IT is a common belief that an MBBS degree is one of the hardest to pursue academically, and, therefore, it would not be baseless to claim that the pre-MBBS studies are just as hard compared to other courses at that academic level. In order to study for an MBBS in Pakistan, you need to know you are going into that field from grade IX, especially for the students whose parents put them in schools following the Cambridge University system, also known as the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE).

This is something I learned this year after having to swallow a bitter pill. Owing to the Covid pandemic, the A level batch of 2022 had a very trying 2021-22 term. Not only did our study start in July, but in the midst of our preparations for our final year examinations, we also had to sit our first year examinations.

Resultantly, we did not have much time left to study the whole syllabus. As a result, A level MBBS hopefuls threw ourselves in the local Intermediate syllabus as soon as we finished our A2 examinations. We worked tirelessly for our AS, A2 and then medical and dental college admission test (MDCAT) in one continuous chain.

Owing to the ticking clock, we did not have much time for any extra study, so we stuck to the syllabus and the Punjab and federal board textbooks on which the test was supposed to be based.

One month before the MDCAT, one of the biggest examinations deciding our future, we received word that the examination was now being conducted on a provincial basis, with each province preparing its own syllabus and question paper.

However, we did not give up and did not waste any time in studying strictly the syllabus from the books of an entirely different education board. It is crucial to know that there is a huge difference in information among federal, Punjab and Sindh board textbooks. Intermediate students had prepared from these textbooks for three years and had sat several examinations on the basis of that particular syllabus.

In contrast, aspirants from the CAIE stream just had a month to prepare, and yet we completed the syllabus to the best of our abilities. Finally, we appeared for MDCAT feeling confident despite the fact that the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) had been throwing at us continuous curveballs.

However, the PMC had one last ball left for us; one which we could not in any way attempt to play, for it was too fast and wholly unexpected. There were at least 30 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that were out-of-syllabus, 10 MCQs whose answers were wrong in the answer keys, and two MCQs whose correct answers were not given in the options provided.

The more level-headed students attempted to solve the rest of the paper as flawlessly as they could, while the more anxiety-driven ones started losing marks even on questions they knew very well. When the answer keys were released the next day, the students totalled their score and there was a significant gap between the scores of Intermediate and CAIE students. Furthermore, the PMC and the conducting universities refused to acknowledge their mistake.

Why should we, the CAIE students, suffer just because our parents put us in the Cambridge system rather than the local one when we were young? Why was there a change in syllabus about just a month before the test? Why should we be forced to enrol in any school other than our dream school, or have to plan to be a dentist rather than a physician just because we followed official instructions?

We have evidence of out-of-syllabus questions and the wrong answer keys, yet the PMC and the government refuse to acknowledge their follies. Is the youth not the future of Pakistan? Are we not the youth? The students demand an answer to each of these questions. We demand justice.

Syeda Sukaina Kazmi
Karachi

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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