I Gave an Exam During the Pandemic…… It Wasn’t Worth It.
Full Disclosure: I was underprepared.
I registered for the UGC NET (An exam to become a professor) way back in June. I soon found a job in July which compelled me to shift to Hyderabad. I moved to the city by mid-July and forgot that I had registered for any such exam. I thought that there is no way that this exam is gonna take place in such a situation
But anything can happen and soon enough UGC declared that the exam was scheduled for September. India was reporting little less than 100,000 cases a day. I was perplexed and didn’t understand how September was a better month than June or July when we were recording 10,000–40,000 cases per day.
UGC allowed me to change my centre from Mumbai to Hyderabad. But I was not sure whether this change would be approved or not. The exam was supposed to be held on 16th September but the admits cards were not released a week before the paper. Two days before the paper, UGC came out with a notice saying that the exam is postponed and will be held from 24th September onwards. They gave the reason that the NET was clashing with some other govt. exam and hence would be difficult to conduct both exams together.
I was not sure that my centre would be shifted, so I didn’t prepare for it (maybe I was being a bit lazy). When I finally got my admit card five days before the exam I decided to give the exam. My centre was 30 km away from my location, I decided to take the Metro to reach the location.
My paper was at 03:00 pm, I left my place by 12:30 pm. The metro station was clean and empty, I had a card (loaned by my colleague) and soon enough got inside a coach. The cleaning staff was wiping the handles, mopping the floor etc. Around halfway through the journey, most of the coaches were mildly crowded but people could maintain adequate social distancing. Most of them were wearing masks but I could spot two to three people who had their mask down and were speaking on the phone. I was shocked that no one sitting close to them was making them aware of their careless behaviour.
I reached the station where the centre was the closest and took an auto. My autowalla was driving the vehicle like a character out of a Roadrash game. But at least he was wearing a mask. Soon enough, I realised that every other vehicle in this part of the city were driving the same way. I reached the centre in once piece and was delighted to see the social distancing measures. There was hardly any crowd and the officials were guiding everyone with instruction.
I saw some parents pleading with the guard to let them enter the premises besides a board that read ‘No entry for parents beyond this point’.
I deposited my bag at a counter, took the required belongings and proceeded to enter the centre. One of the people who were supposed to check us was so engaged in his conversation with his colleague that he forgot to check me. My details were taken and they sent me inside a huge hall with thousands of small computer cubicles to complete my registration. The hall was filled with fans that reminded me of a typical government hall. I registered myself where I had to take off my mask to click a picture. Soon enough, I was allotted a computer and had to wait for the next 45 minutes.
Upon looking around I noticed that few candidates were not wearing their masks properly but that was not all the staff was being extremely complacent and were constantly removing their masks and touching their face. I was trying to find comfort in the fact that I had worn my mask properly and was following all rules well.
Till now everything was fine and bearable. I expected few people to violate some protocols and that was what had happened. But I wasn’t prepared for the next three hours of torture that I had to endure. The paper started and naturally, I was expecting I won’t be able to solve any question of the first paper (since I had not prepared). As I moved on to solve a simple mathematical reasoning question I realised that I could not get the answer from the option. I solved it many more times since it was a basic math question but failed to arrive at an answer. I thought I was doing something wrong and decided to go to the next question. As I went to solve the second paper I could figure out why the admit card was delayed and why the exam was postponed.
The first and thirtieth question was the same. For a minute I thought all question would get repeated from this point on. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. One question whose answer was ‘Malabar Exercise’ was written as ‘Malacar Exercises’. Another question that stated the short form of ‘Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Understanding’ as ‘CEMOA’ instead of ‘LEMOA’, this was nothing but a silly mistake. Another question didn’t have the last option printed, some other question that asked all four option to be presented in a chronological order had the last option as ‘D, A, C, D’. All these mistakes would result in these questions being declared as invalid and everyone who attempted these question would get full marks (that is almost everyone as there is no negative marking). I was able to answer 60 percent of the questions in my subject paper and whatever progress I had made there seems to eroded because of a faulty question paper. These were just some questions that I knew were wrong, there could be many other mistakes that I could not spot.
I was told that some of these exams go through an intense vetting process to figure out if any mistakes were made or not. It is being evidently clear that the papers were made and rolled out in a hurry. Despite all the social distancing measures, the checks and the widely controversial decision of holding exams during a pandemic, the quality of the papers was far from normal.
This is not to criticise the decision of the officials who made the paper or those ministers that allowed the exam to be kept. Despite all norms in place, the exams were not worth the risk of all candidates travelling from their houses to their respective locations. One has to wonder what is the use of taking an exam where most candidates are getting equal marks because of mistakes in the question paper.
For me, it was a choice of letting that paper go and not face any consequences. But for many others, it is the difference in getting a professorship or a fellowship for a PhD. Many others must have been disappointed if their subject papers had as many mistakes as I did.
I won’t even talk about the possibility of those candidates who can carry the virus to their respective homes and probably infect someone elderly. That is a separate issue and requires even greater scrutiny by our policymakers.
I was wondering if I am eligible for a refund from the UGC for making a shitty paper.