Being a Class XII student these days is about not having a summer vacation. It is about writing not one, but a series of end-of-school examinations. The autumn of board examinations is followed by the unavoidable certainty of a summer of entrance tests.

While debates about long-term systemic reforms are on, experts point out that in the few weeks remaining before the entrance examination season starts, students can take certain steps that will help them handle the transition from board exam preparation to entrance tests better.

Analysis

“Just taking a series of tests never helps,” says Ajay Antony, vice-president, T.I.M.E. “A post-mortem analysis is essential after every test. Entrance tests are not just an assessment of knowledge and abilities. Time management and the aptitude to pick and choose the right questions are essential elements. Mock tests must be sandwiched with proper analysis so that something can be learnt from the instinctive judgmental errors.”

Pointing out that adopting an EMD approach by categorising the questions into easy, medium and difficult will prove extremely useful while taking the exam, Mr. Antony says “Students must invest five to seven minutes to understand the pattern and the nature of questions. Knowledge is important, but it alone will not help. One has to learn to be strategic.”

Taking an entrance test is like a T20 game, says Ashwath Narayanan, a first-year Metallurgical Sciences student at IIT-M. “Momentum matters. While taking the exam, always start with the section that you are very good at. Never attempt a tough question right at the start and get demoralised.”

Of the host of the exams, including IIT-JEE, AIEEE, BITSAT and PMPD, that are lined up in the coming weeks, S. Koushik, a second-year bio-technology student at IIT-Madras, took seven such entrance tests when he was in Class XII. “Do not do anything new in the last few weeks,” he says. “Concentrate on whatever you are good at. However, do not neglect anything. Have a vague idea of everything so that you can at least make an attempt.”

He adds that one thing which helped him a lot during his preparation was taking IIT-JEE mock tests exactly according to the actual exam schedule in the last few days before the exam. “I tried to simulate the actual exam by taking one paper between 9 a.m. and noon and a second one between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. It helped me to tune my biological clock and keep myself fresh during the exam.”

Preparing for the boards and entrance tests that immediately follow is a fine balance. Once the board exam gets over, complacency can set in if there are long intervals between two entrance tests and one must guard against losing touch, say former students.

Gulzar Ahmed, Class XII student, says he, like many others, has been preparing for the entrance tests for the past two years.

“One month before the board exam I stopped preparing for the entrance to concentrate on my school exam.”

According to him, allotting a few hours for subjects that one is weak in is the intelligent thing to do in the final few weeks. “Entrance tests are about overall scores. You just need a minimum cut-off in each subject.”

So that is what it comes down to — two or more years of preparation for a three-hour examination that will determine a student's future, and V.G. Idichandy, Deputy Director, IIT-M, says, in the current system adaptive machine-like learning seems to matter more than natural talent and ability.

“Entrance exams need to bring out a student's aptitude. It may be a test of his drawing skills or an evaluation of how well he does a particular task with his hands,” he says.

Dr. Idichandy adds that school results must be given adequate weightage and that Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's proposal to have a common entrance test is the way forward.

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