The new IIT joint entrance exam (IIT JEE) formula agreed to by the IIT Council on Wednesday has brought some clarity on how the aspirants will be selected, but has left many questions unanswered.
Although Kapil Sibal stayed away from the Council meeting to make it appear politically-neutral, he emerges successful in changing the existing system, against the fierce opposition by IITs like Delhi and Kanpur as well as by the nationwide coaching industry lobby.
Whatever the earlier and revised formulae were, the summary is simple and clear: Class 12 board exam marks will now be important for gaining entry into the IITs. In the earlier formula that met with outright rejection, there was an attempt to give away a lot to the board marks while in the new formula, it has been reduced.
This is how the new exam, pending finalisation and further clarifications by the Joint Admission Board (JAB) looks like: all aspirants who finish Class 12 will write a main exam; about 1.5 lakh of the top scorers of this exam will write another exam called the “advanced exam” after a gap of a few weeks. The top scorers of this advanced test will make it to the IIT, only if they belong to the top 20 percentile in their board exams.
Top 20 percentile? According to some estimates, a student who scored 78% in CBSE will fall into the top 20 percentile this year.
So here are the two twists in the tale. One: at present there is only a single exam; now there will be two — a preliminary exam that filters out lower quality students and a final exam (pretty much similar to the civil services exam). Two: the toppers of the final exam should also have scored well in the board exam.
This was more or less the principle that Sibal wanted to bring into the JEE when he originally proposed changes. He wanted to change the admission criteria so that it also took into account the board marks of the aspirants. The formula he tried was straight forward — 50:50. Now, it is not 50:50 or direct, but the board marks make a backdoor entry.
Is the new system better than the earlier one proposed by Sibal and his HRD?
In the earlier formula, the HRD sought to give the board marks equal weightage giving rise to fears of dilution of the hallowed invincibility of the JEE. Since, most of the brand value of the IITs rode on its students, which in fact was a representation of the tough entrance test, IIT managements, faculties and alumni were firm in their resistance.
There were also fears that allowing the state board marks to dilute the eligibility criteria was fraught with huge risks because there were a large number of state boards and there was absolutely no guarantee against possible malpractices in their exams.
In other words, genuinely meritorious students will be at a huge disadvantage if students who score well through possible malpractice are allowed entry. Or the JAB will be dealing with an eligibility criterion that they can no longer control.
There were also misgivings that the new system would affect the chances of rural students who don’t have access to good schools. This argument, put forward largely by coaching centres in Kota and Patna, said that rural students do not score well in board exams because of poor schools, but fare well in the entrance test because of their training.