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.