This new segment will add another layer of complexity to an already tough examination where every single percentile counts. The board hopes to curtail guess-work by candidates and force them to exhibit their actual grasp of a subject. It will necessitate an overhaul of the evaluation system but the committee is ready to do that if it improves the quality of students.
A feature of MCQ tests across the world is that candidates make blind guesses for 10-15% questions and jog their memory to attempt some others without having a grasp on the concept, said a source in the committee. This is all the more true for India where rote learning is almost a part of education culture and IIT-JEE coaching a multi-crore business.
"Candidates sometimes use the method of elimination to choose an answer. We want to minimize that. The best way to do this is to make candidates write the answer rather than tick a box," a senior IIT professor said. MCQs are a standard method to assess a candidate's comprehension, analysis or application skills, but an essay-type section will force them to show how much they truly understand a concept and how they arrange their thoughts to develop an argument, the teacher added.
Incorporating the first change — getting candidates to write on their own — can be done with little effort, said a source. But with over 13 lakh candidates appearing the test, won't evaluation be a problem? Not all answersheets will go for evaluation, said the source. While all candidates will have to attempt the essay section, their answers will be evaluated only if they get a certain score in the IIT-JEE (Advance), said a source.
"We are trying to develop a machine-readable answerscript. We need to make some changes in the computer programming so that it can read the near possible answers and accordingly evaluate the answerscripts," said a source. For instance, machines can read numbers or names of chemical compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, but a separate programme is needed for giving credits to part answers. "This will take some time," an official said. If the committee okays the proposal, the written segment may be introduced in 2017.
Experts welcome the proposed change to break the monopoly of mushrooming coaching centres. "The entrance examination has already been bifurcated. The coaching-centre hegemony will be further curtailed if a written component is introduced and students have to find a solution to the problem," said a tutor at a major coaching centre.