It’s that time of the year again, when examinations loom large in the lives of many young people. The newspapers are full of tips on how to study for the exams and I too am eager to offer some unsolicited advice.
Fortunately, my school-leaving and college exams are events that have been lost in the dim mists of antiquity. But I do have fond memories of the professional exams I took during my stint as a banker, which led to my becoming a Certified Associate of the Indian Institute of Bankers (CAIIB).
My first posting was Asansol, a colliery town in West Bengal close to the border with what used to be Bihar. Imagine my delight when I, a humble BA, was told that not only could I pass CAIIB but I could also join AICOBOO, or the All India Confederation of Bank Officer’s Organisations. The thought of being able to add ‘Member, AICOBOO, CAIIB’ after my name made me swell with pride.
I noticed, though, that none of the staff appearing for the exam gave Asansol as their choice of centre. Instead, they opted for nearby towns in Bihar. On inquiring, I was told the atmosphere at the Bihar centres was more conducive to success.
Anyway, the first time I appeared for the exam was in Calcutta, where there was an excellent Tibetan restaurant near the venue. After the morning exam, we made a beeline for the restaurant to fortify ourselves for the afternoon session with copious quantities of beer.
Of course, none of us knew a thing about banking but we made up for that by padding our answer papers. In the Economics paper for instance, on a question on investment avenues, I wrote several paragraphs on how people used to bury their treasure in pots in the yard and stuff money in mattresses. I also wrote at length on our love for gold and how the Roman author Pliny had complained of the drain of gold to India in ancient times.
That little nugget impressed the examiner so much that I passed Economics on my first attempt. When the results were announced, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had passed several subjects, including Law and Practice of Banking. My association with the subject had been limited to covering the All-India Racing Record with brown paper on which I wrote ‘Law and Practice of Banking’ in big bold letters before studying it diligently in the office prior to visits to the race course.
My seniors then told me the undoubtedly apocryphal story that the way they evaluated the question papers in Bombay was to drop them from a tall building. The ones that fell on the pavement, (the weighty ones) passed, while the ones that fell on the road failed.
I did notice, though, that while I passed my morning exams, I invariably flunked the afternoon ones. Some people thought it might have something to do with the beer.
Be that as it may, I continued to give the exams at six monthly intervals, passing the subjects one by one.
One paper that gave me some cause for alarm was accountancy, where I noticed that my marks were getting progressively lower with each exam, finally hitting rock bottom at 6 out of 100.
Luckily, the next time I took the paper I had a friendly invigilator who came and told me my balance sheet hadn’t tallied. “I know that, you idiot!” I said between clenched teeth. “But why isn’t it tallying?”
Strangely enough, he went and had a look at some other papers and came back and told me where I had gone wrong. I didn’t forget to congratulate him after I passed.
So here, speaking from experience, are my tips for the exams: 1) choose your centre carefully; 2) pad your answers; 3) make friends with the invigilator; and last but not the least 4) do not drink before the exams.
(Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint)