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Trial by ordeal: An examinee's quest for mediocrity

I ran into an extremely worried Indian trainee in the corridor the other day. The new QLTT regulations had her in a tizzy. What might make her panic so, I wondered while she rattled and I hmmmed. Or were her dilated pupils and sweaty palms symptoms of excitement?

I didn’t quite understand - surely if one were to list life’s most non-enjoyable activities examinations would outrank enemas. After spending several billable hours in contemplation, I reached the conclusion that I had witnessed the odd combination of terror and exhilaration. Although I am no doctor, it’s easy to diagnose her as suffering from the Great Indian Examination Sickness.

Reasons for this disease vary from the firm belief that parental love will evaporate with low marks to the threat of cable TV/telephonic privileges being withdrawn if the highest rank in class is not maintained. The disease takes an even more virulent form in lawyers (and prospective lawyers) as they are inherently competitive beings. What better way of proving that you are the human race’s big evolutionary hope than a piece of paper with a meaningful number/letter on it? 

The downside, however, is that success in examinations often turns perfectly nice chaps into nerds because success is considered fashionable. I, however, can proudly say that anti-cool has always been my thing. Despite spending more than a decade and a half in this very system, I refused to be tainted by it. I achieved this impossible feat by remaining staunchly average at exams.

Here’s a recap of my experiments with exams.

The Law Entrance Exam

Today, the law entrance exams are big business- the pimply teenager is thrust into the murky world of coaching classes, guide books and general knowledge manuals straight after class X.

In my time, law was still seen as an idler’s career and most law schools were still in the process of being assembled. My preparation for the entrance exam consisted of the occasional half-hearted attempt to study after the board exams but what geek hits the books when his friends are headed to Goa? For most of the actual exam I admired the shapely head of the girl sitting in front of me and tried to determine whether she was cute. Finally, managing to ignore the raging hormones for the few minutes left in the examination, I hastily blackened some squares (or were they circles?). Walking out, I was confident I would be going to study journalism in Mumbai. (Incidentally, the girl was quite pretty. More about her in a later post though.)

Then, one hot midsummer’s day, the postman brought me a letter which conveyed the rather startling news that I had made it into the best law school in country. Surely someone had made a mistake?

Law School Exams

Thus, opposed to the well-informed law students of today, I arrived in law school not knowing what to expect really. What I uncovered was intriguing.

Back in the day, law school was neatly divided into three kinds of students- the geniuses, the muggers, and others who were devoted to the worship of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Being an amiable and versatile bloke, I hobnobbed with all three sections with some success. However, I soon discovered, however, that I did not have much aptitude for mugging nor did I qualify for MENSA membership. This left me with the option of tripping on Zeppelin and acid while studying criminal law (as sex was in short supply back then), which did not appeal greatly to me either. As a result, quite early on in the game, I set my sights on a distinctly middling law school career.

To this end, I evolved the following simple preparation mantra (which should be followed by all who wish to enjoy a non-remarkable existence in law school):

  1. Declare all the endless, mindless lectures a waste of precious time. Test the strength of friendship by asking acquaintances to answer your attendance. This should be relatively trouble-free since most professors won’t be aware of your existence.
  2. If you venture into lectures by mistake, be environmentally friendly- do not write notes (photocopy instead, its far better for the law school micro-economy).
  3. Beg, borrow or steal projects. When this does not work, plagiarise shamelessly from the internet.
  4. Do not drink coffee, smoke cigarettes instead. You’ll find chicks dig puffers.
  5. Ensure you eat healthy, so stock up on the Top Ramen and Maggi.
  6. Do not waste time studying. You know all the questions are going to be from the pages the photocopy guy missed.
  7. Read the no-hopers bible Five Point Someone the night before the exams and assure yourself that all will be well.

While this mantra ensured I did not reach dizzying heights of success, I was cautious enough to safeguard against the pitfalls of failure. Here's a simple five step plan to this end:

  1. Rest a lot before, during and after exams to stimulate your creative brain.
  2. Use fancy English, long sentences, modifying verbs, complex vocabulary, high abstraction and generally be insensitive to anyone reading your answers.
  3. Use different coloured pens to underline and decorate your paper like a five year old. I even tried colour pencils once.
  4. Manufacture case names with aplomb and tailor fabricated facts to your answers.
  5. Whenever in doubt, quote G. P. Woedhoseu as an eminent jurist repeatedly.

In time, I discovered that even the most erudite professor had little clue about what I put down and since they could not quite fathom whether I was a whiz kid or a complete duffer, they played it safe by awarding me average marks.

My method was an unqualified hit.

Eventually, armed with a five-year law degree and a job at the London firm of Colby, Hewitt and Richards LLP, I truly believed I had finally got the examination monkey off my back. But this was too good to last.


A year and a half after I had celebrated my last exam with shots of tequila chased by shots of tequila, I was informed by Colby, Hewitt and Richard’s training coordinator that I was not quite done- the QLTT had reared its ugly head.

Certain elements would have you believe this is the devil’s own device to keep Indian lawyers out of the UK market. However, the chief lesson the QLTT taught me was that examination instructions are not all superfluous. If you spend several hours preparing detailed cheat-chits the night before, discovering at the venue that the QLTT is an open book exam isn’t ideal. Naturally, you have not carried any of your books either.

Therefore, in passing the QLTT on the basis of such more-or-less illegible chits, I discovered that this examination is designed to ensure even the most dim-witted foreign lawyers pass with flying colours. Also, I surmise from a certain Writ Petition that demonises the exam that some individuals have clearly read way too many John Grisham novels, where lawyers get famous at the tender age of (about) 30.


 I ran into the Indian trainee again at lunch today.

 We exchanged pleasantries. Predictably, she steered the conversation to her upcoming test. “But Bob, what if I fail the QLTT?”, she asked sincerely for the umpteenth time.

 Here we go again.


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