The CBSE Maths paper was a welcome change in an unwelcome environment
Blog Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 19:35

From the reports that I have been reading on media and the numerous Facebook posts that I have seen from juniors who are still in school, one thing became clear. The CBSE Maths Class XII Boards paper was much tougher than expected, and that it had left a few students in tears outside the exam hall.

I believe that having a tougher paper is certainly a welcome change. The aim of an examination paper should be to separate those who have understood the concepts that constitute the syllabus, from those who have not.

There were complaints that not a single question came from the textbook. These complainants do not realize that memorizing problems that you have seen before does not serve the purpose. Mathematics should be about the new problems which make you think. But despite the tough paper, it is safe to guess that of the few lakh students who have attempted the paper, someone, somewhere, knew how to solve all the problems, and come results day, would get to see a score of 100 next to his or her name.

The problem however is elsewhere. In a few months’ time, all these students will be applying for courses of their interest in various colleges, hoping that they make it to a reputed college and a course where they will be assured of a great future. The problem is that the percentages in the board exams are used to admit students, and as a result, students not only compete with students from the same board, but also from other boards.

The problem is very much observable in the state that I’m based in – Tamil Nadu. While the CBSE students had to attempt a paper which involved tricky questions which they’ve never seen before that involved applying multiplying concepts, their state board counterparts knew beforehand that they will have to solve questions that are there in the textbook in those three hours in the exam hall. As a result of this, you would probably find someone who has scored full marks in a state board maths exam on every street in the state.

This difference in the type and standard of paper also implies that the students of these two different boards would prepare differently for the exam. While the CBSE students would have to understand every concept, know how to use the different formulae and theorems, the state board counterparts just memorize all the steps that have to be written to get full marks for individual problems.

In Tamil Nadu, the Anna University affiliated technical institutes do not have entrance tests to admit students. Instead, what they look at, is the board exam score. And it is certainly a foolish idea to compare students from different boards where the difficulty of the question paper is different and students prepare differently.

For admissions, students shouldn’t be compared across boards, but within their own board. In other words, the percentile, which tells the percentage of students who have scored lower than the student we’re interested in, should be valued more than his/her percentage. This way, students wouldn’t be worried about being compared with students from other boards, or even the students from the same board, but a different set, or those who have written the paper in the previous year or will write in the following year – because these students have written a completely different paper, which the data would suggests have a different average and standard deviation.

How do we compare students from different boards, then? Competitive admission tests are the only solution available. Using the percentile (only students with a percentile of x% or more in their board will be allowed) for eligibility, followed by the admission tests, like how the JEE is done these days, is the way forward. This way, we can compare students from different boards as to which concepts they understand and how much they know. It will also see to it that teachers will try to make the students understand the concepts rather than telling them to memorize things.

In an environment with competitive tests being used for admission to every college, such exam papers will only be good for the student. The students will be better prepared knowing that they are going to see a tough paper in the exam hall, and this will help them not only in the boards, but for admission tests and even further, college education – where students who did not understand concepts and instead tried to memorize them for short-term gains will be horribly exposed.

(The writer is a student at IIT Madras)

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