Our examination system Highly subjective and faulty


Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley

Share this on:

In schools or colleges the students are “assessed” frequently as claimed by the head teachers and principals. The Ministry of Education (MOE), Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) and the Universities all boast of conducting national level examinations and in their own words “it is scientific”. 

The process goes on as usual “evaluating students, marking them pass or fail and determining their future fate”. Students are also categorized into distinction, first division, second division, third division and fail. This traditional system has been rooted in our education system as it was in developed countries several decades ago. 

The deciders of the students’ fate have been the teachers. So it is crucial that the teachers be capable of doing this. In more than 90 per cent of the cases we adopt subjective examinations where the students are asked to write what they memorize. Students, on the other hand, try to write answers to the questions by mixing their own thoughts with what they memorize. Unfortunately, the exam papers are marked based on textbook contents giving no weightage to students’ thoughts. So, writing more than what is there in the textbook makes a student a victim. This injustice is rampant in our evaluation system. That is the reason why creative students get less marks compared to rote memorizers. This is a major limitation of our national examination system. 

The School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination is the most talked-about exam in our context. More than five hundred thousand students participated in the exam this year and the result is yet to come. However, the process of evaluating the students has not changed. We adopt norm-referenced testing where students carrying at least 32 out of 100 marks pass and the rest fail. Similar cases are in practice in HSEB and University examinations. In SLC evaluation system the Office of the Controller of Examinations (OCE) says there is a system of marking scheme but how many teachers use it while evaluating students’ answer-books has been a big question.

Questions are prepared based on the textbooks and guess papers without considering the curriculum. In fact, the curriculum is the only document that states the expected outcomes of students at each level. None of the responsible agencies, OCE, HSEB and Universities, focus on curriculum while teaching and evaluating their students. That is the reason why “knowledge” on textbook contents is only evaluated discarding the other two most important aspects, “attitude” and “skill” of students in our evaluation system. As a result our products are crippled and less competent compared to their international counterparts. The implication of which has been clearly seen in the job-market where most of them cannot compete. 

A student getting 32 marks in any subject is declared pass and a student getting 31 fail. Do they know why a difference of one mark makes students fail and compel them to wait for the next examination? The answer is not easy, nor does any expert have any answer to this. A scientific evaluation system must have answers to any achievement differences of students. Had curricular learning outcomes been the bases of student assessments the answer to the differences would have been clear to all stakeholders. 

Talking about curriculum, the private school teachers have never seen it, let alone use it. Most of the public school teachers do not give any attention to curriculum and they only complain that the government textbooks have not reached their schools. A good teacher does not wait for the textbooks and can teach well with the guidelines given in the curriculum. The same applies to higher secondary schools in Nepal. Talking about universities, they have not yet developed curriculum, but they simply produce a syllabus where the details of teaching processes and evaluation are lacking. It has already been late to move towards criterion-referenced testing where each student is assessed on the basis of the learning indicators developed under each learning outcomes of each subject. The first exercise in teacher training should be to design indicators of learning approaches to the subject-wise, grade-wise, level-wise and nation-wise goals of education.

Their teaching of each content or chapter or unit must comply with these indicators. Teaching, in fact, should be geared towards all students achieving the outcomes mentioned in the indicators. None of the students will be left behind. It may take some more time for some students whose pace of learning is slower than others but this system guarantees quality learning for all. Our system of teaching textbooks can never guarantee this. This does not mean that textbooks are not needed but, as said earlier, they are only the means not an end. If we adopt this system of assessment then we will have answers why one student gets even one mark higher than the other. 

So today’s examinations are like a lottery where the students’ fate is determined by the subjective judgment of teachers. This has created injustice in education. This system should be reformed in such a way that 100 percent achieve their best. And that too should be based on scientific indicators and not merely based on textbook cramming.