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Thursday, August 7, 2008

JEE is not the right admission process

If we look at the problems of JEE, the following
appears to be more serious than others:

  1. School performance is completely ignored. Not just that 12th or 10th class marks are meaningless, but the exam is of such a different nature that the board topper without extra studies/coaching, cannot get into IITs. Also, having the all important exam just after the 12th class exams make sure that one has no option but to ignore school education.
  2. No input other than Physics, Chemistry and Maths. India is the only major country in the world where linguistic abilities (not specific language capability, before you jump on English versus Hindi) are not taken into account for admissions to professional courses.
  3. HUGE luck factor. The exam is conducted only once in a year. Slight headache, and you are out of reckoning. One question less you are able to answer that day, your rank tumbles so low. In fact, I seriously believe that having a random lottery amongst the top 20,000 will be better.
  4. Too many people seeking too few seats, which encourages the paper setter to set a very difficult question paper, which in turn increases the luck factor even more. The poor-quality question papers are not designed to select the very best, but somehow just eliminate a large number.
So, here is how I will like to solve the problem.

  1. Performance in school has to be taken into account more than what we do right now (60% in 12th class is a joke.)
  2. One has to test not just P/C/M, but also test linguistic abilities, analytical abilities, etc.
  3. The entrance exam must be conducted multiple times in a year, and a student should be able to give multiple attempts, and let his/her best score count.
  4. The 4th problem can be solved by having multiple rounds of scrutiny, and ensuring that the final round does not have too many students chasing too few seats.

So the solution proposed is the following:

  1. Have 2 stages of JEE. The two stages will test different things, ensuring that the second stage has much fewer students, thereby, improving the quality of exam, and reducing the business of coaching.
  2. We want students to focus on school education only, at least in 10th class and 12th class.
  3. So the two stages are at the following times:
  • At the end of 9th, or beginning of 10th. (Remember it is to happen on several days.)
  • The second stage is at the end of 11th, or beginning of 12th.

So, here is the detailed proposal:

  1. JEE stage 1 will be just after 9th class, say from April to August. The exam tests linguistic abilities, analytical skills, and very basic sciece and may be some more general stuff. About 1 lakh students are selected based on this.
  2. Now, these 1 lakh students are asked to concentrate on school education for a year, and told that only those who get 75% marks in 10th class exam (rather easy, but you can't ignore school education completely). And when top 1 lakh students study somewhat sincerely in the class, the culture of school education will change. (And the required percentage is not so high that it encourages widespread cheating, and in any case, by cheating, one could not get into the 1 lakh anyway.) About 5% students will lose out at the end of this.
  3. In 11th, another 5% would have decided that they prefer other career options like medical, or going abroad. So, there are only 90,000 serious contenders for IITs (and a few other institutes), a more manageable figure than 3.5 lakhs.
  4. The JEE stage 2 for these 90,000 takes place over a few months at the end of 11th class. This could be P/C/M, but the level has to be 11th class. Again, the best performance counts.
  5. We give ranks to all, but they are asked to concentrate on school education again, and have to get 75% marks in 12th class (a bit more difficult in some boards than 10th class - but then we are talking about top 1 lakh students). Note that while board exams also have a luck factor, but the impact is only for borderline cases, and not for large number of people. So we have not eliminated luck factor, but certainly reduced it a lot.
  6. Again, another 5-10% people will fail to get the required percentage in 12th class. (If that does not happen, increase the cutoff next year. The news that some people could not get into IITs because of school performance even after they cleared JEE will ensure people start taking school education seriously.)
  7. And now comes the major change. The counseling will only allocate you an institute and not a program. So, a 1-mark difference in JEE is not likely to make a significant change to your life. The program allocation can actually be avoided (and everyone allowed to do whatever they wish to do) if parents are taken out of the loop. Most people want to do CS, because their parents tell them so. I have actually done an experiment at IITK where I asked some wonderful speakers to talk about careers in different disciplines, and that year during branch change, there were vacancies in Electrical Engineering. But even if one has to do course allocation, it can be done after 2-3 semesters, when student is more mature, and we have more long-term performance data about the student.