Two heads are better than one is a common saying, but whether it also applies to exams is debatable. Taking advantage of a break in board exams caused by the pandemic, the CBSE has used the reset button to develop a revolutionary two-exam mode in different formats for grades 10 and 12 that aims to change the basic concept of holding a single exam, which used to determine everything, from the students’ careers to the shaping of their lives. In a takeoff to the two-semester system that universities use for engineering courses, the academic session is divided into two semesters, with the first semester exams lasting 90 minutes in November-December 2021 and the second semester exams in March-April 2022 in the examination centers.
The idea may be to spread the exam stress and get students used to successfully passing exams, while dividing the curriculum to reduce the burden. Continuous recording of internal assessment results rather than just an annual result will likely help students overcome the whims of an academic year. With a comprehensive reform, many ambiguities can arise, especially with regard to the authenticity of exam results if they are to be carried out in online mode with the students at home, in the event that the pandemic forces the operation of examination centers. The semester system can also give students time to complete additional studies for entrance tests in degree programs that qualify for a profession.
Eliminating memorization, which used to dominate student methods of taking each major exam as a determinant of their grades, would be the greatest contribution to the Indian system of assessing student performance on exams. The system is currently burdened with ratifying the grades schools will give their students for the past academic year. Dealing with the anomalies that are likely to arise will be challenging as schools would certainly try to give preference to their students on internal assessment grades. What the reform promises is a vision that will take everyone beyond the last academic year fiasco when the exams could not be held at all. All students have suffered from inadequacies in online teaching and learning for a full academic year, when the injustices of India’s patchy Internet service were most evident across the urban-rural divide.
The uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last before the virus just becomes endemic. It would take a brave nation to explain that the second wave has subsided and consider the situation safe enough to put students and teachers back into classroom mode. The learning outcomes will be far better, but there is no telling whether such gatherings of students will not help the virus to spread more easily. The UK experience of getting all contact students into a stray positive case has been bitter as many students have been forced to spend time in cruel self-isolation. Much depends on when schools can reopen, but the CBSE made good use of the time to think about alternatives.
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