A Brief History of IIT JEE

A short article about the history of the most prestigious engineering entrance exam of our country.

The results of IIT JEE 2010 are scheduled to be out today. Best of luck to all the students who have devoted the last couple of years of their lives to grab a ticket to the most reputed colleges of engineering in our country. On this ocassion, I thought, why not discuss the long standing history of this exam?

The first IIT to be established was IIT Kharagpur in the year 1951. Later on, as the need for more such premier institutes was felt, IITs were established in Mumbai, Delhi, Madras and Kanpur before the year 1960. IIT Guwahati was established in 1994 while NIT Roorkee got the status of an IIT in 2001. More recently in 2008, 6 more IITs were opened and from the last batch, 2 new IITs have been opened in Mandi and Indore.

Lets talk about the hurdle that was to be cleared by students to enter these prestigious colleges. Yes, I am talking about the IIT JEE entrance examination. When it first started JEE consisted of question from four subjects ie. Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and English Laguage. Out of these English Language has been eliminated from the JEE paper and now only the PCM subjects remain. This was more than 45 years ago. Now let us come down the line and talk about the more recent past. A new concept in the form of screening test was introduced in the year 2000. This meant that before the main examination, there will be held a screening examination from which only about the top 20,000 candidates will be selected to sit in the main examination. This concept was probably introduced to reduce the load from the main examination. Another probable reason that crept up was that the JEE authorities and exam conductors wanted to scrutinize the capable students to a greater extent. This was easier now given that only few answer sheets were to be corrected and the people checking the sheets had more time to look into the details of the answers.

One more fact that I forgot to mention is that all this while the pattern of the JEE exam was purely subjective. This means that a detailed description and working for the problem was asked and the student was expected to answer in a step wise manner. Marks were not only awarded for the correct answer but also for the working. This type of pattern tested the concepts of the student more thouroughly. The examiner had a very clear idea of what the student had in mind before attempting the question. A subjective paper also provided a better scope for the student to display his knowledge and to convey how strong his fundamentals were.

Now, coming back to the separate screening and mains question papers. This system of two different papers was abolished in the year 2006, a mere 6 years since it's introduction. This was done as a part of some major reforms that were to be introduced in the 2006 edition of the examination. One problem with the screening system was the small time gap between the anouncement of results and the commencement of the mains exam. The students who, after giving the screening paper, devoted their time to the preparation for the mains paper, cursed the system when they found out that they had not cleared the screening exam. According to them, they could have devoted this time for the preparation of some other examination. Also, the students who missed clearing the screening cut-off by a mark or two considered themselves extremely unlucky and were broken down. The cumulative effect of all these disadvanteges was the abolition of screening system beginning the year 2006.

Talking about the reforms implemented in the year 2006, probably the biggest change in the history of IIT-JEE was that the pattern of the examination was changed from subjective to objective. This was an extremely drastic change and was also criticised by many. The change was said to be a step towards the reduction of the role of coaching institutes in the successful clearing of JEE. This sudden U-turn in the JEE paper pattern caught many a students of 2006 batch off guard. Objective questions meant that there was no longer a need of any working, hence only the answer mattered. Most of the questions now had options with them making the derivation of answer a bit easier. Some argued that this system encouraged a student answer the questions by fluke, but actually it was the reverse. With the introduction of an objective paper, the concept of negative marking was also introduced. Many questions had a catch, a wrong answered fetched the student negative marks. So, in a way, answering in fluke was actually strongly discouraged. This objective pattern is carying on till date.

Though the basic pattern of the examination remains the same, the type of questions and their difficulty keep changing every year. Various types of questions have been tried till now. These include straight single answer ones, multiple answers, integer type questions, paragraph type and even matrix match types. The IIT conducting the JEE examination holds full authority on the matter of type and difficulty of questions. Though this is true, a general pattern that has been noted in the recent years is that JEE is tilting towards a little easier papers but which focus strongly on fundamentals. This possibly has been a result of an all IIT meeting where the heads of all the IITs met under one roof to discuss about how to curb the increasing role of coaching institutes.

Just as I am about to bid you adieu, I am reminded of a blotch on this glorious history of the IIT-JEE examination. In the year 1997, the fear of any examiner was materialized as the JEE paper leaked in many centres and it had to be rescheduled of another day. A new paper was set up and the exam held freshly, but the ghost of 1997 still haunts every IIT, that shoulders the responsibility to conduct the JEE year after year.

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