This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Athira Unni. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why It Makes Zero Sense To Have Multiple Choice Questions For Humanities Subjects

More from Athira Unni

Until about two months ago, I thought that as a Literature student I was free from the vapid horror of multiple-choice questions. Never would I have to worry about “ticking” the right answer, because hey, Literature is known to be a subjective course. We think, we write, we argue. But we don’t choose from four options and use the old inky-pinky-ponky technique when we’re lost, because there’s never one correct answer, right? It’s all about substantiated interpretations. Why would anyone set a multiple-choice question paper for an MA English Entrance Exam? Right? Wrong.

Most regional and some central universities in India set a multiple-choice question paper (some include a descriptive section too, almost as an afterthought) with negative marking, for their entrance exams into post graduate programs. Only a handful of universities have fully descriptive MA entrance exams. Our professors have now grown accustomed to feeding OMR sheets into machines to get results. University administrations take pride in publishing results of an exam written by more than 8,000 applicants in 10 days. Above all, students have grown used to the robust, apparently infallible model of “bubbling” the right answer and some thank their good graces that they don’t have to write!

There’s also the fact that NET exams for Humanities, written for research fellowships, also have multiple-choice questions. Basically, in order to become an assistant professor of Literature in India or a research fellow, you need to memorise a lot of unnecessary details instead of actually showing evidence of previously done research or presenting your academic writing skills. This is very different from other countries, where a multiple-choice entrance exam, such as GRE, is simply a component of your college application, along with others such as your previous scorecard, an application essay, recommendations from professors or even your previously published work. No, here we look only at a multiple-choice assessment.

But people go with it. Not many questions are raised. We love ignoring Humanities or dissing subjects under it as useless or irrelevant. What’s the big deal, after all? Why is this model a matter of concern for Humanities alone? Also, for India with its vast number of college applications, isn’t OMR testing a blessing?

When we assess Literature graduates using only multiple-choice assessments (and make them get habituated to it) we do two things – encourage a memory-based approach and neglect assessing their writing skills. Both these consequences are detrimental to developing research skills and the very idea of studying Literature. Most students who take up graduate programs in Literature aspire to do research and continue in the same field. Even if you don’t aspire to do research, you hope to gain knowledge and skills from studying canonical and non-canonical texts, which you can later apply in other fields. Remembering specific dates, authors and literary movements was never the aim of literary studies. It was always to encourage close reading, historicise texts, isolate literary aspects, write criticism, substantiate the use of literary tropes etc.

The skill of applying literary theory on texts goes essentially untested in such entrance exams. To write research papers and develop connections between texts, you don’t have to know the biography of a 17th-century University Wit poet; but you might need the skill of drawing thematic connections between 17th-century literature and contemporary times.

Like Einstein said, any fool can know; the point is to understand. Analysing and substantiating arguments about texts is essentially the crux. Not much of that can be tested by a rigid objective type question paper. Even a carefully set multiple-choice question paper that tests everything from grammar to your knowledge on literary genres, to reasoning behind the naming of a particular literary movement, will lack because of its inability to test how you present your argument! Writing skills are not tested in such assessments and anybody who memorises a bunch of dates and names are bound to get through to some of our top universities in order to become research scholars. Seriously, what are we doing?!

The problem here is the intrusion of multiple-choice assessments, made popular in our country by the Engineering-Medicine entrance exams, into Humanities. This model might suit subjects under the science stream, because science is not as subjective. However, it’s different for Humanities. Throughout the years, in spite of inculcating scientific thinking into literary criticism and theory to a degree, the brand of reasoning is still very different for both streams. It’s always been one answer versus multiple answers. Through objective-type assessments where factual details are tested, we are facilitating the continuation of a memory-based learning in Indian schools, instead of breaking away from such an approach to focus on things beyond just memory. As for the sheer volume of applications received by universities in India, it is certainly tempting to use OMR testing in order to speed up the evaluation process.

However, think about what we’re losing when we move from a holistic testing method such as a descriptive exam or a combination of descriptive and objective, to a more prescribed and rationally efficient mode such as a multiple-choice assessment for Humanities. In that movement towards “rationality,” we compromise skills on the altar of convenience. I’m not discounting the benefits of multiple-choice question papers. When used well, they can be a great assessment tool. Descriptive exams also require memory skills in order to do well. But when we use only an objective exam to find the future research scholars of our country, we’re losing an opportunity to search for and encourage inquisitive individuals, who might as well be the next great literary theorists.

Alternatives exist to this approach. Universities can incorporate a descriptive section to their Humanities entrance exams. Better still, an entrance exam can be made just one component of the college application. Currently, the importance of these exams lie in the fact that they alone can get you access to the best universities in the country. Not the marks you scored for your degree, not the recommendations from academics who are familiar with your work and certainly not the research papers you’ve written, but just a multiple-choice assessment. Such an approach obviously puts all candidates on an equal footing (which is essentially the purpose of standardised testing), but that also makes it the university administrations’ responsibility to put together the best combination of assessments and selection methods. How is it so hard to use the common-sense approach of matching subjects to suitable assessments, in order to slightly improve the face of higher education in India?


Image source: Shailesh Raval/The India Today Group/Getty Images
You must be to comment.
  1. Chrinstine

    It is the best time to make a few plans for the longer
    term and it’s time to be happy. I have learn this submit and if
    I may I want to recommend you few interesting issues or
    tips. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles regarding this article.
    I wish to read even more things approximately

More from Athira Unni

Similar Posts

By Arya Jha

By Rajan

By Subhajit Murmu

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below