The JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) started in the traditional, offline pen-and-paper mode. The approach was later modified — questions were printed and answered in a booklet that was checked manually. This approach was manageable given the small number of applicants. Over time, the increase in the numbers of applicants, seats, and IITs became some of the reasons that led to JEE becoming a two-step examination.
Now, the JEE (Mains) is followed by the JEE (Advanced). These steps were taken because it was becoming cumbersome to manage the examination process and manually check answer scripts. This required additional infrastructure as the results had to be announced within a limited period. Consequently, the pen-and-paper format was replaced by an OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) sheet-based examination in which candidates responded to multiple choice questions by shading the corresponding question bubbles with pencils.
The answered OMR sheets would then be scanned, and their outcome recorded to process the result. This led to some limitations for the candidates. For example, if the bubbles were darkened with a pencil that was not dark enough, the scanner would fail to read it. If the pencil was dark enough and the candidate didn’t erase an incorrect answer enough to modify it, the scanner may still be able to read it. As a standard, it was decided to bubble the answer using a black pen to get around this, but this had its own set of issues. If a student has made a wrong entry, the answer cannot be changed. Any correction on the OMR sheet would make it invalid.
Sometimes, students would solve all the questions and mark the answers on the OMR sheet at the end of the examination and miss the correct sequence of questions.
There was no way to make changes. If a student had dropped ink inside the bubble, the scanner read it as the marked answer. Another common inconvenience was this: since all the questions could not be solved in a sequence on the first attempt, the students would leave some of the questions to attempt or review later, but it was inconvenient for them to keep track of the questions.
The physical question papers were also in two languages: English and Hindi, and candidates had to declare their choice of language before the examination.
During the examination, candidates who wanted to understand a particular question in another language could not do so.
Preparing the error-free randomized sets of question papers in Hindi and English language was also a big responsibility. To avoid the possibility of all such errors and to help the students, it was decided by the Joint Admission Board to take a constructive step to transform JEE (Advanced) by conducting in the Computer-Based Test (CBT) mode.
From OMR sheets to computer-based tests
CBT mode has numerous advantages over the OMR sheet-based mode. In the CBT mode, the questions are available in the English and Hindi languages to all the students. The questions attempted, pending, and to be revisited are always visible in unique colours to the candidate. The sections and questions can be accessed with mouse clicks. The given answers can be modified as often as possible, the mistakes in marking the answers on the OMR sheets are avoided, and the last marked answers are automatically submitted at the end of the examination.
The students are provided sufficient scribble pads during the examination to solve the questions on the paper and enter the correct answer. Many sets of question papers can be created with zero chance of error by the automatic randomization of the questions and their alternatives. Whatever the student does during the examination is always recorded inside the system so that the doubts of students, if any, can be resolved from the recorded activity during the examination.
In 2018, JEE (Advanced) was held in the CBT mode for the first time and the whole exam was conducted seamlessly, and without any errors, thus setting an example in the country. With the success of the process, people started thinking about extending it to other examinations.
The National Testing Agency (NTA) was set up to conduct the JEE (Mains) and several other examinations. Initially, the NTA conducted the examination in both offline and CBT modes, but all their examinations were converted to CBT mode over time. Other organisations in the country also got motivated due to this. Now, most examinations in the country are conducted in the CBT mode. This is how the whole system of our examination changed. New centers were created and employment opportunities increased as the examination centers wanted more qualified people.
Challenges of the transition
However, several challenges were faced in transforming the JEE (Advanced) into the CBT mode. When we took this decision in August 2018, many people were apprehensive about how they would adapt to this new mode. There were also several court cases against us. The sheer magnitude of candidates appearing for the JEE (Advanced) and the need for centers also posed a challenge for us. Almost 1.75 lakh candidates were expected to appear for the examinations in two shifts in a single day with the same question paper. We did not have the facilities for such a big task in the beginning. The Graduate Aptitude Test Examination (GATE) of the IIT is also held in the CBT mode but the number of candidates appearing in a session for GATE is considerably less than that of JEE.
But we were able to convince the court to extend all the help to all the students of the country. We prepared videos to demonstrate how to attempt the examination and arranged computer facilities for the students appearing for JEE (Advanced) in their respective colleges, IITs, Navodaya Vidyalayas among others.
Courtesy :The Indian Express