Will common entrance spell exam blues' exit?
@ Sep 11, 2009
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Neha Tara Mehta

New Delhi, September 19, 2009

Call it the agony of impending adulthood. Raghav Anand, a Class XII science student at Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan, finds no time to socialise or unwind on the playfield. He has given up his mobile phone connection and gone off Facebook and Orkut.

For the last two years, Anand's life has been an unending series of trips to the coaching centre to prepare for a procession of engineering entrance exams - IIT- JEE and AIEEE as well as the BITS Pilani and Delhi Technical University tests. It doesn't make matters any easier that the exams will descend upon him like an avalanche right after he has finished taking his Board exams.

For thousands of students like Anand, trapped in the vortex of multiple entrance exams, the recent announcement at the India Today State of the States Conclave by Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal of a common entrance test for science students within the next three years will come as a huge relief.

But it denies a number of students, especially those taking the multiple law entrance exams, the straw of hope of a unified assessment process.

Moreover, it doesn't address the root cause of the multiplicity of entrance examinations.

With an average application form for an entrance exam costing Rs 1,000, give or take a few hundred, and with the number of aspirants hovering around 2.5- 3 lakh for every major exam, there's a lot of money to be made in the testing process.

This year, more than 3,80,000 students took the IIT- JEE, and only a little over 10,000 made it to the final list. Over 2,70,000 students took the Common Admission Test (CAT) for the 1,500 seats up for grabs at the IIMs.

Even for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which is not as popular as the IIT- JEE, the number of aspirants in 2009 - 15,000 - was substantially higher than the 11,000 who took the test in 2008, its first year.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

With the painfully high rejection rate, students are left with no choice but to take a slew of entrance tests, each of them following a different pattern and requiring a different set of skills.

Hence, the growing demand for a unified testing system, on the lines of the SAT/ GRE/ GMAT format, to combat the existing confusion.

Today, as many as 30 major engineering entrance tests are being conducted around the country (and a student, on an average, takes five or six of them); medical colleges have 33 of them going, including the all- India pre- medical test of the CBSE; and management institutes have 38 of them, including CAT. "With a unified exam system, students won't need to work on different parameters for different entrance tests," says child and adolescent psychiatrist Amit Sen, who has seen several cases of complete burnout in students after their Class XII exams.

"Multiple entrance exams devalue the more broad- based Class XII curriculum. It is as if bright, ambitious children who have defined their career path need not take Board exams seriously," says Shalini Advani, director of education, Learn Today.

As students spend day and night flitting between coaching centres, it's a case of a rude awakening.

Says education consultant Abha Adams, "Students miss out on leadership opportunities and extra- curricular activities." With each entrance test using a different yardstick for assessment, students are left trying to shift goal posts all the time and negotiate their time. "Some need medication because of depression and anxiety," says Sen.

Matters don't get better for final year college students either, with the ghost of multiple competitive exams looming over college exams. Kanika Aggarwal Khandelwal, head of the department of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College, says: "A lot of times, students take competitive exams because of peer pressure. They find it harder to cope with stress."

HIGH COST, HIGHER STRESS

The complicated process means students are always on tenterhooks.

"Even if you have done well in one exam, you are continually stressed. And if you haven't done well, there is additional stress for the next test," says Arindam Lahiri, director (academics), Career Launcher.

Different coaching institutes offer different sets of skills, so "students may end up going to two to three different centres," says Adams. Parents are left with no choice but to pay through their nose. An engineering aspirant typically spends at least Rs 90,000 for a two- year coaching programme.

MBA aspirants spend about Rs 24,000 for a programme that could stretch from six to 18 months. "It's nothing but a money- making exercise," says Usha Ram, principal of Laxman Public School, and the former chairperson of the National Progressive Schools Conference.

There's also the burden of fees.

An engineering aspirant may spend about Rs 7,000- Rs 10,000 on just filing up forms; MBA candidates may spend Rs 7,000. "The CAT has been a huge source of revenue. That's how B- schools see entrance tests," says Ulhas Vairagkar, director of TIME, a popular MBA coaching institute.

The unified system already seems to work in the case of law courses, although CLAT scores are accepted only in seven top law schools in India. But even the little progress has helped make students more focused, reduced their stress levels and monetary outflow, says Lahiri.

"Before CLAT, law aspirants had to take six to seven entrance test on an average. The CLAT has brought this number down to three to four," Lahiri adds.

BETTER WAY FORWARD

Not everybody, however, is convinced of the efficacy of a unified system in bringing down stress levels. Says Arun Kapur, director of Vasant Valley School: "There is a mismatch between the number of students seeking admission to various professional colleges and that of the seats available. In this situation, I doubt we'll ever be able to get rid of stress." Meera Ramachandran, principal of Gargi College, pitches for an active role of parents and teachers in counselling students on coping with stress.

Some academicians say the unified system may cause more stress because a lot will be riding on just one test. "At least with the present system, students have the opportunity of taking another exam if they don't do well in one," says Vairagkar of TIME. Perhaps Sibal, who has taken to composing poems on "detraumatising students", would do well to think through his pronouncements and set the ball of entrance test reforms rolling.

Courtesy: Mail Today

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