If the common national examination that has been agreed upon in principle for admission to engineering courses in 2013 lives up to its promise, it will eliminate two major problems: traumatic stress for students taking multiple examinations, and high costs. That would be no mean achievement, considering that the number of student appearances for different entrance examinations is of the order of 3.5 million annually. The most important feature of the new test is, arguably, its design, which uses comprehension, critical thinking and logical reasoning under the “main” section, and problem-solving ability in basic science in the “advanced” section. It emphasises aptitude assessment, which is welcome. Students can thus avoid the folly of enrolling in a technical course where they may fare badly, and choose instead a more appropriate discipline. The modalities of the scheme will become clear in the months ahead, but its potential to create a robust framework for engineering admissions is immediately apparent. There are a few hold-out States that want more time before endorsing it, but they must strike a blow for transparency and adopt it for their own admissions on merits. In any case, the States are free to give as much weighting as they deem fit to results of their Board examinations, while laying down admission requirements. What the new test will provide is just a standardised aptitude score.
An admissions scheme that gives statistically valid weighting to State Board examination results, and also uses an aptitude score can solve one of the long-persisting problems in technical education. In a “Common Entrance Test only” system, subject-based secondary school examinations get low priority among students, as they play no role in admissions other than providing a basic qualifier status. This phenomenon led to the scrapping of the CET in States such as Tamil Nadu. However, that has produced the opposite problem, of a thriving guidebook-based tuition industry exerting unhealthy pressure on the examination process. It produces high scorers, many of whom — ironically — struggle through college or fail. A testing procedure such as the one unveiled provides a good balance, and individual institutions can decide on the weighting they wish to give to the score components. That the IITs, NITs and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research among various Central educational institutions have agreed to go with the new procedure next year, giving 60 per cent weightage to the test and 40 per cent to State Board marks, speaks to the seriousness of the effort. The task of implementing a less expensive, academically sound and student-friendly eligibility test deserves the support of all States.