The news of three female students from Tamil Nadu committing suicide, as they failed to clear NEET has yet again raised questions on whether competitive exams in India are a fair parameter for admissions in medical colleges. But for someone who has had a long tryst with this system back in one’s student life, for me this news brings back long suppressed memories of panic. Panic felt while sitting to write a competitive exam, or waiting for the results to be declared, or on failing to score above cut off marks. I took numerous medical entrance tests like NEET after my schooling and failed to clear them. And I just know what those poor girls must have been going through.


  • Some Lakhs students take NEET every year and the majority of them fail to secure above cut off marks.
  • The deep sense of failure which competitive exams instill in teens is unfair to them.
  • Does success only mean securing a seat in professional colleges?
  • Why do we teach aspiring students that failure is not an option?

I took medical entrance tests like NEET after my school, and  failed to clear them. And I just know what those poor girls must have been going through.

NEET, or National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, is an examination which aspiring students take to study graduate and postgraduate medical courses in government or private medical colleges in India. Back when I was prepping for competitive exams, it was called AIPMT, and had two rounds. The first round was an objective test, with only multiple choice questions, while the second was a written exam. I had failed to qualify even in the first round, despite taking a drop year and taking pains to stay alone in Kota to study at a reputed coaching institute.

Also Read: 8 ways to crack the admission process

It was there that it dawned on me, how cracking this examination is an obsession among students and parents alike. Peers pour in money, while wards study for 18 to 20 hours a day, relentlessly, with a single aim. You see in India, doing a professional course like engineering, MBA or medical is seen as a key to a successful and comfortable life by most parents. It brings you both reputation and money. To have a child study in a medical college is a status symbol. So as soon as children or their parents decide that they want to become a doctor, failure ceases to be an option. Most students pick up biology as a subject just to be doctors. There is simply no alternate career goal.

I like millions of others planned my life for three long years with just one goal- to crack the medical entrance exam. Not even a moment was spared wondering what would I do with my life, if I failed to do so.

The kind of pressure such a mindset puts you in, often takes a toll of student’s mental health. You either get selected or you don’t. Even if you miss a birth by 0.1 percent marks, you have failed, not just yourself but your parents. Should a teenager have to be in such a state of mind? And yes, it is that close. I remember when I was attending the second round of counselling for state PMT, a boy got into an argument with me, because he had same marks as me, but had secured a rank 20 places lower than I did. How could this be, he demanded to know. I had no answers then.
Before I secured admission in a dental college in that second round of counselling, I went through a period of two or three months, where I lived what it meant to fail in such exams. Despite getting admission in a good college for BSc Microbiology on the basis of my 12th class percentage, I felt like a loser. I would draw diagrams, peer into Petri dishes from a microscope, and learn to identify various species of arthropods in my college, as if through a haze. This wasn’t a future I had prepared myself for. Nor had those other students around me, and the dejection was palpable. This college experience, which not many students were lucky enough to have, was in fact a defeat for us.

Students like M Monisha pay the price of our fractured system and our limited understanding of what success means.

What was the fault of these kids? That they were born in a country where there were a handful of opportunities but a sea of applicants? Whose education system set the parameter of rote learning to label kids as intelligent or otherwise? Where parents couldn’t see beyond their own unfulfilled dreams and societal pressure? Where horizons in small towns refused to expand beyond becoming a doctor or an engineer?

Students like M Monisha pay the price of our fractured system and our limited understanding of what success means. Who said that the results of competitive exams define your intelligence? Who said that success only comes to those who manage to crack such exams? This isn’t the first time “failure” claimed a student’s life. And yet, peers refuse to learn the lesson, that they need to change their perception of success. Make failure an option for your kids. It is possible to have a great life outside of the gates of professional colleges and parents must encourage their children to experience that.

Also Read: ‘Girls In NE Have Equal Education Opportunities’ Educator Shahnaz Ahmed

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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