Posted by: Vikram | May 31, 2012

Why this Kolaveri over the new engineering entrance system ?

(A clarification:  I am not against JEE being part of college admissions in India. What I am not in favor of is it being the sole criteria for admission and it being the basis of ranking candidates. I am in favor of requiring a minimum grade in a JEE like exam for specific subjects for university admissions in a specific course. For example admission to CS program in IIT Bombay can require an A+ grade in a CS JEE.)

Its a bit disheartening to see India’s young generation which is usually so positive about reforms, get so stuck up about one entrance exam.

What do you think about the internal studies by the IITs that show that IIT GPAs are correlated with board exam marks and not with those sacrosanct JEE ranks ? From the report of a special IIT Madras task force1 (

Marks of Classes X and XII, All India Rank (AIR) in the JEE and Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) at IIT of several batches of students were analysed. The conclusions:

• ‘‘There is a strong correlation between the marks of Classes X, XII and the CGPA during B Tech. The correlation factor is close to 1.’’ This means, the chances of a good student in school doing well in B Tech is almost 100 per cent.

• ‘‘There is little correlation between marks in Class X, Class XII and AIR.’’ That is, good performers in school are not likely to get good AIR in the present selection system.

• ‘‘There is little correlation between AIR and CGPA.’’ This means, toppers in the JEE are not at the top during their B Tech programme.

What do you think about the fact that more than half of IIT students come from the CBSE board where less than 1% about 5% of Indian students study2 ? The 2011 JEE report ( mentions:

It is observed that 20315 out of 468280 (4.34%) of the appeared candidates were from ICSE and 49% were from State Board, whereas 45.7% appeared candidates were from CBSE board. Out of the 13196 qualified candidates, 543 were from ICSE (4.11%), 7396 from CBSE (56%), and 5195 from State Board (39.4%).

Invariably, the kids going to CBSE schools are children of government employees or well-off urban families. Is such a system really fair ? My question to the people opposing the new entrance system is what proportion of your IIT buddies are ‘poor rural kids’ ? Almost all the IIT graduates I have met are smart, hardworking folks who come from a comfortable middle class family. I am not saying the new system will solve all the problems of inequality, but please stop acting like JEE was the greatest thing in the world.

1: For some unfathomable reason, this report has not been made public. Perhaps we can make it public through an RTI. Why this secrecy ?
2: See Table 1 in


  1. My few doubts regarding this reform:

    1) How will be the marks in various boards be scaled to provide a level playing field? Is it even possible?

    2)Regarding the aptitude test, which is meant to be the preliminary test, used only for screening, and not the final rank, will it include a test of English comprehension. If yes, then why the special emphasis on English? I hope, they judge only the comprehension ability ( ie include the vernacular languages also) and not just the knowledge of English language, in which case, it will obviously carry an urban bias?

    In my opinion, one cant improve the quality of students, just by changing the admission criteria. What is needed is a large scale reform in the schooling system of India and steps to make it less rote-learning based, not this ‘change’ at the exam. No institute in the world can make a student to think critically, when his whole life, he has studied to just pass his exam, mugging the stuff.

    • Hey Shwetank,

      Regarding 1) This is the best information I have. A comment by Dr. Gautam Barua of IIT-Gauhati on

      “One way of calculating percentiles is:
      (cℓ+ 0.5ƒi)/N * 100

      Where where cℓ is the count of all scores less than the score of interest, ƒi is the frequency of the score of interest, and N is the number of examinees in the sample.

      So, if there are “hundreds with 100/100”, then the percentile will be averaged out, as shown above.

      There is no question of “consistency” in percentiles. It is a mark based on your “RANK” in the board you have appeared in. If only this is to be used to gain admission into IITs, then the “cutoff” would be about 99.0 (1% of say 15 lakhs will give us the top 15000). So, if all the “toppers” do well in the “test” then the Board marks become a “cut-off”. But it gives someone with 95 percentile (about 75000 students having done better than him) a fighting chance of getting in. The only issue here is, that someone will argue that a rank of 100000 in CBSE is better than a rank of 10 in State Board X. There is no answer to such an assertion except to point to the law of large numbers.”

      Regarding 2) Agree wholeheartedly. I hope it only tests comprehension and communication skills of the language the candidate is most comfortable in.

  2. I am not sure we have to talk about the ‘quality’ of students. I think the right question to ask whether they are motivated and prepared for the engineering education. And of course critical skills in general cannot be taught by a rote-based education. But I think the momentum for moving away from a rote-based system is building up, but thats a separate issue IMO.

    • Hi Vikram,

      Yours is the sanest discussion I have seen on this topic. Especially the comment “I am not sure we have to talk about the ‘quality’ of students.” This is the only time I have seen this view expressed. This sense of entitlement to a relatively better education after clearing a competitive exam, as well as the attitude of at least part of the faculty in wanting “only the best” students to join such and such institutions is beyond comprehension and goes against basic decency even if one accepts the argument that there are limited seats and resources and they have to have certain criteria and this is the fairest.

      I also agree with your opinion on (the very late but nevertheless there) the general realization about rote-‘learning’. If there is one single most important thing that IIT-JEE has done, and for that matter IITs, for the society as a whole, even if as a side effect, it is the undermining of rote-‘learning’.

      I still remember fondly my days of preparing for the JEE – perhaps some of the happiest and most exciting time in my life. Trying to relive that time is what keeps me coming back to studying physics even if only by myself.


      • Thanks Anurag. It is indeed disheartening to see administrators and society at large talk about ‘quality’ in this manner. It almost seems like they are talking about a consumable product rather than a human being.

        Even I remember the days of sitting by myself and working on HC Verma, Resnick-Halliday and S.L. Loney. The IIT exam definitely set a high benchmark and improved my math-physics abilities immensely. But I feel the time has come to think further than the JEE (and indeed the IITs).

        You might find this article interesting:

      • It is indeed disheartening. And there is also the sickening notion of ‘brand dilution’ that seems to be driving a significant amount of protest, I suspect mostly from ex and present students of IIT. I do agree with a lot of what the protesters are saying though, such as their stands on :

        1) autonomy,
        2) their criticisms of the boards exams,

        I also agree with your idea that other universities should be focused on more, if at all there is serious concern regarding education in India, technical or otherwise. There should be a council setup to figure out what exactly is ailing them. If it is something other than lack of motivation and interest in the faculty and students it can surely by tackled.

        In general I would go as far as to say that people should be allowed to study whatever they find interesting – not that its true of any society. Entrance exams end up playing the role of de-selectors, much more so in a country like ours where the ratio of aspirants to availability is so skewed. In the US the situation is much diffused due to the very good public university and community college system, and the tiers that each of these has a niche in along with the fact that there is easy mobility across these tiers, provided you work for it. And the differential markers aren’t that pronounced. In a country like ours with its history of explicit hierarchies, a major source of psychological succor are those markers. In a cynical moment I would say that part of the prestige of IIT comes from rejecting >95% of the applicants.

        As a side note – I attended IITD (didn’t do much there, pretty much due to my own immaturity and the dullingly competitive nature of the place).


  3. JEE is not necessarily the best way ever, however better than the new reform proposed.
    The new exam is being called reform where its actually a retrogression.
    You have shown correlation of board exams and CGPA, but forgot to mention that the correlation is between people with high board exam performance + filtered by JEE.
    It only currently says among the once cleared JEE, people with high board exams have high CGPA.
    It doesn’t guarantee people who get high percentage in board exams will be good.

    For some one who didn’t make through to JEE and studied in a normal engineering college I can assure you there are hundreds with 99% percentile who will not be able to make it thru in the rigorous IIT program.
    The board exam system is one where you need good hand writing, ability to fill many pages and lots of mugup.
    This only proves a persons perseverence, patience, continous effort over a longer period. Doesn’t say anything about analytical abilities.

    Now comming JEE, it tests a persons analytical and logical abilities. Problems solving abilities.
    However it doesn’t test a persons ability to put a continous and constant effort.

    This is explained by the Prof Sanjeev Sanghi of IITD as two different filters.. One macro filter and then another micro filter.
    Board exams can be used as macro filter, but the result has lot of noise.
    This can be resolved using the micro filter like JEE where you can eliminate the noise.

    • Hey Kapileswar. Thank you for your insightful comment. I agree that a JEE like filter is needed to account for some of the inadequacies of the board exams. But I would like to point out here that Dr. Gautam Barua, director of IIT-Gauhati has said in his comments in the blogosphere that the board exams are being reformed in significant ways.

      But IIT GPAs seem to depend a lot more on the evaluation of the continuous and constant effort, as you yourself acknowledge and so it is essential to incorporate that evaluation in the IIT selection procedure.

      And if you think about it, the new system does seem to do what Dr. Sanghi mentions (although I am not familiar with his analysis). Board exams as a ‘macro filter’, and the “main” and “advanced” exams as ‘micro filters’ ?

  4. Vikram, the correlation that you have pointed out is suspect. When this report had come out, they were asked to share the primary data, which was refused. Even at that time, it was criticized on the basis that the sample size was too small, it was self selective, that is, you are only looking at persons who have passed JEE, and so on. So, it is not clear what value that particular report has. Of course, there have been several other claims of similar kind, and I will go along with a view that school performance should be part of admissions. But whether it should be to have a high eligibility or a screening, whether it should be 10th class marks (which no longer is a possibility thanks to yet another decision of this government) or 12th class marks, remains an issue. But this is just a difference of opinion, and a matter of details.

    CBSE being a small board, I don’t agree. There are huge number of 1-teacher schools of the state governments. So the school count is not comparable. If you look at the 12th class graduates, there are about 60 lakhs of them in total, out of which 8 lakhs are from CBSE. So the number is not 1 percent, but 13-14 percent. Now, if you look at the science graduates (that is those students who have taken science in 12th class), the CBSE is more like 20 percent share. Now, if you further see that all state government schools in all states are affiliated to their respective state boards (except Delhi), and given that state governments, by and large, have given up on school education, the quality of school education in those government schools is pretty bad. So it is not surprising at all that while CBSE has only a 20 percent market share overall, but at the top of the pie, say in top 1 lakh, their share is closer to 50 percent. And if state governments are not able to either improve their quality of education, or attract reasonable quality private schools to affiliate to their boards, then why should we go out of the way to create a quota for these state boards.

    But, the most important issue is autonomy. Most of us understand that our politicians are control freaks. And we have lived with them deciding financial and administrative issues for ever. But, their interference in academic matters has been limited to advising Directors on some issues. So when they wanted IITs to start programs in Economics, they did not give out an order. It was up to Directors to convince their internal Senates to do so. Some did and some did not. This is the first time in the history of IITs that such an important academic decision has been taken at a political level. (And before Gautam Barua says that it was Council decision, I know how many Directors can say anything to the Minister.) This is extremely dangerous. It is possible that this is a great decision, and I am just upset because it is not to my liking. However, I strongly believe that academic decisions should be left with the universities even if they are making sub-optimal decisions. Once politicians start taking decisions, they may take an optimal decision in 1 or 2 cases, but it will very soon degenerate into the kind of interference we see in state universities today.

    • Welcome Dr. Sanghi. I was under the impression that this decision was made with the approval of the IIT directors and senates. I agree with you that academic institutions should have as much as autonomy as possible. In the ideal case, the strategy that the MHRD should have been as follows, introduce this new system, gradually convince colleges, faculty and students of its benefits, and eventually bring the whole country under one basic system. Perhaps it would have been best to leave the IITs out of this reform, atleast initially.

      Regarding the CBSE, thank you first for correcting my flawed first-order analysis. But my broader objective was to point out that privilege does play a very important role in getting into an IIT, since my impression is that most CBSE schools are accessible only to children of government employees and the well off.

      About the report, we really cant say much because that report has not been made public, which is unfortunate. But that the JEE performance does not correlate with GPAs does seem to indicate that the continued use of JEE only for admissions is not justifiable.

      • Vikram,
        It is definitely not true that CBSE is available only to government officers and the well off. The state boards set the bar so low, and often the schools do not teach the XI portions at all. Also, with which board is there a high correlation? There are 42 state boards – so was there a correlation done with each of them? I find it very very hard to believe that the state board marks show a better correlation with later performance than the JEE rank. I can state flatly that that is not the case with Tamilnadu State Board marks.So, I question the report and will go so far as to say that with 42 state boards, the report is false and misleading.


  5. Nice to see another person think the Kolaveri is misplaced. In fact, I think the JEE has been saved! I have presented my own reasons on why so, here:

    • Welcome Gnaana Maargi. I had actually read that post by you already 🙂 I agree that the existing JEE (or a test like it) has a role in admissions procedure. Here is one possible admissions system with the existing JEE:

      1) 12th Board exam marks : 50 % weightage in admission and ranking. This should be extended gradually to include 10th board and school exam marks. This portion will tell us about the candidates perseverance and intellectual drive. This is necessary for success in university, as the studies indicate.

      2) Main’s exam: 50 % weightage in admission and ranking. This can be a SAT like exam that tests basic intellectual ability. SAT scores have been shown to be insensitive to coaching:

      3) JEE advanced or just JEE as you suggest: The students can choose which advanced subjects he/she wants to be tested for advanced ability. For example: some one wanting a CS major just has to give the advanced test in CS. Avoiding coaching for this test will be tricky, but I think its more possible to do so than in the existing JEE.

      All students would thus be following the same admission system. My inclination would be that colleges not use the advanced exam for ranking. It would just be too unstable beyond the first 100 or so ranks, just like the current JEE. Instead, specific colleges can set minumum requirements for the advanced test. For example IIT Kanpur CS can set a minimum grade of A+ in the test as a requirement for admission. A smaller scale university can set a minimum grade of B for the same and so on.

      • Vikram, you do realize that there is a lot of noise of the marks of XII exams, other than the fact that the methodology for the exam is completely flawed. 50% weightage would make the test completely unreliable.

        Grading? Seriously? And how are you going to decide, which student gets preference when choosing the course?

  6. Welcome Dhairya. I would like to say at the outset that I am not against JEE being part of college admissions in India. What I am not in favor of is it being the sole criteria for admission and it being the basis of ranking candidates. As I have indicated in the comment above, requiring a minimum grade in the JEE is a good idea for deciding admissions.

    1) Did you write the JEE, AIEEE, and CBSE XII boards? Can you give me an example of a question from JEE which a student would not be able to answer unless they have attended coaching for JEE. I you think the syllabus for the JEE is different from the CBSE XII boards, you can not be more wrong. The syllabus is exactly the same for the two (before you start arguing with me on this, just check, contrary to what most people will tell you, they really are the same). If you think the questions are not the same as those at the back of a CBSE textbook, then you are damn right and they should not be in any exam, and that is where the CBSE boards go wrong. Any moron can ace the CBSE boards because they do not test you ability to think, only your ability to remember ever line of the textbook. In fact the JEE is designed so that people who have extensively solved every question in every textbook do not get an unfair advantage.

    Dhairya, the convergence of even the CBSE syllabus with JEE syllabus (if it has happened) seems to be recent, can you give some evidence of this ? Because the report of the special task force I have linked also says that JEE syllabus is “getting increasingly closer to the syllabus of science graduate programmes, making aspirants more and more dependent on coaching classes”. I find it difficult to believe that JEE cannot be ‘cracked’ with training (which was the reason it had to become more and more difficult). The presence of a large-scale coaching industry dedicated to this points to this. In fact, there is no subject specific test in the world that cannot be coached for. And this is not a problem in itself. The question is whether the entrance procedure is doing its primary task, choosing candidates who are prepared for their courses and will succeed in them. And the non-correlation of GPAs with JEE ranks says that JEE is not a good predictor of success in IIT. Contrast this with the procedure in the US, SAT + High school GPA has been shown to be consistently correlated with college GPAs.

    2) The correlation between CGPA is ridiculous, since every student takes different courses. There is no student who took exactly the same combination of courses as me. It is well known in IITs that most students who have high CGPA have it so because they took easy courses, and not because they are good (those who want to argue with me on this, I can tell you exactly which good courses to take to screw up you CGPA).

    This is a good question. One way to learn more is to check the board exam – CGPA, JEE – CGPA correlations department wise. But the report is not public, so at this point we can only speculate.

    As for the XII board marks, I have never come across a student who was not at the top of their class in high school and who did not do well in their boards. And there is enough variability in the grading of board exams to make them completely unreliable as a measure of the competence of students who score in 90-100% range.

    And there is no variability in JEE ranks ?

    So if you want to compare apples and oranges on one hand and bananas and pineapples on the other then go ahead, you are not the first. There are also people exploring the effects of Jupiter’s gravity on the number of heart attacks!

    So, it is a myth that students who clear the JEE do not do well in their boards, despite the fact that boards test nothing more than a person’s memory. In fact, I have been disappointed by the standard of exams here at UT, they all have the same questions that are at the back of the textbooks that you have solved in your home works. It is only Prof. Arbogast’s exams that I found really test a student’s understanding.

    This point of yours is not really relevant to the discussion, but please do see:

    3) The students who take coaching for JEE do well not because they were taught a secret mantra to crack that particular exam but because they really do teach well. Besides I do not think you need coaching to crack the JEE. All you need to do is get a second hand textbook that explains it well. That is how I did it, and it didn’t cost a lot of money. In fact, I studied from my CBSE textbooks, and solved previous years JEE exams. And I don’t see why a backward caste student would not be able to do this even if they have faced discrimination all their life. And if you are telling me that not every one can read from the textbook and understand the subject, then those people should not even be trying to go to college, because if in high school a person can not read and understand a text then they should stay in high school till they can do it.

    Dhairya, I have met scores and scores of IITians at UT and other universities. Only one of them had not done coaching. I repeat again, there has to be a reason why coaching is an industry of considerable scale.

    Although I have never attended coaching, but based on what my friends have told me, I can tell you that people there are not just taught day and night like robots, if anything, they provide a more academically stimulating and social environment than school. There is absolutely no argument against coaching centers, even though they do provide an advantage to those who attend them, it is a fair advantage. You can not imagine how ridiculous you sound when you say that coaching centers should be banned because they teach well. Instead the government should be trying to provide that level of education in schools.

    I agree with the idea that level of education in schools should be improved. But the current entrance regime disincentivize’s even attending school, forget making them better.

    4) The problem of backward caste students not making it to IIT, is very simple, most of them do not get good schooling, and they do not have the confidence to even try to crack the JEE. Reservation is not the solution.

    Ask any one of you IITian friends and they will tell you that nearly all students in academic probation are those who have joined through quota. Those students would be better off in some other institute, with other students who are at their level. Believe me, I have seen quite a few people whose lives have been ruined by reservation, having not been able to cope up.

    I am not talking about reservation here.

    If you had ever had a life threatening health problem and realized that your doctor wasn’t competent enough, believe me, you would have a very different perspective about merit.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the JEE as it has been for so long. It is the other exams, especially the boards, that have been flawed.

    I agree that the boards are flawed. But they are being fixed. Here’s a Q&A I had with Dr. Gautam Barua (Director- IIT Guwahati)

    Me: Dr. Barua, I guess one of the main questions (and source of trepidation) is the board exams themselves. The general consensus seems to be that these exams need significant reforms, both from the point of testing children and acting as a discriminant for admission purposes.

    Even a lot of states are moving away from using their results and using some kind of JEE like CET exam for engineering and medicine courses. I personally dont think that much can change as far as school attendance is concerned until the performance in the school exams itself is a factor in university admissions. That might be too much for now, but the board exams should be reformed as soon as possible.

    Dr. Barua: vikram,
    Of course, Board exams need reforms. I think making the exams important for admission into IITs and NITs will result in push from society towards reforms.
    A number of steps have already been taken: a common syllabus has been agreed to by all the Boards and implementation has started. Boards have agreed to processing results using computers and have agreed to release results early (talks are on as to what is early – We want May 31, but June 15 may be the compromise).
    The next step in reforms I feel is that the class XII exams must include what is taught in class XI also (CBSE and many other Boards examine only what is taught in class XII).
    We must not underestimate society’s ability to force changes. Let us not be overtly pessimistic and dismissive of the functioning of the Boards. When getting a good rank becomes important, people will not allow those in charge to get away with “murder”. But we must make society interested in change.

    I would also like to say that “gradual” steps may not put enough pressure to bring in changes. We can always take a step backwards if things dont work out. Let us at least try for a significant change (even what we are proposing is a bit mild if you ask me, but we must try and carry all naysayers along).
    Gautam Barua.

    • Hey Dhairya, I have responded to your comment inline. Thanks !

      • Here is a link to the syllabus for the JEE:
        None of these topics are graduate level. I remember each topics from my CBSE text book. And like I said, CBSE textbooks were my only source when studying for JEE, other than the practice tests that I got from the internet. All of the theory is contained in the CBSE text books.

        Those who did not make it through JEE, will of course make excuses like the syllabus is graduate level or they could not afford costly coaching. I will never accept this line of argument, if even one person can do it, so can the others, if only they work hard enough.

        There is a reason why coaching centers are flourishing, and that reason is that high schools are not doing their job. Even the best high schools only want to show off the performance of their students in the boards, and their efforts are in that direction, which is memorizing the textbook and not on understanding the subject. In fact most high school teachers themselves do not understand these topics or else they would not end up as high school teachers. That is one reason why reforms in high school and CBSE will never happen. Never! No matter how hard you try. (Maybe if you do away with teacher and let students figure things out for themselves 😀 , believe me that is the best way to learn something)

        It is not the current entrance regime that disincentivizes attending school. It is the schools themselves that are doing this. There is a right way of teaching and there is a wrong way of teaching. And there is a right way of testing and a wrong way of testing students. Which is which is pretty clear.

        Good education comes at a price, you will never be able to change that, no matter what you do with the pattern of entrance exams. You will still have people spending more money to get better eduction. But students can always overcome these deficiencies on their own. You will get good education either from coaching institutes or through your own efforts.

        Like I said CGPA can not be correlated, even within the same department, since there are electives which each student is free to choose. Another example: Some students who perform well in their first year in their respective departments get the option to change their departments. And they of course opt for the courses in high demand, with students with better JEE ranks. And once they change their departments, their performance drops. At best the end up with average GPAs.

        Ask any IITian, those who is concerned about their GPA, they will never in their right mind take courses in departments which have better JEE rank students. So there indeed is a very very strong correlation between JEE rank and a students performance, but you will probably not see this correlation in their GPA. The JEE is certainly doing a good job in selecting students who will do well in the IIT system, better than any other exam can do.

        “And there is no variability in JEE ranks ?”
        I said there is NO variability in board exam marks of those who clear the JEE. There of course is variability in JEE ranks.

        There is fundamentally nothing wrong with JEE, or coaching centers. As I have explained, there are several flaws with the statistics you have cited, and my experience has been completely opposite. And there is no way that the fundamentally flawed system of CBSE and high school can do better than JEE.

  7. Prime focus of Ministry of HRD not to carry out reform in JEE entrance exam,they put more emphasis on how to control the mushrooming growth
    of coaching center. 10+2 marks brought into center stage keeping above
    criteria in mind.
    The teacher is being employed by coaching center is far superior to 10+2
    school.Keep current scenario in mind most of 10+2 teachers are not able to provide a proper guidance if a student want to prepare for JEE exams.Teaching standard of school to be elevated to generate student interest in 10+2 .

    • The teacher’s at some coaching centres might be better than those at some schools, but the overall learning environment at a school is far superior to any coaching centre.

      The problem is that one of the key goals of a 17 year old child is to get into a good university, and the current university entrance regime (with PCM entrance tests as the sole criteria) disincentivizes attending school.

      • In what way is the learning environment in schools better than that of a coaching center.

        School: These are the questions that you will get in your boards. Memorize them. Don’t ask me why this and why that just memorize it. Write it down a 100 times till you have memorized it. Sitting with mediocre students, most of whom have no aspirations other than to get back home and watch WWE and play video games.

        Coaching center: An instructor who really understands the stuff explains it to you like no one has ever taught you before. And after class sit down with highly motivated students and discuss and solve problems.

        I am not exaggerating the description in any way.

        “The problem is that one of the key goals of a 17 year old child is to get into a good university”
        That certainly is a big problem, hmm….

        “and the current university entrance regime (with PCM entrance tests as the sole criteria) disincentivizes attending school.”
        Hell yeah, because you will not learn anything in school.

  8. Vikram, please see these:

  9. Dhairya, thanks for sharing the materials from Dr. Sanghi. Note that he mentions the US admissions process. India is of course far away from American levels of development, but the question is what direction we want the country to go in. Just one point of comparison, Japan still selects its students with a high-stakes JEE like process, while America has an approach that involves high school GPAs and SAT. If as just one outcome measure, we look at Turing award winners, out of 53 awards, Americans have won 37 (14 went to public univs, 23 to private univs), Japanese have won 0. This is a good read:

    Many people (justifiably) have an extremely negative of Indian high schools and the board exams. I am not disputing this, although I disagree with how much blame is laid on the teachers. But for the long term success of Indian society, the question is how we improve the schools and board exams.

    The board exam problem is easier to solve, just move the focus away from mainly testing memory skills to analytical and critical skills. A beginning has been made towards including a higher proportion of such questions, for example, the Higher Order Thinking Skills in CBSE
    And there are further changes on their way as Dr. Barua’s comments indicated.

    The schools problem is much more complicated. Like I have mentioned before, a regime in which what kids do in school doesnt really effect the outcome of their primary goal (getting into a good university) there is no real incentive to attend school. And we do see that for any improvement in schooling, what kids do in them and their role in the student’s education has to be given importance in the university admissions process. The only reasonable way to do this right now is to continue the reforms of the board exams and include them in the admissions process.

    As for the JEE, I am unable to understand your defence for its use in ranking. An exam where a change in 1 or 2 marks causes a change of 100 ranks, and ends up making someone take Chemical Engg instead of Computer Science is simply unreliable and far too rigid. As for its correlation with GPA, we first need to see an department wise analysis before considering finer grained factors like controlling for easy courses.

    • The ranking system is better than anything that you are proposing. To do better than JEE would require an even more comprehensive exam, with possibly several rounds to differentiate students in different range of abilities. For me JEE was 3 exams x 2 hours each = 6 hours total, over the length of an entire day. AIEEE was one 2hour exam. CBSE board has too much noise, because there is no control over how thousands of different graders and it is not difficult enough and the methodology is flawed.

      Exactly how do you propose the grading system will work? I don’t think you have thought this through. How many A grades are you going to give, when you do not know how many will opt for CS and EE.

      • Dhairya, the grading system will work similar to how AP exams and subject SATs work in the US.

        So for example, there can be a CS JEE exam where the top 1% students get an A+ grade. The next 4% A, the next 5 % A- and so on. Now IIT CS departments can require that the student have an A+ grade in this exam, the NIT/IIIT/IISER etc. CS departments require that the student have an A grade and so on. Suppose further that the IIT CS department require an A grade in a Math JEE exam (the IIT Math department would require an A+).

        For the IIT CS departments, once these CS A+ and Math A students have been chosen, the question is reduced to which IIT the students go to. This can be decided on the basis of ranking the combined board exam and SAT type exam. This way all the IIT CS departments get students that are prepared for the CS curriculum and the students that have demonstrated sustained excellence and commitment get to choose which IIT they want to go to.

        Such a system has an additional advantage, if a student obtains a lower grade in this exam, he/she can realize themselves that they are better suited for some other course in college. For example if a student has taken the CS, Math, Physics and Chemistry JEEs, and he/she obtains a B- in CS, A- in Math, A+ in Physics and A in Chemistry, they can realize that they are better suited for Chemical/Mechanical Engg program rather than a CS program.

        The question is what prevents coaching for these JEEs. We cant really prevent coaching if people just want to do it. What we can do is reduce the relative impact (or perceived impact) that coaching can have. In the current system, people will tend to go for coaching, because even if they can pass JEE on their own, coaching can claim to improve their rank. And the ranks matter a lot. In the grade system, someone who knows they can clear the exam will know that they can get an A+ grade or even in the worst case an A grade. So the incentive to get coached is less.

  10. 1) There can not be a CS exam. I am sure you understand the complications with that: almost no one in India owns a PC, high school computer teachers don’t know any thing other than MS Office and Windows, may be for the post of a secretary you can test their typing skills!

    I do get what you are trying to say here. You want that each department should have their own ranking based on different weightage to each of PCM and a SAT like exam. That may be a good idea, but you will still need ranking to implement this system, grading will not work.

    You have not thought this through why grading will not work. Suppose 200 students get A+ grade and all of them decide to go for CS and there are only 100 seats in CS. Then what?
    Or, what if only 50 of those want CS. Then what? Do 50 seats go vacant?
    Another complication is that people’s preference does not work the way you have said. People may prefer Mechanical in IIT Bombay to CS in Guwahati.

    I also strongly suggest that you look at the IIT counseling system. Each student gets to put down 50 choices in order of preferences, and he is gets the highest option available after all students with ranks better than his are assigned a subject.

    2) Exactly how does the new system address this problem. One crappy AIEE type exam and one Advanced exam. They do not even propose to give separate marks for PCM. Just one final score in advanced exam!!!

    You have veered off topic here. We are discussing how the new system will be better? And so far, you have not given me a single logical argument in favor of the new system.

    • Dhairya, a written CS JEE exam can be easily given on topics such as algorithms, logic, boolean algebra and data structures. And buying a computer in India these days is cheaper than paying for a coaching class.

      Just as an aside, both MIT and Caltech require high school GPAs, regular SAT scores and subject SAT scores for admissions:

      Remember that grades are only necessary for admission, they are not sufficient, they only make you eligible, they dont guarantee admission.

      Coming to the benefits of the new system, here’s my take:
      1) Eventual improvement of high school atmosphere. The current regime de-prioritizes high school attendance, the new regime will demand more from the high schools and incentivize their attendance.

      2) Better appraisal of candidates for selection to engineering colleges. The board exams can test communication skills in addition to technical skills, which is important for success as a student and a professional engineer.

      3) A single test regime for students, which they can retake in the same year to improve their scores. This will allow students to apply to all India colleges and have a better chance of finding a good match for themselves.

      4) Better students for colleges. Right now, the testing regime restricts colleges mostly to local students (except IIT/NITs that have a national profile). 3 and 4 were mostly accomplished by AIEEE as well, except it did not include the IITs.

      5) End of the JEE hallucination IITs live under. Too much of the IIT brand is built on the JEE instead of what it should now really be built on, excellent research and faculty, high quality undergraduate and graduate education and extensive impact in the national intellectual community. Once the IITs come out of their JEE stupor, they will have more incentive to become the broad-based, high quality research universities they should be.

      6) 5 will simultaneously release the burden that JEE places on all non-IIT Indian universities and their students. They will now have a more even playing field with the IITs and can compete with them on metrics they should like faculty research and instruction quality, campus atmosphere etc instead of being handicapped by the non-JEE tag.

      I realize that you may not be in agreement with some (or maybe all) of these plus points. But I hope you do agree that these all would be desirable, one way or the other for the long term health of higher ed in India.

      • Vikram, you do not understand the issues with the education system in India at all. You think just aping the American system will solve all the problems.

        1) You assume that the schooling system is rotten because college admissions do not take into account high school marks. Instead it is so because of several other reasons. And you naively suggest relying completely on a rotten system, claiming that in the long run it will magically improve. You fail to see the damage that it will do.

        2) For language skills, you can include an exam in the current system. My arguments against boards is that the scores are not reliable. Thousands of different graders correct the papers, and the marks are completely at the discretion of who is correcting the paper and what mood they are in. I will accept a computer graded exam but not the boards.

        3) Haha… not really. There may be one exam but local colleges will never be open to outsiders. Even the regional enginerering colleges NITs and IIITs have a large quota for their respective states.

        4) Likewise.

        5) IITs have neither funds not quality faculty. And research needs funds. American colleges are good at research because of the funding and not because of their admission process.

        6) So now you have a problem with the fact that students prefer IITs over other colleges? The evil gang of IITs, take away all the bright students and the rest of NITs and IIITs have to do with second best students. We should burn down the IITs for this unforgivable act.

  11. MHRD has carried out the proposed changes in JEE by aping USA Exam System.Intention is very good.
    My objection is, our school boards are not as vibrant and healthy as USA has.
    Normalising the marks of varying school boards is simply impossible without causing irreparable harm to the students. Some Boards are very smaller in size.Some boards has very high pass percentage & some has less ,Whose pass percentage is less , it is not clear whether difficulty level of exam is high or abilities of student are different.Our schooling system has failed to grow with time .
    Start with grassroots ,first carry out reforms in school system then MHRD should go for proposed changes in JEE Exam.

  12. Hey Dhairya, its ok if we both disagree on this matter. I am just one person expressing my opinions, and I stand by them.

    I would just like to clarify one fact about research funding in India. I recently attended a Young Researcher’s Meet ( which had the goal of recruiting faculty for institutes in India. Faculty from different Indian institutions presented there, and each and every one mentioned that funding is not an issue for research in India right now, but personnel are. Their account is backed up by other reports and anecdotal evidence:

    If you wish, I can send you the notes I took at the YRM 2012, they can be helpful in understanding the academic scene in India today.

  13. Hey Anurag, I agree about the issues of autonomy and the nature of the board exams. But, it does seem that there is a genuine push to make the board exams move away from their rote based unimaginative nature. One example is the Higher Order Thinking Skills component in the CBSE board exams, and the introduction of the CCE in that board (which has been followed by some other boards as well).

    It is really worrying how much of the IIT ‘brand’ is built on the JEE rejection rate. I feel it is really critical that the IITs become full fledged universities with a brand based on education quality and research output. If the IITs can start giving the nation highly qualified PhDs who can then go become staff at other universities and spread a culture of academic excellence, I see a good future for the Indian higher education system. Better faculty is what Indian academia (and society in general) desperately needs.

    • Hi,
      Its very rare for folks that get into IIT undergrad programs to do a PhD in any of the IITs itself. I don’t see any particular reason for that to change by changing how undergrads get in, if admissions to foreign universities are available to them.

      I haven’t looked at the CBSE changes, but what you described seems to be another candidate for the same sort of halo attached to the JEE – “Higher Order Thinking Skills”.

      The board exams can be and definitely need to be made more understanding oriented, and not just in the sciences. The biggest problem with the education system is that it feels so forced upon the student. That there is pleasure in just learning and understanding things for their own sake to the best of one’s ability regardless of its utility is not a value most schools try to inculcate. If they did, half the obsession with IITs would wither away, or at least things would be looked upon in a slightly different light. Ironically, its preparing for the JEE that got me into that mode of thought as far as academics are concerned. I had always beein an ‘average’ student throughout school , standing somewhere around 20-25 in a class of 36 students in the XIIth standard.

      Coming back to the exams, maybe a better solution than the current proposal – as far as technical education is concerned – would be to accord status similar to the ‘O’ levels to the board PCM and other technical subjects, and have the IITs conduct an ‘A’ level exam as well – basically rename the JEE and include some other subjects as well. Folks should be allowed to appear for both. Although given that this is the age of brands, they just might not agree to rename them.

      The admission process to IITs can be made a bit more granular and each IIT and each department with in each IIT can decide individually which student to ‘accept’ in their program right away, or after one year of initial coursework.

      There are ways to make things better for everyone, but unfortunately, IITs have reveled in their status quo as well. For example, no other institute in the world with such a high level of incoming talent and reputation pigeonholes students into a major at the very beginning. Perhaps something to do with our culture and the somewhat functional/utilitarian nature of engineering where the thrill of a simple discovery takes a back seat to making an existing system work more efficiently.
      You expect too much from them 🙂


      • Hey Anurag, there are some differences between the HOTS and JEE, the CBSE exam is given by everyone, while the JEE is exclusive. The HOTS is a reform of the CBSE exams itself, and I dont think questions are specifically identified as HOTS questions.

        About PhDs, I was referring more to the graduate students at the IITs (Dr. Barua has mentioned below how their numbers are increasing at a good rate). What I meant was that right now the IITs derive their brand value from the JEE, with JEE gone, the focus should be more directly on their research and teaching.

        I do agree about the point about letting people do what they feel enthusiastic about. I do think our society and economy is ready for such flexibility. If we think about it, there are ample opportunities in India in the computer/IT, banking, media, marketing and traditional engineering areas. One factor preventing flexibility is the small, specialized nature of our colleges and institutes.

    • Vikram,
      The IIT brand is changing. IIT Bombay, Madras, Delhi, and Kharagpur are now graduating 150+ PhDs every year (I dont have IITK or IITR data). Even IITG is moving forward: we have 900 PhDs students with 300 faculty (72 graduates this year). There is a lot more to be done, but the emphasis from UG to PhD changed about 8 years ago and is continuing. Given this, the fierce opposition to some reforms in UG admissions is needs analysis!

      • Welcome Dr. Barua. I agree with you and those are great signs. I hope this process continues. Is IIT Guwahati, also considering increasing the breadth of degrees it offers ? For example, IIT Madras now has a full fledged humanities and development studies department. Btw, it would have been great to have heard you at YRM 2012.

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