NLAT: Nothing Like A Test

Harishankar Raghunath

At the risk of sounding hopelessly out of touch, this spell of home confinement has been hard on me. I live in a tiny shoebox in Mumbai, crammed discomfortingly along with hundreds of other shoeboxes into a small quarter-acre campus. The state records a new peak of cases every other day, and various Unlock schemes and sundry plans have been announced, to little effect. Deprived of the big goals and little quirks that make life worth living, I spend most of my time plotting escapades that perk up my extended homestay.

When NLSIU unfurled the National Law Admission Test, I wrote it off as a half-baked scheme – bound to get scrapped once cooler heads prevailed. When it became abundantly clear that no such head existed in the college’s top brass, the idea shocked my sensibilities – a competitive exam that you can give in your bedroom?! I was not a believer – I didn’t quite buy that any exam could be conducted smoothly online, especially in the backdrop of CLAT 2021 going offline over routine computer glitches reported over the past few years. One thing that NLAT did get right, however, is that it coincided perfectly with my relatively free weekend. So I dusted off my CLAT wits, and signed up.

Registration was a breeze; no clunky preference lists to agonise over, and the information demanded being along the lines of a standard Amazon delivery. By way of exam prep, I attempted the NLAT in-house ten-minute mock test and thumbed through the newspaper.

THE BIG DAY

NLAT was conducted across three time-slots – a morning, afternoon, and evening slot. The actual exam was a mere forty-five minute affair, with one expected to report thirty minutes before the beginning of the exam. I duly plopped myself down in an empty room thirty minutes before my 2:15 afternoon slot, vaguely excited to take a stab at my second competitive exam ever – but this time without the nervous chills and the crushing expectations of family and self.

The thirty minutes buffer time is supposed to let the human proctor (for the longest time, I read NLAT’s ominous promise of ‘human proctoring’ as ‘humane proctoring’, and wondered about the torturous methods adopted by other online exams) verify your webcam-captured photo and your photo ID. Thirty minutes ticked by lazily with no verification, while I wondered whether I would end up a casualty of the technical glitches that plagued the exam’s dry runs.

Exactly at 2:15, I was verified, and the question paper appeared on the screen. This happened to quite a few candidates, which is a bit suspicious – my ID consisted of a grainy low-res photo that did not exactly reflect my post-lockdown corpulence. If I had to guess, I would assume that the proctors verified as many candidates as they could, and automatically green-lit the rest at the commencement of the exam.

Plenty has been written about the content of the exam itself, and I shall not delve into that. Plenty has also been written about how an online proctored exam is a distinctly inadequate method of conducting a national competition exam. Still, throughout the course of the exam, I could not help but be struck at how true the latter was.

All the detailed guidelines and integrity protocols seem to have been more an attempt at ensuring candidates’ self-regulation than a reflection of any measures that were actually put in place. Both the in-built calculator and dictionary of the Mac OS worked without throwing up any errors. At first, I tried to keep my eyes straight the test window so as to circumvent AI programs that supposedly monitor eyeball movement, but no message from the proctor came, and I increasingly became bolder. I rolled my eyes, looked away from the screen, crunched numbers using the calculator. The only message that would occasionally pop up was an automated one, requesting me position my face in front of the camera. On one particularly emboldened moment, I briefly played a song and sung along.

As time wore on, I grew quite curious as to how much I could push the interface. I yelled for water, and asked my brother to hang around in view of the webcam. I looked over the webcam and muttered loud queries to an imaginary conspirator. All this while, I got audible Whatsapp notifications from the batch group regarding elective scheduling. All this does, or could have, constituted some form of unfair means, and some of them were theoretically covered by the proctoring protocols. No warning from the proctor was ever to come; I completed and submitted the paper without a hitch.

Such excesses, and far worse, have already been amply documented. But there’s a huge difference in passively consuming this news and actively experiencing the sham that this exam is. In the end, everyone gets scattered over the vast NLU family, but you write the exam with a singular aim – to crack NLS. Over twenty-five thousand students invested significant resources into preparing for this exam, repeaters gambled a year, only to be strung along in this farce. As I read accounts of those who could not log in, those who had identification rejected, and those who had their exams prematurely terminated, I was uncomfortably reminded that this could easily have been me on a bad day. If this had happened to a seventeen-year-old me fresh out of school, it would have been nothing short of devastating.

AFTERMATH

Evidently, the exam wasn’t attempted by me in the most serious of spirits. And yet, I find myself thinking about my answers, my silly slip-ups. The memory of this one question about the National Education Policy particularly irks me – I had marked the correct answer, yet I shortchanged myself at the last minute and went with another option. Hours after the exam, I find myself agonizing over that lack of self-faith. Some things don’t change.


Harishankar Raghunath is your everyday purveyor of yellow journalism who occasionally tries his hand at more serious stuff. Should you ever want to take a stab at investigative reporting, just head on over to our Blog Submissions page to find out how.

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