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Tackling exams sans risky shortcuts

Jan 23, 2014 :
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Do not gamble with exams with shortcuts such as most probable questions and selective topics. Instead delay taking exams if your are not confident about your preparation, advises Mohan Das.

This is the time  of the year when school and college students will be appearing for their  preparatory exams. Teachers will be burdened correcting scripts after answer scripts and almost simultaneously declaring results. Consistently good performers will show little anxiety and consistently bad performers may choose to ignore their anxiety.

But the most vulnerable are those who have a middling track record which is neither good nor bad; they will, unsure about their final performance, attempt to conceal their panic even if, as chance would have it, their preparatory exams seem to point to a good performance. Not to be left out they prepare – not as much to take the exam as to risk taking the exam. Sometimes such risks can pay off and they will “safely” enter university and go beyond.


More often than not such risks can backfire leaving the student utterly confused about their ability and loss of confidence. Their families will be shocked (despite there being ample warnings throughout the year) and the whole atmosphere of the house can be permanently dented, sometimes leaving a devastating, irreplaceable void. All this can be avoided and every student, with just a little care, can find themselves reaping good results. Just a little care is all it takes.

Learn to stop, and think

No society detests failure as much as we do. Consequently, most Indians hate to stop, and think. Instead, we are too obsessed with somehow, by hook or crook, getting ahead of others, of prospering.


As exam time nears,  students who know they are falling behind, begin to find all sorts of shortcuts to get ahead, they even gamble with topics, possible questions and question papers as well. Alas! If only they had spent time usefully.

To such there is a warning: do not gamble with exams. Instead, delay taking exams if you are not confident about your preparation. Learn to stop and think. There are no shortcuts to success: delay taking your exams, prepare well in the meantime, and confidently and honestly take your supplementary exams. You can even take different subjects at different times. This will help you build your confidence.

Remember this: if you take your exams without proper preparation, if you take shortcuts and gamble with questions, then a poor result can permanently dent your self-confidence and you will find later exams and other difficult situations in life very difficult to manage. You may find yourself permanently left behind.

The error margin

Learn to correctly evaluate your performance Your final estimate of your scores should not vary by more than 8 - 10%. For example, if you have correctly estimated your score to be 70 in your preparatory exam, your final score should not be less than 65/60. As a rule, the greater the possibility of a low score the higher the margin of error in your estimate. Example: If by your evaluation you expect to score 90% then your error percentage will be around 5%. That means you will not be surprised if you get 85%.

On the other hand, unsure students are known to over-estimate their scores. A student who ultimately scores 50% (or whereabouts) would have over-estimated claiming to get 70% or more. This gives unsure students an error margin of more than 25%! As a rule, students who have consistently scored lower generally tend to inflate their scores to give the impression of securing a good score, which means they have over-estimated their scores. Consequently, the lower the score the greater will be their margin of error in self-evaluation. This also means that high-scorers generally make better, more pragmatic estimates of themselves than low scorers.

So, a student who has consistently scored around 90% will give himself a correct error margin of about 5% but a student who has consistently scored around 45-50% will give himself an error margin of 25% or more (in the final or prep-exam) thus inflating his final score to nearly 60% and will be shocked to find he has actually “failed”. On the other hand, the 90% student will only feel sad to have scored 85% (or be thrilled with a score of 95%). The moral of the story: underperformers are prone to inflating their self-evaluation. This can prove risky. 

Gap years

Most Indian students are new to “gap year”, a common phenomenon in the west. Indians usually set aside the first 22-25 years for unbroken education until we have completed master’s degree; gaps in this stage of one’s life are to be avoided at any cost. Soon after graduation, we hope to land a good job immediately to continue a life of unbroken success. Such a life is becoming a rarity. Uncertainties are staring at us at every turn. This opens up the possibility for gap  year(s), a time wisely spent that can actually make you more productive and successful than otherwise.

A gap year or gap period is time a student takes out from pursuing studies. This is not time lost because students who take gap years do so with ample planning and therefore ensure that gap period time is not wasted.

Losing time is not as bad as wasting it; sometimes students who have been studying continuously suddenly find that all their studies are proving quite a waste, especially when jobs are hard to get. Sometimes we are not to blame entirely for our losses; a student may accidentally fracture a hand just at the time of final exam, or fall seriously ill. They have our sympathies. But nobody sympathises with a person who wastes time.

Parents, beware of inflation

If you are not prepared for poor results then do not prepare for good results. If your are unsure about their performance then do not inflate your expectations in public. If you are doubtful about your child’s performance then do not permit them to take the exam.  Inflating expectations from children (despite a poor track record) can have adverse effects on your child’s performance. The fear and anxiety caused by such inflations can even send your child to take extreme steps even before the exams have begun. It is better to honest than be pretentious. Advise yourself as much as you advise your child, and learn to delay taking the exam until you, and your child, are confident of putting up a good performance.

Shocks and surprises

In school examinations, surprises are quite impossible; rarely indeed can a student with a consistently poor track record suddenly get a high percentage using honest means. But there can be shocks: sometimes students who genuinely expect a very high percentage can be left shattered. Clearly there has been an error somewhere and they are not to blame. Parents and students must learn to take such shocks in their stride.

With several lakhs of students taking public exams across the state/country, errors do creep in. Do not panic. Apply for a revaluation. More than anything, be patient with your child, with the exam system and with yourself.

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