[Guest Blog] My First Taste of BNKS

[Every now and then the blog gets a helping hand from friends that have traveled far and wide and have gone on to do shit which this naive blogger has no clue of.  Guest blogger Kaustuv Joshi studies at a university somewhere in the world doing stuff that is too hard to comprehend and munch and write it down...which makes his writings incredibly interesting to read. His second guest post after almost a year and a half (as he points out) has a very important lesson to teach; a lesson that we almost tend to overlook at times. Happy reading!]

I mean, who knows about Uni of Cambridge right?
My first taste of BNKS

Back in the year 2000, as a nervous little 8 year old, I entered the grounds of Budhanilkantha School for the very first time to sit my Class 4 entrance exam. I remember the day very well! As soon as I entered the front gates, I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the red brick buildings nestled in the majestic surroundings, the smells and colours of the Silver Jubilee Gardens, and the green hills rising just beyond the school to form the perfect scenic backdrop. I am sure my ‘900C Batch’ friends will recall similar first impressions of BNKS too. It became like home for the next 5 years of my life (and 9 of theirs), yet the place never lost its beauty to me.

That day, the dining hall was packed with rows and rows of busy kids with their heads buried in their papers, and pencils scribbling like clockwork; all eager to earn a place at this prestigious school. This was the second entrance exam that I had taken that year. Not long before, I had sat a similar test at St Xavier’s School, Jawalakhel and failed to get a place there. With this in mind, I was never hopeful of attaining the high standards needed to get into Budhanilkantha, yet decided to give it my best shot anyway. I too had my head focused on the questions in front of me, and tried not to be intimidated by the others.

Most of the exam itself is a blur to me. However, I remember being stumped by a question in the maths paper, the sort where you had to put numbers inside boxes to balance two sides of the equation. After trying numerous fruitless solutions to the problem and being convinced that it was impossible, I desperately raised my hand in the middle of the exam and waited anxiously. Finally, an invigilator came to my aid (Mr. LB Rana*, or as we used to say, “LB Rana sir”). I think LB Rana sir probably expected to hear the words “Sir, please may I go to the toilet**?” What I don’t think LB Rana sir expected, was an 8 year old kid to pipe up in the middle of an exam and say, “Sir, I think this question is wrong.”

Imagine the cheek!

Time seemed to grind to a halt as LB Rana sir picked up my paper and scanned the question a few times over. He scribbled a few lines down, muttered a few words and handed it back to me. Lots of red ink – oh no, that was already a bad sign! Teachers only used red ink for two things: 

1) to cross out mistakes and 

2) to write notes to your parents. 

I had it drilled into me that red meant bad! Maybe he was going to reprimand for being too cocky. But I then read what LB Rana sir had actually written: “This candidate has found an error in the question”. Okay, I didn’t know what ‘candidate’ meant, but wait – what was that? I’d found an error in the question? He agreed with me?! With a smug look on my face and with new found confidence, I rushed to finish the rest of the paper.

Sometimes when I think back to this day, I’m genuinely amazed at my 8 year old self for having possessed the confidence to do that. 15 years later and as a medical student, I really appreciate the necessity of confidence. We should all be competent and confident in our own competency, so that we are able to defend our ground when challenged. For example, this scenario will be all too familiar to students:

Teacher asks a question.
Student answers.
Teachers asks, “Are you sure?”
Student stumbles and backtracks, despite having given the correct answer.
Student changes their answer to an incorrect one.

I would love to say that I never have this problem, but alas, we all have moments where doubts start creeping in. Interestingly, my friend once told me of a hypothesis that multiple choice questions (MCQs) in exams tend to favour boys more than girls, because boys are more likely to stick with their gut instinct, whereas girls are more likely to doubt themselves and change their answers despite initially having been correct. However, the few papers I skimmed on PubMed don’t show a significant gender difference in test format-based performance, so I can only assume that my friend was embellishing, or to put it bluntly – chatting rubbish.

We should also be confident enough to be on the other side and challenge others; our colleagues, seniors and the system, when we think that they are in the wrong. I understand that challenging our seniors is something that we are particularly uncomfortable with, especially if it can cause embarrassment to either party. However, it is something we all need to be able to do. For example, being able to raise issues with seniors is especially important in the medical profession, and there have been many avoidable instances where mistakes by senior doctors have eventually cost lives – all because the junior colleagues were too scared to challenge them. Having said all of this, overconfidence is arguably a more dangerous and reckless trait to have, so we should all know our limits and work within them.

Today, I can’t help but feel slightly envious when I think about 8 year old me, for having possessed the nerve to raise my hand and question the validity of an exam problem in the middle of the exam. Maybe it wasn’t confidence though. Maybe it was just naivety about how the world works, coupled with desperation to succeed (or avoid failure?) Desperation can lead people to push their boundaries and do things you would never expect them to do. Regardless, 23 year old me definitely wouldn’t have the confidence or inclination to do that in an exam today, and let’s hope I never reach the desperation to do so either. I’d definitely just get on with the rest of the paper, and save my moaning for later. Just because you’re confident about something, doesn’t mean you’re correct. And just because you’re correct, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

* [LB Rana sir won an MIT Inspirational Teachers Award in 2012 http://inspire.mit.edu/winners-showcase]

** [Of course, in the UK this is more like “Sir, please may I go to the loo,” because the word ‘toilet’ sounds so awkward and antiquated. I digress, but one of the funniest and simplest memories from BNKS was when Ram Babu Subedi Sir asked my friend who was late to class, “Why late?” to which he exclaimed, “Twailate!”]