Generous Examination Boards


Kapil Sibal, India’s Human Resource Development Minister, is scandalised by Delhi’s Sri Ram College of Commerce declaring a mark range of 96 to 100 as the cut-off limit for admissions to its Commerce course.  Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, joked that his son would have to score 110 percent by the time he came to class XII. 

How can anyone blame Sri Ram or any college for fixing a high cut-off limit if there are thousands of students scoring such high marks?  The problem, obviously, lies with the evaluation system and not with the admission system.  That is, if there indeed is a problem. 

If students are really brilliant and they score nearly 100 percent in the exams it is not a problem.  Rather, it is something which we as a nation should be proud of.  Or else, we should examine the evaluation system. 

I have been an examiner myself of a prominent education Board in the country for quite some time.  My subject is English.  The first time I went as an examiner, I got a set of scripts which contained answers with hilarious spellings and no grammar at all.    Furthermore, the examinees revealed little knowledge of the lessons.  A fellow examiner informed me that the scripts were from government schools.  My Head Examiner was shocked with the marks I awarded.  “We are not trying to produce more rickshaw pullers and coolies,” he told me indignantly.  “There are too many of them in the country.  Please be a little generous.”  I had thought I was way too liberal!  How stupid I was, I told myself.  I didn’t even know the difference between being liberal and being generous.  I became generous from that time.  Rather, the Board made me generous. 

Invariably every year I came across Head Examiners who gave lessons in generosity on the first day of the evaluation.  Some of them even went to the extent of theorising on generosity.  For example, one year the Head Examiner said, “If a student can score 100 percent in maths and science subjects, why can’t he or she score the same in English?”  I have listened to many such theories in the past and am sure to listen to more in the future. 

The latest was the 2011 exam.  On the first day of the evaluation I was given 5 scripts as usual.  I remember very clearly that out of the five, three scored above 90 and two scored between 85 and 90.  I was convinced that I was ‘generous.’  But to my horror and shame, the Head Examiner was indignant.  “This student to whom you have given 89 could easily get 90,” he admonished me.  “There is a psychological difference between 89 and 90,” he went on to explain.  He drew my attention to a particular answer to which I had given only 1 mark out of 2.  “This answer has no mistake as far as grammar and spelling are concerned.  Why did you cut one mark?”  I pointed out that the answer was diametrically opposed to the spirit of the poem.  The answer revealed a very unsatisfactory understanding of the lesson.  “See,” said the Head Examiner, “there are some teachers who interpret the poem that way too.  How can you penalise the student for that?”  That was a new lesson for me.  Apart from being generous, the examiner also had to take into account all the possible interpretations that all the possible teachers in the country could offer for the lessons. 

I know through my colleagues that such generosity is demanded not only of English teachers.  Teachers of every subject, including the very ‘objective’ subjects like mathematics and science, are compelled to give marks ‘generously.’ 

The generosity of the Boards produce students with marks that may scandalise Kapil Sibal or amuse Omar Abdullah.  But Sibal and Abdullah should not blame the colleges for such marks.

In fact, Kapil Sibal should only be happy with the high scores of the students.  He should celebrate it with a party for the school teachers.  He has revolutionised the education system in the country with the grading system, optionalisation of exams in class X, and so on so that the students will be real winners. 

Having said this much, I must add one more thing lest I do injustice to the students.  There are many students who are brilliant and deserve very high scores.  Time and again I have felt excited reading the answers provided by some candidates.  Time and again I was aware that I was being just in awarding high scores.   

The number of such students wouldn’t run into thousands, however.


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9 Responses to Generous Examination Boards

  1. The problem is even though the govt has worked hard to improve the edu infrastructure but it hasn’t done enough to keep the evaluation and the overall development of the edu sector in tandem with the improvements in infra. Resulting in many shortfalls. Thus such things happen.

    • matheikal says:

      Dhruva, I think there is really no need for unwarranted “generosity” in the evaluation system. That does not mean being harsh on students. The concept of fairness can be implemented without undue “generosity”.

  2. matheikal says:

    Dhruva, you may be glad to know that CBSE has decided to revolutionise its evaluation process. Here is the latest news:

    The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is moving towards digitalization of the paper evaluation system. This will ultimately prepare it to declare results within a week of the exams getting over. The changes will be applicable only to XII exams and will be partially implemented in the current academic session (2011-12).

    Under the proposed system, answer sheets will be digitalized by scanning and uploading to a specialized software. The digital answer sheets will be then stored on a secure server and can be accessed by the evaluator alone. The evaluator will then mark the answer sheets online and submit it back to the server. The total marks will be tabulated automatically, leaving the evaluator more time for other answer sheets.

    You can read the whole article at:

  3. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    I am giving a personal anecdote that may be relevant here.

    In 1978, as the Teaching Assistant for a course on steel structure design at the University of Kentucky, I graded assignments and exam papers and also responsible for clarifying students’ doubts. The marks I gave the students for their very first assignment gave them shock – they were much below expectations. But, they corresponded with my procedure for grading I had done at IIT, Kanpur just the semester earlier. The student’s shock went through the course instructor, an admired teacher because he was spoon feeding/hand holding the class which I hated, and landed on me. The stern instruction to me was, “I do not know how you did it at your earlier university, but here we do things differently. The effort counts. You have to be liberal.” Translated to contextualize, the skew in marking should lean away from the final steps and be towards the middle portions, damn the final answer. I started mumbling something like, “The structure is not going to consider whether enough effort was put into it design; it would merely fall if the answer is wrong!” out of the instructior’s earshot!

    Yes, being liberal can motivate students but that liberlism must be truly targeted. A student must know that his mistake is condoned only because the grader saw sincereity in the student’s efforts. Otheriwse, “being liberal” means nothing more than a donation. Obviously, in a mass exercise like CBSE grading, “being liberal” carries no meaning.

    But, given that I needed the TA’s salary, I became “liberal” in all my TA assignments!

    By the way, how can digitilization improve the core of the process? Only the orutine tasks will be made easier and error-free, and that too only if the grader is digital-literate (that does not mean he/she is able to count his/her toes!)

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • matheikal says:

      The anecdote is quite shocking, Raghuram. In professional courses generosity of the examiner is not justified, I think, since the lives of other people are at stake. Imagine a doctor qualifying the exams merely through the generosity of his examiners. What a threat such a doc would be to the public!

      Regarding CBSE’s decision to digitalise answer scripts, I really don’t think that would be very much beneficial. I’m looking forward to more innovative measures which will prevent or discourage practices such as mugging up, cheating in exams, and so on. The exam system itself would require a lot of modifications in order to test not only the anlytical intelligence and rote memory of students but also the practical and creative intelligences.

  4. Lalit Sharma says:

    Though nowadays students score high marks in subjects due to every year changing rubbish rules in the CBSE education system, but the quality of the students in knowing the subject deeply has been deteriorated.
    If we check in IB boards, we don’t find like 100 marks in language subjects. Even in subjects like science and maths, the students just solve the sample papers like 20-30 and just mug it up. If they are given little bit different from that question paper, 90% of the “high scoring students” just doesn’t have a clue to do what! So, is this intelligence or brilliance, which nowadays Indian education system is giving to the children. Every year, some portion of every subject is ‘just thrown’ from the syllabus. With this incomplete knowledge, what would we achieve with so called ‘100’ marks in that subject??

    Thank Yous Sir,
    Lalit Sharma.

  5. matheikal says:

    I agree with you totally, Lalit. Certain Boards have it made it all too easy for the students with the result that students don’t really master the subject. They just manage to score high in exams. The whole instructional system is wrong womewhere as well as the evaluation system. The recent indtroduction of CCE does not seem to achieve what it envisages theoretically. It will also end up making it all too easy for the students. Making learning easy and interesting is a good thing. But it must be effective too.

  6. shaleen says:

    Sir I hv heard that the students in tamil nadu r evaluated loosely so as to improve the result of the state… of the seats in srcc r filled by the students of tamil nadu….

    • matheikal says:

      Shaleen, I’m not aware of this happening in Tamil Nadu. It’s possible such things are happening. The other day somebody told me how the tribal students in some Northeastern states are given marks liberally so that they can beat the non-tribal students in securing the state quota for Medical and Engg seats! Such things do happen, I understand.

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