January 12, 2011

Paper Setter's Mindset

"Let her/him attempt this paper and pass it"
"Did they copy the paper from another university?"
"WTF was that, was the paper of some other subject?"
"Did they got this paper made from the peon or from the lab assistant?"

Sound familiar? Heard of them? Well these are a few things either I have said or heard people talking about whenever the conversation turns to exams. And these days, I can't really blame anyone for thinking or talking like that. When one works really hard (well cramming GBs of data is not easy!), you expect to get rewarded for it by an easy paper (Of course, when you know the answer, the question is easy) and then some good paper checking, making the hard work successful and giving the mind the right signals that hard work is rewarded.

OK?? NOT OK
But the way we (OK, at least 'I') get the exam papers, my mind gets the signal that it is OK, if I don't work hard. It is OK, if I don't prepare fully for the exam. It is OK, if I bank on my general knowledge of the topic rather than actually knowing the answers to questions. It is OK, to just study a topic 5 mins before the exam and go and write the paper (ask me, I did it in my exam on 31st December 2010). But everyone including me knows, in reality it is NOT OK.

Ideally
(please take note of the word) the exam should be taken to check your 'general' understanding of the subject (not everybody is an expert in Analog Electronics alright). But the paper setter seems to think as if we would have become an expert in 3 months of studying the subject, like it was the only subject that we had to study.

Ground Reality
I find it most ridiculous when you get a 15 marks question when all 'you know' AND/OR 'it can be written about' is of 5-7 marks. So, what options do we have? • Growing the limbs and redundant body parts of the answers which should have only got the mid-gut (read core).• Choosing larger font size (16 rather than normal 11 or 12). Also making use of cryptic fonts (think Webdings or Monotype Corsiva). • Making the text 'centered' rather than 'justified' (leaving margins on both sides of sheet.) • Leaving a blank line after every 3 lines or so of text, on the pretext of making the answer seem legible and neat.

Size Does Matter
And teachers also seem to go for the length rather than the content of the answer. 
"You see, he has written 7" answer so he gets 8 marks while your answer is just 6.25" inch, I still gave you 6 marks, what else do you want?"
"You should have explained this also (even if it means going out of context). This is not enough for a 10 mark question (crap some more)"

Choices. Really?
I don't know which syllabus the paper setter follows, because you almost always get 10% or more of question paper 'out of syllabus'. What's hilarious is that those questions will be given as a choice. So, you exhaust all your choices in 'don't-know-from-where-the-MoFo-gave' questions. So, now all you are left with are the questions that are 'compulsory'. Hey, don't blame the paper setter, he/she gave you a 'choice'. It's you who didn't take it. The choices between questions is also horrible (See my this time's ACN paper to know what I mean).

And what's more ridiculous
...is the way the question paper is set. Instead of asking the question in a simple manner, they will twist it like Jigsaw Puzzle. There will be wrong or incomplete information provided in the question (shame for an end term question paper). The paper seems like has been made at the last moment, just like we prepare near the judgement day. So, whichever question is seen first is given without caring that it is actually going to be attempted by thousands of students in coming days and may be the deciding question for whether the student passes. Recently, a friend told me that his question paper contained significant number of questions from a single page of a book!

I know
...what I have written here is not 100% applicable for all the papers we get. I was quite impressed by the way last paper I gave was set. And University exam papers can't exactly be set like School Board exam papers, all scientifically prepared because they don't have that much resource or time. Also, some of what I have said might be the result of some bad exam experiences (lack of preparation, lack of intelligence, hard luck etc.). But what I have said is not entirely wrong. If you have ever faced University Semester style exams, you will agree with that.

PS: Now that I am all bossing around here like I know how to set the perfect paper, I wonder how I would have set the exam paper. Hmm.. Interesting! Well all I know is that I would have definitely experimented with different styles, like I do in blogging and life in general!