The bitter relationship between English version students and board exams

A photo of girls sitting together and reading a textbook

Before sitting for my Junior School Certificate (JSC) exams in 2019, a few of my seniors warned me about the quality of English version questions in board exams. While I assumed that they were talking about the difficulty of these exams, they were actually warning me about the abysmal state of the translated English version questions.

Surely enough, most of the exams had questions full of inconsistent sentence formations and spelling errors.

One could argue that this was a one-off instance. However, a report by Prothom Alo in 2017 hinted at recurring trends. It stated that English version questions in board exams often contain errors since the translators are grossly underskilled.

These errors affect examinees in two distinct ways.

Firstly, the grammatical mistakes and poor syntax make it difficult to comprehend the given questions properly, turning it into an unneeded time-sink. As a result, students face a dire situation as the duration of the exams hardly allows for such complications to be faced efficiently.

Jawaadul Islam, an SSC 2019 candidate from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, shared his experience of dealing with a similar predicament during his SSC exams.

"While most of the subjects had their fair share of errors, our Islam and Moral Education exam was particularly noteworthy," said Jawaadul. "Most of the creative questions (CQs) were incomprehensible due to substandard translations. This compromised the rhetoric of the provided stems, giving everyone a hard time figuring out what the questions even meant."

The second and bigger problem with translated English version questions is that, sometimes, entire words or phrases are replaced with incorrect ones, altering the original question completely.

Adib Rahman, an SSC 2021 candidate from St. Joseph, faced this issue during his SSC Physics exam.

"One of the CQs from the 'Motion' chapter had a significant translation error," he said. "The phrase 'change of motion' got replaced with 'change of direction', even though the entire question had no mention of the body's direction. And since our invigilators were just as clueless as we were, it made the entire fiasco even more perplexing."

Samiha Medha, who completed her HSC exams from Viqarunnisa Noon School & College in 2021, shared a similar fate.

"The two creative questions that came from the 'Straight Line' chapter were filled with translation errors, making it next to impossible to answer them," she said. "We couldn't even ask for a Bangla version of the question paper to make sense of it since our exam centre only hosted English version students. As a result, the ones who planned on answering questions from that chapter had their preparations made completely null and void."

This issue has been a cause of perpetual worry for English-version students for many years now. Despite that, the situation has barely improved. Even when educational institutions were closed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government-issued assignments for students did not include the translated English version of the questions.

As we continue to be handed the shorter end of the straw, we have to ask ourselves – don't we deserve better?


Prothom Alo (November 24, 2017). Sorry state of public exams

Ayaan is an SSC 2022 candidate who loves to read dinosaur comics and poorly-written manga. Send him thoughts and prayers at [email protected]