Engineering The Way: JEE Main, GATE And The Decade Of Online Entrance Exams

When the decade began, students wishing to pursue an Engineering programme at NIT or IIIT had to appear for All India Engineering Entrance Exam (AIEEE)  and now that the decade is about to end, students are appearing for a shorter and crisp version that is Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main.

The objective of the exams is same, to handpick meritorious students for admission into engineering institutes. But in a span of ten years everything else has changed.

Shift From OMR To Computer-based Tests

The first and major change that can be witnessed is the mode of exam. AIEEE was an OMR-based exam, i.e. students appearing for the exam were provided with a bubble sheet which was readable under an optical mark scanner.

JEE Main upon its introduction remained an OMR-based exam. Later, CBSE began to offer JEE Main in OMR-based mode and in computer-based mode. In the initial years, takers for OMR-based mode were considerably higher than those who opted to appear for the exam in computer-based mode.

National Testing Agency Enters The Scene

After CBSE, the mantle to conduct JEE Main exam was given to the newly minted National Testing Agency (NTA), an agency formed with the specific purpose of conducting entrance exams and recruitment exams. NTA conducted the first JEE Main exam in 2019.

One major change introduced by NTA was doing away with the OMR-based format. The Agency switched completely to computer-based mode for the exam. The ambitious switch could have been disadvantageous for students but the agency also provided the facility of Test Practice Centres or TPCs.

Students who were applying for a computer-based test could register themselves on the NTA website and practice mock tests at a TPC near their location.

JEE Main Becomes a Bi-Annual Affair

NTA also made JEE Main a bi-annual exam - JEE Main exam, since 2019, is conducted twice a year, once in January and again in April. Students can appear in any one or both the sessions of the exam. The purpose of providing more than one go at the exam was to help reduce the stress for the exam which coincided with board exams and were cause of anxiety among students.

Now, students can choose to appear for any or both JEE Main exams after assessing their preparation level. If a student misses out the JEE Main in January, they can apply for the April exam or if a student tanks in the January exam, they can appear again in April and improve their rank. Any student, who appears for both the exams, will be allotted an engineering seat based on the better of the two ranks.

IITs Become ‘Advanced'

Another major shift which happened in this decade was the revamping of entrance examination for IITs. At the turn of the century, the entrance examination which was conducted for admission to IITs was called IIT-Joint Entrance Exam or IIT-JEE. IIT JEE was an objective exam which, like the AIEEE, was conducted in OMR-based mode.

In 2012, when AIEEE was renamed JEE Main, IIT-JEE was rechristened as JEE Advanced. JEE Advanced was meant for admission to only the IITs, albeit its score was also accepted by other premier institutes like Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs), and the Indian Institute of Science.

JEE Advnaced too, after errors in question paper and other irregularities, eventually moved to computer-based mode in 2018. 

Only The Best For IITs

As the number of IITs grew, so did the level of competition. IITs, in order to weed out the students appearing for the exam and to reduce the stress level for students who often appeared for two exams, introduced an additional eligibility criterion. The additional eligibility criteria were that only those students who qualified in AIEEE, later in JEE Main, within a specified cut-off or rank range were eligible to appear in JEE Advanced exam.

The number of students who would be eligible for JEE Advanced has only increased over the years. In 2018, the top 2,20,000 rank holders in JEE Main were eligible for JEE Advanced. In 2019, the number was increased to 2,45,000.

States Go The National Way

When the decade began, several states were still conducting a state-level engineering examination for admission to state-funded engineering institutes. However, by the end of it most states have either done away with a separate entrance exam altogether or have started accepting JEE Main score as a shortlisting criteria.

State like Bihar and Odisha no longer conduct a separate engineering entrance exam and conduct counseling and allotment based on a candidate's score in JEE Main exam. Maharashtra, on the other hand, still conducts MHT CET, a state-level entrance examination, but it also accepts JEE Main score for counseling.

1-2-3 Go

One of the newest modifications to the JEE Main exam is introduction of a separate paper for B.Planning course. JEE Main was conducted for two papers – paper one was meant for admission to BE, B.Tech. programmes and paper two was for B.Arch. and B.Planning programmes.

However, when NTA announced the JEE Main 2020 exam programme, it introduced a third paper. The separate paper has been brought in to address the difference in skills required for a B.Arch. programme and a B.Planning programme. A student can choose to appear for one, two or all three papers.

The three paper system, albeit, is a feature for the 2020 exam but was announced in 2019 and hence is a window to what may come in the next decade.

‘GATE' To Become A Master

The decade began with an experiment for GATE – in 2011 four of the GATE papers were held in the computer-based mode as a pilot project. With the success of the pilot project, the GATE examination gradually shifted to completely computer-based operation.

2012 was an eventful year for GATE exam. Admit cards were released online, and postal dispatch of admit cards was discontinued. This was also the year, when for the first time official answer keys were released. This was also the year when exam became computer-based for all disciplines. The eligibility criteria were also revised rendering those in Pre-final year of B.E./B.Tech. ineligible to appear in the exam.

To accommodate the new disciplines in Science and Engineering, some new subject codes were also added, increasing the total of subjects for which the exam is conducted to 25.

Normalization Is The New Normal

An important highlight of the decade is the shift to a normalization method of calculating marks instead of just ranking candidates on the basis of their raw score.

Raw score is the total marks scored by a candidate after calculating their marks for the correct answers and subtracting the negative marks for incorrect answers (if negative marking applies to the exam).

Normalization process is a method that has been adopted for many examinations which are conducted over multiple sessions. Multiple sessions means different sets of question paper with different difficulty-levels.

In case of JEE Main exam, the percentile scores and not raw scores are normalized.

Decade of Percentile Not Percentages

National Testing Agency (NTA) shifted to percentile method for candidates' JEE Main scores. The Percentile Score indicates the percentage of candidates that have scored equal to or below (same or lower raw scores) that particular candidate in that examination. Percentile scores indicate a candidate's relative performance.

For engineering entrance examinations, the decade witnessed a major shift towards digitalization. All engineering entrance examinations shifted to online application models and gradually adopted computer-based tests system. The time-frame for holding and completing an exam has also shortened with NTA releasing the result for JEE Main within 15-20 days of conducting the exam. With the decade cementing the digitalization of entrance examinations, the next decade holds promises for AI integration in the exams.

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