Darden Diaries 4: Examining the Anti-Exam!

You wake up from a night mare. Shake yourself out of it. Skip breakfast because you feel sick already. You try to pick the outfit you think is your luckiest. Carry the pen you think serves you well. Follow all superstition you have in your mind, like not forgetting to make a wish and praying to god, promising three coconuts in the temple given a favorable outcome. You barely say a word to anyone for the fear of forgetting all the ones you crammed up the night before. All the way to the destination you think about everything else you could have done. Some more effort you wish you had put in. You reach unfamiliarity. A massive intimidating hall room. Endless rows and columns of benches. You wonder how many others are going through this. You see a swarm of other YOUs. A big clock that tells you that it is time to fret. Blank walls all around you. Caving in ready to crush you. You walk along the alleys looking for your designated purgatory. And then you wait. Someone walks in with sheets of paper that will decide whether you have learnt anything at all this term. And you flip it open. Your mind goes blank. Palms start sweating. You wonder what is happening to you. Suddenly time seems to freeze despite the clock ticking away furiously…

If you still don’t know what I am talking about, you clearly never experienced the hell that is faced by millions of students all over the world during exam time! Thank your lucky stars and hope that you never feel this way.

Every exam I have given thus far in India has had some or the other elements of the above. And having had 16 years of formal education and having given endless competitive exams, I am no alien to feelings reflected above. Which is why I was a little confused when I heard during orientation that you can take exams ‘from home’ here at Darden. I thought it was a practical joke. How could you take exams form home?

I always assumed that an exam was not an exam unless you felt at least five of the above feelings simultaneously. I believed that a test was not valid unless someone was invigilating over your head every minute to ensure that no one was indulging in malpractices. I thought that an assessment was not an assessment until it was conducted at a certain time, in an intimidating hall room, and in an unfamiliar surrounding! Clearly all of these values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations were pleasantly shattered when I came to Darden!

You can take all your exams from anywhere and anytime! Yes anywhere! You could be half way across the world and still take them. You can take them from the comfort of your apartment (if the internet holds up), you can take them on a boat (as long as you have internet on it) or you could take it from Starbucks (as long as you keep ordering enough lattes and there is Wi-Fi).

So why do it this way? I thought a lot about this. First I thought that it was an ‘American thing’. But then I remembered a Britney Spears music video which showed exams being taken the traditional way. So it was not entirely an ‘American thing’. It was a University thing. Virginia University has an Honor code which is completely student run and trusts its students to take the exam pledging, “On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.” It is amazing how you are suddenly entrusted with immense trust and you know that it’s your duty to uphold it.

It reminds me of spider-man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” You suddenly realize how comforting it is to know that you can cuddle up at your own desk at home with a mug of hot chocolate and a sandwich to take your assessments. Find attached pics of where all I took my assessments from eating way too many chocolates.

Slowly the gloomy thoughts of endless benches and the caving in walls fade away. It’s a good feeling to be finally assessed on what you really know and not scrutinized from head to toe.

There is definitely one downside to this. It doesn’t let you fully revel in the feeling of finishing exams because there was no peripheral pressure to begin with. No wonder even after finishing all my term 1 papers, there is no feeling of “Yea! Its over!” The only feeling is that of “Okay, there is so much work that awaits me in Term 2!!!”

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