Admission to the IITs: It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

If you haven’t already read about this, perhaps you should. The ministry for HRD has decided that the current system for admission into the IITs isn’t up to the mark. Before I get to what the proposed alternative is, I have to say that I agree fully with the assessment that the current admission system is crap.

And here’s why: Because the ministry for HRD (yes, that fine group of people) took a system that was perfectly fine – I wrote a screening test, and a conventional exam before I was let into IITM – and took a chainsaw to it. The result was a one-shot entrance exam that, if it was bad to start off with, must have only become worse.

So, what does the ministry want to do instead? The proposal is that admissions be based on Class 12 exams and an aptitude test. But class 12 marks were already being used as a cut-off, you say? This must mean that the actual marks one got in class 12 will matter for admission, now. Which class 12, then? There are as many boards of education in the country as there are states, and the CBSE and the ICSE. And not all of these boards of education teach the same things, ask the same questions, or assess students in a similar way.

Karnataka’s board, for example requires, mostly, that students be able to memorise textbooks, whether or not they understand what they are doing. I don’t know if this is true of other state boards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also don’t know how good the CBSE or ICSE syllabi are. My point is that this rote learning isn’t what should qualify somebody for admission into an IIT.

Then there’s the aptitude test. If the IITs are required to test knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics, they ask their teachers to frame question papers that do a fair job of doing that. How are teachers at an IIT to decide what somebody’s ‘aptitude’ is? Oh, but I can do you one better: What on Earth is ‘aptitude’?

Is it something you are ‘born with’? If so, how does the MHRD plan to test for it? If it isn’t something you are born with, what exactly are you looking for in potential applicants? Cleverness or wit? Factual knowledge? Factual knowledge coupled with the wit required to use said facts to solve some problem? In which case, can somebody for crying out loud explain to me what exactly was wrong with the screening test/conventional test paradigm*?



Yes, I know, the number of test-takers became so large that they could no longer find enough people to evaluate the answer scripts. But surely that isn’t reason enough to scrap a system that was doing a fair job of deciding admission into institutions that are being (heavily) subsidized by taxpayer money.


4 thoughts on “Admission to the IITs: It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?”

  1. How about this: The HRD defines 7 metrics of measurement of “aptitude” – say for example: Normalised 10th scores, Normalised 12th Scores, NTSE scholarship Holder, Performance in a standardised Quant exam (SAT or Indian equivalent thereof), Result of JEE Objective Exam, Voluntary/Extracurric (NCC at school level), MENSA affiliation or similar measure of IQ. Students get to 5 of the 7 criteria (which they beleive best reflects theor strengths). Selections (upto 2x the number of seats) are made basis this. Final list is made after a one-on-one interview with a faculty.

  2. Holy crap! I didn’t get any of those. I mean, I got 10th and 12th marks all right. But they weren’t stellar or anything. No NTSE . No SAT. No NCC. No Mensa.

    How exactly does this list level the playing field, again? How many students from rural India know about NTSE, to say nothing of SAT or Mensa? This is just hopeless.

  3. I’m not sure that there’s anything wrong with the screening test/conventional test paradigm. The reason there’s so much discussion about this recently is because it is easy to “game”, as proven repeatedly at Kota, Hyderabad etc. These are desperate attempts to work around this system. I’m afraid that greater delegation of judgment (now to 12th standard exam evaluators) is in the wrong direction.

    Perhaps the answer lies in investing more money in the entrance process. Make it multi-layer so that crude tests at lower levels require less resources, but refined tests at higher levels do a better job at choosing students. Interviews would be a nice start for one. Cracking down severely on institutes that are in cahoots with coaching classes to give fake attendance/marks would be a welcome albeit difficult step.

  4. I think the last point Ananth makes is very interesting. A screening/conventional test followed by an interview is perhaps a nice way of doing this.

    In any case, I hope what the MHRD is suggesting means that there’ll be no ‘JEE rank’ assigned to students, and that students will only choose their branch after first year or something. That alone would justify going through with this.

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