension passage question: How do the old and young consumers differ in buying goods? What I want to write: Older Indian consumers, true to their traditions, only buy materials when their predecessor has been broken beyond repair. They buy materials for their utility, not for their novelty. Younger consumers buy goods as much for the ‘shopping frenzy’ as for the possible use of the goods in question themselves. Guess what response that answer will get? A zero. Here’s what I’ve been instructed to write in my English exam, over and over, and why I “practice” English at all: People of old age who buy things do not waste them. They only buy what they need and not for show. Youngsters, however, buy because they think that new things will make them happy and often do not need what they buy.

Ladies, and gentlemen, let me present the GREAT CIRCUS that is CBSE Board Examinations of India!

Let me tell you what kind of words are a big no-no to be used in your ENGLISH LANGUAGE EXAM, just for example: ecstatic, cosmopolitan, counterpart, flippant, extensive, painstaking, blunder …It pains me to write these examples! In fact, I’ve been told not to write the word ‘gratitude’. “Stick to ‘feeling thankful’, Ruchika”, the teacher said. Now I googled some of these words and I am definitely not happy to tell you that many of these appear on the “tough words” list for eleven year olds. And we’re eighteen, months away from college. At this point, I should put my Word Power Made Easy under my bed, forget what equestrienne or plebian mean and stop watching tv shows that are in English. God forbid I learn a new word. My problems with this whole set up is that it DEMANDS for me to be regressive and if I should improve, it would actually go against me. (Let’s not go into how much I freak out about being limited.) It eventually boils down to this: the English exam, the one exam that can be filled with expression and promise becomes a dull scrap of a words fitted to a dry, calculated equation.

Sure, I’ve tried holding my tongue for the duration of the examination, but that’s when things get confusing. The question paper freely uses the words “wanton” and “callous”…. and then they tell me I can’t use the word ‘GRATITUDE’??!! Do tell me, CBSE, who pushed you down symbolic stairs that you fell and banged your figurative head. For those who have absolutely no context, I’ll give you the reason we put up with this nonsense. You see, in the great show of being objective and just, CBSE takes our answer sheets, bundles them up and then flies them off to some hush hush school, the senior teachers of which then mark our papers and hand us a few numbers that eventually become our marks to define everything. Teachers in my school openly say the CBSE result can NOT be predicted. Why? Because it simply is not about what you write, at least not after a point. Because if my paper flies out to a school in rural India in a region that didn’t even want to speak English in the first place and may or may not have protested the use of the “British coloniser’s tongue, you traitors to all that is Indian”, what we slang-call “government school” in short, my marks will depend on how much the person reading my answers understands of English. Or how much they like my handwriting. Or how many papers they have to mark that day. Or how their coffee is. And who’s going to challenge them? Who will ensure each answer sheet gets its due consideration. Well, as you can imagine, when Indian students prepare for board exams, especially those in the Arts and Humanities, their instructions for battle are something as follows: 1. Write 3 paragraphs for 5 markers. Nobody cares about the first or the last paragraph, it just has to be there. 2. Longer questions must occupy 2 sides of the answer sheet, shorter must not go beyond half a page. Eff the word limit. 3. If they ask about the disarmament treaties between the USA and the USSR, you start your answer at the bloody Cuban Missile Crisis and then describe the Cold War. 4. Put all math solutions in a BOX, failing which, the examiner might not find it, getting you a zero. 5. Draw a line after each answer. Secure 10% marks. 6. Unless absolutely impossible, draw! Tables, charts, star shaped bullet points, just draw. Finally: everybody knows I make loads of mistakes, I do, but the best part about my exam throes is whenย I find shamelessly too many grammatical mistakes in my English language question paper. I bring them back to my mother, concerned, am I getting cocky, to have her confirm there’s an error, and that I wasn’t out eating hay on the day they reinvented grammar.


13 thoughts on “Well, you wanted English exams in India

    Chandan Sinha said:
    February 21, 2015 at 8:17 PM

    I so eagerly waited for your post and here it is- this time taking on CBSE board exams. Excellent as always and I can very well understand your excitement & anticipation (in whatever ways) for it- about two years ago I was in the same shoe ๐Ÿ˜›

    Teachers come up with plethora of suggestions on how to write in board exams, either listen to them and be an average 90%+ scorer or listen to yourself, write whatever you feel like writing {related to that topic & best to your knowledge (advantage of being a quizzer)} and become the board topper! I chose the later ๐Ÿ™‚
    English paper itself freely uses โ€œwantonโ€ and โ€œcallous” to later give them under ‘write the synonyms/antonyms section’ but using the foolproof wieldy words would keep you secure.

    And who told you that the CBSE answer sheets flies to Government schools? It goes to any other CBSE school itself, zone may vary though- so don’t worry!
    Drawing boxes and lines, star marked bullets, blue & black pens- there are tons of suggestions, follow ones which are truly necessary, just make your paper look good because overall neatness does matter.
    About ‘Arts & Humanities’ I don’t much but in science stream, being straightforward and apt helped. And not only upto CBSE, even after coming to IIT, I found some professors who considered these absurd rules for marking criteria, what more can I say ๐Ÿ™‚

    You’re quite intelligent already, so don’t worry, keep preparing and give your best- rest will follow. (I know I’m not that qualified to give lecture but just as free suggestions). For this blog, two points deserve special mention- “CBSE, who pushed you down symbolic stairs that you fell and banged your figurative head.” and “If they ask about the disarmament treaties between the USA and the USSR, you start your answer at the bloody Cuban Missile Crisis and then describe the Cold War”- funny & witty, totally loved them.
    Best of luck for your Board exams! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Ruchika responded:
      February 23, 2015 at 12:17 AM

      Haha, well well, how nice to read that. As always, your comment is lovely to add to this blog.
      I get the points you’ve made about the boards. Agreed too, just that I know it’s not necessary that the paper will go to a gov’t school, and if you will believe it, I quite question whether gov’t school has to be synonyms with this abashed sense of “no English”, you know what I mean…
      That still doesn’t stop any 12th grader from worrying, imagining the worst and most choose to stay safe. As for me, we’ll know my strategy when I see the paper and only then. I refuse to think about it any more, now that my blog has recorded my base thoughts already.

      Again, really nice reading you. I wish more people would give me room for discussion like this, or just tell me who they are, quite some have been sharing my blog links for this post, say something!

    A.Goel said:
    February 23, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    CBSE exams (and their marking pattern) remain a puzzle as always. There is a such a dynamic (read mid-boggling) flux of perceptions that it keeps everybody guessing …always…!!! yes, even the teachers…so everybody tries to play safe! It was the same quandary when our generation went through this (some 20 years ago!!..)

    What we did was like this.. we answered the question in bullets and pointers to cover the “mandatory” minimum / standard response required and then “added” a small para (strategically placed, usually towards the end) to show that bit of an “extra effort” that some “enthusiastic” examiner might just be interested in.

    That way, we were assured that while the examiner got what was on the “model-answer-paper” with MINIMUM effort of his eye / hand, there was some “extra bit” that can POSSIBLY impress him/her and convert the 6/7’s into 8’s. The examiner sees only the answer sheet and has no knowledge of who you are or how well-read you might be.

    Clear, concise and neatly-written, bullet answers or anything that makes the life of the examiner easier, are sure winners. (so draw that line after each answer…OR better still, start the next question from the next page..).

    Trust me, this I say from my experience as an examiner !

    Chandan Sinha said:
    February 23, 2015 at 8:06 PM

    Ah I only wish that my comment really brought a sweet smile on your face! lots of girls write ‘haha’ these days unnecessarily and that’s what leads to my unsurety. As a regular reader of your blog, it becomes my responsibility that valuable comments goes into it. I’m glad that you liked it ๐Ÿ™‚

    I totally understand your concern with ‘no English’ schools but anyway lets not talk about this ‘board’ thing anymore- you’ve already shown your refusal. Moreover, I don’t even know yet which city and school do you belong to, let alone be these superficial discussions. As its said- ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’!

    Thanks again! I’m not sure about more people because my interaction with your blog is limited to wordpress only but there would be many on Facebook if you share your blog there. I’m yet to find my blogger friends with whom I could’ve productive discussions. But regardless of that, I’m always here if you would like to discuss funda of any sort. Certainly not with the intention to bore someone, I’ve always something to cheer them up. Just go my blog address and comment on any of them ๐Ÿ™‚
    Well atleast I said something!

      Ruchika responded:
      February 27, 2015 at 12:24 PM

      Point in question- I can’t access your blog (?) Being alerted of site being “replicated and hence dangerous” ??? Don’t look at me O_O

        Chandan Sinha said:
        February 27, 2015 at 8:28 PM

        Ha I suppose which link you clicked at! “Replicated and hence dangerous”- I’m sure my blog’s name didn’t use to exist previously, after all I gave much thought before choosing one ๐Ÿ™‚ & dangerous???- well I won’t look at you (until you give permission to :P) but certainly I would like to analyse your connection channel- hope its not compromised! Click on my name and you would be directed to my blog and if you aren’t then here is my explicitly mentioned address – http://www.thevindicatedaxiom.wordpress.com ๐Ÿ™‚
        [Internal monologue : I fear the feeling of inferiority complex my blog would’ve in front of yours]

          Ruchika responded:
          March 3, 2015 at 4:47 PM

          Oh ok, I was clicking some other blog link (?!)

            Chandan Sinha said:
            March 3, 2015 at 4:59 PM

            Ah long time! Leave the blog, first tell me how was your English exam? And when is the next one?

              Ruchika responded:
              March 3, 2015 at 5:08 PM

              Hahaha, should I add you in my list of people to message when I get back? The one that has all the aunts and grandparents in the parivar? ๐Ÿ˜€ It was super easy and simple, I think I nailed it. I totally ignored the no-big-words rule, wrote what felt right, and compromised with supplementing heavier words with simpler ones. Eg- “timid and weak” ๐Ÿ˜› Gotta run, see you!

    anjali said:
    February 26, 2015 at 12:18 PM

    1)”god forbid i should learn a new word”
    2)”dull scrap of words fitted to to a dry calculated equation”.
    3)”Do tell me, CBSE, who pushed you down symbolic stairs that you fell and banged your figurative head.”
    4)”to a school in rural India in a region that didnโ€™t even want to speak English in the first place.”
    5)”Unless absolutely impossible, draw!”
    6)” but the best part about my exam throes is when I find shamelessly too many grammatical mistakes in my English language question paper”.( this i don’t agree with, not CBSE surely.)
    7)”that I wasnโ€™t out eating hay on the day they reinvented grammar.”


      Ruchika responded:
      March 18, 2015 at 2:56 PM

      Bows, my grace.

    swamiyesudas said:
    April 20, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    By the way, Did You Check just Who the ‘Education’ minister is, and their ‘Qualification?’ Haha.

      Ruchika responded:
      April 21, 2015 at 9:14 PM

      No. Tell me…

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