For over one lakh students across the State who joined engineering courses six months ago, this week which sees them attempt six university papers, is perhaps an occasion to get a feel of how the next couple of years would be.

However, many of them were in for a bit of a shock as the Mathematics I exam that was conducted on Monday came across as quite a difficult paper. “We didn't understand most of the questions. They were very complicated,” says a student of S.S.N. College of Engineering. The 100-mark paper had questions on integration, matrices, differential equations, partial derivates and 3D analytical geometry. “There are five compulsory units in the paper so that we don't omit any section. But the relatively easier ones were the 2 marks questions while the 8 mark ones were very difficult,” says a student of Madras Institute of Technology. Besides mathematics, the students have Chemistry, engineering graphics, Physics, English and computing subjects. The exams began last week.

While the students are hoping the internal examinations which comprise 20 per cent of their evaluation would save them, some say stricter internal modal tests would have at least prepared them for the exam. “We had three internal tests of which only two were compulsory. So most of us were thorough only in two units,” says Bharani Rajan, a student. The lack of trained mathematics faculty is the reason why students in different departments of the same college have mixed opinions about the test.

“Departments including electronics, mechanical and computers get the best mathematics faculty, while the ones in biomedical, chemical or civil where mathematics is not given importance are given inexperienced ones. Most of these people teach us from their own notes and get us to solve only regularly asked questions,” says Rama Viswanath, a chemical engineering student.

Also, the excessive dependence on databases and books issued by Indian authors that are considered simple, are reasons, say professors, why students wanted to see only ‘expected questions' on paper. Many students felt that since the paper was inclined towards application, the CBSE students had a considerable edge. However, not all CBSE students were happy, either. “I focussed more on JEE while in school that had integration questions for just 5 marks, so I omitted the topic. This mathematics paper was all about getting your basics right,” said R. Ashwin of MIT. “We have to gear up to compete with students from tougher systems like the IITs. It is just an initial shock but it will only help students to adjust better,” said C. Thangaraj, vice-chancellor, Anna University of Technology, Chennai. Ahead of the merger of Anna Universities of Technology, the government had asked Anna University, Chennai, to conduct and evaluate the exams for first year students this year. The exams are being conducted now for students in nearly-500 engineering colleges across the State.

But there was no conscious attempt to make the question paper difficult, said Anna University Vice-Chancellor Mannar Jawahar. Necessary moderation will be employed in case the questions were found difficult by the majority, or out of syllabus, he said. “The first year students are facing a process of transition in terms of teaching and learning methods that are different from school. Such testing methods will encourage teachers and students to not go for rote learning and practise problem solving,” he added.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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