For last many years, thanks to the so-called "One Nation One Test" formula (which only meant that all tests be renamed as JEE, so that we can claim there is only one test), IITs have been selecting students from JEE (Mains) who can sit for JEE Advanced. This year, reportedly, 2.31 lakh students were shortlisted.
Why so many?
Historically, when the negotiations for this model were going on, there was an agreement that we would shortlist about 5 students for each seat on offer. Initially, it was suggested that all CFTIs (including NITs basically) would admit students through JEE Advanced. Therefore, there would be about 30,000 seats, and hence 1.5 lakh would be shortlisted. Later on, it was agreed that only IITs (and erstwhile ISM) would admit through JEE Advanced. Number of seats thus reduced to 9000, but the number of shortlisted students remained 1.5 lakhs, since that number had already been announced by the Minister during the earlier phase of negotiations. It was said that in the next year, we may go back to 45-50K students since that would also allow the question paper to have non-MCQ questions, which have to be graded manually.
Could we go back to 5 students per seat?
I am told that IITs have been doing some exercise looking at what ranks in JEE Mains are finally getting selected in JEE Advanced, and noticing that a few people in the 75000 to 1 lakh unreserved category ranks are also getting selected in JEE Advanced, and hence increasing the number of unreserved category ranks shortlisted for JEE Advanced every year. The argument is that anyone with even some chance to be selected in JEE Advanced must be allowed to give JEE Advanced.
Nothing wrong with the argument, except then why have a two stage process at all. A two-stage process inherently means that there is some aspect of merit that is being tested at every stage and the minimum value of that evaluation is necessary to cross that stage irrespective of whether one could directly pass the next stage or not.
But as it happens, IITs have no respect for JEE Mains. They were almost forced to use this to reduce the number of students giving JEE Advanced, which reduced their income substantially. In fact, now there is hardly any profit from conducting JEE Advanced. Their level of mistrust in JEE Mains can be gauged from the fact that for PwD category, the cutoff is -35. (News Item here.) If JEE Mains was believed to be an indicator of any kind of merit, and 0 marks in the test meant same level of merit as someone entering primary school, one would have kept the cutoff as at least 1 mark to move to the next stage. But since, IITs believe that JEE Mains is a useless exam with very weak correlation between merit and score, it is to be used only for ranking and not for evaluating merit, and hence even -35 would not mean lack of merit for IITs.
Now, I am not going to defend JEE Mains. May be it is a useless exam, may be not. But, if IITs believe that it is a useless exam, why use this at all as a filter. If filter is a political reality, then we can decide to allow 5 lakh students to give JEE Advanced, still maintaining the filter to please bosses. On the other hand, if IITs have started liking the fact that they have to test less number of students, there can be other ways of restricting number of students. Just thinking allowed, what if we conduct JEE Advanced in first week of May (the way we used to for decades) without JEE Mains being a filter. We allow everyone to register with a simple condition - you pay Rs. 10,000 to register (less for SC/ST/PH, as usual), and if you score well enough in your respective category (say, 30% for unreserved, 27% for OBC-NCL, 15% for SC/ST/PH), IITs will refund 90% of it.
Conducting JEE Advanced early without the JEE Mains being a filter would allow some of the repeaters to focus on only one test, and the admission process to start early. And I cannot emphasize enough of the advantages of early admissions in top institutions. That allows everyone more time to complete admissions before their respective semester starts, reducing stress among students and parents.
Conclusion: Either have JEE Mains as a filter and allow only a small number of students to register for JEE Advanced. Or have JEE Advanced early and allow everyone to register and if there is a need to reduce the number of applicants, find alternate ways of doing so.
Reducing the number would also help in conduct of the exam. Students can get their 1st or 2nd choices in exam centers, and not having to rush several hundred KMs as they got their 5th choice. In fact, we should plan to have a fully AC environment with a place to sit during the break.
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