An Unfair Race Against Time: My NEET Experience

With the clamour calling for its postponement, Tamil Nadu’s introduction of a bill seeking exemption from the exam and allegations of a paper leak, NEET has dominated the news over the past couple of weeks. It has also occupied my mind ever since I signed up for Biology in Class 12 in May 2019.

My parents have always wanted to see their daughter donning a white coat. As someone who has consistently been in the top three of her class, I have promise. So, unmindful of all the noise surrounding the exam this year, I toiled hard. Owing to rigorous practice with mock tests, I knew I was on the right path.

So, when D-day arrived, I rechecked all my documents and printed yet another copy of my admit card. Surprisingly, I was the calmest at home. When I asked my father to sign the third copy of the admit card, I remember seeing his hands tremble. I set off at 9:30 am to go to my examination centre – Rainbow Public School, Chas. The scenic drive provided some momentary relaxation before the high-stakes exam.

Upon our arrival, we were asked to park 500 metres from the school. Only candidates were allowed to go past the barricade. After they checked my admit card and ID proof, I crossed the barricade alone and walked ahead till I reached the school. After going through a security check, my documents were verified again and I was directed to my allotted exam room. It was a little past 11:30 am when I reached the classroom. I was the only one in there, out of 12 candidates the room could seat. So I sat there and waited. Gradually, the room filled.

It was 1:30 pm. A bell rang to signify the closing of the gates, but our invigilator had yet to arrive. I was worried. According to the National Testing Agency, we are supposed to get our question paper at 1:45 pm and had to start filling our OMR sheets by 2. At 1:50 pm, the package containing our test booklet and OMR sheet arrived. Five minutes later, the invigilator called up two candidates to check the sealed sign. By the time the test booklet was in our hands, it was 2:05 pm but we weren’t allowed to open the booklet. At 2.15 pm, we finally saw the OMR sheet.

If you think that we were free to write our exam peacefully after this delay, you would be wrong. Every 15-20 minutes, we were continuously prodded – first to sign the question booklet, then the attendance sheet, then the OMR sheet, and to put our thumb impression on the attendance sheet and eventually on the admit card. In the meantime, we were also asked to glue our passport-size photographs on the attendance sheet. Then, it was time for the invigilator to check our sheets and sign them. After she was done, a second invigilator came and rechecked our sheets. And so it went.

Also read: ‘Don’t Make It Worse For Us’: An MBBS Doctor on Postponement of NEET-PG Exam

These aspects were supposed to be taken care of in the 15 minutes between the distribution of the question booklet and the beginning of writing time from 1:45 pm to 2 pm. But we were continuously poked while writing such an important exam.

The paper was not tough, I knew the answers. But then I heard someone announcing that we had only half an hour to go and I had attempted only 25 out of 45 questions in physics. This came as a shock. In all my mock tests, I had finished my paper about half an hour before time. I had solved the botany and zoology section and bubbled the OMR, but I had yet to bubble the chemistry section and solve half of physics.

I blanked.

I was not prepared to run out of time. But I had. Perhaps it was because I gave all my mock tests in my room alone undisturbed. But then, during my pre-boards as well, I had finished my three-hour papers in less than two hours. After the initial instructions during my pre-boards, it was just me and my paper. The rest of the room disappeared. But this was not the case with NEET, when it actually mattered. I didn’t just begin late but was continuously disturbed, as were the other students in the hall.

I came out of my stupor and began to bubble the chemistry section and whatever I had solved in physics. While doing so, in my hurry, I bubbled four questions wrong despite knowing and marking the correct answer in my question booklet. This cost me 20 marks, and 20 marks can considerably affect the overall ranking countrywide. For the past two days, all I can think of are those four questions, not to mention the ten questions in physics I could not attempt due to a shortage of time.

In any examination, concentration and a disturbance-free environment are a must. And when the stakes are as high as NEET, the examination authorities must ensure that candidates are not deprived of precious time or continuously disturbed inside the examination hall. Although the NTA stipulates that these clerical matters are to be disposed of in the 15 minutes before the beginning of the writing time, these rules were not duly followed at my centre. And it has cost me. I will accept it as bad luck and try again.

I just hope NTA takes cognisance of this matter and ensures a hassle-free experience for students next time onwards.

Amna Tasneem sat for NEET, 2021. She likes to read, write and listen to songs.