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Revamping entrance tests, admissions

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Equal weightage: Post-reforms, a high rank in the entrance examinations alone will not guarantee you admission to a professional course of your choice.
Equal weightage: Post-reforms, a high rank in the entrance examinations alone will not guarantee you admission to a professional course of your choice.

Marks in the higher secondary examinations will also count for admissions to professional courses soon. G. MAHADEVAN gives a snapshot of the reforms in store for the entrance examinations and the admission procedure.

Admissions to engineering and medical colleges in Kerala are set for a major overhaul with the committee constituted by the State government in October 2006 suggesting fundamental changes in the concept and conduct of the entrance examinations.

In 1983, a Kerala High Court verdict led to the institution of these examinations. The verdict was an outcome of rampant corruption in the granting of marks for the pre-degree examinations (now the higher secondary examinations or the Plus Two examinations), which were the basis for admission to engineering and medical colleges.

The examinations underwent some reforms based on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the government in September 1999. One change was the institution of separate examinations for the medical and engineering courses.

Right from the time the entrance examinations were introduced, a sizeable section of the academia had pointed out the inadequacy of the multiple-choice questions to gauge the engineering and medical aptitude of a candidate. With each passing year, it became apparent that the entrance examinations were more about pattern recognition and eliminating improbable answers and less about applying concepts to find solutions to problems.

Now, all this may change if a prime recommendation of the latest committee’s report is accepted and implemented — a 50 per cent weightage for the marks scored in the qualifying examinations.

No more a distraction

Till now, for many students, the Plus Two examinations were almost a distraction of sorts on their way to write the entrance examinations. So long as one got 50 per cent marks in class 12, it was okay. Now that may not be enough.

However, even now, only the marks or grades scored for the theory papers of physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology in the final examination will count. The committee felt that the evaluation system of the higher secondary examination was in its infancy and hence this recommendation.

“This would mean that in the first two or three years, the Internal Evaluation scores and Practical Examination marks should not be counted. Once the reforms in the Higher Secondary Education suggested below are implemented, and the internal evaluation system attains a higher degree of robustness and objectivity, Government may use the Internal Evaluation and Practical Examination marks also for admissions to the Professional Colleges of Kerala,” the committee’s report reads.

Committee members, who discussed the report with The Hindu-EducationPlus, said the reforms in the entrance examinations would be virtually meaningless if higher secondary examinations were not conducted with as much seriousness as the entrance tests.

The report recommends external supervision, assigning false numbers and double valuation under camp mode. All papers securing above 60 per cent marks should be re-valued. In the case of answer papers that have been valued twice, no request for further revaluation or recounting should be entertained. Marks received by the Entrance Commissioner on the last working day of the first week of June should only be considered.

Common scale

Another major issue that the committee has sought to address is the diversity of the Board examinations after which students appear for the entrance examinations. There are many who argue that the entrance examinations (indeed all entrance examinations comprising multiple-choice questions) are more friendly to those who pass out of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) stream. There are those who maintain that students who come out of this and the Indian School Certificate streams are better academic products and as such, they should be given some weightage in the entrance examinations.

What the committee has done is to prescribe a formula which takes the higher secondary examinations conducted by the State government as the “standard examination” for normalising the scores in other streams of study.

The marks or grades scored by a candidate for the relevant subjects — in the CBSE, ISC or other equivalent streams — will be standardised using the mean score and standard deviations. The standardised scores for each subject will then be “mapped” to the higher secondary platform using the mean and standard deviations in this examination. This score will then be placed on a scale of 0 to 100. The marks scored by a candidate in the entrance examination will also be placed on such a scale. Both these scores, calculated to an accuracy of four decimal points, will determine the position of a candidate in the entrance rank list. (The procedures for normalisation would be based on the methods suggested in Score Normalization as a Fair Grading Practice, by Winters, R. Scott., ERIC Digest, Report No. EDO-TM-02-10, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, D.C.)

In the entrance examinations, 20 per cent of the questions should be challenging, 30 per cent, application-oriented and the rest, direct. In the engineering entrance, the present weightage of 5:3:2 for maths, physics and chemistry should continue, while for the medical entrance, equal weightage should be given for these three subjects.

Further, the physics and chemistry papers should be common for both examinations, the committee has recommended.

Question bank

Yet another major recommendation is for the institution of a question bank containing thousands of questions in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Questions should have graded difficulty levels and should be selected for inclusion in the question paper by a software. There shall be a minimum 3,000 questions for each subject (25 times the number required for a question paper). When the question bank is sufficiently large, it should be made available online and be made accessible to the students.

One recommendation that may prove contentious has to do with the number of chances that a general category candidate can have to appear for the entrance tests. The committee feels that a general candidate need not have more than two chances, while a candidate in the Scheduled Caste category can be given four. There will be no limit for the Scheduled Tribes category. To ensure social equity in the entrance examinations, the committee has suggested the institution of a scholarship fund to support those coming from socially and financially disadvantaged sections of society.

The committee has pointed out that this should not be a problem given that the office of the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations earns close to Rs. 7 crore a year from the conduct of the entrance examinations.


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