The Indian Curriculum Board Exams Dilemma

I graduated last year in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. As I saw the pandemic evolve in the UAE, I wanted time to pass faster to be done with the exams without any complications.

I had to write five papers. I was done with four and began preparing for the last. In the earlier days of my study leave, our fears came true. The fifth exam was not happening any time soon. Were we going to wait to write that paper at a later date? If that paper was permanently canceled, how were we going to receive our scores for it? Many questions lingered in the heads of my friends, family, teachers, and me.

Eventually, their “objective criterion” for scoring the last paper came out. We were not to have it. Since we had already written a few, the canceled subjects’ marks were decided based on the best 3 (if 4 were written).

Was I happy? Yes. Was I a little disheartened? Also yes. We spent a year studying that subject to never write the paper and have its marks decided on unrelated factors. In fact, it was a subject I expected to be in my top-scoring range. At the same time, I had already begun hopping on calls to game with my friends; it was also a moment of relief.

But the timeline in which that took place did not threaten my university applications and intake, although the results arrived close to deadlines. However, that is a major crisis for the current 12th grade batch.

The Current Scenario with CBSE (India) Boards and the Issues Behind it

As it stands right now, the Indian board has decided to cancel the examinations of 10th grade and postpone those of 12th grade to June.

If you’re not a 10th or 12th-grade student, think about how it would feel if you spent more than a year preparing for the most (12th) or one of the most (10th) necessary examinations of your life. You would be bound by the worries of getting promoted to the next grade or applying to a university, registering for competitive exams, and answering your highly enthusiastic uncles and aunties. Yet, after all that pressure, the exam never happens, and uncertainty befalls upon you undervaluing hours of study, thousands in tuition money, and significant mental stress. Even then, can you really oppose it? Would you want it to seem like you valued all of this above the essential element of life?

What should be done? I spoke with several students and teachers and still do not have a definite answer. Yet, there are some solid conclusions. Read ahead to find out.

Coronavirus Second Wave in India

india coronavirus statistics

Given that CBSE schools operate primarily in India and other countries struggling to combat the pandemic and provide adequate health resources, the current decision can save lives.

Should the decision have differed by country?

The graph above reflects the health situation in India. Other countries do not face a similar condition. The cases in UAE are falling, and a significant portion of the population is vaccinated. Should the decision have differed according to the health conditions in different countries? Should other countries have been given the decision-making power regarding holding examinations? But would this be feasible given that those papers still need to be corrected outside?

global covid pandemic cases map

Class 12th Uncertainty and University Applications

The government had earlier set the examination dates in May, 2 months later than usual, thinking that the pandemic would cool off. Clearly, the assumption and overconfidence in governance was a significant flaw. Then, when the exams are postponed to June, how can we be so sure that the pandemic will cool off then?

To many, this is yet another wasteful bet being placed. Given that the same government also refuses to halt large-scale festivals like the Kumbh Mela and political rallies in poll-bound states, where this hope comes from is unknown.

For 12th graders, university deadlines are approaching, and many have even passed. At this rate, results may arrive after the seat confirmation deadlines set by several universities. How will students properly decide and confirm their college of choice? Some universities have already refused to extend their marksheet receipt deadlines following immigration law. Will the government force hundreds of thousands of students to take a gap year? Given that this is a significant period in students’ lives, this uncertainty is causing great distress.

Seeing as this is still a bet, what are the chances that these exams will be eventually canceled? How will students feel after all this time and mental trauma inflicted?

The Question of Actual Learning

Schools in developed countries were able to transfer learning online quickly and even eventually enabled hybrid schooling options. However, in places where technology, internet access, electricity, and finance were a challenge, this change was difficult.

The education of many students was greatly disturbed. Even in well-off countries where schools went online, the examination proctoring was poor. Students note that most of their classmates cheated.

Isn’t promotion without examinations to the next grade gray area given that they might have barely been equipped with the skills and knowledge at that level? Or, will not the plight of students seeking to redeem themselves from poor school quality go hopeless? What will happen to the incentive for students to actually study?

This may also have an impact on rural students. Given that many students in rural areas rely on these scores for scholarships to continue education, low internal or deflated marks might result in dropouts.

Calculating Marks in the Absence of EXAMINATIONS

Many things can be done to calculate one’s marks. But the challenge is to find the most practical and fair calculation method.

Internals and Assignments

When other curriculums canceled their examination, marks were determined through previous internal exams and assignments. However, many were upset about the sudden cancellation and grading system as students don’t take internal exams seriously in curriculums that emphasize board exams as a supreme determinant. In most cases, there is a great disparity between one’s internal marks and boards. Being someone who scored 44 in my high school preboard math but over 90 in the board examination, I can attest to that as well.

What to do about the difference between internals and boards that usually exists

Suppose marks are calculated based on internal exams. Should there be a grade curve acknowledging usual gaps between internals and finals? Perhaps the school could calculate the standard average gap between preboards and board examinations and add that gap to every student’s scores. For example, pardon me for getting all mathematical, but if the school average for preboards is 60% but 72% for boards, a student’s score could be hiked by 6-12% to cover that gap. But even then, would students like me who expected an increment of over 40% accept a calculation of this sort?

Practical Examinations and Projects

Will projects and practical exams be incorporated into the grading system for the 10th and 12th (if theirs gets canceled) grade determination?

Predicted Scores for 12th

Will schools be allowed to use predicted scores to assess the final score of students? Since predicted scores are not requested by every student, what happens to those who do not have them?

What does this say about the education system as a whole?

While there is no single methodology I am confident about, there is a lot to say about the education system. This is not just me as a high school graduate ranting. Still, something teachers that I spoke with regarding the matter concur about: concentrating an entire grade worth of learning objectives on one paper at the end of the year is not the way to go. 

Many school practices are outdated, redundant, and questionable. In the context of this post, the examination structure is one of them. Dividing meaningful exams throughout the year and emphasizing projects and other skills like group work, research, learning skills, and others will be better indicators than concentrated exams at year-end. Such a holistic and well-balanced system will also provide easy alternatives in times of crisis.

Besides, the current system of projects needs to be revamped. I would propose more significant emphasis on projects on the grading scale. But CBSE projects miss out on integral academic standards such as plagiarism checks, independent analysis, and other productive factors. It is not worth putting much weight on a system where students can copy-paste from Wikipedia and get away with it.

Even then, given that many of those who take CBSE examinations come from challenging backgrounds, how can the proposed changes be financially inclusive for them?

Whatever the answers may be, it is clear that delaying finding answers to this complicated issue now will make it even more difficult in the future.

Amplify the message. Share this post to raise further awareness and stand in solidarity with students to be able to voice their concerns against a system that needs change urgently.

What are your thoughts about the matter? Do you have any proposed solutions that I did not cover? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

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  1. Hey Amaan!

    This was a very interesting read. Your pieces on learning and education always make very compelling arguments. The questions raised in this article are very important.

    You have expressed your concerns on various methods of giving marks in absence of the final exam for 12th. I understand there is no perfect solution but what do you think should be done for 12th grade?

    I don’t completely understand the issues with *CBSE *in the “Class 12th Uncertainty and University Applications” section. They set the board exams during May so schools that started late get some time. Is this exam date extension a problem? Then due to the rise in cases, they cancelled exams and announced that the dates will be discussed on June 1. Other than the lingering uncertainty created (which is not unique to India), is there a problem with this plan? Also, I should mention the entrance exam deadlines for some colleges in India have passed, but that doesn’t include deadlines for submission of Board exam marks. So students aren’t at a disadvantage. But yes, the same can’t be said for students planning to go abroad. At large, I wanna understand what, in your opinion, the education ministry or CBSE could have done differently for final exams this year (besides the health ministry getting a better grip on the pandemic).

    Would love to hear back from you!

    Thank You! Saatvik Agrawal

    On Wed, 21 Apr, 2021, 2:38 pm The Vigilant Mind, wrote:

    > Mohammad Amaan Siddiqui posted: ” I graduated last year in the wake of the > Coronavirus pandemic. As I saw the pandemic evolve in the UAE, I wanted > time to pass faster to be done with the exams without any complications. I > had to write five papers. I was done with four and began prepa” >


    • Thank you for your wonderful comment and question.

      I have had a hard time wrapping my head around what the perfect solution for 12th grade would be but if I really had to give a definite answer I would choose the methodology that considers internal examinations but inflates or deflates that marks as per usual average difference between internals and boards, for that school, in the past year. Yet, I understand that even this solution has contentions; it ignores possible average improvement or downfall and assumes that the school’s performance will be static.

      Now, regarding your question about the delay, the news right now is a testimony to why it’s a problem, they’re considering postponing it to July or beyond now. These postponements are horribly placed bets. Students are being forced to take gap years because of this. Maybe not in Indian universities but many universities abroad are refusing entry because their immigration offices do not issue a visa beyond a certain date. That certain date for many countries is very close to the examinations, which means it is before the final result, rendering a forced gap year or Plan B. If they postpone the exams to July, then that certain date will literally pass before the examinations even take place. Many universities are changing their offers to unconditional to avoid students from going through this pain, but that’s only a minority of universities.

      I hope this answers your questions. Feel free to revert if you have any follow ups!


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