Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Exam Time Musings

Every time I appear for an exam I’m always appalled by how much information the human brain manages to cram and retain.

That’s something worth mentioning because I’ve been studying for the last 17 years and with an average of 4 exams, give and take, in an academic year I must have attempted at least 68 of them. Not to mention the competitive exams which don’t come under the ambit of the above mentioned school and college exams. So with a minimum of 100 exams and a maximum of many more, that’s quite a lot of torture I’ve undergone.

Every year, my brain compresses humungous text books, reams of Xeroxed sheets, material from millions of websites, piles of notebooks painstakingly filled with handwritten notes and snatches of my lecturers’ explanations in class. I’m sure that in the course of my primary and secondary education I must have easily read at least 1000 books from page to page.

I’m in awe of my temporal lobe. Under the stressful conditions of an exam hall it has the ability to retrieve information word to word, random lines that have been branded into my frontal lobe with just one reading -O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo”. With the next question it’s geared up and visualizes the page long answer on Dryden’s life history and zooms in on the particular line on the left side in the 3rd or 4th paragraph highlighting the names of the poems  “Annus Mirabilis”, “The Hind and the Panther”, “Absalom and Achitophel”. Points about Baudrillard’s theory of simulacrum and hyperreality flow from the temporal lobe through the millions of motor neurons, with their many neurotransmitters and electrical  and chemical impulses directing my finger muscles to clutch the pen as if my very life depended on its functioning and scratch away on sheets of paper trying to fill in as many lines as possible. This is as much of 10th grade biology that my hippocampus has decided is important enough to remember. And the fact that all this scientific jazz happens within seconds, that too, with the fluidity of an orchestra practising a symphony for the nth time stuns me.

Not during the exam, of course, as that would mean going blank and freezing midway through the paper, unable to right a single alphabet, let alone a word. Somehow whenever I see numbers or anything remotely mathematical on a question paper the neurons decide to stay what in scientific lingo is known as the “resting state”. There is, I think, an automatic sublimation of all the neurochemicals from my nervous system and my body enters a state of partial paralysis.

Thank God, the Universities and the many jobless souls who run them for language based subjects like literature for people like me who have a right hemisphere that is more evolved and developed that the left one. Also, I happened to find out the reason for my under developed left brain and the subsequent mathlexia today. My mom very gingerly revealed my having rolled off the bed and crashed headfirst on to the floor when I was 6 months old. She describes it as having sounded like “the cracking of a coconut”. Sigh... Like my Prof. says, all parents have their deep, dark secrets about having dropped us on our heads someplace, sometime. 

Until the next set of exams I’ll go back to taking my brain and nervous system for granted.



  1. Well I' m totally wid u. My exams r closin on to me quickly! N abou d parents dropping children thin totally true! Don't think I've become grammatical all of a sudden it's just tht I'm typing this wid an iPhone therefore it pays importance to grammar.

  2. Sweetheart: you mean ungrammatical, don't you? And as far as I know lil bro, none of us EVER dropped you on your head. So quit grumbling :P

  3. Hellooo! Long time :P Love this because i can totally relate to it!!! Anyone who has studied under the Indian education system can relate to it! Sometimes i too wonder HOW on Earth is my brain able to retain so much!!! it's just something we've learnt to do growing unfortunate, painful and monotonous "talent" we're "gifted" with! Well, im just glad it's over now. when i drew that last line of the last answer of my LAST TYBA paper i knew right then the curse was lifted! :D

    Anyway, love love LOVE this post...pretty impressed with all the scientific knowledge u possess :P i swear when i was reading that part about the neurotransmitters, i could literally picture Sheldon saying that! Although, he wouldnt be too surprised he could remember all sorts of information. Thats something he actually takes pride in and doesnt fail to show it off..haha!!

    Well, keep on writing!! And thank god there's finally an explanation for your mathlexia hahaha! :P

    1. I know! Reaaaallyy long time. But I'm getting back to writing again, soon.

      I love the "last line" thing and the reference to Sheldon.
      Oh about my scientific knowledge, I wanted to be a pediatrician, a neonatal specialist specifically, for a very long time and had a thing for biology. And then there was always google to fill in the missing parts :P

  4. Yeah u better! And yeah I know about your old career plan...n yeah Google FTW!