Chandigarh: Burning the midnight oil were not the only stress factor this year of candidates aspiring for the limited number of seats at the country's medical colleges.
These were compounded by a dress code, a long list of banned items and strict do's and don'ts.
From candidates being forced to wear low heels and slippers, to full-sleeved shirts and kurtas being banned to girl candidates being asked to untie their hair and not wear any clips or bands -- the agencies, including the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), conducting the test this year forced the candidates to prepare for a lot more than only studying.
With several cases in previous years of hi-tech equipment being used by unscrupulous candidates to crack the medical entrance examination, the authorities were forced to put strict measures in place this time.
For the NEET-2 (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), which is mandatory for an all-India ranking for medical colleges, the diktat was: "Candidates will wear slippers, sandals with low heels and not shoes."
Conducted on Sunday (July 24), over 425,000 candidates of the 475,000 registered appeared for NEET-2. Over 600,000 candidates had appeared for NEET-1.
"How do low and high heels make a difference to cheating in exams? And who decides on what is the size of low heels? Becoming a doctor is any way tough. The serious candidates are being punished for the misdeeds of others," Meghna Arora, a candidate from New Delhi, told IANS.
"Light clothes with half-sleeves not having big buttons, brooch/badge, flower etc with salwar/trouser" was another strict instruction the CBSE clearly gave for the NEET.
Candidates had to give a signed undertaking that they will make themselves "available for compulsory physical frisking".
While mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, health bands, wrist watches and other electronic equipment were a big no-no, candidates were cautioned against carrying even ATM cards, goggles, belts, caps, remote keys or food items and water bottles.
That is not all.
Candidates were clearly told that disobeying the instructions will lead to their being barred from taking the test. On being caught bringing the barred items to the examination centre, the candidates were threatened with criminal cases.
"You are cautioned not to bring barred items at the NEET centre. You will be frisked by special teams in three security levels with specialised electronic equipment detectors. If you are caught, FIR will be lodged and you will be debarred from NEET forever. Wear suggested dress for NEET. If instructions are not complied with, you may not be allowed to appear in NEET. Reach on time - OSD-NEET," SMSs and mails received by candidates clearly stated.
"The medical entrance test this year was a real pain. The serious students hardly bothered to read the instructions on dress code and the like. The result was that they had to face difficulty, humiliation and harassment at the entry gates to exam centres. Boys and girls with long sleeves were forced to tear or cut them.
"Those coming in shoes had to go bare feet to get inside. Girls were forced to untie their hair and get strands checked by the staff for any communication equipment that might be hidden inside and be used for cheating," Arushi Gupta, a candidate from Chandigarh, told IANS.
Candidates pointed out that they had to face "harassment and humiliation" at most centres.
"I was told that full sleeve kurtas are not allowed. I had to tear off the sleeves at the entrance itself in front of so many people to take the exam," Sonali Singh from Ludhiana said.
While girl candidates had a tough time, it was not easy for the boys too.
"I had to take the examination bare feet as I went in my shoes by mistake. The sleeves of my shirt had to be cut with scissors. My belt, wallet and other items were all taken away. It left me so upset and concerned just before the tough test," candidate Amulya Bansal from Panchkula said.
(Names of candidates have been changed to protect their identities).