Day 66 - Examinations and Time

At school and college, there is a laid back approach to exams. 5 exams in a month, in some places. Some study leave before the first exam: in the order of a week to a month for practical exams. Lots and lots of free time. Before the exams begin, before each exam. All of this is wasted time.

Not here. Both the mid term and the end term exam sessions are 7-8 working days. They generally start on a Monday and end the next Tuesday. Sometimes, they start on a Thursday and end the next Friday. There’s no official “study leave”. Professors start to wind up their teaching about a week before the last class if they have planned it well, a lot of professors teach right till 2 days before their subject’s End Term. That’s just how it works. Exams are a marathon Inspite of that, I am glad for it. All of the time that is forced on you to study for an exam, is wasted time that you could have spent doing something more important and worthwhile if there wasn’t an exam looming over your head.

I woke up at 7 am this morning, I have an exam at 2 pm. I am not frantically turning pages and studying. It is 9:45 am right now, and I haven’t opened a single notebook yet. I have stolen away this time from my preparation to do something I love to do, knowing that the time I have after completing this post will be enough for me to get through whatever preparation is left.

The exam will end at 5 pm, my next exam is on Thursday. There again I will steal an hour’s worth of doing something I like: Reading Emma, writing some more, working on a project.

I write about this today because when I woke up this morning, I realised that I had woken up early and I wasn’t feeling bad about it. I didn’t have to be anywhere, yet I was up early. If anything, I was happy about the few extra hours I was getting. This essay by Andrej Karpathy is on point. My favourite quote from it is this section, right at the end of the essay:

Undergrads tend to have tunnel vision about their classes. They want to get good grades, etc. The crucial fact to realize is that noone will care about your grades, unless they are bad. For example, I always used to say that the smartest student will get 85% in all of his courses. This way, you end up with somewhere around 4.0 score, but you did not over-study, and you did not under-study.

Your time is a precious, limited resource. Get to a point where you don’t screw up on a test and then switch your attention to much more important endeavors.

I have never been asked about my grade point or my grade in a particular subject during an interview. I feel rather proud about a few and used to put them in my CV, until I realised that no one cares. As long as I have a number above 8 out of 10 in my CV, they know that I haven’t screwed up really bad and hence, it isn’t even talked about in most interviews.

The number of exams that I have given from being a staunch part of the Indian education system is staggering. I have been giving exams right since I was 6 years old. School was filled with periodic exams. Preparation for JEE 2013 increased that number astronomically, with 6 hour tests given every other week for a whole year. Just after coming to college, I have probably given hundreds of exams and class tests and lab tests. All of this test taking makes you a little bit de-sensitized to an exam. They become regular occurences that hold no more significance than you choose to give them.

I would love to write a TL; DR for this post, I am having a hard time figuring out what it A would be though. I wanted to make a point about exams.

Exams are not about how well you are prepared for them or how much time you spent preparing. They are about recognising what you need to study and where that will get you. They are about optimizing your preparation so you can get the best out of each test. They are about understanding the circumstances of every single course: the professor, the grading patterns, the question papers. They are about figuring out what score you are going to be okay with, because that number is different for each one of us. Lastly, they are about realising that when exams are looming over your head, you needn’t hit pause on the rest of your life. You can plan well enough to keep your life playing and still score well. It’s possible, and once you give a lot of tests, you will end up doing it subconciously, there will be no explicit writing down of dates and times.

That’s a good TL; DR, I feel. It encapsulates what I have always meant to tell students giving their first few exams. Exams are a complicated topic of discourse because of all the uncertainties and variables that come with every test you take. I have tried to summarise my experiences above. If you have given a lot of exams and have wanted to share your perspective with the world, sure do. The more viewpoints new people get, the more easily they can find their own.

POST #66 is OVER