Whither entrance exams?

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Heading for a change: One of the key recommendations is that equal weightage should be given for the marks scored in the Plus Two and the entrance examination
Heading for a change: One of the key recommendations is that equal weightage should be given for the marks scored in the Plus Two and the entrance examination

Since the engineering-medical-agricultural entrance examination is a significant process in identifying the best talents to be admitted to our professional colleges, we should necessarily strive to maintain quality in its style and approach.

The main recommendations of the Entrance Examinations Reform Committee can be summarised as follows.

Equal weightage should be given for the marks scored in the 12th standard examination and the entrance examination. To begin with, the marks for the practical examinations need not be counted.

The Higher Secondary Examination system in the State may be reformed suitably, ensuring transparency.

The marks scored by the candidates from different streams, such as the higher secondary, CBSE, and ISC, may be normalised before adding to the entrance marks. The Scott Winters method may be used for the normalisation. The process of normalisation may be fine-tuned in future, taking into account factors such as region, gender, repeated appearance, and socio-economic background.

The objective questions in the entrance test should be graded: 20 per cent-challenging, 30 per cent-application oriented, and 50 per cent-direct. The physics-chemistry paper may be made common to the engineering and medical streams. The present weightage of 5:3:2 for maths, physics, and chemistry may be retained for the engineering stream. But for the medical stream, equal weightage may be given for biology, physics, and chemistry.

Malayalam translation of questions may be given on alternate pages of the question papers.

The number of chances for appearing in the entrance test may be limited to two for candidates belonging to the general category, four chances for SC and unlimited chances for ST. A large question bank should be developed, so that appropriate software can choose questions at random. The Government should institute a scholarship fund.

A mixed menu

The recommendations constitute a mixed fare. Many of them would render our system healthier. But a few of them are bound to create enormous confusion and precipitate difficulties in implementation. As we know, it is quite easy to offer recommendations but when we come to the nuts and bolts of implementation and actual execution, avoidable problems would emerge. Prudence dictates that changes have to be for the better, and not just for the sake of changes.

The suggestions are in general welcome, with two significant exceptions.

Equal weightage for 12th standard marks and entrance marks: The logic behind the suggestion has been explained by the committee. Multiple-choice questions alone cannot comprehensively assess the candidates. So we should take into account the marks in the qualifying examination as well. A process of normalisation of marks in the different streams has been suggested.

We should not forget that not only the statistics of marks from the different boards at the national level during the current year, but those of at least four previous years have to be obtained for the normalisation process. The Government of Kerala has no power over the different examining boards in the country. We can do precious little if a board does not respond to our request for statistical data.

If we do not get the data even from one board, the entire ranking would be held up. The marks furnished by a board in any Indian State or a foreign country will have to be accepted. The market value of an MBBS seat is well known.

If someone somewhere manipulates the marks sent to us, the Commissioner of Entrance Examination will not be in a position to trace it. Any delay in the announcement of the higher secondary results in any part of India would stall our selection process.

If we feel the inadequacy over the present type of multiple-choice questions, we can modify the question style in the entrance examination. Some of the questions may be longer, demanding further skills in answering. For example, in the IIT JEE in 2009, the chemistry paper carried only 57 questions. The questions were of different styles and carried different marks. The committee recommends that in future we should consider the marks scored in the practical tests in the 12th examination also. Imagine the possible race in some of the schools, trying to capture medical seats for their wards. We are not questioning the integrity of any examiner; but ground realities cannot be ignored.

Malayalam translation

We should not forget that scientific and technical vocabulary in Malayalam has not attained sufficient levels of accuracy, precision, and clarity to avoid ambiguity or misunderstanding, despite the yeoman efforts of the State Institute of Languages.

In a test in which even the marks of a single question would decide selection or rejection of a candidate, there should be no room for dispute on the substance of a question. Once translation is accepted in principle, there will be demand for Tamil and Kannada translations as well. The presentation of the entrance question papers to many persons can end their secrecy. Also, when students who are backward in studies come to know that questions will appear in Malayalam, at least some of them are likely to learn the subjects only in Malayalam. That would damage the quality of their professional studies in future, since English is the sole medium at that level.

Introduction of question banks and scholarship fund are commendable suggestions. There may be administrative difficulty in conducting a common physics-chemistry paper, since the candidates in both the streams have to be tested simultaneously. More examination centres will have to be identified. This can be done easily, if private schools/ colleges which are not being used now for the purpose are also used. There is an objection that the Commissioner may have difficulty in getting the question papers from the government treasuries too early in the morning of the test day, if the centres are in far off places. This can be solved by holding the examination in the afternoon.

The expert committee does not seem to have considered the need for enhancing the validity of the test. Offer suggestions

Now that the government have invited suggestions on the recommendations of the expert committee, all those interested can read the text of the recommendations and submit their views online in the website Views can also be sent by post to the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations, Housing Board Buildings, Thiruvananthapuram – 695 001, before February 15.


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