Monday, September 26, 2005


First published in JAM: Just Another Magazine
The recent IIT-JEE media blitzkrieg brought back some bittersweet memories. Bitter because I regret taking the year off to study for the JEE (and failing) and sweet because the intellectual challenge and academic input of that one year was more than the 2 years at high school and three years at undergrad put together.

The event also allowed me to touch base with the guy who ran the coaching class I attended. No he wasn’t a scheming conman as members of the coaching class community are made out to be but a young, fun-loving and brilliant entrepreneur who kindled my love for physics. He was genuinely upset when I didn’t make it and refunded my entire fee. He even gave me some seed money in those crazy dot-com days to “fund” my own start-up! Little wonder that when my colleagues at CNBC TV18, who were putting together a show that would debate the new format, asked me to invite a panelist, I gave him a tinkle. It was great catching up with Praveen Tyagi after many years.

Obviously the people who’ve thought up this hair-brained new exam scheme have got it all wrong. Far from putting the coaching classes out of contention, an objective-only exam will widen their market like never before. It was only very focused and motivated junta who would put their hearts into the exam and go for special coaching. Most others were content to concentrate on their boards and get into the second rung tech schools. An objective-type exam suddenly gets everybody who’s taken science in +2 to think. “Hey! Maybe I can do this too!” So instead of a few classes offering JEE coaching, now everyone will be offering coaching and students who otherwise wouldn’t have prepared for the JEE will be cajoled into it by parents and peer pressure.


On a more fundamental note, the new format opens up a small crack in the once watertight process. The JEE ensured that no one undeserving would ever get in although many deserving students would be left out (yes, yes that’s what I keep telling my sorry self!). Unless you cheated, it was impossible to fib your way through those subjective problems. Now, there is a significant probability that many people will get in using the ol’ heads/tails guesswork. Yes, the proportion will be small, but the probability of some “tukkha” candidates getting in is still high. That would indeed be a shame for however much you got coached in the earlier system, you still had to have aptitude and slog to clear the exam – Kota or no Kota!


Now here’s some advice to those of you who would just like the IIT ‘chhaap’ but have no particular interest in any engineering stream. Don’t drop a year if you don’t clear the JEE. Opt for a three-year BSc at a decent college instead. In your third year sit for the two-year MSc exam. This is the best-kept IIT secret – it’s the only non-common entrance exam for the IITs. Every IIT administers its own exam for the four to five different MSc courses that it offers. Very often it’s barely a case of 150 odd students competing for 30 odd seats! Out of these about half have not seriously prepared. Way better than 2 lakh serious JEE aspirants for 2000 seats. Assuming you dropped a year and then got in, it would take you four more years for a BTech. This way it takes you 3+2 for a MASTERS degree from an IIT. True, you may not be as well tuned to the IIT system as the BTechers who you will share some courses with – but hey! You want the chhaap and the job don’t you? And if you genuinely get enthu about your subject in those 2 years, you have a Master’s degree in your pocket from an IIT – Grad School USA, here I come!!