Yesterday, I wrote a blog on the mess that IITs have created regarding JEE Advanced and the petition that has been filed in Supreme Court. From the mails that I have been getting and the comments on the blog, it is apparent that people have not understood the case properly. Here is an attempt to simplify matters.
IITs have declared several questions from JEE Advanced 2017 as wrong, and decided to award marks to everyone who took the exam. (It is equivalent to canceling those questions and not awarding marks to anyone, for all practical purposes.) The petition (and I am told that many other students have joined this petition with their own petitions) claims that same treatment to all questions is not fair.
So let us look at different types of errors that seem to have happened.
First, the question had such a serious error that there is no right answer (or at least all the options given in the question are wrong).
There is no dispute about what to do with these questions. Presence of such questions is unfortunate as it wastes precious time of students. And those who don't attempt these at all get benefit in terms of extra time. And there is no way to distinguish between those who attempted and those who did not attempt this. The petition is also not talking of such questions. And whether IITs give 0 marks to all students, or 1 mark or 100 marks to all students, it makes no difference in ranking. But it is desirable that IITs look at their process of paper setting and see if there is a way to minimize the chances of such questions since it does bring in an element of unfairness without any solution. But there is no legal issue as of now, and they are not part of the court case.
Second, a couple of questions had some typing error in some versions of Hindi paper. So 99.5% students have received one question. About 0.5% students have received another question.
IITs argued that since the question is different in two versions, we are canceling it and give marks to all. The petition is saying that a fairer way of doing things is to check 99.5% papers according to their question, and 0.5% papers according to the other question. And it hugely helps that despite the misprint, the question remains a valid science question. I really don't understand why IITs did not do it this way to begin with. Indeed this is the right way to do things. IITs know exactly who had asked for English paper and who had asked for Hindi paper. IITs know exactly who received those Hindi papers where there was a misprint. So where is the issue? This is simple and absolutely fair.
Well, it seems that some of those students who were supposed to read Hindi questions asked for English version during the exam, and if there was an extra English paper with the same code, they were given those English papers. So theoretically it is possible that in IITs' database the student is shown as someone who received that Hindi paper which had a misprint, but actually had taken an English paper. And for some strange reason fairness to such students is much more important for IITs than fairness to all the remaining students.
Third, a few questions which were supposed to have a single answer, it turned out that due to some ambiguity in the language can be interpreted to have an alternate answer.
IITs have declared such questions as invalid and given marks to everyone. The petition in SC is saying that if there can be two or even three potential answers to a question, then those marking those answers should get credit and those who have not given any answer or given the wrong answer should not get credit. Again, sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Most students while trying to solve that question would interpret it in one way or the other, and will solve accordingly. That there are multiple possible interpretations would not bother a student busy giving an exam. And hence it makes sense to award marks to both answers. On the contrary, there is a possibility that someone would be able to figure out that there are two interpretations and decide not to pursue this question because of negative marking. Also, there would be students who have marked an answer through guess work. Their probability of getting full marks would go up if this is accepted.
The question to be asked here is how many students may have left the question after realizing the ambiguity because of the negative marks? If that number is expected to be small, then one can be unfair to them rather than be unfair to thousands others. Also, note that such students actually had more time to solve other questions. So the level of unfairness to them is rather low. And yes, someone doing guess work will have a higher chance of success but giving marks to everyone is much more unfair to those who have solved the question. And this is exactly where the 2005 SC judgment may become relevant which says that only those students who have attempted a wrong question be given bonus marks.
Fourth, there are questions where IITs have declared a unique answer but many coaching institutions have come up with an alternate answers and IITs have decided not to consider them as correct. (These are questions beyond the 18 marks of bonus that IITs have given.)
IITs had sought response to their answer keys, and many coaching institutions and individuals had written to them about the alternate answers. IIT experts have rejected these answers without any explanation. (I wonder if IITs even considered those responses. I had also responded in an earlier year on a question which is in my area of research. Never got an answer either personally or on the GATE website, and my objection was not accepted.) The petition is asking that alternate answers be considered.
I think in all fairness, IITs must either explain why those alternate answers are incorrect or award marks for them. After all, those answers have been written by experts too, and there are only a few questions of this nature. Note that these are questions which are beyond the questions on which everyone has been given the bonus marks. So the total amount of confusion is actually beyond 18 marks.
What has been IITs response so far in the court?
I was not present in the court. So I am only reading the news papers who are notorious for not reporting fully. So take all this with a huge pinch of salt.
None of the news papers have mentioned anything about these questions. I do hope that IITs have an answer to these questions. All the newspapers have mentioned that IITs hired the highest law officer of the land, the Attorney General himself for defending it, and he told to the highest court of the land that since 30,000 students have already taken admission, and since it will take a long time to regrade 2.5 lakh copies, and because IITs have done everything on the basis of expert advice, the petition is not maintainable.
First of all, if the Attorney General claimed that it will take a long time to regrade 2.5 lakh copies, he was misinformed. 2.5 lakh students did not give the exam, and regrading is a matter of changing the key and running a software, which should take a few minutes to give the result.
But let me decode this legalese for you:
If Supreme Court decides to intervene in the matter, IITs have enough arguments to delay admissions by several days if not several weeks. That would cause lots of problems to lots of people. Since IITs are better at media communication than Supreme Court is, one can be sure that everyone in the country will blame SC and not IITs. So the best thing for the court to do is to look the other way, and let IITs continue with its erroneous decisions.
And the courts can easily suggest that since the matter is very technical and the courts are not equipped to deal with such technical matters, and because IITs are our crown jewels who can be trusted with anything technical, we would leave IITs to take a decision.