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Competitive Arena!

Most of us[if not all] have heard about competitive examinations. These are usually referred to those examinations which enable students to take admission into colleges, universities, business schools and the like. Any student aspiring to get into a top college such as MIT, or Harvard or Tokyo University or Indian Institute of Technology, will need to first get over the hurdle of entrance exams. Popular competitive exams include the GRE[Graduate Record Examination], the GMAT[Graduate Management Admission Test], TOEFL[Test of English as a Foreign Language], IIT-JEE[Indian Institute of Technology- Joint Entrance Examination], etc. It is a well known fact that you need to score extraordinary marks in such examinations in order to qualify for the best colleges. Moreover most of them are highly competitive, even more so in Asian countries such as India and China, where thousands of students compete for a handful of seats in the premier institutes. In this post, we shall examine whether such competitive examinations are indeed necessary or have they become more of a burden in recent times.

I will be focusing more on the psychological aspects of such examinations, rather than the technical or financial feasibility of conducting such exams on a large scale. Or in other words, what sort of a mental impact do such examinations have on young students, usually in the age group of 15-22 years. Let us start with the necessity. Competitive exams are not a recent phenomenon and have existed for over half a century. In all likelihood they will continue to exist for a long period in future too. Examinations such as GRE and GMAT test the verbal and quantitative aptitude of a candidate, along with his logical thinking ability and to check his speed plus accuracy, all within a fixed amount of time. Surveys conducted have shown that such skills are indeed necessary for scientists, managers, researchers, or professionals in any field. In India, the popular competitive exam called CAT[Common Admission Test], for entry into the Indian Institute of Managements[IIMs] is somewhat similar to the GRE or GMAT . The IIT-JEE focuses on Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics skills. There are also other entrance tests for Law colleges, Arts, Commerce, etc. The point being that entrance tests have become very much a part and parcel of life.

However there is one major difference between the developed countries and developing countries, with respect to competitive exams. In developed countries, such as USA, there are hundreds of premier educational institutes, offering specializations in diverse fields, ranging from engineering, management, science, astronomy, philosophy, psychology, drama, sports, medicine, tourism, and what not. So even if a student fails to get into say MIT, he can be content with other institutes and will still have lots of choice. Compared to that, in India, and to some extent even China, there are very few premier institutes which can offer high quality education. This, coupled with the huge student population in both countries, has created an enormous supply-demand mismatch. Thousands of students are competing for a single seat in a few institutes, as such institutes guarantee a job after completion of the course. In fact students spend 12-14 hours per day studying in order to grab the prestigious seat by any means. Naturally that takes quite a toll on the young child, and in may lead to negative outcomes, such as depression, health problems, suicidal tendencies, ostracism, etc. Unfortunately in many cases, parents force the child to appear in such competitive exams, even if the child does not want to.

The problem with such exams is that once a student starts preparing for it, he/she usually ends up forgetting most other things. Teenage life is something which should be enjoyed and treasured, and not to bury oneself in books for 10 hours a day. Not only will this make the child unsocial, but will also make him depressed or frustrated. Balancing school studies along with competitive exams is another difficult task for many students. The thing is that most of the children do not even know why they are studying such stuff in which they have no interest in. This has created a rat-race, in which bowing down to peer pressure and parental pressure, the student mindlessly starts taking one test after another. The reason for this is that in most developing countries, getting a job remains the first priority for students and parents alike. This is why most students are forcibly admitted into engineering or medical colleges such that they can get a job and start working after completion of their course. Making money is important, no doubt, but if done at the cost of one’s interest, may prove to be detrimental in the long run. I believe career counseling is very important in this stage. Rather than forcing children to appear for one entrance test after the other, he/she should be encouraged to follow his/her own career objective.

I believe that instead of having several different competitive examinations, it is better to have a single exam held throughout the year which can be taken by students from any background. Later the respective institutes can decide on their own admission criteria. For example, in India, we have over 10 different entrance exams for MBA with many institutes conducting their own exam. Many students find it troublesome to appear for different exams held at different times during the year.

Often I have read articles in which it was mentioned that students committed suicide after being unable to get into the college of their choice. Other times I read that students commit suicide because they were unable to follow the hectic schedule of their coveted colleges. And the worst part is that many students only realize their mistake after they have taken admission. They come to the conclusion that they are a total misfit in the college, and that their interest clearly lies elsewhere. All this can be avoided with a bit more caution and seriousness when it comes to taking admission in a college.

All said and done, I am not totally against competitive exams. With some structural changes, it is quite possible to conduct such exams in a more cordial manner. The students should not feel that they are in a do-or-die situation while attempting the answers. Other than that, it is very important for us to have more quality institutes in different backgrounds[Science, Arts, Commerce, Law, Engineering, Management, etc], such that deserving students are not left out just because they did not perform very well in a particular exam.

5 comments so far..What are your thoughts?

  1. My son is only a freshman, but I am dreading his junior and senior years at High School. The pressure is great, and although he has always been a straight A student with very little study time, it still has to leave negative thoughts in the mind. I have always encouraged my children that they can be anything they want to be in life if they just put their mind to it. Unfortunately, my son wants to be 8 or 10 different professions! It will be interesting to see just what he ends up doing in 3 yrs:)

  2. Thank you for sharing this valuable information,Satwinder.

  3. Nice blog! I like your writing way. I'm doing practice GRE here: . I hope it's useful for GRE test takers.

  4. @Mary: Yes, lack of clarity in making a career choice is indeed an issue. Hopefully your son will do just fine. :)

    @Alpana: Thank you as always. :)

    @pro: Thanks a lot. :)

  5. Really valuable information....Thanks for sharing your views with us Satwinder :D


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