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Kolkata: Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize for The Satanic Verses. Gunadappa Viswanath’s autobiography is called Playing it My Way. ‘Cannible’ is an anagram of Caliban.
All of the above statements are wrong, but these are the answers provided by the revised answer key of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), an autonomous organisation under the department of higher education, ministry of education, Government of India.
The nationwide examination was held on September 1, and the provisional answer key was published on September 16. Candidates were allowed a two-day window to challenge answers by paying a ‘non-refundable processing fee’ of Rs 200 for each challenge. The revised answer key was published on September 24. The result is expected on September 26.
Even after the revision exercise, there are at least three incorrect answers in the final key. According to the CUET marking system, each correct answer carries four marks and each incorrect answer carries a negative marking of -1. So, someone who has got all three answers right stands to lose 15 marks since according to the erroneous key, their answers would be considered incorrect.
An NTA notice dated September 16 says “challenges made by the candidates will be verified by the panel of subject experts. If the challenge of any candidate is found correct, the Answer Key will be revised and applied in the response of all the candidates accordingly… The key finalized by the Experts after the challenge will be final. No challenge will be accepted after 18 September 2022.”
Screenshots of the three questions, Q ID 1011039, 1007011 and 1011036 are given below.
The answers provided in the final key to the above questions are as follows:
The Satanic Verses, the controversial novel by the Indian-American author Salman Rushdie made it to the Booker shortlist in 1988 but did not win the prize, losing to Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. The novel by Rushdie that won the Booker Prize in 1981 and later the Booker of Bookers is Midnight’s Children.
The Booker Prize website says: “Three former chairs of the judges Malcolm Bradbury, David Holloway and W L Webb were asked to choose their ‘Booker of Bookers’. The winner was Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children which originally won the prize in 1981.” Rushdie described it as “the greatest compliment I have ever been paid as a writer”.
Playing It My Way is the autobiography of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. The autobiography of Gundappa Vishwanath, co-authored by senior journalist R. Kaushik, is titled Wrist Assured: An Autobiography. Cricket buffs would know that the pun in the title alludes to the Mysore-born batsman’s wristy stroke play.
An anagram, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a word or phrase made by transposing the letters of another word or phrase. Alden T Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan point out in Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History (Cambridge, UP, 1991) that Shakespearean scholars since the late 18th century have noticed that Caliban’s name is an anagram of ‘canibal’, the Spanish spelling of English cannibal.
‘Helpless,’ say students
A graduate from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College said she had challenged nine questions spending Rs 1,800. “Only five wrong answers were corrected. There was no explanation for why the rest was not. We wrote correct answers, we paid money, still, we are being penalised. We are helpless at the moment. So many students from various subjects have tweeted to UGC chairman M. Jagdesh Kumar, but there has been no response.”
The goof-ups are not just limited to these three questions. At least 10 questions have two correct answers according to the final key. This means the answers to all these questions were incorrect in the first key, and after those were challenged, the correct and incorrect answers will now fetch full marks.
For example, in the provisional answer key, the correct answer to Q ID 1007002 is option C. It’s a question where jumbled-up parts of a sentence are to be arranged in proper order so as to make a meaningful sentence. Option C is – On the rising COVID numbers nervously with one eye the joy of travel, albeit I am rediscovering – which is clearly not a meaningful sentence. After being challenged by examinees, the revised key has both C and D as correct answers.
It is difficult to understand how Option C was given as the correct answer to begin with.
Again, Q ID: 1007008 asked candidates to pick the correctly spelt word among the following: A. Wharewhithal B. Wherewithal C. Wherewital D. Where Whital. The correct option given in the first key is D.
As can be seen in the following screenshot of the revised answer key, 9 out of 10 of these questions now have two valid answers, only one of which is actually correct, in each of these cases.
Then there are ‘dropped’ questions. Q ID 10110006 asked candidates to identify the Indian English playwright who won the Sahitya Akademi award from the following: Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani Girish Karnad and Rabindranagth Tagore. The answer was correctly given as Mahesh Dattani in the initial key. But for some unknown reason, the question has been ‘dropped’ according to the final answer key. All candidates will be awarded full marks for the question.
Several academics The Wire spoke to criticised the NTA for its ineptness and also raised objections about the practice of demanding money from students for challenging incorrect answers.
Krishnan Unni, a professor in English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University, said, “The errors only prove the incompetency of those who run the system. And then demanding money for correcting those errors from candidates who seek admission in the publicly funded central universities is totally unacceptable. This is a step to make the needy and the poor sidelined from the institutions. The glaring errors in the entrance test paper have understandably made aspiring students panic-stricken. I can understand their plight.”
A student of RKM College, Narendrapur, who took the test, said, “Even if we cast aside the grave ethical issues concerning the extortion of students for a mere opportunity to point out clear mistakes made by the examination conductors, this (demanding money) is still a sad system because I personally have friends who could not challenge the wrong answers for lack of economic means. Luckily, some of us could.”
Another student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, told The Wire, “After the second answer key was published, some of us wrote an email addressing the issues at hand and sent it to the relevant addresses. However, once again showing their utter disregard for the education and careers of thousands, if not lakhs of students, the NTA said it would not entertain any more challenges or even any correspondence from the aggrieved students.”
Speaking to The Wire, Satyaki Pal, an associate professor in English at RKM College, Narendrapur, said, “The only option left for the students now is litigation. But then they have already been made to pay money to challenge the errors, and I don’t know how they can now afford legal fees which are astronomically high these days. They could have been spared the ordeal if the NTA was a bit more sincere in conducting a national level public examination.”
Calls to the NTA’s CUET PG helpline number went unanswered. The Wire has sent an email to them seeking a response to the candidates’ grievances. This copy will be updated as and when there is a response.
Indradeep Bhattacharyya is a senior editor at Alt News. He is a regular contributor to The Wire.