The CBSE board exams suffer from the limitation of what I like to call the ‘objectivity of subjectivity’. A comprehensive set of questions are asked, but strict adherence to answer keys and the desire for ‘memorised text duplication’ on paper, sets the tone for absolutism. Thus, an antecedent for manufactured minds is set! CBSE results come as a matter of surprise and shock; arbitrariness reigns supreme, and subjectivity is dethroned.
Apart from the CBSE board exams, the entrance examinations conducted by various universities involve, no doubt, massive logistical, management and evaluation considerations. And for this reason alone, any harsh criticism of their evaluation techniques would be misdirected, for they must be considered both a formative element and product of the structure that is our education economy. For a system of testing to be centralised, efficient and viable, objectivity itself becomes imperative. The Delhi University Master’s Entrance Exam is a case in point. In 2018, a student applying for the master’s course in History had to sit in front of a computer and answer 100 MCQs in two hours. It afforded incredible convenience to the students and the process of evaluation, resulting in faster results and virtually no hassle of manual labour.
Let’s compare this with Jawaharlal Nehru University Master’s Entrance Examination (JNUEE). The same student applying for an M.A. in History in JNU has to write a 3-hour long paper, divided into three sections – a comprehensive attempt to assess the student’s understanding, knowledge and critical ability. For this year, JNU conducted the examination in December 2017, while most universities like DU conducted theirs in June 2018. It is easy to imagine the cumbersome and intensive process of evaluation that the university management has to face each year, along with the looming possibility of result delays. Subjectivity can invite bias based on ideology, vocabulary and other variables; objectivity, on the other hand, is promising within its binary of right or wrong.
However, an objective test is symptomatic of a ‘fact-based’ approach that limits assessment and the discipline, especially in the Arts, which thrives on multiplicity. In a sense, it can be said that JNU forsakes managerial convenience for qualitative testing and comprehensive evaluation. Anuj (name changed), a student who took the JNUEE in December 2017, says, “They basically let me decide the field (to some extent) on which I wanted myself to be judged. Their challenge for us was to show them how well our grasp of the topic really is.” JNUEE required the students to attempt at least one of the two questions in the third section from the field they wish to specialise in. The renown JNU enjoys is perhaps, in part, a result of this approach.
Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), in its entrance exam, has a refreshing combination of both objective- and subjective-type questions, distributed as 40 and 60 marks, respectively. This layout balances fact and ideology – an ideal balance to ascertain the overall skill and knowledge of the individual, without heavily relying on either.
Avijit Singh, formerly a student of Ramjas College took the DU, JMI and JNU entrance exams and said, “The DU paper was 100% objective. The questions were extremely difficult and painfully specific. There were also many glitches – like a question not having a proper answer in the options. Jamia’s exam, on the other hand, was 60% subjective and 40% objective. The subjective part was great. Had actual tangible questions discussing the rise of Gandhian politics and globalisation among other things that must have made the teachers aware of the acumen of the students they want in their university. The objective part was still very dicey. The JNU paper was subjective but slightly lengthy. I guess it had the best pattern out of the three.”
The National Eligibility Test (NET) is conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to determine the eligibility for lectureship and for awarding the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) to Indian nationals. A long-standing demand of teachers and students alike is for the paper, which is completely objective, to move to a subjective-type evaluation. This is cited as crucial in order to produce better teachers and improve the domain of knowledge-production in general. When an examination becomes an exercise in fact-checking, diversity caves and selection inefficiencies become rampant.
In the civilisational hunger for remuneration and climbing hierarchies, models of convenience flourish, even within centres of knowledge. Outlining the duality of objectivity-subjectivity at the threshold of such knowledge centres seems like an inconvenient point of contention. However, examinations can and must function as effective potential-detectors rather than being ceremonies or farces.