A recent report by the University Grants Commission (UGC) showed that India has 1,113 universities and 43,796 higher education institutions (HEIs). Of these, it is mandatory for the central universities to use the Common University Entrance Test (CUET-UG) for admissions to undergraduate programmes. Many other institutions are also using the CUET-UG for this purpose and it is estimated that around 15 lakh candidates will take the exam. While the efforts of the National Testing Agency (NTA) in improving the system for 2023 after taking feedback from students, teachers and parents is laudable, a few refinements may still be considered.
Section II of the question paper consists of 45/50 domain-specific objective questions in each of the 27 subjects starting with Accountancy and ending in Teaching Aptitude, with 45 minutes for each subject. The time taken to answer MCQs varies according to the subject. Maths, Accountancy and other subjects that involve problem-solving will require more time than those where one can answer questions even as the paper is read. Thus, the decision to give 15 to 20 minutes more to subjects involving calculations is justified. I would like to offer the example of the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Exam (TNPCEE). When it was in vogue, there were only 90 questions in the Maths paper compared to 120 questions in the others. Perhaps this could be deemed a better way.
The move to increase the maximum number of subjects that can be taken from all three sections to 10 is welcome, as is the use of percentile ranking for merger and normalisation.
The decision to award five marks to a correct answer and minus one to a wrong answer needs to be considered. Logically, if each question carries k answer choices, then the negative mark for a wrong answer should be —n/(k—1), where n is the mark awarded for a correct answer. Suppose a 100-mark question paper has 100 questions, each carrying four answer choices (n=1, k=4). Say, a candidate chooses to mark C as the answer for all the questions. Probability-wise, C will be the correct choice for 25 questions. Therefore, he/she will get 25 marks. To nullify this, the remaining 75 wrong answers must be awarded -1/3 mark each. In CUET-UG, n=5 and k= 4; hence —1.66 is the negative mark to be awarded to a wrong answer, as against the currently proposed minus one. If only one mark is deducted for a wrong answer, the candidate will score 25x5 — 75x1 = 50 (assuming 100 to be the number of questions), whereas a better but sincere student may get a lower mark, which may be even be negative.
Further, for questions that do not have a correct answer or have more than one correct answer, full marks will be awarded to only those who have “attempted” such questions. What if a candidate realises that the question is wrong and skips it, rather than mark a random answer from the options? He/she cannot be penalised for being smart. What can be done is to either drop the question from consideration while correcting or give all candidates the full marks for the question, instead of only those who attempt the question. Further, if there is a printing error or a faulty translation, only the English version will be considered as valid. But how will a candidate know this and that he/she has to look at the English version? Such questions can also be considered as wrong and the candidates can be given the full marks.
The writer is Former Professor and Director, Entrance Exams and Admission, Anna University, Chennai.