Common kids versus coaching factories

Given that I can consider it as my “specialist subject” I continue to comment on entrance exams. Glanced through an article about changes in medical entrance exams today in the newspaper, which talked about “eliminating negative marking”, and also talked about having a common entrance exams for all colleges (didn’t read in enough detail to figure out the details).

Now, when you have a broad-based entrance exam which is supposed to cater to people of varying backgrounds, there is a need to keep it simple. There is a need to announce a “syllabus”, and stick to it. And to pre-announce a format which will allow students to prepare adequately for the exam. The problem with this, however, is that it plays right into the hands of coaching factories, whose influence the examiners want to try and reduce. Given a syllabus and a format, it becomes easier to cram for an exam without understanding fundamentals, and this is what coaching schools want.

When the format of the examination is unknown, it becomes harder to “prepare for the exam”, and all one can do is to “prepare the concepts”. In theory, a random examination format allows the examiner to examine concepts better, and doesn’t give unfair advantage to people who go to coaching factories.

That makes me wonder if the attempt to make heavily-coached entrance exams “easier” (this applies to IIT admissions also) can be explained with a baptists-and-bootleggers argument. The baptists in this case are the inclusionists, who want to keep entrance exam papers simple and reasonably deterministic so that “common kids” are not disadvantaged. The bootleggers are the coaching factories, since a deterministic exam will make it easier to coach and thus increase their demand.

For the same reasons, the move to using board exam scores for IIT admissions is daft. Board exams are inherently designed to make people pass, which means they have a defined syllabus and a deterministic format. Use of that for something as competitive as IIT admissions is only going to play into the hands of coaching factories.