For the first time looking into the feasibility of the concept of awarding negative marks for wrong answers in competitive examinations conducted by educational agencies like CBSE, the Madras High Court Justice R. Mahadevan in a significant judgement rendered on February 1, observed that there is no scientific proof in support of negative marking system that it helps to choose best candidates from competitive examinations and therefore, should be done away with to encourage intelligent guessing among students.
“Therefore, this Court is of the considered opinion that the system of negative marking in no way, helps the examiner to analyse the intelligence, aptitude or knowledge of the students in any manner. As such, this Court has no hesitation to hold that the system of negative marking has to be done away with, inasmuch as, in the considered opinion of this Court, the same perforce requires reconsideration”, the bench observed.
As per the facts, the petitioner Nelson Prabhakar striving to enroll for B.E./B.Tech in Indian Institute of Technology applied for National Level Common Entrance Examination conducted by CBSE in two levels – JEE (Mains) and JEE (Advance) examination. The JEE (Main) examination was conducted on 07.04.2013 which yielded the petitioner a total of 47 marks, falling three marks short in achieving the cut off marks of 50.
Utterly shocked with the exam results, the petitioner approached the CBSE pleading for revaluation of his answer sheets and in the meantime, be allowed to appear for the advance level examination scheduled for 02.06.2013.
However, after making several failed requests and pleas to the CBSE officials the petitioner approached the High Court, which granted him interim relief to appear in the JEE final examination.
Nonetheless, much to his dissatisfaction, the petitioner was not allowed to appear for the exam in violation of the court’s direction and hapless joined an engineering course in a private college.
Though the relief sought in the present petition has become infructuous, the petitioner wished to continue with the litigation to highlight the tyranny of awarding negative marks to the students in the competitive examinations and sought for judicious scrutiny of awarding negative marks to the students by agencies like CBSE. He cited examples of the system followed in various countries and also in CMC, Vellore, he sought for a direction to the CBSE to withdraw/strike down the method of negative marking.
The CBSE's counsel defended the system of negative marking by stating that the object of awarding negative marks in competitive examinations is to ensure that only diligent and deserving candidates get selected for admission in the colleges offering professional courses and cannot be found fault with.
Concurring with the submissions made by petitioner's counsel, the bench rejected the rival contention that the system of negative marking was to eliminate guessing behaviour and was adopted to filter out the diligent and deserving candidates for admission to professional courses.
Drawing out a difference between intelligent guessing and wild guessing, the bench noted that, “Negative marking does not allow a student to develop an element of guessing. Intellegent guessing is an art. It is very useful in our life. One cannot be sure about all things at all times. An individual will come across a situation, where he/she has to decide an issue not merely based on his knowledge, but with little guessing. Wild guessing is another type of guessing. While intelligent guessing requires an amount of prior knowledge on the subject, wild guessing is the decision taken just like that. In a competitive examination, the students come prepared with varied degree of preparation. As such, when a student is not sure about the answer, he/she attempts to take intelligent guessing. This type of intelligent guessing should be permitted and encouraged, as it would help the students in their future life, whereas, the attempt of CBSE in awarding negative marks would totally eradicate the habit of intelligent guessing. The CBSE expects a student to know all the answers and be confident while taking the examination. This cannot be expected from all the students. Therefore, negative marking acts only as a bolt in the brain development of the students."
Parting with the case, the bench suggested an alternative to negative marking system, stating that the number of alternatives in each question from which the candidates have to choose the correct answer, can be increased and the same perforce requires consideration.