Tuesday, September 13, 2005

IIT JEE reforms

So, it looks like the admission process for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) has been revised yet again. And I must say I am very unimpressed with the consequences. The reforms have the ostensible goal of reducing stress levels for students. I completely fail to see how this goal is being satisfied by the proposed reforms. But I want to ask a more fundamental question: Is the reduction of student stress levels an achievable goal at all, and should we be targeting achieving it?

Frst, some background. At its heart, the IIT Joint Entrance Examination is a means to select 4000-odd top engineering aspirants in the country. About 200,000 candidates appear for the exam annually, resulting in a highly competitive selection process with a 2% acceptance rate. (Note that the candidate pool is actually even higher, with many students self-selecting by not bothering to appear for the exam at all.) Furthermore, the exam is also required to rank these 4000-odd students, with higher-ranked students getting first tilt at selecting their major and the location where they want to study. (There are now 7 IITs across the country.) Both these are fairly crucial variables for a student setting out on his/her undergraduate career, so that people aspire not only to qualify but to do so with as high a rank as possible.

Now, creating a ranked list of 4000 students from a ridiculously large candidate pool is a complex task requiring a highly objective test methodology; mere subjective evaluation of resumes simply will not cut it, providing scope for serious abuse of process and corruption and also leading to great resentment among the rejected. Just using high-school performance results does not cut it either thanks to (a) the bugbear of grade inflation due to which zillions of people are separated by statistically insignificant margins on the tests; and (b) the diversity in school boards, each with its own grading system and policies that make it hard to compare across them.

The only solution is to conduct a common, independent test that truly separates the top 4000 candidates from the rest, while also doing a reasonable job of ranking those 4000 candidates. Now, almost by definition, this means that the test ought to be made hard enough that the majority of candidates score close to zero on it, because any exam has a limited resolving power and this one needs to be calibrated to resolve well among the top 2% of the examinees. The age-old IIT JEE system has gotten this right so far!

Of course, a consequence of having such a difficult exam is that students force themselves to train harder in order to have a better shot at doing well. While this may admittedly lead to higher "stress levels", it is a natural consequence of market forces at work. When you have a limited supply of seats, and a large demand for it, the people who work hardest at getting the seats are the ones who will get them.

Now we have new-fangled ideas doing the rounds about "reducing stress levels" by instituting reforms to the exam process. But how exactly does it help if it does not change the fundamental balance of supply and demand? Sure, we could institute a lottery system to replace the exam thus reducing the "stress levels" of students, but why is that the right thing to do? Wouldn't we rather have people working harder to succeed in a fairer process? All of the recent attempts to make the IIT-JEE "easier" suffers from this kind of myopic thinking.

If we really wanted to reduce stress levels, a good place to start might be to reduce the need to rank people based on the test and focus instead only on selection. Students could be allowed to join without having to choose a major ahead of time, and be provided reasonable freedom to study the major of their choice. This would certainly help reduce the pressure on students by enabling them to put in just enough effort to cross the threshold rather than to go all out to rank highest. (And given the law of diminishing returns, it should be less work to make the top 4000 than to make the top 100.)

It is another matter entirely that the proposed reforms do little to even advance the goal of reducing stress levels. There are now rules in place restricting the number of times a person may appear for the JEE, when he/she may take the exam and so on which would appear to violate the cardinal rule for rulemaking: "Don't make up a rule unless you have to."

11 Comments:

Blogger madatadam said...

Agree that the JEE needs to be tough to resolve the top 2% fairly. Watered-down JEEs the last few years have caused lots of complaints and even the screening tests only screen the real test from aspiring candidates. Also makes sense to have a common freshman year in the IITs after which people will decide their major based on their CGPA etc. Sometimes I wonder about the subjects chosen for JEE itself. Not that I can suggest anything better but I have seen some people being exceptional in Math or Chem say and struggling with Mech Engg in IIT. Would make more sense to bring some Engg like Industrial Design or something(will be subjective to an extent no doubt) to make sure the guys getting in are actually suited for engg.

9/14/2005 6:28 AM  
Blogger nice try said...

some of the reforms are actually sensible

1. requiring that people get > 60% on the boards -- this is a fairly ridiculously easy requirement which is nothing but a easy fast to compute filter

2. cutting down the number of attempts makes perfect sense -- its nonsensical to "waste" 2-3 years of your life on one stupid exam

3. something has to be done to nullify what the coaching classes are doing

personally i feel that the effort spent in preparation for the exam is a enormous waste of time, energy, brain power etc -- and if anything it only thing it achieves is creating a huge disinterest/disenchantment in minds interested in math/phy/chem -- there is very little learning!

but i do agree with your market-demand/statistical significance claims that it requires fairly rigorous testing criteria to separate the 4k from the 400k --

dont know what that is -- only thing Im certain is that JEE wasnt the answer

9/17/2005 1:21 PM  
Blogger Prasanna said...

Nice try,
I would have to disagree on the utility of any of the reforms. Re: (1) , why have a "ridiculously easy" requirement which most people taking the JEE already fulfill. Presumably, the only people aided by the requirement are those too stupid to realize they don't have a shot at IIT and throw away their application fee in the process. How many such people are there, and why would IIT not just take their money and run with it?

Re: (2), it is not the IIT's job to tell people how many times to write the JEE. If someone is so inclined to write it ten times, why stop them? In any case, how many people have ever written the exam more than twice?

Re: (3), you cannot nullify the effect of coaching classes without making the exam more of a lottery. I don't see what specific reform had an effect of reducing the influence of these classes.

The only explanation I've come up with is that the reforms are a political eyewash to retain the status quo and satisfy the demand for changes emanating from the HRD ministry.

9/17/2005 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the goals of the JEE? I would argue that some of the more important goals are:
1. Bring in the best talent into the IITs
2. Provide a fair process for admission for all students

I don't believe that it is should be a goal to minimize student stress in preparing for the JEE but a consistent and repeatable process should help this.

The GRE and GMAT guarantee pretty consistent results. If I know how I perform on a practice test, I am more likely to self select myself in or out of the contention pool. It might be hard to design such a test but arguably, the amount of work done in preparing such a test or process will pay off in having a smaller application pool, hence higher acceptance rates.

There are other factors that make this problem hard to solve: A high cost exam will select out many people, which is detremental. There are lanugage and cultural differences that make subjective testing harder.

10/08/2005 2:23 PM  
Anonymous ajay kumar singh said...

This IIT JEE reform create more problem about eligible criteria like

1.Candidate appearing in (10+2) or equivalent qualifying examination in 2006 must secure at least 60 % marks in the aggregate in their respective board examination.

QUE: See the problem at the ground level, definitely we cannot ignore it. Because when we compare to all board like CBSE, UP Board and BIHAR Board. We will find that Gaps in marks are very uneven (big difference- approx-10%) in all board. If we say that all board will treat equally, definitely we are closing our eyes on real facts.

QUE: we cannot blame to any coaching institute because anyone takes coaching classes because schools are unable to provide systematic education. If we say that coaching institute is hampering development of child, definitely it is true for school also. Target to coaching institute is a just solves the problem at upper level but real problem exist at the bottom (in the teaching methodology of school). It is better if we provide A PREVENTIVE solution not a remedial action.

with wishes ...ajay_uor@yahoo.com

10/25/2005 12:48 PM  
Anonymous ajay kumar singh said...

This IIT JEE reform create more problem about eligible criteria like:
2.A student can have only two attempts to write JEE with affect from 2006- in the year in which he or she passes the 12th standard examination and /or in the following year

QUE: Are rural background students ready for exam? Because rural students are already lack of information (awareness). Actually his awareness enhance after 10+2 exam. When they will ready to face the exam but they will find that they are out of this exam

2.Candidate who joins any of the IITs, IT-BHU and ISM, Dhanbad through JEE – 2006 will not be permitted to appear in JEE Future.

QUE: why? I am unable to understand what is the strategy behind this action?
Any research wants more choices and more alternatives and more freedom?
Already our education system or society does not give any chance for designing a path on which a student can unleash own unique capabilities that are basic needs of research.
Second thing, if a student have a passion for mechanical engineering but unfortunately he get metallurgy engineering. So question is here how we can reduce choices at this time when whole world is flat and every body is free to make any path. At this type of environment, how can we expect research from that student?

with wishes ..ajay_uor@yahoo.com
complete article location
IIT Exam Reform – Solution or Create More Questions?–Please care to all students
http://www.thomso.net/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=147

10/25/2005 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happened by chance on this blog on the JEE reforms. I am a B.Tech alumnus and crossed the portals of the JEE a long time ago.

Since I cannot influence the politically motivated watering down of the exam, here is what I am going to do. I am going to examine the exam for the next year when the bad changes are going to happen. If I find it to be significantly diluted, I will not regard anyone entering IIT beyond 2005 as a real IITian.

That means that they can forego any help they would normally expect from a senior alumnus. I will also influence my network to do the same, and call upon each and every alumnus to do the same.

We cannot influence the vested interests that are out to destroy the IIT system. We can however, react the way I propose above, and salvage whatever we can.

11/09/2005 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IIT JEE system was doing well in picking the genius candidates that's what this system meant to be and that's the vision of establishing IIT. In order to curb the coaching Institutes IIT is stepping into the reforms with wrong foot making exams easier. IIT JEE is meant to select Intelligent people not Hardworking people. These reforms will encourage more hardworking people to join the institute which will degrade the standard of IIT. I do agree IIT should look more into selection and allow the candidates to choose majors after first year based on GPA and their interest. The eligibility criteria are all bogus and not needed as most students have a good academic score. About restricting the candidates to two attempts I heard candidates who get top rank after few attempts are not performing well in B.Tech's. Moreover it restricts the opportunities for a fresh high school graduate. So there is some rationality in this approach. So IIT_JEE should not deviate from it's vision and march on with it's old system.

4/01/2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger Resowatch said...

Resonance -a premier coaching institute for IIT-JEE

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In the words of Mr.R.K.Verma(Chairman------Resonance,Kota,Rajasthan)--------"IIT" - a dream every Science-Maths student wants to accomplish.When you aspire to attain greater heights in your life you ought to have few characteristics like self confidence,right attitude for achieving the goal and determination dedication to excel in your desired ambition.Apart from having inherent talent and "never say die" attitude,one needs to get the proper guidance to reach the pinnacle of success.

We at Resonance believe that we need to develop strong moral values and ethics along with the subject knowledge among the students which will make them a responcible citizen of our country.Resonance has always taken an opportunity of having a pleasure of rewarding high performers and acknowledging their merits.Aspirants who have exhibited applaudable performance in their previous examinations are accredited through the scholorships being given by Resonance.

For more information:

Log on :- www.resonance.ac.in

12/19/2009 1:03 AM  
Blogger brajesh prasad said...

Was hit by this rule of limited attempt in JEE 2006 and 2007.

To this day I still feel cheated.
I started the preparation with conventional mindset of preparing Iit JEE after giving 12th exam.

But fate was something else.

7/03/2016 7:13 AM  
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1/18/2017 11:41 PM  

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