Examinations: IPL T-20 or test match

25 Jul



Are our examinations more like the IPL T-20 or are they like a test match?

For many, it seems, it is like the IPL, with high stakes. But should some examinations not be like a test match?

Examinations are scary because of the consequences of success or failure in them, not because they pass judgement on the subject. The purpose of examinations ought to be to provide feedback for further improvement. Often, and more often than not, they are used as a filter to week out the ‘unworthy’. The stakes in an examination become high due to the consequences of this judgement, not just because judgement has been passed.

Take for example, a weekly school test that is used by teachers (and parents) to assess, say, whether a child has learnt to spell or add independently. The test is on a specific day of the week, and takes fifteen minutes. Now, this can either become the most stressful event for the child, or can become an opportunity for setting up an internal mechanism for feedback, depending on how the teacher manages it. The role of the teacher and school is to set up appropriate results and consequences so as to trigger learning. If the consequences are insignificant, then the testing exercise loses importance and is a wasted effort. Say, a teacher runs a spelling test, each week, and then everyone forgets about it – there is no feedback, there is no discussion, not even a mention of the test. It is forgotten. By week three, it is highly likely that children have checked out and stopped preparing for it. On the other hand, if the test is seen as make or break – doing well in the test opens opportunities never heard of before, then you can bet that the students will do their very best to ace the test. The higher the stakes, the higher the stress.

Testing is clearly a valuable tool for learning.

Consider the case of cricket, and the allegations of spot fixing and match fixing. It is no co-incidence that such scams have increased as the format has become shorter and the stakes for each ball higher. This cannot, of course be the sole reason for the dishonesty, but certainly makes for higher stress, high energy play. In the (ancient?) old format of Test cricket, played in elegant white, there was enough time to explore the nuances of the game. There was enough time for the batsman and the bowler to make mistakes and learn from them, to experiment with new ways of dealing with the situation, as each ball presented itself to the batsman. A mistake rarely cost anyone the entire match. Of course a wicket that fell at the wrong time involving a game changing cricketer could change the complexion of the match, but then, that was a part of the game. It was entirely possible that an unknown shone in unexpected ways and the match changed again. They do say that anything can happen in cricket. In a sense, the result was less important than the joy of the game. Often, brilliant matches ended in a draw. The win or the loss was important, but did not dominate the game. Well, except for the Ashes series possibly, which was set up so, but then, it indicated another era. The low stakes in each challenge – the weekly spelling challenge, or a an over in test cricket was a blessing to those who wanted to focus on learning and content.

Sadly, this was not exciting enough – for what is a game but the winning of it? The format changed to one day cricket, then to twenty overs a side. Each time, the stakes rose. (No, not speaking of the betting yet, legal or not). With raised stakes, each ball had to be handled to perfection, there was no room for mistakes, learning from mistakes, the exploration of possibilities, no room for discovery.

Not DURING the match.

Not DURING the examination.

Just like the T-20 format, examinations have raised the stakes on each move. Like the IPL, we now all play in global teams. The examination too is about delivery – of learning – in a focused manner. Each question is a chance to hit the ball out of the park. Each question is a chance to change the game. Getting a fantastic score could put the player in a different orbit. A medical entrance examination or the IIT-JEE pass could transform the lives of entire families. The stakes to that test are so high not only because it provides access to excellence, not only because it provides access to livelihoods but also because there are few other options that can match a guarantee of livelhood. These stand out as make or break exams, orbit changing as it were.

Not just these two, the examination culture in India focuses on stressful, high stakes, competitive examinations. Things have not changed yet despite the inclusion of the CCE – Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation, which could reduce this pressure. If the purpose of examinations is to filter the best, then there is a reason for tests that push candidates to their limits. But for examinations that are part of the learning exercise, even if ‘final’ examinations, there is no reason for them be treated or designed as high stakes examinations. Let them play a few test matches first, before they enter the high stakes games.

High stakes testing often tips candidates over into wrong – if the examination is so important, then passing it becomes more important than one’s sense of right or wrong. The ends supersede the means. Reduce the stakes, and see the exam-fixing reduce dramatically





Meeta Sengupta
22 May 2013, 10:38 AM IST





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: