Ankit Agrawal raises a lot of important questions – the exam format, the English language issue, normalisation of scores across boards…
Starting 2013 a student would be permitted multiple attempts at JEE in a year. At first glance it seems that this move would reduce the pressure on students somewhat but a lot of questions remain unanswered. The devil is very likely to be in the details of the new policy.
For one, none of the above articles tell me the language in which the new JEE is going to be conducted. As of now, IITs allow question papers to be served in languages other than English to candidates not comfortable with it. The new JEE proposes two parts to the exam, the first being an aptitude test designed to measure a candidate’s comprehension, logical and critical thinking skills. If the exam serves comprehension passages in vernacular languages, what is the purpose of the exercise? If it turns out that the comprehension skills are good in one’s native tongue, it’s not going to help the candidate cope with the English language syllabus in college. On the other hand, as it seems more likely, if English language comprehension skills are tested, the candidate would be placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his/her peers who have had the luxury of an English language education. Given the intense competition for the limited number of seats in an IIT, a candidate from say, a small village, might lose out on account of mediocre command over English. It has been stated in the media by education czars time and again that engineering graduates possess poor English communication skills, thus rendering them unfit for employment in a global environment. In context of these observations, is the new policy unintentionally going to make these hallowed institutions elitist in nature, shutting out candidates from rural areas?
I am an alumnus of BITS-Pilani whose entrance test has a compulsory English ability section but it’s a private deemed university not subject to diktats of the government over any academic matters. IIT’s on the other hand might find themselves embroiled in litigation over the issue.
The articles state that the exam in 2013 will be conducted twice a year and 3-4 times in the subsequent years. These articles appear very ambiguous in their treatment of the issue. So far, the government hasn’t come out with a formal announcement because the proposal is still under discussion. In light of this, a lot of what is being said might turn out to be mere speculation or conjecture. Let’s try to analyse various possibilities. Logically speaking, the only plausible scenario is one where the first round of JEE for a given academic session(say 2012-13) is held in April/May 2013 when a class 12th student who began the academic year in June 2012 is ready for it, with subsequent rounds to take place in later months of 2013 or 2014. A student who doesn’t do well will be allowed to retake the exam multiple times over the next year if he so chooses. Those who get a good but not excellent rank will have to decide whether to take more chances in future and risk wasting a year or go ahead and take the best college/branch they can at that stage. Since it is being said that the institutions will consider your best score, at face value there appears to be no other significant downside to taking further attempts than the prospect of wasting a year. I say that the year is being wasted because even if you do perform better in the November/December 2013 exam, you cannot apply for admissions till June 2014. This so because India so far doesn’t have a Spring/Fall concept like the US. Given the aspiration levels of students in India, I personally feel that a lot of dissatisfied students are likely to choose wasting one year. These people will also be competing for seats with students who are completing their class 12th in 2014 and appearing for the exam in April/May 2014. Now, since one of the purported intentions of the government was to ensure that a student doesn’t waste a year, I don’t see how that has happened. If anything, the government just gave an added incentive for risk-taking by allowing a student to submit the best of multiple scores. This was not the case previously when the score used to be valid only for one academic session.
Building upon the assumption in the previous paragraph that the added incentive will only encourage more people to waste one year in the hope of doing better, can the CBSE handle the complicated logistics multiple times a year without compromising on the integrity of the exam?
The one aspect of the policy bound to cause the maximum heartburn is that of normalization of scores across school boards. The government has stated that the statistical formulae for normalization of marks across various school boards have been worked out already by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI). I suspect that unless they put these out in the public domain for scrutiny prior to implementation, dissatisfaction amongst unsuccessful candidates might later lead to litigation questioning the methodology. Whether courts are the best forums for debating statistical techniques is an open question.
Now something about my own experience with the JEE. I wrote it twice, first in 2006 and then again in 2007. I didn’t figure in the merit list in 2006 which was a huge disappointment, given the efforts I had put in. I wouldn’t deny that it was emotionally the worst phase of my life and a blemish on an outstanding and illustrious academic record I had till class X where I secured 97% in the Board exams. The Board exams did divert my attention in 2006 at a crucial stage of preparation. I wrote the JEE again in 2007, this time I got a rank of 4800 which wasn’t good enough for a “good” branch in any IIT so I opted to join BITS-Pilani Goa Campus where I was offered Computer Science. Having gone through a lot of ups and downs, I’m all for a new, less stressful system and the new policy does reflect good intentions on the part of the government. But before deciding that this proposed policy is the best policy, all of the arguments stated above need to be given some thought else the new system might end up becoming a political football. The best way to go ahead would be to introduce a Spring/Fall system wherein admissions are given twice a year, to maintain transparency with regards to normalization policy and to make sure that students from rural areas are not put at a disadvantage in the comprehension section of the aptitude test.
Ankit Agrawal is a software developer with Oracle.