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Let’s do away with marks, grades, and this façade of examination

If nobody outside of the academic realm cares for marks/grades and recruiting organisations devise their own way of assessing graduates, why do we go through the examination rigmarole? 

April 16, 2021 / 11:29 AM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has cancelled examinations for Class 10 and postponed the one for Class 12. This adds to the uncertainty that had gripped the education sector ever since the pandemic broke out. Add to that the cascading effect it will have on entrance examinations and graduate courses.

Currently, stakeholders, namely, the higher educational institutions such as colleges and universities, state governments, high courts, students and their parents, and the University Grants Commission (UGC), are also embroiled in the exams dilemma. This has to do with whether exams are to be held or not; and if yes, then in what way? Virtually or physically?

The Examination Train

The manifest justification for holding examinations are to test the pupils, award them marks/grades, rank them in an order of ‘merit’, or segregate them as per mediocrity.

Away from the rather narrow confines of academics, who cares for marks/grades in the world outside? Hardly an organisation/institution gives any credence to marks awarded by colleges and universities. Public sector and private sector organisations, including the banks, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), and what have you, conduct their own examinations/tests to recruit personnel.


The only thing they look for is the minimum qualification. Generally, graduation, at the most. Also, they have their own in-house training, orientation/refresher courses or workshops. Significantly, the UPSC has prescribed just graduation as the minimum qualification for the highly-desired and coveted civil services, to recruit personnel for the foreign, administrative and police, and other allied central services.

Even ardent followers of Mahatma Gandhi who have passionately and zealously travelled in the ‘Third Class’ all through their academic careers, are eligible to appear at the prelims or the CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test) that the UPSC conducts. These Gandhians as well as those who have a second class, qualify in large numbers, and are in no way inferior to the self-styled first class passengers of/on our examination trains.

Cracks And Fissures

There appears to be hardly any correlation between the marks/grades/class awarded by our colleges and universities and those who get through the CSAT and make it to the civil services. Are there, going by what is obtained above, any chinks in the system that is so highly-skewed in favour of rote-learning, examination-based structure of our educational set-up? Of course, there appear to be multiple cracks and fissures, to say the least.

The UGC, the overarching Big Brother that avidly extends its leash over the state and central universities (also the deemed ones), itself has very little faith in marks/grades awarded by its various constituents. There is ample empirical evidence to uphold the misgivings of the UGC on this count. Just look at the countless students awarded A+ or O (outstanding) grades, lots having secured 90 to 95 percent at the Master’s level (MA/MSc/MCom) struggling, if not failing, to get through the National Eligibility Test (NET) to become eligible for an assistant professor’s job.

It is another matter that many state governments contrived their own ways to dilute the stronghold of the UGC’s NET by devising alternative routes called SET (State Eligibility Test) and SLET (State Level Eligibility Test), and have succeeded in browbeating the UGC as regards recruitment to teaching posts in state/central universities.

The Merit Myth

Years back, the UGC wrote to various universities that those with really high marks at the postgraduate examinations performed abysmally in the NET. Moral of the story is that in spite of the UGC lurking in the background and looking over the shoulder, its affiliated constituents have been happy in dispensing the largesse of grades/marks over-generously. Unfortunately, this is perceived as merit.

The facade of examinations that has taken generations of students, parents, and society in general, for a ride needs a serious revisit. If nobody, virtually nobody, in the real world outside of the academic realm cares for the marks/grades and classes dished out by our universities, and each recruiting organisation assiduously tests and devises its own way of assessing our graduates and postgraduates (and doctorates too), why do we go through the examination rigmarole?

 Marks To What Avail?

Why not just handover certificates, listing courses/papers taught/learnt and assignments completed. At the end of the required term just make them qualify for the degree sought by them sans the drama staged pertaining to examinations. Some educational institutions, such as the Ducere Global Business School, in Melbourne, Australia, award graduate and postgraduate degrees without exams. It has been pointed out that “assessment is articulated through solution finding, improvisation, interrogation, interaction, integration and imagination — all of which shape change”.

The agencies interested in employing these candidates have their own manner of assessing them through written, oral and associated tests. That they have been doing, anyway, for years, even to those students who have obtained grade sheets and marks cards testifying that they have been placed in A+, or had 90 to 95 percent and have been rank holders, or have obtained a first class.

Are we ready and willing to deliberate and debate examinations and allied issues at different levels? For a start we could wake up the UGC to shed its lethargy and set it on an examination reform and course correction path.
MA Kalam is a Chennai-based social anthropologist. Views are personal.
first published: Apr 16, 2021 11:29 am
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