Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Question is wrong

This happened when I was appearing at the SSLC (10th standard) examination. Our High School was in a good location and had large number of rooms and other infrastructure facilities were also available. Classes from VIII standard to X standard were conducted in the school and each class had at least four sections of about 50 students each. That made for nearly six hundred students. About 150 to 200 students would sit for this examination from our school. Many of the High Schools in the villages had 10 or 12 students taking the examination and the biggest school had about 50 students. Being a taluk headquarters and better connected by roads, it was an ideal place to act as a center for conducting the examination.

We often hear about the demand for seats to merit candidates. The voice for such a demand emanates from the Urban and educated sections. Because the rural and uneducated sections do not have much voice in making the demands. No doubt rural areas are politically important and strong and throw up a large number of representatives. But the representatives once elected mostly remain in the cities and the basic requirements of the villages is still inadequate. Students and women suffer more than others. Even today students in some rural areas are made to sit on the floor to write the examinations because the schools do not have required number of desks! Students from villages have to travel by bus or walk two or three miles before reaching the examination center. Many of them may not even have a breakfast when they arrive at the center. Some may say it is good because they do not fall asleep due to full stomachs. Once the examination starts all are equal. Questions papers and method of valuation are the same. Where is the level playing field?

Our school being the examination center for students of many nearby village schools cast an extra responsibility on our school authorities. Question paper bundles would arrive from the district headquarters a week before commencement of the examination and kept in the Locker room of the local bank. Head Master of the school was the Examination Superintendent and had to bring the bundles of question papers each day for the next day's subjects and keep in a room with door locked and sealed in the presence of two other officials and opened the next day in their presence. Two other senior teachers of the taluk were assigned as Assistant Superintendents to support him and run the system. Each day was a tense day for these officials as bundles have to be opened and arranged room wise and subject wise, answer papers bundled, sealed and dispatched  and everything had to go like clock work.

I was a student of Mathematics. The system at that time was that every student had to study Mathematics for 100 marks paper and this paper was called General Mathematics. Students had an option to take either Science or Arts as Optional subjects. Among the optional science subjects was another paper of Mathematics of 100 marks. In other words, arts students were to write one paper of Mathematics for 100 marks and Science students had to write two papers of Mathematics for 100 marks each. One common paper of General Mathematics and one paper of Optional Mathematics. Art students used to have subjects like History, Geography and Political Science. Naturally Optional Mathematics had a higher syllabus content and tougher than the General Mathematics paper.

There was and still is a general consensus that students taking up Optional Mathematics were or are more intelligent than arts students. Nothing can be farther from truth. During the course of our lives we have all experienced that much of what is learnt in school is useless for many of us. I was a student of Chemistry in college and ended up as a Bank Manager, fighting with Accountancy and Banking Law and had to study these subjects outside formal education. Many arts students did very well in their life and brilliant mathematics students often had to work as their employees! 

On the day of Optional Mathematics paper I went to school as usual and the examination started at 10 AM. It was a paper for 3 hours. After receiving the question paper and reading it, I found that one question for four marks was wrong. I told the hall Supervisor that the question was wrong and that I want to talk to my Mathematics teacher - the one who taught "Anything multiplied by Zero is Zero". He was one of the Assistant Superintendent  for the examination and was a busy man. Student from any other school could not have the privilege of calling his teacher. The Hall Supervisor sent words for calling the teacher. I kept reminding him every half an hour. Around 12 noon the teacher, now Assistant Superintendent , came almost running and asked me what the problem was. I showed him the question and told him it is wrong. He saw the question for a few seconds and told me it is correct and advised me to think calmly and answer. I started arguing with him but left hurriedly to attend to other work after again advising me to think calmly and answer. I did not have the maturity at that time to understand that he was an Assistant Superintendent and discharging a different role and also that we were in an examination hall. I could not answer the question and left after completing the paper except that question.

When I came out of the hall he was waiting for me and took me aside. He asked me to read the question. The question was : "A bird flies at 60 miles an hour while flying with the wind and 20 miles an hour while flying against the wind. What is the speed at which it is flying?". What is the principle on which it is based, he asked. I told him it was based on Simultaneous equations. How, he asked.   x+y = 60 and x-y = 20, I replied. Then what is the speed at which the bird was flying, he asked.  40 miles per hour, I answered. Where is the question wrong, he asked.  They have not taken the weight of the bird into account, I said. Why is it required?, he asked. I did not have an answer. I had used super intelligence and brought an extraneous issue into the question. In the bargain lost 4 marks!

Over the years I have realised that we commit the same silly mistake many times in our real life as well.  Many questions that confront us in daily life are actually correct. We know the answers too. Often the correct answers. Instead of answering the questions in a simple way that we already know, we complicate the question by bringing in irrelevant issues. And allow the question to become tougher and more demanding. Thus we fail to answer the questions and in the bargain lose peace of mind also! 


  1. Better to answer questions the simple way before they become complicated

  2. Good point is brought out with nice illustration.

  3. nice.narasimhan

  4. Concluding paragraph brings out a nice and important point.How true!

  5. Wonderful Sir.....

  6. Dear Sir, it is really wonderful and thoughtful!!!

  7. The way in which the incident has been described, is really very nice.

    R Jagannathan