Thursday, April 16, 2009

How good are our Board exams? How good is JEE?

Having posted something on SAT, here's a story that appeared in the Education section of the Hindu today; the report is by Priscilla Jebaraj and Meera Srinivasan.

The first part is about our board exams; we are told that the Tamil Nadu Board exams have a 40:30:20:10 percent weight for, respectively, knowledge, understanding, application and skill development. [Yes, those faux-precise figures come from an authority figure!] The report goes on to add that the four themes receive equal weights in CBSE and ISC exams; no one is cited for this factoid, however.

In the second part, the story turns to JEE, for which the reporters managed to get some quotable quotes from Prof. M.S. Ananth, Director, IIT-M, and Prof. V.G. Idichandy, also from IIT-M.

Here's the section with Prof. M.S. Ananth's comments:

“I shouldn’t have to examine more than 10 times the number of students who will ultimately get admission,” said IIT-Madras director M.S. Ananth. He feels that the JEE should be used as a selection examination, not merely an elimination examination as it is today.

His suggestion is that the school board examinations be treated as a screening test, with only the top one per cent of students being allowed to attempt JEE. However, Prof. Ananth is quite happy about the efficacy of the JEE paper itself to test students. “I myself have tried the JEE paper. It is beautifully done, no one can set a better one,” he said, rejecting criticism that the paper was not designed to test the aptitude of students. “No one can really test aptitude, although the Americans pretend to do it,” he said.

Then what is to be done about students who ace JEE, but arrive in IIT with little aptitude for engineering studies? Prof. Ananth shares the story of a student who did not know integration. His excuse? “He told us that there are only three marks allotted to integration in JEE.” The IIT-M director feels the fault lies not with the examination itself, but with the coaching system. “With a Rs. 2000-crore coaching industry, there will always be students who can crack a paper without understanding it,” he said.

Prof. V.G. Idichandy, who is also the chairman of a committee set up to "explore JEE reforms," is a lot more blunt:

[Prof. Idichandy] promises recommendations for “drastic reform.” In fact, his personal opinion would be to abolish the JEE and all such entrance examinations. “So long as students are focussed on coaching for entrance exams, school education will not be taken seriously,” he said. Right now, “JEE is not testing aptitude at all. It’s not even a test of knowledge. It just tests the capability of pattern recognition.”


  1. Vinod Khare said...

    About using board exams as a screening criterion -- I scored 69 / 100 on the 12th board CBSE physics paper. In the same year I qualified for the Indian National Physics Olympiad and was among the top 0.1% or so of all appearing candidates.

    The reason for this were questions like -- describe an experiment which shows the wave nature of the neutron -- in which only historically precise names and aesthetically pleasing diagrams will get you full marks.

    I'm bad at remembering the exact details of a historic experiment (hence bad performance in boards). But I'm good at analysing the physics of it once the experiment is described to me (hence good performance in Olympiad). Board exams test too much of the former and too little of the latter.

    We need to carefully analyse what skill we want in IIT students before we can use board exams as screening criterion.

    There is too much talk about flaws with JEE. We wouldn't need JEE if our school education and exams system was good.

  2. L said...

    It is not possible to have a flawless exam. Nothing can prevent a few good children falling through and a few bad ones coming in. But the main thing is to eliminate the coaching classes, and the huge stress on 'pattern recognition' as Prof Idichandy says. It is not just a problem for the IITs it is a huge problem for society. I come across more mentally disturbed children than one would expect in my college. This is where the products of coaching classes who did not get into IITs/other prof colleges come to--and let me tell you, they are a mess. Every year, there are at least a couple of severely disturbed children and a large number of those diagnosed as clinically depressed. I ahve long held the opinion that more than any disease,coaching classes are the greatest health hazard particularly in Andhra Pradesh.

  3. புருனோ Bruno said...

    Abi boss,

    Do you know the schools in Rasipuram, Namakkal Areas, which specialize in getting 200/200 in all 4 subjects (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology) in 12th State Board Exams

    Heard admissions are now sought for there after the entrance examination was stopped here

  4. புருனோ Bruno said...

  5. புருனோ Bruno said...

  6. புருனோ Bruno said...

    The Namakkal district has registered an impressive performance in the higher secondary examinations held in March 2008, with 91.6 per cent of the students emerging successful

    ... And not everyone is from Namakkal District :) :) :) :)

  7. புருனோ Bruno said...

    If entrances are abolished, the so called 2000 crore coaching industry will not disappear

    It will start coaching students for the Board Exams

  8. புருனோ Bruno said...

    About Vidhyaa Vikas Boys Hr Sec School

    As seen in one of their promo sites

    //This is one of the leading schools in tamilnadu. Provides State level ranks. Has more than 2000 students. It is located along the highways of Erode-Tiruchengode. //

    என்ன கொடுமை சார் இது

    (சந்திரமுகி ஸ்டைலில் வாசிக்கவும்)

  9. Mahesh said...

    Without an entrance examination format, in the present state of the country, objective selection is extremely hard (if not impossible) to make. Whether merit is being judged accurately is an elusive and altogether different point.

    I have appeared in CBSE for class 10th examination in late 1990 and honestly speaking, the syllabus (Newton's law etc. which were taught in the previous year in class 9th were not even touched in context while being taught about solar system), the question paper (5 characteristics of IC engines) and worst, the grading (the guy who scored almost near perfect, i.e. in 90s/100 in English exams throughout his schooling of ten years ended up getting 65/100 whereas I, having not so good command over the language getting late 60s ended up getting 81/100.) was abysmal to put it mildly. If you just take school grades over the years then the first question is from what year you want to count? Many students realize the importance of academics etc. only later in their schooling careers, some are too shy as kids or some are simply way too playful. Hence many great students have poor grades in their early classes.

    I do hope that you don't want the situation where right from class 1 parents throw their kids into coaching classes so that they emerge winners at the end of pipeline?

    JEE on the other hand is both an exam and a process. Its preparation often trains students in ways not done in normal schooling. As an aside, JEE was primarily responsible for India's great performance in atleast Physics and Chemistry Olympiads (if you do care about them). It is true that AIR in JEE does not correlate with later success in life but to be honest no exam can completely predict the future trajectory of a candidate.

    I think it is unfortunate that JEE has messed up in recent time. But in general, considering the plight of other tests (where question quality is frankly 1850-ish and results are declared within a decade of the examinations) JEE has been remarkably democratic and free and fair. Many of my friends (and now colleagues) came from villages and never had a chance of getting good schooling. In almost every aspect of life they faced an elitist bias except in JEE. Till this date we all feel that JEE is one of the high points in the entire IIT endeavor. In fact after finishing grad school at Cornell, I can't explain in words the positive long term impact of learning and practicing the fundamental concepts in Physics, Math and Chemistry during JEE had on me.

    Lets face it, in our country at this point, networking, recommendations and interviews can have very negative connotations. Unfair means are practiced in large extent simply because no one will get punished and not doing so will put you at a disadvantage. Till the entire system is overhauled, putting another system which has some obvious shortcomings will not solve our problems. One set of problems will simply mutate into another set.

    Even in US a lot of people (include President Obama) concede that math and science education is often not upto the mark compared to other countries(notably India and China). Having TAed some of the undergraduates here (even though many are really smart), I have always rated students in IIT a generation ahead. Its a different matter that many professors in IIT badly bungled the fresh talents with uninspiring teaching, general disinterest and sometimes plain power play. But then that would be a different topic in itself. For now even though I agree that time has come to rethink JEE, the alternative looks both bleak and open to misuse.

  10. புருனோ Bruno said...

    //Lets face it, in our country at this point, networking, recommendations and interviews can have very negative connotations. Unfair means are practiced in large extent simply because no one will get punished and not doing so will put you at a disadvantage. //

    Fully Agree

    // For now even though I agree that time has come to rethink JEE, the alternative looks both bleak and open to misuse.//

    Fully Agree