In March when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first cycle of the nationwide lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19, Bhagavathi Sampath was writing his internal assessment examinations. A final year English literature student at a reputed college in Chennai, Bhagavathi was hoping to get done with his undergraduate degree quickly and move to a postgraduate programme.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, changed everything. “Since the lockdown was imposed, the college could not conduct the final semester examinations,” he said. As a consequence, Bhagavathi is waiting for his college to issue a clarification on how his external assessments will be made. “All of us are anxious,” he added.

Things are no different for students who had given their Class 12 examinations and are awaiting results. If anything, the pressure on such students is greater than those already in college. Many universities are yet to conduct entrance examinations, with the students forced to constantly sit with their books to ensure they are ready whenever the tests happen. spoke to two students, one in New Delhi and one in Chennai, to understand what they are going through as they face an uncertain few months.

Disrupted calendar

The Covid-19 pandemic emerged at the end of the academic year. Usually, states complete their Class 12 examinations by the last week of March and then start Class 10 board examinations.

While 18 states got done with Class 12 board examinations by the time the lockdown came into force on March 25, they were unable to stick to the Class 10 schedule. As the lockdown got extended, states such as Telangana and Tamil Nadu cancelled the Class 10 examinations and said the students will be assessed according to their performance in past exams conducted by respective schools through the year.

The situation was similar in schools attached to the Central Board of Secondary Education. Last week, the CBSE told the Supreme Court that it has cancelled the pending Class 10 and 12 examinations, scheduled to resume from July 1.

Therefor, the Class 12 students, according to the CBSE, would be divided into three categories.

Candidates who had already written more than three subjects will be allotted the average marks in the best three performing subjects to the cancelled examination. That is, if the students had already written the examination on four subjects, the average of the three subjects in which they have scored the highest marks will be allotted to the unwritten subjects.

Those who had finished only three subjects would be allotted the average of scores in two subjects they have scored the maximum marks. For those who had written only two subjects, marks for the unwritten examinations would be allotted based on the average of the two completed subjects and past internal assessments in the schools.

As for state boards, many state governments are yet to release the results of the completed Class 12 examinations. Tamil Nadu, for example, is expected to release the results this week.

Anxiety and hope

Had 2020 been a normal year, Vamika Aggarwal, a Class 12 student in a CBSE school at New Delhi, would have already got admission to a college, since most colleges start classes for the first year by mid-July.

Aggarwal has applied to foreign universities and has got a few conditional offers, which means she would have to provide her Class 12 scores to confirm the admission. “Given the situation, the universities have provided more time,” she said.

Aggarwal added that the CBSE evaluation categories could pose difficulty to some students, as the foreign universities expect a certain grade for eligibility. If the students had not performed too well in the few subjects for which they had already written the examinations and were hoping to make up with the others to improve their overall scores, this formula of using averages could affect their prospects.

Of course, she pointed out that there was the other option that the CBSE has provided. If the students are not happy with the results through averages, they could opt to write the exams. But there is uncertainty on when these exams would be held, given the continuation of the lockdown till July 31.

The student said in the meantime, she is also preparing for the Common Law Admission Test to apply to national law universities, which has now been postponed to August 22. This delay in holding the entrance exams, she said, has significant psychological impact.

“Usually, we start preparing rigorously 15 or 20 days before the exams,” she pointed out. “The delays mean it is very difficult to get into that mindset necessary to crack the exams.”

College and beyond

Bhagavathi said the delays in holding semester examinations for final year undergraduate students will affect their short-term future significantly. “Most good foreign universities ask for the Grade Point Index of a particular level for admissions,” he said.

On April 29, the University Grants Commission issued guidelines for the universities on how to handle the lockdown situation. The commission asked the universities to cancel all semester examinations except for the final semester in the final year.

But the colleges have still not held the final semester examinations in most states. Bhagavathi said there was no proper communication on what was going to happen. The UGC is expected to issue fresh guidelines on Wednesday, with media reports suggesting that the final semester examination too could be scrapped. However, since universities have significant autonomy, the final decision will rest with them.

If this is so, Bhagavathi said the mode of calculating marks for the final semester would be crucial for the students’ immediate prospects. He is hoping that the calculations would be based on past semester scores and not internal assessments of the final semester.

Bhagavathi Sampath, a final year English literature student in Chennai.

“The problem with internal assessments is that most students do not take them very seriously,” he added. “So many will lose crucial marks that could bring down their overall Grade Point Index.” There is also the student-teacher equation in the mix, which has an important say in internal assessment scores.

But it is not just the prospects of joining a foreign university that will get hit. “Even for postgraduate courses in India, this is crucial. In places where there are no entrance examinations, the merit list is prepared solely based on undergraduate scores,” he added.

The additional problem this year is the fact that skipping a year and taking up a job is close to impossible. Bhagavathi said given the economic situation where many companies are in retrenchment mode, finding a good job would be very difficult. “We will unfortunately be called the Covid-19 batch because it seems whichever way we turn there is some problem.”