For most of the men and women seated on pavements outside schools, waiting for their children to emerge from “a very crucial and important exam” was a test of patience.

Around 8.30 a.m. on Sunday, after they had wished their children luck and seen them disappear behind the gates to attempt the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) 2011, few expected them to come out within thirty minutes, saying the exam had been delayed.

Chaos and confusion prevailed as the examination time was changed. The exam finally began at noon, while the Architecture exam commenced at 4 p.m. While there were unconfirmed reports of a question paper leak, CBSE officials said there were administrative lapses that led to the delay in dispatch of question papers. “When we were asked to quietly assemble and not panic, I thought there was a bomb scare. Later, teachers said that the papers had not come,” said Ananth Jayraman, a student.

The State with around 25,000 candidates writing the exam has centres only in Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore. It was held across 16 centres in the city.

For students who were planning to take multiple entrance tests on Sunday, it meant even more confusion and making a last-minute choice. Those like Shyama Ravi, who travelled with family from abroad solely for the test and training, reshuffling of exam dates meant changes in travel plans. Following the delay, the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) entrance exam, scheduled for 2.30 p.m., was shifted to 4.30 p.m. “Students, who had to miss AIEEE as they had to take AFMC exam, can appear for the AIEEE exam on May 10,” said Vineet Joshi, chairman, CBSE.

A student, who had to appear for AIEEE and NLU (National Law University, New Delhi) exam, had to choose one over the other as their timings clashed. The centre he approached to get permission to appear for the exam on a latter date, said only students with AFMC admit card could be allowed. However, Mr Joshi later said that the May 10 exam will be held at the same centre and the same admit card will be valid even for students who missed the AIEEE on account of other government exams, including the NLU (National Law University) exam.

Parents who had accompanied their children from places such as Tiruchi, Tiruvavur, Salem, Ponneri, Tiruvallur, had a difficult time making travel arrangements. Most of them who had vacated their hotel rooms stood with their luggage at the centres. After the exam, the students expressed mixed reactions, but said the paper was of moderate difficulty.

R.Sethuraman, Vice-Chancellor, Sastra University said, “The AIEEE, right from the time it started in 2002, was administered by a nomadic Central Counselling Board, whose headquarters kept changing from one NIT to another. The confusion could have been avoided had the Centre appointed an independent National Testing Agency, and avoided this rotational responsibility.”

Gita Prabhu, Director, AIMS Education said, “Ever changing versions of paper, patterns and timings will only make it less participatory. Some level of simplicity and clarity has to be maintained.”