Until a few years ago, the general perception was that national level competitive examinations were not a strong forte of candidates from Kerala. The fact that our students performed poorly in national level competitive examinations, the civil service examinations that determined their entry into IAS, IFS, IPS and other coveted administrative services, the IIT/IIM entrance examinations such as CAT, the All India Medical Entrance Examination (now replaced by NEET), Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) which is mandatory to become a research fellow or college teacher, the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview for recruiting officers into the Indian Armed Forces – and even in the selection processes conducted by multinational companies, etc. only added weight to this argument.
But things have changed for the better in recent years. With the support and career guidance provided by such publications like the Manorama Thozhilveedhi and many others helped turn the tables for Kerala’s youth. Regular columns and articles that featured Malayali candidates who topped tough exams gave our people better insight into preparing for competitive exams. This awareness and healthy approach to entrance examinations have helped our girls and boys find their way into coveted institutions. The high success rates achieved by our youth in Civil Service Examinations in recent years testify to the improved scenario. But, we should not overlook the fact that there is plenty of room for improvement.
Shun the ‘I have prepared enough’ approach
If there is one single most important reason why our students falter in competitive examinations, it is underestimating the importance of preparation. Let’s look at two instances where this can happen -
1. Entrance tests for recruitments to banks usually have questions based on numerical ability and quantitative aptitude. A common mistake made by Maths graduates who scored well in their college exams is to presume that they can crack this exam easily. ‘Maths is easy for me; I can clear that part easily and that should get me a good score’ – if you hear yourself say that, you might be in for a rude shock in the exam hall. The questions might not look anything like the ones that appeared in the exams at college level. By the time you figure out the question paper, you would have lost so much time. You might end up with no time to even read through many of the questions, let alone try to answer them.
On the other hand, students who have prepared well with the help of question papers from previous years would be able to grasp the questions better and faster. The confidence and speed they have achieved through practice will stand them in good stead even if they are not exceptionally good in Maths. They may come out with a high score whereas the Maths graduate may have fallen short by several points. The old adage ‘Practice makes man perfect’ is nowhere better applied than in competitive exams.
Numerical ability is a standard component in most competitive exams, starting from entrance tests for clerical posts to civil services. It would be foolish to assume that your high numerical aptitude will see you through even if you haven’t put in regular and focused practice. To make the point clear, let’s take the example of a runner who hopes that his talent will help him win the 100 meter dash as well as the 10,000 meter marathon. Just as both events need different skill sets, we need to decide what our goal is and work towards it systematically.
2. A student who has scored a high rank in English BA or MA may not be bale to crack the English language portion of a clerical test. The annotations and essays that helped them score high marks in the university exams will not help them make the cut in a competitive exam. What could help instead is to observe the pattern followed in question papers over the years and prepare accordingly. Once you understand the style of questions that are typically asked in the language ability section, your natural flair for language can be put to good use in cracking the exam.
Healthy approach is crucial
The one aspect that is universally applicable about competitive exams is that it requires long-term planning. Students should be encouraged to understand this fact early on. Such an attitude can be cultivated in students only with the effort of parents and teachers. In order to make our children to be at par with their peers across the country, parents and teachers should cultivate the right approach to competitive exams and invest time and energy in grooming their employability factor. If we analyse the one-off success stories in the state as well as those of Malayali students elsewhere, it is clear as daylight that long term planning and right approach are the most important factors that make all the difference.
Group discussion and interview
Group discussion (GD) and interview are an integral part of most national level entrance tests mentioned in the beginning of this article. But how many of our students are equipped to face these sessions with confidence? Studying text books cover to cover or brushing through current affairs magazines will not take you far in either of these stages of the selection process.
While it’s true that trainers often spot exceptionally articulate students, the vast majority of our kids sadly lack the language proficiency required to do well in group discussions and interviews. However it’s not something that hard work and focused training cannot overcome.
It should be pointed out at this juncture that mastering group discussion techniques alone will not help you put up an impressive performance. Your arguments should be soundly backed with facts and figures. You should be able to point out relevant statistics, expert opinions, and examples while presenting your perspective. The analysis of the issue should be done in an unbiased way and you should be able to delineate the issue objectively. Clearly, it requires systematic practice to be able to do all this in the exam hall.
Reading for general awareness
So how should you prepare for group discussions and interviews? You can start by making it a habit to read the newspapers everyday and making notes on important developments. It helps immensely to read the editorials of newspapers because they give well-rounded and informed analysis of issues. You will be able to garner multiple perspectives on the same issue from different editorials. Make it a habit to read at least one news magazine that gives serious analysis of a wide spectrum of current affairs. Keep in mind that human memory is not foolproof; it is always advisable to make notes on important pieces of information so that you can do a recap at regular intervals.
To sum up, a student who is aiming at a secure career through competitive exams should devise an efficient way of functioning, which even includes an efficient way of reading newspapers. Local news, political developments, sensational gossips, controversies, road accidents, etc. make for the newspaper reading ritual for most of us. But the serious reader has to squarely ignore all such noise made by the media and learn to sift through the papers for relevant news. Keep a notebook handy while reading your newspaper; soon you will have a ready reckoner of facts and figures to refer to before exams, group discussions and interviews.