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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stress due to multiple entrance exams: A Proposed Solution

Yesterday, I had written on this blog why it is difficult have a common entrance exam for all engineering colleges. While discussing the blog with a few colleagues, I realized that the problem or the source of stress is not preparing for multiple exams, but the logistics of taking multiple exams.

A student typically sits for 5-6 exams in the months of April/May. Having 1 or 2 less exams is not going to remove or even reduce preparation effort. If the exams have very different syllabi, then either of them cannot be removed anyway. The two universities want different skills or knowledge to be tested presumably for some genuine reason. For example, the engineering admission test would have a different syllabus from the medical admission test. On the other hand, if two exams have similar syllabi, then preparation for the second exam is a small incremental effort, and removing that exam will not reduce the effort much.

The major problem for the student is not the number of exams, but the associated logistics. Sometimes, two exams are on the same day, or they could be on consecutive days, but the centers are in two different cities. Scheduling of exams is inflexible, because they depend on availability of schools in different cities. Most Schools are only available on Sundays, while some schools are also available on Saturdays. So large exams like JEE and AIEEE are held on Sundays, and exams with smaller number of candidates are held on Saturdays. And as I argued in my previous post, all these exams have to be held within a 5-6 week period in April/May, so the number of distinct dates available is much smaller than the number of exams to be held, and some clashes cannot be avoided.

So the primary problem is that the number of exams to be conducted is more than the number of suitable days available to conduct those exams. This results in scheduling conflicts. This results in having to find ways to reach from one city to the other in time, and find appropriate accommodation and transport options, that too, just before an important exam.

The obvious solution that all administrators have been suggesting is to reduce the number of exams. That will take away scheduling conflicts, and will give some peace to the student before every exam and would be easier on him/her to work out the logistics for each exam. But as I explained yesterday, this is extremely difficult to achieve (and perhaps not even desirable, since it gives more options to the students).

There is another solution to the problem. That is to increase the number of days over which these exams can be held. There are two ways it can be done. If we want to hold these exams only in April and May, then find ways to hold them on working days. Alternately, consider the option of holding them prior to April, perhaps through out the year.

To hold the exams on weekdays, we could have dedicated infrastructure only to hold exams. Suppose we were to create about 2-3 lakh seats just for examinations, spread over the 50 largest cities of the country. Given the number of exams of all sorts that we have (not just the admission tests, but exams for jobs in all PSUs, exams by UPSC and State PSCs), such a facility will be in use on most days of the year, and can be a profitable investment. And when there is an exam like AIEEE, which has more than 2-3 lakh candidates, only these large exams need to be held on Sundays, since they will need schools in addition to this dedicated infrastructure.

Alternately, the exams, particularly the big ones, need not be held only in April and May. They could be held on several days, including dates prior to the board exams. In such a scenario, the students can chose the dates for such exams in a way that there is no scheduling conflict with other exams they are planning to take. Of course, as I argued in my previous blog, holding an exam on multiple days invariably would mean a computer based standardized test. And once we have a large question bank, and the process of such tests has been streamlined, there is no reason why these tests can not be held through out the year.

I believe that increasing the number of days on which admission tests can be held is a much more viable option than to reduce the number of tests to one in each discipline (engineering, medicine, law, and so on).

1 comment:

mcenley said...

I find it , if I may, *befuddling* that we can't have a common aptitude and technological test (one which could be given on multiple days) on the same lines on GRE and Subject GRE. Also, score reporting methods could be introduced on similar lines. I believe this wold reduce much burden on students and the universities in conducting such examinations and post processing applications.