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The Unanswered Questions Regarding CBSE & ISC Board Exams

Meghnad Bose | CNN-News18

Updated: June 7, 2016, 8:38 AM IST
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The Unanswered Questions Regarding CBSE & ISC Board Exams
For boards to be opaque about their standardisation procedures is hardly acceptable.

Quick Read

  • Data analysis reveals shocking discrepancies in the marking patterns of the CBSE & ISC board exams
  • Both CBSE and ISC have not been able to give a specific explanation regarding the data

It’s that time of the year when millions of students just out of high school await their admission to colleges and universities across the country - with most institutions judging them solely on the basis of their Class XII board marks.

Which is why what you are about to read becomes all the more important.

Information sourced and analysed by multiple data scientists reveal shocking discrepancies in the marking patterns of 2 of the country’s biggest national board examinations - the CBSE and the ISC.

What are these discrepancies and how do they affect your college admissions?



Notice the extremely large spike at 95? This shows that the total number of students scoring exactly 95 is more than the total number of students scoring any other particular mark between 0 and 100.

And here are the graphs for the Maths, Physics, Economics and Accountancy papers among others-


Notice the similarity? In almost all of them, the 95 is a skyscraper, towering above the all the marks next to it.

Dheeraj Sanghi, professor at IIT-Kanpur, explains why it’s odd that 95 is the number awarded to the highest number of people in almost every CBSE exam, year after year.

"This bunching up or moderation is done in a way that a lot of people have been given 95 marks. Now these people in reality must have got 94, 93, 92, 91, something like that and all of them have been bunched with 95. This is really unfair because different people have been given different increases."

This unusually high 95-spike has been observed across 10 of the 12 most-studied subjects of the CBSE every year since 2008. That’s almost every exam, every year, for the last 9 years.

So how does all of this affect you? In the day and age of cut-throat competition for college admissions, a difference of 2 to 3 per cent in your marks often determines whether you make the list or miss out.

And that is why an unequal method of standardisation that increases the marks of different students by different amounts, even if they score in the same range (say, the 90s), is a major problem.

Therefore, if person A scores 92 and his marks are increased to 95, whereas person B scores a 95 and his marks stay as they are, that takes away the advantage of the person who actually scored higher.

Mukta Nain, Principal of the CBSE-affiliated Birla High School for Boys in Kolkata is not impressed.

It's a little unfair. In this stiff competition where even half a mark is important, I feel this affects the admission of some good students to various courses they want to take up.”

A former exam controller for the CBSE, Pavnesh Kumar, had this to say. "The 95-spike is because the highest number for moderated scores is 95. It is unfair to say that people who are scoring 95 without moderation are being disadvantaged because their scores are not being reduced. It's only that the marks of those below 95 are being increased."

The CBSE is yet to explain why it feels that taking away the advantage of those scoring 95 by putting them on a par with students scoring lower is fair.

Former Chairperson of the CBSE, Ashok Ganguly, agreed with CNN-News18's data analysis and said that the CBSE should try and avoid bumping up marks in the 90s.

"How is it that students attempting only 90 marks in an exam end up scoring 94? We need to differentiate between grace marks and standardisation. The processes of standardisation employed need to be revisited. Lack of transparency is a major concern."

But the CBSE isn’t the only board exam with a seemingly flawed marking process. Let’s now look at the other big national board – the ISC.


In the ISC examinations of 2016, no student in any paper scored an 81 or an 82 or an 84 or an 85. Nor would you find a single person with an 87, an 89, a 91 or a 93.

These 8 numbers feature in a list of 24 numbers between 40 and 100 not to have been scored by any student not just this year, but for ALL the years for which we have data (that is, from 2012 to 2016).


Find that odd? Want to ask the board what happened to all the 91s and 93s? Are all those marks being bumped up, taking away the advantage of those actually scoring higher in the exams? We did ask them.

The CISCE, which administers the ISC examinations, chose not to respond.


School principals are calling for increased transparency, saying that the board cannot be discreet about their methods and procedures for standardisation anymore.

Mukta Nain, Principal of Birla High School, Kolkata, says “The disparities need to be explained. As per the data with CNN-News18, in CBSE’s English exam this year, over 13.5% of all Delhi students scored exactly 95.

Outside Delhi, only 0.85% students have scored 95. How are these huge disparities possible?

The Board needs to be more transparent as to how they have arrived at these marks. I think greater transparency is required.”


Sunirmal Chakravarthi, former Principal of the ISC-affiliated school La Martiniere for Boys, Kolkata, agrees.

“With regards to the marking system as far as ISC is concerned, obviously there is standardisation, but nobody from the Council has ever been able to explain how exactly it takes place. It's a mystery. The Council has to come up front and tell us how this is happening. To be fair to all its stakeholders - to teachers, to parents and most importantly, to the students.”

It’s often said that despite so much being made about them, board exam results do not have a great bearing on what one ends up doing in life.

Yet, till the day that these results determine which college an 18-year student spends the next 3 years of his life in, all efforts must be made to ensure that the exams are conducted and marked in a fair manner.

For boards to be opaque about their standardisation procedures is hardly acceptable.

Worse still, for those procedures to be faulty. It’s time they finally respond to the questions unanswered so far.

For even those who set the questions are answerable to the people they set them for.

First Published: June 6, 2016, 8:25 PM IST
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