Saturday, May 10, 2008

Does GATE serve our institutional needs?

In a post filled with provocative ideas, Arunn argues for the use of GRE (or, presumably, another exam like the GRE General Test) for graduate admissions. Currently, in engineering (and to a smaller extent, in the sciences too) GATE is the exam of choice at all our top institutions, and this is really unfortunate.

GATE started its existence in the mid-eighties; I think I took the second edition of GATE in 1985. It was originally designed as an entrance exam for the masters programs in engineering. In those innocent days, the use of GATE for PhD admissions was out of the question, simply because a masters degree was a pre-requisite for getting into a PhD program.

But that era is gone; most institutions (including IISc) now have a provision for undergraduate degree holders to gain "direct admission" into the PhD program; these students have to fulfill a bunch of requirements, and a decent score in GATE is one of the first level filters (followed by, typically, an interview). As Arunn points out, GATE is not the right exam to use; a more appropriate exam -- like GRE -- would emphasize basic mathematical, statistical, analytical competence.

Arunn's arguments against GATE cover the many different ways in which it hurts our PhD programs; here's one:

... [S]ince [GATE] is a subject exam and involves concepts and number crunchers (questions) that require a thorough brushing up of the subject basics, potential students who have finished their UG degree some years back (and working somewhere) and want to take the examination are so apprehensive of what they need to study that they don’t even give it a try. This, even though they yearn for higher education.


  1. Pratik . said...

    Thanks for the post. Its about time someone started talking about graduate programs and tests back home. :)

    Well, even in case of GRE, at least for a number of basic sciences, humanities, electrical and comp engineering disciplines, there is a subject test. While the subject test is usually not labeled as "mandatory", almost in all the top institutions, it is labeled as "highly desirable".

    I would question the usefulness of GRE too. I fail to understand why English should be given as much weightage as math and analysis for admission to engineering programs. On top of that, invariably, the GRE english section has a passage on feminist/social issues, which is written such that most readers would fall asleep. (almost happened to me when I took the GRE).

    There is a different drawback with using GATE scores for admission (without any "weighting"), something that plagues the less studied branches like metallurgy and chemical engineering. Myriads of private colleges have mech engg, civil engg, CS depts. Many of them do a very bad job of teaching and students graduate without much of an idea about their own branch, leave alone other branches. But, subjects like chem engg and metallurgy are restricted to the government colleges, basically the colleges that do have a better infrastructure and faculty. So, a student with a 85%ile score in metallurgy is likely to have a better idea of his subject than a student scoring 86%ile in mechanical engg has of mech engg. Yet, many institutes prefer to take the mech guy with 86%ile for a grad program in metallurgy, which I think is a bit foolish.

    On a different note, sometimes it becomes irritating to hear the same mechanical engg guys (who couldnt make it to a mech engg grad program and entered metallurgy instead) to constantly chirp how mechanical engg is a "superior" discipline compared to metallurgy, etc etc, when they cant differentiate cast iron from steel, or a boul gear from a spur gear.

    Its good to encourage people to switch disciplines, but that should be only on basis of interest, rather than because a student hasnt been able to secure a seat in his own discipline.