K. GUNASEKARAN

In a traditional examination, a mark a student gets depends on who evaluates the script and when it is evaluated

I READ with interest the article titled "Access to answer papers under RTI Act" by Ms. Mandakini Devasher (Open Page, March 26). She has forcefully argued for access to the answer papers even from UPSC and CBSE under the RTI Act. I welcome the idea of access to answer papers but not from UPSC, CBSE, SSC, etc. I strongly argue the case in respect of colleges and universities only. This is due to the following reasons:Right from olden days, "examinations" were used to evaluate the performance of the students; the system is under attack for its inaccuracy in measuring the performance. However, the more it was criticised, the stronger it has grown. It has become a crucial deciding factor in a student's life. It could make or mar a student's future.

Value judgment

Teachers, students and the public view the marks awarded to a student in an absolute scale. For instance, if a student gets 55 per cent in a paper then he is viewed to be superior to another student who has obtained, say, 52 per cent, which is incorrect. We can be 100 per cent sure about our value judgments if the examinations are conducted using objective type items (where the student is to select the correct item from 4 or 5 options given). In fact it is immaterial whether an examiner or a machine evaluates the answer paper. Both are expected to end up with the same marks in all the cases. The situation is entirely different if the objective type items are not used in an examination, which is mostly true in respect of school board, university or recruiting agencies such as UPSC, SSC.Research in the area of examinations both in India and abroad has convincingly proved that in a traditional examination like the one discussed above, a mark a student gets depends on who evaluates the script and when it is evaluated. Studies have also shown that if a student is awarded, say, 70 marks then there are 50 per cent chances that his true mark lies between 65 and 75. This kind of result has been obtained in a "controlled" situation where the examiners knew that their marks are likely to be analysed and are very conscious to follow the scheme of evaluation faithfully given by the examining body. One could imagine the state of affairs in a routine situation. The idea here is not to paint a grim picture about the examination system. But, if one understands the vagaries of the system, then conscious efforts could be made to bring down the vagaries and interpret the marks with due care. Due to these reasons many recruiting agencies, including UPSE, SSC, etc., are opting for objective type examinations. Since it gives scope for guessing and the talent of the candidates in analysing a given situation may not be brought out very well, many agencies are opting for descriptive type examinations. The errors of marking, as pointed out earlier, could be minimised if there is a detailed discussion before evaluation of scripts is undertaken. There are other ways to minimise the errors.

Revaluation

Realising the above vagaries in a traditional examination, many universities have introduced revaluation of answer scripts and a few have introduced supply of photocopies of answer scripts on payment. A few autonomous colleges in the south have gone to the extent of supplying photocopies of answer scripts relating to any student, of course on payment of a higher fee.While this could be done at college/university level, it is not feasible for implementation at UPSC, SSC or CBSE level. The mere number of students taking the exams is a deterrent to implement the above procedure. If it were allowed, it would take at least 18 months to 2 years to settle the issues arising out of the implementation of the above procedure, before they could start initiating steps for the subsequent examination. I am sure the government also is trying to keep the above agencies out of the purview of the RTI Act due to the reasons mentioned above. If there is a strong case for giving photocopies of the scripts, then it is better that all the exams are conducted through objective type items. In fact the entire world is testing the students through objective type exams so as to completely eliminate the vagaries of the examiners in evaluating the scripts. (The writer is Joint Secretary, UGC. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the policy of the UGC)

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