I have just finished my 10th standard board exams, and have just started my classes for 11th standard. In addition to my A-levels which is due in two years, I will also sit for SAT for an admission into a US university. It’s some work, but it’s nothing compared to what I see around me.

I stay in a thermal power township – it’s a closely-knit community of around five-hundred families. Even though many of us study in different schools, given the intimate nature of the community, I know most of the students who are of similar age as mine. And I am not envious at all of their situation.

Many of my acquaintances from the Township have been attending private tuitions and have been going to well-known IIT-JEE and medical coaching centres right from class VI! After the 10th standard, the pressure multiplied. A friend of mine, who sat for board exam this year, was never seen in the Township after the exams – I hear he has taken a permanent residence in Durgapur, a nearby town, a hub for such coaching centres.

Some are preparing for IIT-JEE, some for NEET, some for WBJEE – but some – and this is the most important part – are preparing for all of them. This intense preparation for a multitude of exams, in addition to their 12th standard boards, takes a toll. I do not see them any more in the Township park, playing badminton, as they used to before. Neither are they available for a friendly chat or a leisurely walk in the evening.

Some, in addition to these exams, sit for the gruelling entrance examination for Indian Statistical Institute, focusing on pure mathematics. Some study for CLAT (a common law entrance), yet some others prepare for the aptitude tests needed for IPM-AT (for IIM-Indore), and some of the general college entry tests.

This plethora of entrance exams is not only meaningless, but also harmful. Because it is difficult for children to study for so many different examinations, they have to make a career choice early in their life, knowing nothing about the relative merits of the medical, legal or engineering professions. This leads to many years of dissatisfaction later on. In addition to that, their childhood is sacrificed at the altar of constant pressure of coaching and tuitions – often on areas which will bear no relevance in real life in the future.

I am lucky; I will be taking SAT after 12th. This is an exam that does not require me to take special coaching and prepare for it. The preparation is more long-term; as a result, the exam cannot be gamed easily through coaching centres and exams. Since my childhood, I have been interested in reading, and that is one skill that is tested in SAT. In addition, SAT tests reasoning and problem-solving skills (based on the foundations of basic math) – that too requires no coaching and last-minute preparation.

These skills come in use not only during the exam, but also during the rest of the life. Reading comes in handy every day not only for students like us but also the adults that I see around. Ability to reason is also a useful life-skill. So none of this preparation is actually ‘wasted’, in a way most of the rote-learning driven exam preparations are.

Moreover, having one uniform entrance examination means students can get into any college and make their career choices at a later stage of their life, when they are more informed.

Looking at the state of my friends, I wish India also had just one entrance examination for all the colleges, which would both reduce the pressure on the students and allow them to make more satisfactory career choices. An exam like SAT will be the way to go.