MHRD has proposed a common entrance test (CET) for engineering from 2013. Based on our experiences and internal analysis at IIIT-Delhi, I have written earlier in TOI on the issue of entrance test. (Full article which also provides some analysis can be found here. ) In this note, I would like to discuss briefly if CET is desirable – in recent discussions, I found that many educators have apprehnsions about it.  Briefly, I believe that a CET will be an excellent step forward provided it provides normalized scores of different subjects (and class XII) separately, and avoids the pitfall of creating an ordered merit list by combining the different scores into one through some formula.

A basic objective of an entrance test is to help universities/institutes select from among those who have applied the students who are better prepared for succeeding in the studies for which they are being considered. It should be evident that a criteria that is most suitable for a program or Institute may be different from another, depending on the requirements of the program or the approach of the Institute.  A CET should therefore provide for this flexibility – e.g. allow an IT institute to consider performance only in Maths and Aptitude, while allowing an Engineering Institute to also include Physics and Chemistry.  This means that the CET should provide normalized scores for different subjects separately, and not give only the total, so Institutes can decide which subjects to include in their admission criteria and how much weight to give to each. This also permits including other subjects (e.g. biology) later thereby allowing disciplines other than engineering (e.g. medicine) to also use the CET scores for entrance, making the test more widely used.

Similarly, many people argue that aptitude is an important attribute, and some Institutes, who are willing to provide all the foundations that are needed, might want to give aptitude as a heavier weight in their admission criteria. Hence, a CET, should have an aptitude component, and the normalized aptitude score should be reported separately.

Then there is the talk and desire of including class XII board score also.  Including class XII marks as a criteria for admission is clearly desirable as some studies have indicated that class XII performance is a good indicator of success in higher studies. Also, by including class XII scores, performance in Boards will cease to be irrelevant for admissions in Engineering as they currently are, thereby making students and parents more serious about school performance – a highly desirable outcome. The cleanest and the best way here is to to provide Class XII marks also in normalized form as another score.  This, incidentally, is easier said than done as normalization across Boards, which is essential for fairness, will need to be done. And normalization across Boards will require proper data (e.g. mean and standard deviation) from all the Boards across the country. If normalized scores are provided by the agency that conducts CET, it will be a great service, and Institutes can decide a suitable weight to give to this component without worrying about being unfair to some Board’s students.

Overall, a CET should provide separately normalized scores for Aptitude, and for each subject like Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology. And a thorough exercise should be done to provide normalized scores for class XII separately.  If  all these normalized scores are provided separately, an Institute like IIIT Delhi will find it very easy to shift to the CET. I would imagine that IITs, which are currently very concerned about the impact on intake through CET, will also not have much objection to adopting it.

Lets hope that the designers of CET will adopt this approach for a common test, which is also used by well established exams like SAT and GRE, and not fall in the trap of trying to create an ordered list of candidates.