Currently, there is a lot of interest among students in professional careers such as engineering. Accordingly, they prepare for the All India Entrance Exams to secure admissions to the best engineering institutes in the country such as the IITs, NITs and IIITs. I would like to offer my two cents regarding this exam preparation since my son got admission to an IIT this year, i.e., 2015, and, more importantly, I was intimately involved with his exam preparation.
First of all, let me describe the admission process that is currently being followed. It is, essentially, a two step process of evaluation in Physics, Chemistry and Math in a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) format.
- The first step consists of an exam called the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Main conducted by the CBSE Board; approximately 13lac students from all over the country took this exam in 2015. The top 1.5lac students in the JEE Main are selected for the next step, the JEE Advanced. Please note that this figure of 1.5lac includes the reserved category candidates. Therefore, the open category candidates number approximately 50% of this figure.
- The second step consists of an exam called JEE Advanced conducted by the IITs. In this exam, candidates above a pre-decided cut off percentage, subject to certain minimum qualifying percentages in each subject, are given All India Ranks (AIRs). This cut off percentage is usually 35%; however, it was relaxed to 24.5% in 2015.
The JEE Main scores are used to give admissions to NITs and IIITs whereas the JEE Advanced is used for admission to the IITs.
The JEE Main consists of 1 exam of 3 hours’ duration in which the marks are awarded out of a total of 360 with 120 marks each in Physics, Chemistry and Math. The question paper is in MCQ format; here the candidates are required to select one option from a given list of options in response to a ‘question stem’. There are a total of 90 questions equally divided among these three subjects. Thus, 4 marks are awarded for each correct answer, 1 mark is deducted for each incorrect answer and no marks awarded/deducted for unanswered questions.
In JEE Main 2015, the cut off marks for qualifying for the JEE Advanced 2015 were 105 out of a total of 360 for the open category or about 29.2%. Of course, the cut off marks are lowered for the reserved categories, as per the various government rules. However, only 78,000 students from all over India out of a total of 13lac managed to score 105 and above in the JEE Main 2015 or approx 6% of the total 13lac students. This means that the top 6% candidates from all over the country could only manage about 29% marks! Also, the top 1% candidates could manage only 178 marks out of 360 or 49.4% only! In contrast, the top 1% candidates of Maharashtra State Board scored 87.3% and above in Physics, Chemistry and Math in their HSC exam 2015; for CBSE, the corresponding figure was 96% in 2015. These figures show the level of difficulty of the JEE Main; this comes as a rude shock to the students who are used to scoring 90%+ in their school and Board Exams.
The JEE Advanced consists of various types of MCQs. Let me give an example of the one of the types. In the JEE Main, only one option has to be selected; however, in one of the MCQ types offered by the JEE Advanced, one or more than one option has to be selected by the candidate. The question paper does not state how many options have to be selected; it simply states ‘one or more than one option may be correct’. Thus, any one OR any two OR any three of the options and so on need to be selected by the candidate. In addition, there could be negative marking too to deter guesswork and to check whether the candidate has complete knowledge of the subject matter. Unlike the JEE Main, the JEE Advanced does not announce anything else beforehand except for whether the exam would be objective or subjective, the timings and the duration of the exam.
The JEE Advanced consists of 2 exams, each of 3 hours’ duration, conducted on the same day with a break of 2 hours between them. The total marks in the JEE Advanced are usually awarded out of a total of 360 for both exams; however, this can also change. For instance, in 2015 the total marks were 504 with 264 marks in Paper 1 and 240 marks in Paper 2. In addition, the marking pattern is also not announced beforehand; thus, the candidates discover the format of the questions, nature and number of questions, marking pattern and the total marks only when they open their exam booklets.
As mentioned above, every year the JEE Advanced awards AIRs above a certain cut off percentage which could be relaxed depending on the circumstances. This is usually 35%; however, as mentioned above, it was relaxed to 24.5% in 2015 AFTER the exam. Thus, the number of candidates that are awarded AIRs varies every year since the cut off percentage is fixed. Please note that the combined number of seats in all the IITs is about 10,000 but the number of AIRs awarded is usually far greater than this number. For example, the number of AIRs awarded by the JEE Advanced 2015 was about 26,500. Therefore, the awarding of an AIR does not entitle a student to an admission in one of the IITs.
As in the JEE Main, the scores obtained by the candidates in the JEE Advanced are quite low. A figure of 26,500 AIRs awarded by the JEE Advanced 2015 out of a total of about 13lac students who began the two step process translates to only about 2.04% of the total number of candidates. This means that the top 2.04% students of the country could manage only 24.5% and above in the JEE Advanced 2015. No wonder, the JEE Advanced is labeled as one of the toughest exams in the world!
Till Std 10, the students have faced their respective Board Exams and, perhaps, at best a few optional competitive exams. The Board exams are subjective with marks being awarded for steps even in a subject like Math. The JEE Main and Advanced are not concerned with the steps, only the final answer. However, due to the MCQ format of these exams, students are tempted to take guesses which frequently turns out to be counterproductive due to negative marking for incorrect answers. For instance, about 45,000 students ended up with negative total marks in JEE Main 2015.
The JEE Main and the JEE Advanced test the skill levels, accuracy and speed of a candidate. The low scores are an obvious reflection of the skill levels that is required in these exams. The negative marking not only ensures that a candidate doesn’t resort to guesswork but also tests the accuracy level and the stamina of the candidate. Since the required skill level is higher than in the Boards, candidates fatigue faster and are prone to making calculation errors, especially towards the end of the exam. The JEE Advanced is notorious for this since it consists of 2 exam papers, each of 3 hours’ duration, with a break of 2 hours between them. Besides, the JEE Advanced is held in May with the summer heat sapping the energy levels of the candidates. Therefore, a JEE Advanced candidate is subjected to 8 hours of grueling summer heat in addition to the very high skill levels required in the exam; this results in greater numbers of calculation errors. Thus, both, the stamina and skill levels of a candidate have to be gradually built up over time when a candidate is preparing for these exams.
The speeds of the candidates are also tested by the JEE Main and Advanced. Very few candidates can claim that they managed to solve every question, unlike in the Boards. In fact, some questions are such that they end up using a significantly greater amount of time than others. I feel such questions are deliberately inserted by the examiner(s) to test whether a candidate has the skill level to detect and avoid such time guzzling questions. In the JEE Main, if a candidate can solve about 75 questions out of 90 with an accuracy of 90%, he/she stands an excellent chance of getting a very good score! The JEE Advanced is a different story altogether since the format, marking pattern and other details are not announced beforehand; so, it is very difficult to estimate what a good score is in the JEE Advanced. Besides, the JEE Advanced declares AIRs which is, essentially, relative grading. Therefore, a low/high scoring exam does not matter; what matters is how a candidate has performed with respect to others.
However, there is a very strong correlation between the scores of the JEE Main and Advanced. Although there are exceptions, as a rule of thumb, a student can expect to score about 10-15% less in the JEE Advanced than in the JEE Main. Therefore, if a candidate has scored, say, 60% in the JEE Main, he/she can expect a score of 45-50% in the JEE Advanced. However, as mentioned before, the JEE Advanced throws up a lot of surprises; so, the 10-15% subtraction from the JEE Main score to arrive at the JEE Advanced score can change significantly. For example, this figure was almost 25% in 2015.
As mentioned above, the JEE Main and Advanced test the skill levels of the candidates to a far greater degree than any exam they have possibly faced till now. Therefore, the preparation is also different and has to be tailored to the individual strengths and weaknesses of the student. This is necessary because the success percentage is very small; in fact it is negligible. For example, in order to get a decent branch in a good IIT, a candidate has to procure an AIR of less than 4000 in the open category. This amounts to a success percentage of only about 0.3% of the total number of 13lac candidates who began the two step process in 2015!
From the above, it is obvious that the chances of getting admission in the IITs or even NITs and IIITs are very slim. However, every year it is not the smartest students who manage to procure admissions to these institutes. Therefore, the obvious questions are:
- What is it that these students did to get into the IITs?
- What was different about their preparation from the other students who, in spite of being brilliant, did not manage to get an admission of their choice?
These are some of the questions that perplex students, parents and teachers.
In order to prepare for the JEE Main and Advanced, most students enroll in coaching classes after Std 10 to help them with their preparation. No doubt, these classes perform an essential function in helping a student prepare for these exams; however, they teach the students en masse and are incapable of giving attention to the individual requirements of each student. The students and the teachers know that they have to work hard; however, sometimes, they miss the subtle differences in the preparation such as efficient and effective time management. In addition, there are many other aspects of preparation that have to be tailored to a candidate’s individual traits. Consequently, the preparation by a candidate for these exams has to change accordingly and a mentor/guide who knows the way would be very useful.
Finally, to summarize, just as the war of Mahabharata was won by Arjuna’s brilliance and Krishna’s guidance at every step, this war can also be won by the student’s skills and the guidance of a mentor who is willing to be with the student every step of the way.
 Here, I would like to add that our community members domiciled in Maharashtra DO NOT qualify for OBC reservation in Central Govt Institutes such as the IITs, NITs and IIITs since our caste (Modh Ghanchi, Ganchi, etc.) is not recognized as an OBC as per the Central List of OBCs for Maharashtra, http://www.bcmbcmw.tn.gov.in/obc/faq/maharashtra.pdf. However, students domiciled in Gujarat DO qualify as OBC candidates since our caste, Modh Ghanchi, is mentioned as OBC in the Central List of OBCs for Gujarat, http://www.bcmbcmw.tn.gov.in/obc/faq/gujarat.pdf.
At the same time, we do qualify for OBC reservation in Maharashtra State engineering colleges such as VJTI and others since ‘Ganchi’ is mentioned as an OBC caste in Maharashtra’s list of OBCs