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NEET and negative-marking idea

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There seems to be no unanimity of views on the recommendation to scrap negative marking in the proposed National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for MBBS admissions across the country. An attempt to feel the pulse of the medical fraternity on the issue.

Life and death: When it comes to medical education, the prime concern is quality. Any changes in the entrance examination will naturally be viewed critically.
Life and death: When it comes to medical education, the prime concern is quality. Any changes in the entrance examination will naturally be viewed critically.

The move of the Medical Council of India to scrap negative marking in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) proposed for MBBS admissions across the country from next year has evoked mixed reactions from the medical fraternity.

When some welcome the proposal, many frown upon it saying that it will help only average students and not aid to improve quality in the selection process. Negative marks have been there for almost all medical entrance examinations in the country, including the test conducted by the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations, Kerala. Thousands of students have been taking the entrance tests every year, and negative marks for wrong answers have been posing a big challenge for them.

“That challenge will not be there any longer. The students will start to depend overly on luck,” says M.N. Rema, former principal of the Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram. Luck should not be a major deciding factor in the selection of students, she adds.

But the current principal of the Thiruvananathapuram college, Ramdas Pisharody, welcomes the proposal to scrap negative marks. No developed country, he says, employs the method of negative marks for its medical selection. The method itself is negative, he believes.

Dr. Pisharody says negative marks can affect even good students negatively by creating unnecessary confusion and tension in them. Students under duress can easily be overwhelmed by the ambiguity of certain questions and eventually be gripped by the fear of going wrong when attempting multiple choices.

“Biological sciences are particularly vulnerable for ambiguities,” Dr. Pisharody says. “If the MCI is going to implement the proposal (to do away with negative marks), then it will help the students ease their tension greatly,” he says.

But rather than easing the tension, the new move will encourage the students to attempt the questions blindly, says V. Nusrath, a house surgeon at M.E.S. Academy of Medical Sciences, Perinthalmanna. Dr. Nusrath believes that scrapping of negative marks will partly take away the seriousness with which the students approach the entrance examinations.

“It will be good for average students. They can take the examinations without tension. But I am afraid more students will be tempted to make guesses, however wild they are,” she says.

C. Sadasivan Pillai, principal of the Perinthalmanna college, is of the same view. He says that more and more students will be tempted to make wild guesses without seriously applying their mind if negative marks are scrapped. But guessing will not work in a professional entrance examination such as the pre-medical test, avers Dr. Pisharody. The probability of getting through “guess” in the medical entrance examination, he says, is only 0.01 per cent. “You can get a couple of answers right through guesswork. But you can never crack an exam through it,” he says.

However, Dr. Rema says negative marks should not be entirely scrapped. It should be maintained at a minimum level so as not to leave it entirely to guesswork. “But we should be cautious that negative marks at times are harmful,” she says.

The proposal to do away with negative marks is said to have sprung out of concern over low marks in the entrance tests, leading to medical seats going vacant. But such a situation, say medical education watchers in the State, will not arise in Kerala.

The proposal to introduce a percentile system is widely welcomed. It is a statistically proven method of equalisation and will help students get the position they deserve. Introduction of percentile, Dr. Rema says, will benefit the students in spite of the toughness of the question papers. When 60 per cent of the questions are set with the average students in mind, 20 per cent of the questions are of high standard and the remaining 20 per cent of the tough category.

The proposal to lower the cut-off marks for the MBBS admission is, however, never welcomed in the State. It is feared to lead to an ebbing of quality.

“It should not be lowered at any cost. It should not be brought below 50 per cent. Then only we can ensure some quality in the students. Quality is very, very important for the medical institutions of Kerala,” Dr. Rema says.

However, the statement of K.K. Talwar, chairman, Board of Governors, Medical Council of India, says the MCI is planning to relax the cut-off percentile only in States where all MBBS seats are not filled. Dr. Rema says Kerala can maintain quality in its medical education partly owing to the 50 per cent cut-off. “We don't have to bother about other States. We should have our own standard which should help us hold our heads high,” she says.

She says any dilution in the cut-off percentage will make teaching difficult. “When poor quality students come, the teachers are forced to instruct them in their mother tongue because of their inability to communicate in the English language,” Dr. Rema says. Although the committee has made recommendations for such changes, it is now up to the Medical Council of India to finalise the decisions.

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