How Tough is it to Score Well in Board Exams?

I completed my entire schooling (Classes I through XII) at one of Kolkata’s favoured catholic schools. In those days, discipline and academic excellence were the primary parameters that mattered and my school checked both these boxes rather well.

Trouble started brewing once I graduated to Class XI and started thinking about higher education, specifically opportunities at the national level. That’s when I truly realized the impact of the education board. In my case, the impact was limited to a couple of aspects, viz. a) subjects / topics not covered in the Bengal board syllabus, and b) the frugality in awarding marks.

Fortunately, some extra tuitions covered up for the former, while the latter did not come into play at all in any of the options I signed up for, or in the higher education option I finally opted for.

Times have changed….

For a few years, till 2016, 40% weightage was accorded to an applicant’s Class XII board marks in calculating her All India Rank in the JEE (entrance tests for admission to India’s flagship IITs, and a few other engineering schools) exams. However, since 2017, the rules were changed to treat the Class XII marks as a qualifying criterion: a minimum of 75% marks, or a rank in the top 20th percentile in the board.

The 75% cut-off may appear inconsequential to folks intimately familiar with the CBSE or ISCE boards, but not all students find it amusing. The JEE implementation committee publishes the 80th percentile cut-off marks for every higher secondary educational board in the country to level the playing field. Finally, we have access to data that clearly shows the disparity in awarding marks across boards in India.

According to data for the 2016 Class XII exams, the 5 most liberal boards are (percentages indicate the 80th percentile cut-off score):

  1. Telengana Board of Secondary Education (95%)
  2. Andhra Pradesh Board of Intermediate Education (94%)
  3. Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (88.6%)
  4. Banasthali Vidyapeeth, Rajasthan (87.4%)
  5. Tamil Nadu Board of Higher Secondary Education (87.2)

While the 4 most frugal boards are:

  1. Tripura Board of Secondary Education (59.8%)
  2. Jharkhand Academic Council (60.6%)
  3. Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education (61.6%)
  4. Odisha Council of Higher Secondary Education (62%)
  5. Bihar Intermediate Education Council (63%)

What this essentially means is that a student scoring 95% in the Telengana board exams is academically comparable to a student scoring 60.6% in the Jharkhand board exams, despite a whopping 34.6% gap is scores!

The data clearly shows how a single mark-based cut-off or a mark-based weightage criterion can result in gross injustice to students from boards that are frugal in awarding marks! Thankfully, the JEE implementation committee, in its infinite wisdom, has taken steps to normalize this inherent disparity.

Time will tell whether the practice of allotting an explicit or implicit weightage to board exam performance will become the norm, not only in JEE but in other national level entrance tests as well. But for now, this is definitely something for parents to consider while looking for a school for their children.

But what about employment? It is common practice among potential employers to set mark-based cut-offs for board exams (while hiring entry-level talent), among others. And in almost all cases, the cut-off is a single number applicable across the board (pun intended!).

Let’s say company X sets a Class XII marks cut-off at 75%. Referring to the 10 boards listed above, company X will end up considering a population far larger than the top quintile from to 5 most generous states, and a population far smaller than the top quintile in the 5 most frugal states. The playing field is not so level anymore…..

Arijit Dutta photo Arijit Dutta
Arijit started his career as a chip designer in Motorola (and subsequently Freescale Semiconductor). In his 8 year stint in the semiconductor industry, Arijit led critical design functions and methodology formulation for Motorola’s next generation chipsets and managed cross functional teams across locations. Arijit holds 3 patents in this domain. Next, Arijit turned an entrepreneur and ran a company that developed and sold internet platforms and content in chip design, mobile application and web development. He graduated in Engineering from IIT Bombay. Arijit is a martial arts and music enthusiast.