Are we defined by the worth of our academic achievements?
The other day, while I was editing a report on the state-of-the-art system meant to prevent the leak of question papers prior to the SSC exam, the jitters felt by a teenager before the first big test of their lives suddenly became very real.
After all, we had passed such a period ourselves in the late 80s. Of course, we had never heard of question papers leaks.
Reportedly, this time, the questions will be finalized just 30 minutes prior to the exam and, until then, be kept secure in aluminium envelopes. Yet, there are reports of social media platforms claiming to sell questions beforehand. When we were SSC or matric candidates, the key concern was getting the right “suggestion,” not disclosed question papers.
Come to think of it, no one actually needed to reveal questions because, back in the 70s and 80s, questions had a certain pattern and if one followed the questions of previous years, a relatively foolproof idea could be had as to the impending questions.
Sounds a bit bizarre, right? Well, here’s a dip into the past, the suggestion mania, and of course the phenomenon called test paper solving.
‘X’ sir/madam has the best ‘suggestions’
I can actually name several teachers who were known in the market to be master suggestion-givers. Most were either from top government schools or the more renowned private ones. Certain madams were also known to be a provider of infallible tips about possible questions and so, just after the final test at school, almost everyone ran to teachers for coaching.
The main task involved solving a set of questions over and over again to attain perfection in the answers.
The question pattern was straightforward -- let’s say you are an SSC candidate for 1988. In that case, you have to skip all the questions from 87 and look at 86, 85, and 84. Some questions always appeared after a one-year break.
Now, “shorol” in English translates into “simple” though the mathematical problem was a depot of complexity. There were three to four, which rotated from year to year. All one needed to do was to pick out the right one.
For a 100-mark exam, let’s say in general mathematics, one could easily get above 80 and the letter of distinction by practicing around 20 to 30 problems. Not very creative, right?
Now, when I think back, the flaws of the whole system become clear. Back then, with social pressure to get top marks, hardly anyone triggered a debate over the highly formulaic pattern, which obviously destroyed critical thinking.
Solving the test papers
If someone did not have the means to opt for private coaching, the reliable alternative was solving the text papers -- a compendium of question papers of the previous 10 to 15 years. Test papers from Ideal and Globe ruled the markets.
If a student practiced answering questions from five to six years assiduously, then s/he could easily get the first division. Trust me, just like today’s GPA, the division mattered a lot back then.
A student with a first division automatically drew admiration from relatives and friends. Many a romantic relationship began when a student with a first division was asked by the father of a prospective SSC appearing girl for private lessons and coaching.
It was still a time when “lekhapora kore je, gari ghora chore shey” was irrevocably ensconced in the social psyche.
While those with second and third divisions languished in the wilderness with the epithet “useless” stuck on them -- the ones with a first had premium social status, sort of platinum card treatment in those relatively unglamorous times.
Questions not in the ‘suggestions’
Now, this happened once in a while. Someone decided to drop the pattern and include a few new questions, triggering mass outrage. What this actually meant was that there were questions which were not included in the much-vaunted suggestions. So, in these cases, the teachers who had given the suggestions had to go into hiding for some time.
Questions out of “suggestions” meant a siege of the teacher’s home by guardians. No, really. However, when such an aberration did not take place, teachers usually got boxes of sweets and other gifts. After all, the prestige of the parents has been ensured.
One thing never changes -- the unwritten battle of the guardians to use their children for boosting their self-esteem and sense of pride.
“My son/daughter got a first division with several letters of distinction,” was a line most parents wanted to deliver in public. Unfortunately, the flaws of the suggestion-based exam became apparent when these students -- after the HSC degree -- aspired to go to the US for higher studies.
At that time, the reality confronted many students and parents alike -- in TOEFL, there’s no scope for common questions or suggestions.
Anyway, as students prepare to embark on the first big exam of their lives, they should be told that whatever happens, this is not the ultimate indicator of success in life.
Trust me, many of those “useless” students with average results are now successful in life, some in business, others in defense forces, and quite a few in politics.
Just give it your best shot and take whatever comes easily, because, in the grand scheme of things, your SSC results will often appear unimportant. Know this -- no one asks Rubel Hossain the cricketer, Purnima the actress, Hero Alam, or Shakib Khan their SSC results.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.