Monday, June 20, 2005

Entrance exams

Badri has also commented on Vasan's op-ed.

S.S. Vasan, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, has a nice op-ed in today's Hindu, on the Joint Entrance Examination conducted by the IITs, and some ways of 'reforming' it. He makes an important point: there are about 15,000 students selected by JEE's screening test, the first of JEE's two hurdles; but, only about 4,000 or so emerge with a rank after crossing the second hurdle. What happens to the remaining 11,000 students?

Unfortunately, the plight of many thousands of these students year after year does not receive much attention from the Indian media, which is overly interested in reporting the success stories.

These students, who get through the first -- but not the second -- hurdle, are at the mercy of AIEEE, or one or more of the state level CETs. Instead of treating these meritorious students shabbily by making them start afresh in these other exams, why not treat them well?

Vasan examines two possibilities: some sort of convergence over several years (with an eventual merger) of AIEEE and the JEE screening test. The second possibility is to keep them separate, but provide a rank to all who pass the JEE screening test so that it can be utilized for admission into the NITs.

My own preference would be to go for a radical solution, wherein there is one national level exam, whose sole purpose is standardization across the many higher secondary boards that our country has. In such an exam, everyone who writes it would get an all-India rank (or a percentile score) and/or an absolute score. However, I also see that this radical solution is impractical. There is a certain aura and momentum that the JEE has, and it would be hard to make the IITs give up their hold on it, or reform it into a national level exam of the kind I visualize. Vasan makes an essentially similar point -- that JEE will probably stay -- using different arguments.

While we are talking about JEE, this year's results were announced late last week. Take a look at this post by GreatBong about what a police officer and a teacher have been able to achieve in Patna. ToI also has a story.

See this post for an interesting twist (link via Amit).

Since I have to concede that the national level exam (in engineering, we do have one: AIEEE) has to co-exist with JEE, I find both options given by Vasan quite sensible. I am glad to see that we now have one more voice contributing to the pool of ideas on how our country's higher education system is taken forward.

Also in to-day's Hindu, there is a report on a speech by N. Ram, its editor-in-chief. In his speech, he has

suggested a ``reliable and fair'' countrywide common aptitude and proficiency test for admissions to the professional courses and termed it an ``educational and social priority.''

In other words, he seems to be asking for tests of aptitude similar to SAT (for UG admissions) and GRE (for PG admissions), together with 'proficiency' tests (probably in individual subjects). Hopefully, UGC, AICTE, Medical Council and other bodies entrusted with running our higher education system are listening.


  1. Anonymous said...

    One thing to be cautious about is too much reliance on a single test result. A person could have a bad day. For example, I had a terrible day during the Roorkee entrance exam, but was glad that JEE and HSC mattered too.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Oh BTW, that doesn't mean I disagree with your position; I am just a bit skeptical about the idea of putting too much weight on a single exam.

    The two-tier method looks promising. Indeed we need to create more opportunities by building many more universities in India; public and private.

    - niket

  3. Anonymous said...

    Niket, you are right about putting too much weight on just one exam. However, it could be one standardizing exam (such as GRE) which is offered on demand; so a student can take it several times in a year if he/she so desires (and is willing to pay for it). With two or three exams, conducted by different agencies (JEE, AIEEE, CETs, etc.), you have the same problem that you originally had because of the many higher secondary boards!

    The emphasis should be on standardization, which AIEEE seems to be good at. I would like to see it (or something like it) become *the* exam which everyone takes all over India, and which every college would also use for the purpose of admissions.

  4. Anonymous said...

    there is some evidence that BITSAT (which is similar to GRE/SAT with the AIEEE syllabus) has achieved these flexibilities. Although taken by fewer people than the JEE or AIEEE, the sample is still large (0.5 lakh students).

    they seem to have got a nice normal distribution... 1% scoring about 350, 5% above 350, 14% over 250, and so on... (the maximum possible score is 486 as per Vasan's article, and there is negative marking)...

    so if a GRE/SAT-style system works for 0.5 lakh students in india as demonstrated by BITSAT, and it has worked well for ages in US of A, why would it not be possible to implement it in India? may be as Abi says, the IITs won't just let go of the JEE...

    BITS website says that the BITSAT was conducted for 2 months during April 10-June 10. It would be good if it can be conducted year-round like GRE, but may be there are logitics involved...

  5. Anonymous said...

    As Anonymous(2) says, BITSAT is indeed a great example of how things could be done. Its resemblance with GRE/SAT is quite striking; it is computer-based, and the scores are given after a very short (a day or two, I believe; but I may be wrong here. It is certainly not weeks) waiting period. For BITS to offer this test -- on demand -- over a two month period, the questions have to be statistically graded (in terms of what they test, their difficulty level, etc). Of course, as Anonymous(2) said, it would be nice if they offer it all through the year.

  6. Anonymous said...

    I checked up this site...

    Apparently, BITSAT scores are displayed by the computer after the test, so the candidate knows the result rightaway. They also post an official score card within 2 weeks acc to that website.

    Interestingly it says "No student will be allowed to repeat the test in the same year". I wonder if it is because of logistics (as BITS is conducting it for the first time) or any other reason! Given that no two BITSAT tests are alike (questions are randomly selected from a large q-bank), restricting a candidate to one sitting per year seems strange... as niket said, "what if one has a terrible day?"

    May be one can cancel or postpone the date of the test, but it is not clear from BITS website. Clearly something like this test, after addressing a few issues it has) is what India needs...

    The fact that they post score card to all students is a plus... it can be potentially used for admission outside BITS. I wonder if the IITs should switch to this model, and also administer extra "subject tests" so people can take everything in one go as Badri has said?

    - srimram (Anonymouos 2)

  7. Anonymous said...