It was 2001 November. I was supposed to have finished my final exams in May, but due to a college strike that confused exam fee payments, mine was never processed and hence it forced me back to the land of India after a few months absence to take the tests.
Today, in 2008, I found my old diary from the day of my first exam. In reading it, I impressed myself. If I had been given a test of that day itself, down to the littlest detail, I could study my diary and get full marks!
Here goes with the story...
Friday, November 9, 2001.
Today was the first day of my exams. Though the exams started at 9:30, I left the house toward the college at 8:30. I was due to walk from the West side of Tambaram to the East, over the train tracks to Madras Christian College. I was anticipating the route I used to traverse a little over two years ago when I first landed in Tambaram, before moving to Martin's Hall on the Madras Christian College Campus. I also looked forward to stopping along the way to buy a new pen- this would be my lucky pen for all my exams, including the one I was about to write.
Stopping at my favorite Sriram stationary stall, I was shown a wide variety of pens. The guys working at this stall knew me well as this was my favorite 'school supplies' store in the past two years. Because of this, they did not show me the most expensive pens because I was a foreigner, but because they knew these pens were my favorite. The great thing about buying pens at this stall was being able to try before buying. The consumer can get a good feel for how the pen writes. This was important to me, in preparation for one of four three hour long exams. Also, pens are sold singly, no need to buy in 10 piece packages. You can get as many as you need and come back for more as needed. I decided on buying my favorite pen- the cello pen, two in blue (each Rs. 15) and bic pen (rs. 5) in red for highlighting. I also purchased a 'scale,' (Rs. 5) a much needed item for making sure the answers are written in straight lines and highlighted with straight lines underneath.
In entering the room, I was relieved to see two other classmates in the same fate as me. I was not alone. We had a few minutes to catch up on news before the test was to start.
Test taking is an art in itself. I was not given any training in taking tests when I first landed in India. Yes, taking -or as they say- "writing exams" is a lot different than what I was used to in U.S.
Upon sitting down, the testing staff hand out blank pieces of paper. These white sheets of paper are about 10 inches by 14 inches rectangular. Sometimes this paper is also 20 by 14, folded in half. The papers all have one hole punched out of the top left. Then you are handed a tiny piece of string. This string is used to "tie your papers" together at the end of the exam. Generally, a student is given about 3-4 pieces of paper to start out with. If you want more, you can always request it as needed by raising your hand. It is also imperative to use both sides of the paper- no space is left blank- except the left margins.
Since the paper is unlined, it is required for the students to have a scale ("ruler" not weighing device!) to place a margin on the left side, about 3/4 to 1 inch is preferred. Scales can also be used to write lines for one sheet to use as a guide underneath other sheets to make sure your writing is in a straight line and the spacing between lines is equal. The scale is also used for 'highlighting' important parts of your answer. Highlighting was not done with highlighters, but with a red pen and a scale, by underlining.
Keeping all this in mind can improve your marks. When I first landed in India, I did not put margins, keep my writing in straight lines or highlight important parts. I know I was docked for that. I was also docked for not having legible handwriting! Even then, I blamed that on e-mail! (Yeah, right!)
It is called 'writing tests' for a reason. Writing is done throughout the three hours. There was a story once of my classmate's sister who did all the right things on her test- margins, line spacing, neat handwriting and highlighting all the right parts. But, there were parts on her test to fill space she wrote about last night's cricket game! Ah, the shame! But leaving blank space or not having about 1 1/2 pages front and back per answer can also diminish your chances of getting 'full marks.' This goes to prove- "Who reads all that anyway!?"
Talking about marks- the test I was about to write would grant me 40 marks at the highest. It is rare if not a Guinness' world (or maybe in India's case, Limca's) record for a student to get 'full marks.' on a test. It was hard to be graded at 50% marks (20 out of 40). First rank or class toppers had the highest marks at 60%, second rank went to those with 50-60%, and third rank went to those with 40-50%. Those falling under that I believed had to repeat the class altogether.
Every test is also broken up into sections. In this test the break-up in points was as follows:
Part 1 - 10 questions - 2 points each - do all - 1 to 2 page(s) per answer - 20 pts.
Part 2 - 6 questions - 10 points each - pick 4 - 3 to 4 pages per answer - 40 pts.
Part 3 - 4 questions - 20 points each - pick 2 - 5 to 6 pages per answer - 40 pts.
100 pts. total
It is not only the test that appears to be 'against' you, but the atmosphere could also appear to be against you if you're not used to it. Tests were given in regular classrooms on the campus with open windows and no air conditioning. Students sat at wooden desks, two per table, on hard wooden chairs. The climate (weather) was very moist, sticky and hot (in the 80s)- normal for that part of the country, providing a very sultry, sticky place to take an exam. Though there were two ceiling fans in the room, it is quite possible they were not in use during this exam. Because of this, you'd frequently see students take their handkerchief from their pocket and wipe their foreheads throughout the exam. As it was also quite common for the power to be cut throughout the day, ceiling fans and tube lights would occasionally turn themselves on and off throughout the day as well.
As the test nears to an abrupt end, five minutes before we are all released, the test moderator informs us to 'tie our papers and write.' This announcement assures all the students papers will be secured together with the string I mentioned earlier. Staplers and paper clips were not used. Failure to tie your paper would definitely dock marks from you as test readers would not collate your sheets- you as the test taker are responsible for that.
When the time is up, the test moderator informs us and we all get up at the same time, hand in our papers and leave the room, collecting our book bags and belongings that set in the corridor in front of the classroom. Yes, all test takers generally leave all together when the test moderator signals time is up- rarely do students leave testing rooms before time is called even if they are done writing- it doesn't look good. I learned that the hard way!
So, this is a day in the life of taking a test back in 2001 in Madras Christian College, India. I wonder how it has or hasn't changed. If you have any feedback leave it in the comments below.
Comments from previous posting:
It was so nice to see the scene of a typical exam hall from a foreigner's perspective....For some reason I always loved the exam halls and exams in India, which were conducted in an open room with widely spaced desks, with just two people in a desk, or if it was a table, it's just me...with pin drop silence..and I always prefered to sit close to window on the desk in the back most row, whenever we had the choice of selecting the seats...Here in America, I feel some kind of congested and not able think 'openly' in the small cubicle in a closed small room, filled with the noice of keyboard tapping ( I never tried those 'soundproof' earphones, coz I can't imagine having another 'tightness' on my head during exam)..added up with the stain of looking at the computer screen for hours on the eyes already exhausted from the late night study...May be it's just because I am used to this open room 'writing exams' only...
Also in Kerala, we had the liberty of submitting the papers and going out of the exam hall within the last 30 minutes, without waiting for the exam time to end..."
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See some photos of my college life in Chennai, India.
"As an American who had to re-learn everything when I "landed up" in Chennai, "writing exams" or taking tests was no different. I had to learn on my own how to be successful in a new culture by taking up new behaviors, including how to adjust my English to a new writing style with new vocabularly and how to choose and re-write the most popular "quotable quote" for pages on end, challening my American ideals of plagarism to get the 'top marks' and 'pass out' 'first class'.
These tips, written in story format relate to my experience in 1999-2001 at Madras Chistian College in Chennai, India. Maybe this college has new procedures now, I don't know. Also, not all colleges in India probably subscribe to this particular method. If you are going to study in India, you'll want to find out the particular study and test taking habits of your particular college before attempting to use this as a be-all end-all guide of test taking in India!"