In a historic achievement, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) examinations this year witnessed two students clinch a perfect score of 720 upon 720 – Soyeb Aftab from Odisha and Akanksha Singh from Delhi. Despite their equal scores, the NEET results declared by the National Testing Agency (NTA) has listed one student above the other. Reportedly, Singh lost out on the top rank to Aftab, due to a tie-breaking policy that accords the older-aged student consideration in case of such a competitive situation as this.

“Soyeb Aftab of Odisha and Akanksha Singh of Delhi have both scored perfect 720 score in the NEET examination. However, as Aftab is older, he has been ranked at the top in the national ranking,” an official told PTI. Further, as per India Today, “in cases where the candidates cannot be shortlisted using the scores obtained in the examination, candidates are further shortlisted taking into consideration the number of answers that are incorrect, following which they are then shortlisted depending on their age.”

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Since such a policy existed beforehand, as officials say it did, one cannot contest that the decision to place Singh second was unprecedentedly baseless. It is, however, largely arbitrary and deserves to be questioned. Should competitive exams such as NEET be judged basis any criteria other than merit? Why should age be a consideration for the top spot on an exam meant to test the knowledge and skill of students?

The NEET Age Policy: Can It Be At All Justified?

Age is neither an achievement nor is it a skill acquired through hard work. It is purely accidental. Some even argue that oftentimes after people transition into adulthood (or reach a checkpoint in life considered truly adult, which is usually post-schooling), age isn’t a barometer anymore for their degree of intelligence or knowledge. A younger individual can be as sharp, perhaps even sharper, than someone older to them age-wise. So is declaring an exam topper with an absurd age reasoning really valid?

Alternatively, for argument’s sake, let’s take into account the general perception that an older person has more skill than someone younger to them. In such a scenario, if the younger candidate performs at par with the one understood to be “better” because he is older, shouldn’t the younger one be awarded the winning position? For her exemplary knowledge?

Do Marks Matter? To An Extent

I am a true believer in the fact that something as systematic and transient as marks and ranks can only take a person so far along their career goals. What’s primary is the faith you have within yourself to actualise your dreams. But it would be too righteous for anyone to say that in a world like ours, that is unfortunately paced to the tunes of numbers and stats, marks don’t matter. As sorry as that sounds, they do. Which means they have high chances of having an effect on student psyche. Especially during a pandemic year.

No one is to say which of the two outlooks Singh has adopted upon achieving a second rank on an exam that she prepared relentlessly for, and aced as best as the candidate sitting atop the NEET list. And there’s no doubt that her dream of specialising in “neurosurgery research” to “benefit people not only from my village, but all over India” will not see a hindrance only because of a tiny blip on the result list.

However, this is not to say that that blip is anything but a needless aberration. For its forthcoming years, the NTA would be better off devising a policy that considers another measure of deciding achievers, that is strictly restricted to the exam sheet. Or better yet, and easier – why not jointly give two tied candidates the top slot together?

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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