Thursday, July 31, 2008

IIT JEE: Calls for reform from within the system


Wow. Just wow!

  • The director and the dean of IIT-Madras have called for radical changes in the JEE, saying that the coaching institutes were enabling many among the less-than-best students to crack the test and keeping girls from qualifying.

  • "You may not be able to do away with the JEE but I am wondering if we should be conducting an examination for 3,00,00 aspirants and selecting just 5,000. Instead, we must evolve a system where only the top 1% of students from different state boards and CBSE are permitted to appear for the JEE," [Prof. M.S. Ananth, Director, IIT-M] said.

  • "One of the reasons for the poor intake of girls in the flagship BTech programme is that parents don't send daughters for coaching classes. The best way to increase the intake of girls is to have direct admissions," [Prof. Idichandy, Dean of Student Affairs, IIT-M] said.

  • [Prof. Ananth] said, by attending the IIT coaching classes, students were learning a wrong lesson that the ends justify the means. "They (students) think there is nothing wrong in missing school to attend coaching. But the student does not realize his real loss."

Bravo! I am so glad to see the some IITs professors finally articulating the need to select students based on their own ideas of what an IIT education should be about, and of what an IIT student should be like. And I certainly applaud Prof. Idichandy for admitting the gross gender inequity that's built into the current JEE system.

Over the years, with their over-reliance on JEE (an exam that coaching centers have mastered how to game), the IITs had ceded control of their most important input to the coaching centers. It is time they took that control back. I hope the ideas from Prof. Ananth and Prof. Idichandy (and other such ideas from other institutions) will be debated vigorously, and I hope it will result in a saner admission process that's consistent with the IITs mandate and goals (as defined by themselves).

* * *

I can't resist throwing in my two-cents: I wish the IITs would go for a policy of using multiple inputs for selecting their students: an entrance exam (whose primary purpose is to standardize the curriculum/knowledge across our diverse education boards), makrs (or percentile scores) in board exams, achievements in State and National Olympiads in Math, Physics and Chemistry Olympiads. [Are there others?]

Ranking is an issue only because of the current fetish with a pecking order, which is used for allocating seats. This can be done away with, if the policy is changed to one in which students are assigned to individual departments at the end of the second (or, even better, third) semester, based on their performance after they get into the IITs.

* * *

At the end of the ToI article, Ashok Misra, Director, IIT-B, expresses his concerns about going for disruptive, big bang changes in admission procedures. If this is a concern, the IITs can try an experiment during the next two or three years in which, entry is guaranteed for all State level Olympiad medal winners, and also for students in the top x percentile (where x is in the range of 0.05 to 0.1) in each Board Exam. This should get about 1000 to 2000 students coming in through the non-JEE route. A rigorous study of these students' relative performance vis-a-vis the JEE entrants should yield metrics that can be used for determining the relative weights to be assigned to different measures of student achievement.

* * *

Thanks to Yogesh Upadhyaya for the e-mail alert.

27 Comments:

  1. Ansari said...

    Changing JEE pattern --> overdue.

    Using state board marks as a criteria for anything other than a measure of similarity to a donkey --> Regression.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Ashok Misra was no longer director of IIT Bombay at the time of publication of the article. But sloppy reportage from ToI breaks no new ground.

  3. Kaustubh said...

    1. Arent there coaching classes for board exams??
    2. Is not there a (at much greater level than jee)pattern in Board Exams also??
    3. BITS(Pilani) used to admit students based on there board exam marks(now they have shifted to BITSAT)...how did they fare??
    4.Why did the BITS changed there admission procedure??

  4. Abi said...

    Ansari: Can you please spell out why you think board exam marks (or percentile) should *not* be one of the criteria for admission? Why is doing well in them *not* a measure of excellence?

    Anon: Prof. Misra is very much the Director of IIT-B. According to this report, he leaves that office only in October. Unless you have some other (more current or accurate) information, can we take it that the sloppiness is yours, and not the ToI reporter's?

    Kaustubh: I have very little knowledge of why BITS went for an entrance exam, and what its experience has been.

    The board exams are done in a way that all their questions are accessible to a good student who has mastered the prescribed texts. In other words, coaching may be of some help, top students can do well in them without needing any external help. JEE, on the other hand, demands external help. So, the two are qualitatively different.

  5. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Abi - I agree with Ansari in this case. Many state board syllabuses and exams are a joke. CBSE isn't very much better. There is little accountability or verifiability: everyone knows students who got screwed by what could only be faulty evaluation. I think we badly need a nationwide test, like the SAT, that is (a) multiple-choice and thus minimises room for error in evaluation, (b) administered several times a year so that a student need not wait an entire year for a second attempt (and an advanced student needn't wait for a specific month and year). And I agree there should be several criteria.

  6. Pratik . said...

    To be honest, the ranking system (in any engg entrance exam, not just the IIT JEE) really spoils the 4 years of BTech. Chemistry is a relatively high scoring subject in JEE. Math and Physics are not. Often, students who are good in Chemistry and moderately strong in Math and Physics place high in the rankings and get into Electrical Enggg / Mechanical Engg. On the other hand, guys who are weak in chemistry, but strong in Physics and Math end up studying Chemical Engg. The few fellows who are very strong in all three get the highest ranks and the CSE seats.

    Wish at some point, people would design a system where admissions to different streams are made on the basis of knack and aptitude, rather than just a gross rank.

  7. Animesh said...

    "Ranking is an issue only because of the current fetish with a pecking order, which is used for allocating seats. This can be done away with, if the policy is changed to one in which students are assigned to individual departments at the end of the second (or, even better, third) semester, based on their performance after they get into the IITs"

    I like your idea very much, in part because I have always hated how one's performance on that one test one that one day determines sooo much [in ITBHU, your roll number depends on it too, so you are branded for life].

    However, this technique of not using ranks at all begs a different question -- how does one decide which students get which institutes? I would like to hear your views on that.

    -A
    P.S. No, I am not whining because I was the 'dhakkan' of my batch, was much close to the 'kholu'; but still hate the undue importance given to the JEE ranks after entrance.

  8. Pratik . said...

    I agree to an extent with Ansari. Board exams are not to be trusted.

    A block of roll numbers, in our class had exactly 78 in math, in the class XII ISC exam. Some of these were ones who had cracked the math olympiad and JEE. Others were those who struggled in class exams. Many of them were expecting marks in high 90s; some would have been happy with 60s. Funny, isnt it?

    Incidentally, I was one of those, stuck with 78. That brought down my percentage by some extent. Result: I couldnt get admission in any of the good science colleges. So, here I am, stuck up in engg.

    If you ever keep an eye on reports of WB JEE, you would see:

    a) Every year, a few answer scripts invariably get lost

    b) Every year, there are allegations that the state board follows a liberal marking scheme for students from mofussils, as opposed to the cities.

    The WB JEE and medical entrance exam, by the way, is based on WB state board syllabus. The rankings in these exam dont mirror the WB board exams result either (and, to my knowledge, each year, a different college, ie Jadavpur, BE College or NIT Durgapur handles the entrance exam).

    Admissions based on board exams would screw up at least as many careers as IIT JEE does, if not more.

  9. Anonymous said...

    I agree with Abi's "two cents" - but no state board inputs please. State boards are notorious for their own set of ills and topping them too needs coaching(perhaps not as intense as JEE). After all, why do you think BITS discontinued their selection based on state board inputs?

    -kumar

  10. Ansari said...

    Prof. Abi

    In the southern states I've seen, board exams merely test how neatly you can regurgitate the contents of (mistake-ridden) state textbooks. You do NOT need to understand ANYthing. I've seen ample evidence of this in hundreds of my peers, seniors and juniors. I had a top 50 AIR in JEE a while ago and my 10th and 12th board percentages were 80 and 90 respectively. It was torture studying for them; in comparison JEE was enjoyable.

    Recap: If you take board marks into account, even if just as one of many criteria, IMHO two things will happen: 1) smart kids may miss out or get ranked lower, because they somehow didn't distinguish themselves enough in other areas (Olympiad etc.) and 2) An open avenue for incredibly unsuitable people to enter the IIT system.

  11. Ansari said...

    To be precise, I didn't answer your question. Getting 98% on a board exam should not be taken as a measure of excellence because

    1) You don't need to be very smart to get it.
    2) Many people get scores in that range, crowding out smart people who aren't as good at memorizing and recreating in exact forms.

    Couple the two and the top percentile of board scores will not give you an acceptable yield of IIT material.

    PS: When I say smart people, I refer to those who make an effort to understand the material, and not in an elitist snobbish way.

  12. cipher said...

    The points are all the same as earlier and I agree to the diagnosis. Although the diagnosis is correct the cure cannot be IIT specific. You can't reduce pressure on 17 year males from middle class backgrounds unless you provide them with more opportunities. I also don't agree at all that coaching classes hamper creativity or turn asses into JEE crackers. Its not the coaching classes which robs people of creativity but the strain of competition. The objective of getting into IITs is to get placed in a good company and not to learn for most of us.
    One more thing. Why is there such a brouhaha about JEE alone and not other aspects of IITs. Aren't these IITs supposed to nurture people for 4 years. They have seen students come and go for 50 years now. Putting all the emphasis on JEE is a very smart way of trying to absolve themselves of the inability to add value to what they get. If only raw talent is what they need, better conduct JEE and give a certificate and allow students to get placed in companies straightaway.

  13. Anonymous said...

    Prof. Abi,

    We beg to differ with you on this - board exam inputs. Starting with IITs in 1960s, almost all professional streams/colleges in all the major states progressively rejected board exam inputs and went for entrance exams. BITS was the only major univ holding on to it till recently - they too changed it. Despite such overwhelming evidence against the unviablity of that metric - you, a distinguished educator - seem to support it. Could you please share your thoughts on this, thanks

    Related to your other suggestion - top 0.1 % in each board exam gaining entry without JEE: Apparently, this was indeed attempted in the earlier years of JEE, but the practice was discontinued because some such candidates didn't perform well enough.

    -KK

  14. Anonymous said...

    BITS Pilani which is one among the top ranking universities in India today has a requirement that the student has 80% in PCM in the board exam in addition to the path breaking online BITSAT score. The government could have located all new IITs in Kota as the purpose would have been best served!!!

  15. புருனோ Bruno said...

    //1. Arent there coaching classes for board exams??//

    YES and it is 1000 times bigger industry than JEE coaching centres

    //2. Is not there a (at much greater level than jee)pattern in Board Exams also??//

    Yes

  16. புருனோ Bruno said...

    //. In other words, coaching may be of some help, top students can do well in them without needing any external help. JEE, on the other hand, demands external help. So, the two are qualitatively different.//

  17. புருனோ Bruno said...

    //. In other words, coaching may be of some help, top students can do well in them without needing any external help. JEE, on the other hand, demands external help. So, the two are qualitatively different.//

    I have to agree

    //everyone knows students who got screwed by what could only be faulty evaluation//

    This is also true

  18. Vinod Khare said...

    I support reforms in JEE. However, I do think people should be careful when they set out to do this. Making board exams a criteria will not be good.

    I for example, qualified to the national level of the Physics olympiad. However, I scored only 69 out of 100 in the CBSE board. I was at the camp when my mother told me my score on phone. I couldn't stop chuckling at the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

    Our school education is based too much on wrote and following the system. And if you say coaching classes have mastered how to 'game' JEE, the board exams are supposed to be gamed by the schools.

  19. Kapil said...

    Abi,
    The idea may sound good, but I strongly disagree to include board marks, co-curricular activities as criteria for IIT-JEE. The reasons are following:

    1. This will be a huge advantage to students from CBSE and some boards like Andhra board where 95% aggregate is a common thing while the students from the boards like UP board where 82-85% are the typicaly the highest marks may be at a serious disadvantage.

    2. This will also make students from rural are and from poor families at a disadvantage as the co-curricular, extra-curricular and olympiades are restricted to the the reach of public schools only.

    3. Also our board exams encourage students to mug up things. There is no or very little scope of free thinking there.

    Let me give you my own example. I never participated in any Olympiad ( i was simply not aware of any of such exam, as I was a student of a typical government UP Board school). And I also didn't take any coaching for JEE (even though a lack of guidance caused me to spend some valuable years of my life). But I graduated from ITBHU in chemical engineering with 2nd rank, a lot of extra curricular activities. good relations and of course one of the best jobs in campus. In my class I had the least marks in 12th (UP Board 76%) but I have done much better than any of the 90+% holder.

    What is required is to reform the JEE question paper and question quality.

  20. Kapil said...

    Abi,
    The idea may sound good, but I strongly disagree to include board marks, co-curricular activities as criteria for IIT-JEE. The reasons are following:

    1. This will be a huge advantage to students from CBSE and some boards like Andhra board where 95% aggregate is a common thing while the students from the boards like UP board where 82-85% are the typicaly the highest marks may be at a serious disadvantage.

    2. This will also make students from rural are and from poor families at a disadvantage as the co-curricular, extra-curricular and olympiades are restricted to the the reach of public schools only.

    3. Also our board exams encourage students to mug up things. There is no or very little scope of free thinking there.

    Let me give you my own example. I never participated in any Olympiad ( i was simply not aware of any of such exam, as I was a student of a typical government UP Board school). And I also didn't take any coaching for JEE (even though a lack of guidance caused me to spend some valuable years of my life). But I graduated from ITBHU in chemical engineering with 2nd rank, a lot of extra curricular activities. good relations and of course one of the best jobs in campus. In my class I had the least marks in 12th (UP Board 76%) but I have done much better than any of the 90+% holder.

    What is required is to reform the JEE question paper and question quality.

  21. புருனோ Bruno said...

    Do read these posts to know as to WHY YOU NEED an Entrance and cannot rely on Board Exams

    About Entrance and Exit Exams………..

    Entrance or Exit ???

    More about the Entrance Saga

  22. புருனோ Bruno said...

    The above articles are mainly about Medical College, but you can also apply that to any scenario

  23. புருனோ Bruno said...

    The best way, in my opinion is

    1. The Entrance Papers should cover from Standard 1 to Standard 12

    2. It should include all subjects and few questions on general knowledge also

    3. The pattern and composition of questions and weightage to the subjects should be changed EVERY YEAR

  24. Anonymous said...

    Isnt the answer obvious? Can you use the same standard to separate an atom with a sieve manufactured to separate ore or sugar clumps ? No, this would be serious mistake.
    Ideally, the board exams produce a gaussian distribution, and JEE type produces an exponential distribution in marks, because they are designed to probe a different portion of the population. Using the same tool for both would be a mistake in my opinion.

    Almost any exam that has a repeatable pattern can be gamed. The harder the exam and the less deterministic, the easier it is to game. JEE for a long time was such an exam and hence the excellence (for the most part) in its pick.

    However, as everything else, the coaching centers have caught up with the JEE makers. Having said that it is very difficult to create an exam that is not gamable (if I may use this language).

    In my opinion, the excellence of JEE was (is?) in its ability to pick students who can think (and hopefully creatively and hence, who can do new pioneering work after they graduate). In contrast, board exams are written for the average population. Hence, to a great extent they are repetitive. Excellence in board exams is achieved (assuming the grading issues are resolved) by students who are diligent and unfailing reproduce. And yes that can be a good thing, but it would be a conscientious decision to move in that direction.

    Due to the high stakes of joining an IIT, it is inevitable a capitalistic society will produce coaching centers. Whatever be the pattern of JEE, certain students would be better coached than others. The best solution would be to have a highly disruptive exam with no year to year pattern that can be specifically coached. However, besides reducing the cut-off marks based on your pin number, e.g., rural students get a 10% bonus (which would be even more problematic), I dont see a solution.

  25. Anonymous said...

    please read above comment as an average person who excels in JEE versus an average person who excels in a board exam. There will always be many people who excel only in board exams and who do extraordinary work later.

  26. புருனோ Bruno said...

    //The best solution would be to have a highly disruptive exam with no year to year pattern that can be specifically coached.//

    Excellent Idea. needs to be explored further

  27. Ganesh V said...

    I see some people labeling those who clear JEE as smart and and they do not quite agree with the idea of doing the same for those who excel in board exams. As a person who has cleared JEE twice, I can say with conviction that no one thing is better than the other. The two are just different. People who clear JEE should be labeled as 'those-who-cleared-JEE-on-this-day' and no more. However it must be understood that the skill set that the courses at IIT demand, requires the JEE to screen the candidates who demonstrate the ability to solve certain problems and so on. Having studied in CEG, Anna univ.. where my own friends have mugged up subjects like Vector calculus, I can certainly say that the courses at other univs do not demand the same abilities of students entering their institutions. However IITs require it's entrants to possess this capability only in addition to other things that one learns in school. It is this part that seems to be forgotten by every student entering it's portals. I have feeling that the profs at IIT have realised that 'these other things' (whatever they are I still don't know.. but i sure believe i learnt something from my school days) are no longer present in it's entrants. Hence the plan to lay more stress on schooling by means of making it a requirement itself. I welcome the idea. It's atleast worth trying, if not sticking to it for-ever. Ya if if the prof's still want those out of the mind geniuses that they're used to having in their classes... have a quota for those who clear olympiad.