KARACHI: Thursday is D-Day for hundreds of 16 and 17-year-olds across Pakistan - the day their University of Cambridge International Examination (CIE) Ordinary and Advanced Level results will arrive. Preparation ranges from sudden religiosity to complete nonchalance.
“This Thursday?” Sarim Waseem looked surprised when asked how he felt about the results coming out this week, “Are you sure?” For this teenager, panicking was just not his style. “We’re going to get what we deserve, so why worry?”
Samreen Fatima, on the other hand, falls at the other end of the spectrum as she waits with bated breath for what she hopes will be a continuation of her excellent grades so far. With five As in the bag, Samreen still wants more, “Do you know that the first thing foreign universities ask is whether you got a B in language [English]?” she says nervously. Thousands of students sit the two CIE exam sessions held in Pakistan each year, in June and November. For the O’ Levels, students prepare mostly from class 8 onwards and sit their exams in class 11. Schools register with the CIE but plenty of students sit as private candidates. For the June exams, the results come in August, which is when the A’ Level and International Baccalaureate intake is scheduled.
When Nadia (not her real name) told her friends she had a goat sacrificed as sadqah for her results, they burst out laughing because religion was not known as Nadia’s strong point. However, she was not the only one who turned to religion as the results drew close.
For instance, Sana (not her real name), resolved to wear the hijab for two months before her Pakistan Studies and Islamiat results were due last year. “I did it because I wanted three As,” she said. “And when I got 3 Bs, I stopped wearing it!”
Bilal, recently back from Umrah, has made a ‘mannat’ or vow to do another Umrah if he gets five As.
Some students scoff at the idea. “I’m not one of those hypocrites,” said an offended Mohammed Abdullah. But even he admits to praying more regularly before the results day. “I mean yeah, there’s so much tension in the air, you end up saying duas.”
This young man said he’s ‘calm’ about the results but panic lurks in the deeper recesses of his mind. “I woke up at 9:40 am on the day of my Additional Maths paper,” he said. “[The CIE officials] let me complete my paper but [it was] a 30-minute paper! That completely stressed me out.” The real-life exam runs from 60 to 90 minutes.
For some, a feeling of helplessness is tempered by the sense that what’s done is done. “Honestly, no magic trick is going to get you through,” reasoned 16-year-old Talha Kehar. “It is hard work, some faith and the examiner’s mood [that determine your results].”
The O’ Level results will determine A’ Level admissions for many students. Unfortunately the number of students who sit their O’ Levels exceeds the number of schools offering the A’ Levels. For the students who don’t make it, this doesn’t mean they can’t continue in the same line. They can prepare for their A’ Levels privately. Some students even opt for the one-year foundation courses offered primarily at UK universities ahead of the proper full undergraduate work.
Nonetheless, students want to be able to go to their school of choice. “These grades will decide which school I will go to and I don’t just want the past two years to be a waste,” said Abdullah. For him, Karachi Grammar School and The Lyceum School fall in the “good” A’ Level school category. He has a conditional offer from The Lyceum, which means a minimum of a B in Language, Economics and Math.
The problem is that students cannot always assess how well they’ve done in subjects such as Literature, Language or Art. Sana has been “freaking out” since she doesn’t want to go to anything less than the best schools. Her offer from The Lyceum is also only conditional (minimum a B in Language and C in Art.) “It’s not just the O’ Levels, it’s what happens after the O’ Levels that counts too.”
Twenty-four year old Rabia doesn’t recall her own anxiety as much as her parents’. “My mother made me drink Aab-i-zamzam every day,” she remembered.
For Taha Kehar, in undergraduate university now, it was a “conflicting mix of anticipation and fear”. In retrospect, however, those emotions were a “waste of time” as they had no effect on the results.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Naqvi, who got 10 As and two Bs in his O’ Levels, recalled how he was “chilling” with his brother the night before. “O’ Levels are a piece of cake,” he shrugged. “Don’t worry, even if you try, you can’t get below a C.” The worse is yet to come. “Just wait till you get to AS levels. Just you wait.”
with reporting by Meriyum Ali
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.