D-day for O-Level students

KARACHI: It’s D-Day this Tuesday for hundreds of 15-year-old girls and boys who will sit their first Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) Ordinary Level, Islamiyat.

Others are scheduled to appear for the Advanced Level Urdu paper as well. These exams are not the first of the June 2010 season, as the Art exams were held April 28 and 30, but Islamiyat and Urdu are the first major subjects. The exams, which are set by experts in the UK, will continue till June 11. Then it takes a month for them to be checked and the results are sent back in the first week of August, when the O-Level students apply for A-Levels or the A-Level students find out about their college and university admissions.

The context

The CIE introduced its Islamiyat paper in the year 1986 after General Ziaul Haq made it compulsory for all education boards operating in the country to carry the subject, said Karachi Grammar School (KGS) Islamiyat teacher Yasmin Syed, who has been teaching the subject since it was introduced. “There were no books for teachers to use at the time and Cambridge forbade us to use local texts,” she recalled. “They said those books were substandard, and I agree.”

Syed believes that it has become increasingly easier for teachers to teach Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies (history and geography) because of the wide variety of text books now available. “The Cambridge board recommends Farkhanda Noor and David Thomson’s books but I find Yasmeen Malik’s very informative and useful,” she said, adding that the secret to her success is that she doesn’t rely on one textbook and tends to gather notes from different sources.

According to Syed, the workshops held by the CIE for O-Level teachers are also useful. They introduce the syllabus and give tips on how to prepare students, said Syed. “The syllabus for Islamiyat is extensive but it helps that textbooks are formatted according to the Cambridge syllabus.” Almost 200 of her students will be sitting for the Islamiyat exam today and she believes that they will do well. “Last year, 89 per cent of our students scored As in Islamiyat and we hope the trend will continue this year as well.”

Since the format and the syllabus are explained so readily, students can prepare for the relevant topics, Syed advised, adding that students should keep in mind whether they are preparing for Paper I or II and to not spend time studying the basics such as “articles of faith” or “the five pillars of Islam” if they have their Islamiyat Paper I the next day as its requirements are different. An Islamiyat teacher at Dawood Public School, who also teaches at Ladybird Grammar, expects the exam to include questions on the battle of Badr and the battle of Uhad.

“I am making these predictions only on the basis of eight years of experience but we’ve had some years when Cambridge sent some really unexpected question papers,” said Zafar Siddiqui while speaking to The Express Tribune. The Islamiyat paper is, however, not the only exam that students have to worry about. An average O-Level student will take up to 11 subjects that range from English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Accounting to Additional Mathematics, Art and Economics.

While there are no restrictions, many schools, such as St Joseph’s Convent High School, believe that it is better for students to get over the Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies exams in class 10 and the remaining subjects the next year. A class 11 student at St Michael’s Convent School, Maira Siddiqui, is not worried about her first paper, which is English General, as much as she is for the remaining ones. “You don’t need to prepare as much for English Paper I because it is unseen,” she said.

Unseen papers are essentially ones which you cannot study for as such as there is no text book. “For Paper II, it helps to go through past papers and do some practice exams,” she recommended. Revision for some students starts a year and for others, a few days before the exams. “If you study past papers in and out, you can ace the exam because most of the questions are repeated every year,” claimed A-level second year student at The Lyceum School, Maham Baig. “Most of the students here got As and Bs so we do really well,” she said, while recommending that the “secret” to success is learning the marking scheme.

Worst nightmare

The stress leading up to the exams takes its toll on students and parents alike. Upset stomachs from nerves, colds and coughs from lowered immune systems and extreme stress. However, on the day of the exam, sometimes things can go horribly wrong. The worst case scenario is forgetting your admit card without which you are not allowed in. “One of my students broke her wrist the morning of the exam and we had to send a report to the British Council,” said art teacher Asma Asif. “The other art teacher at school asked the student if she could draw with her other hand.”

Tuition terror

Exam month also determines the success of tuition centres, as many students seek additional help for subjects that may not be necessarily taught well in school. The O- and A-level coordinator at Anees Hussain’s tuition centre, Zafar Raza, said that they were busy with about 17 students for Pakistan Studies. “Last year, five or six of our students got As in Pakistan Studies,” he claimed.

Security and parking

The traffic police have decided in collaboration with the operations police that there needs to be a plan for the parking and checking of vehicles that will pick and drop children to the exam centres. Parking will not be allowed in front of the Karachi Grammar School at Boat Basin. As it is one of the larger centres, hundreds of children are scheduled to sit for their exams there. “Our strategy is simple - drivers will be asked to drop the children to the school and leave the front of the school open,” said Zone 1 SP Mohib Ali Khan.

Every vehicle going towards the school will be checked by a special team from the operations police. The Darakhshan and Clifton police have also been assigned to the area. Vehicles coming to Khayaban-e-Saadi, where KGS is located, will be checked at Bilawal Chowrangi and at Boat Basin. “We will try to arrange parking at the street located to the right of KGS,” said DSP Traffic Clifton Muhammad Aslam. “No cars will be allowed to park in the front of the school or on the road.”

Published in the Express Tribune, May 11th, 2010.


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