Monday, September 26, 2005

A Review of the Deletrious Effects of Exams on the Student Psyche

Well, here we go again. What is it with exams and me? Every time an exam approaches I get this irresistible urge to crank out yet another literary masterpiece. 'Tis a pity no one's noticed yet, but I understand that these things take time. Being way ahead of your time is by no means a pleasant job, but I guess someone's got to do it. Oh well.
Onward ho, then. It's third cycle time now, a time when desperate engineers make last ditch attempts to salvage their internals and prevent their grades from plumbing the depths of the afore-mentioned ditch. It is a time of intense stress and nervous-breakdown-inducing tension, a time when the tough really get going (or atleast need to). When they (or we, I should say) attempt to relieve this stress, fiery in its intensity and piercing in the agony it causes, it results in behavior that would cause any casual observer to abandon his casualness in a hurry and dial feverishly the number of the nearest madhouse.
One of the things that contribute to this state of apparent insanity is the characteristic exam time look that the average NITTian acquires around this time. Hair grows unchecked all over the face. There is no time for bathing, let alone shaving, what with having to cram the whole semester's portions in a couple of days' time. I believe that some even take their books to the potty on the morning of the exam. Even I was shocked-appalled-disgusted when I heard of the extremes people go to when faced with impending doom. The grime accumulates and after a week or so when the supply of deodorant runs out it becomes worse. Eyes become red due to lack of sleep and there's this hunted look about him that, combined with all the hair, gives him more than just a passing resemblance to an escaped convict.
I remember one particular time when things really got out of hand, when people began acting really strangely, even by normal examination standards. It was in the 3rd semester, during the final semester examination time, our first major test after getting into our respective departments. We were eager to make a good first impression on the faculty by performing well, or atleast try and redeem ourselves after an especially poor performance in the cycle tests (atleast, that was the case with me). Also, it didn't help that several guys who had taken the first two semesters pretty easily had suddenly turned into real psychos after entering the department, continually moaning about how bad their preparation was, when it really wasn't. Anyway, whatever the reasons, that semester things reached breaking point.
One of my friends (one of the afore-mentioned psychos) in the neighbouring room had taken to poking his head out of the room every half hour or so and screaming at the top of voice for a full ten seconds in order to vent his frustration. This went on for a couple of times until the rest of us decided to pay him a brief visit and apprise him of the consequences of continuing in a similar vein. Needless to say, his rather effective imitation of a hyperactive banshee ceased immediately. Another immediately noticeable effect was that our senses of humour had suddenly become dumbed down. A joke that would have normally been accepted by any jury as perfectly reasonable grounds for homicide now evoked shrill, nervous laughter. Eyes dart furtively to clocks/watches every now and then to make sure there's still enough time to cram that 5-mark question which, you know, is sure to come. Guys visit their branchmates in neighbouring rooms at regular intervals to hear reassuring dialogues such as:
1.) "Arre, vaat lagi hui hai, yaar..."
2.) "Man, am I screwed or am I screwed? I hope you'll be too, we'll go down together.... Seriously though, do you really think I'll be screwed?"
3.) "Christ, when the hell did he teach that?"
4.) " Oh good, you're here, now teach me this...."
Truly, misery loves company. And if I remember correctly, that particular semester my tension manifested itself in one supreme act of madness: I took a bath.
Even Vairamuthu, who no one (atleast no one who has read that shining example of literary genius, my previous post about him) would have expected to be fazed by something as trivial as an exam, was not immune to the stress. Strangely, though, throughout that particular semester exam period he maintained his Buddha-like calm while everyone else was doing the loony act. He fell prey sometime around the start of this semester, around first cycle time. I have mentioned earlier that his room transforms into something of a Mecca around exam time; and that he receives a continuous stream of ignorant visitors seeking enlightenment. They never return disappointed. Apparently, this started getting to him. Beneath the calm exterior there lurked a maelstrom of seething emotions that tormented him without respite. Alright, not really, I got carried away. But you get the idea, right? Anyway, to give the impression he wasn't in the room he used to latch the door from outside (it's possible to do that, there's this window through which the latch can be reached), leave that window open, squeeze himself into the largest shelf of the room (which is out of view of the window) and study. Extreme.
All this craziness, the stress and the tension makes me wonder, what purpose do these exams really serve? Is a 9 pointer really better than a 7 pointer, especially in a place like NITT where everyone's at more or less the same level? I'm sure the answer to that question, from any and every quarter, would be an emphatic no. Therefore, they defeat their ostensible purpose, which is that of providing a measure of how much a student has learnt. Are examinations really necessary? I think so, because there must be some method of evaluating performance. Then what remains to be done is to change the nature of the exams, to make each and every question test the level of understanding of the subject. Each question must provide situations wherein the student has to apply the principles he has learnt in order to solve the problem, and that will be possible only when understanding is there. That it is easier, and infinitely more enjoyable to understand than to memorize, I think you will agree. Only then, I think, will the drive to work harder be there, the will to prove that you can understand and not merely remember. And only then will the madness stop.