Friday, April 27, 2007

Bill on the JEE

All of you who know Bill, and all of you who read this blog do not need to be told about the amount of time the man spends staring at the ceiling. The claim is that he is thinking so that he can prove some theorem or the other. In reality, he ofcourse is sleeping during most of this ceiling-staring time. (Yes, he can sleep with his eyes open, trust me on this.) But there's a small % of time that he doesn't sleep. I have always wondered what he thinks about in these few moments and now I know - he is thinking about the JEE. You see, I think he's never really gotten over him not really cracking the JEE and in the interests of blaming someone else, he holds the JEE and all his Kota friends who were ahead of him responsible. So he spends his ceiling-staring figuring out ways to somehow get back at them. Sounds implausible? Well, then please explain to me why someone who cannot be bothered to write one line of proof an entire week sends me this long post out of the blue asking me to put it up on my blog. It's either that or he has gone crazy. Or turned over a new leaf like his brother. I seriously don't know which is worse.

So anyway, I give you (all footnotes are mine) Bill's rant on the JEE, the universe and everything:

There has recently been much discussion and criticism of the IIT Joint Entrance Exam, or JEE. This started me thinking about JEE, what it means to people, what it is meant to do, and what really happens.

JEE. An exam taken by perhaps a quarter million teenagers, of whom some 4000 will "pass" the test and make it to IIT. The ranking given out by JEE is a number that has an outsize significance. Sometime during my stint at CMU, I served on the admissions committee. We ploughed through hundreds of application packages, with their inevitably upbeat profiles and resumes. During one such, up popped a folder from someone at an IIT[1]. Among his notable achievements, he listed his All India Rank at the IIT JEE. Obviously, getting that rank is one thing that he is really proud of, something that he is going to talk about 5, 10, maybe 50 years after the fact. This attitude is not uncommon either. I remember being slightly saddened, because it reminded me of a documentary I saw of Nadia Comaneci 15 years after Montreal. There was the same sense of reminiscencing of the pinnacle of a career, an extraordinary achievement, something whose emotional impact may never be matched again.

Is it right that an entrance exam becomes in itself an achievement? What has led to this state of affairs? One obvious reason is that of the sheer numbers involved. Given the extreme number of contestants for a painfully limited number of seats, the pride in "having made it" is understandable. But that should not blind us to the many negative aspects of JEE, and maybe it is not doing a good job at all.

Many, including particularly professors at IIT, have noticed and complained about the increasingly crucial role of intensive coaching for the JEE. It does become noticeable when the candidates come from all over India but the bulk of the successful ones are from Hyderabad and Kota[2]. It is not that coaching in itself is a problem. Any system, particularly in the hypercompetitive scenario, will attract coaches and training. Witness the 30,000 dollar fees for advisors to buff up resumes for Harvard. The problem is rather that JEE creates an atmosphere where coaching is essential, and it is inconceivable for a successful attempt without intensive training, usually professional.

JEE has been designed to be brutally tough. Nothing wrong in that in principle. However, in practice this has meant that problems are well outside the scope of anything taught in schools. In fact, in my first year at IIT, we pretty much redid the syllabus for JEE. The questions in our semester exams would have been right at home in the JEE. Why is it that students in high school are being tested on undergraduate level stuff?

More to the point, is this really getting those with a passion for technology, or more generally, science, into IIT? A really small minority of students go on to apply anything learnt in IIT in their professional careers. Are they losing interest during their four to five years within IIT (which would be a dreadful indictment of the professors, if so), or were they never really interested in the first place? Yes, one aspect of the problem is that students are forced to make a choice at entry, when they know nothing of the subject. This is more a problem with the IIT system than JEE of course, since we need much more flexibility in changing branches/courses. In many US universities, even say a Stanford where for example computer science is a much-in-demand option, a lot of people drop out sometime in their undergraduate years and take another branch. For this to be feasible, we would need to move to Abi's Real Universities(TM).

The way the entrance exam stands now, IIT takes in students who are good at "cracking" exams. That is certainly correlated with ability, but the correlation does not seem to be very good. Abi points out the statistic that less than half the intake is that of first-time aspirants. In other words, to get into IIT, after spending time, money, and effort, single-mindedly devoting most of your waking hours to preparing for IIT for 2 years, maybe more, you should realistically be thinking of doing it for another year, or maybe more. Are we then surprised if students are burnt out?

A more pernicious effect of the supremacy of coaching classes is that they are unfair. Abi has talked about women, and compared it to the proportion of women in CBSE toppers. Vivek asked about women in science or math classes. But indeed, what is the proportion of women in the bigger coaching classes? I am sure that is indeed more correlated to the number of women in IIT.[3]

It is not jut about women of course. Those who cannot afford the steep fees, or cannot or do not want to go halfway across the country to stay in the feeder towns for two years are getting shut out of the system. We are losing out many bright students in smaller places. Is it not the idea that we should want the interested, brilliant, and motivated students from across the country? With the JEE set as it currently is, people like a good friend from Alleppey[4] studying on his own have to overcome almost insurmountable barriers.

Yes, we live in a deeply traditional society, with large inequalities. As last year's reservation ruckus made clear, caste is a deeply divisive issue. So is class, and income, and gender, and millions of other things. We understand that, and I am sure the designers of the JEE understand those realities. The question is, isn't there something wrong with a system that does not even attempt to redress those problems, and indeed skews in the direction of the more privileged?

Maybe we can argue that it is not IIT's place to try to solve these hard problems. I don't agree with that viewpoint (otherwise what is the point of calling them institutes of national importance?). But this brings to mind the question, what does IIT aim for? What kind of students do they want, and is JEE getting the students they want? After all, what kind of guidelines they set will not affect the competition (if IIT sets a paper on Ulysees, Joyce coaching classes will mushroom up[5]), but does affect the kind of students they will get.

We have heard much about merit through the JEE. Does merit, whatever it is, play a large role in clearing the exam? If so, certainly merit can be taught in coaching classes in Hyderabad. Or unsuccessful candidates can acquire merit by trying again in another year.

What does clearing JEE mean about the candidate, beyond the fact that they are good at taking exams? Is it intelligence, motivation, perseverance, ability to work hard, passion for science, engineering bent of mind? All of these? None of these? If these, or others, are qualities IIT wants, is JEE filtering the right kind of candidate? Should we not be asking these questions? Or are the good professors satisfied with doing things the way they have been done in the past?

[1] Err..are you trying to tell us that someone not from an IIT actually applies to the CS doctoral program at CMU? Since when? Or more importantly, WHY?

[2] See, he doesn't like Hyderabad or Kota. Obvious reasons.

[3] Okay. My one serious footnote. If one agrees that a) intensive coaching of the Kota variety is necessary for getting into the IITs, the vast majority of the people who get into IITs get this coaching and b) the percentage of women in these intensive coaching institutes is extremely small, then I don't see why it is difficult to see that the JEE is biased against women exactly in the same way it is biased against anyone (or group) who does not (or cannot) attend the coaching class. [Yes, I know that the question we should be asking is why is that the classmates of these men who attend these coaching classes cannot attend the same classes given that anyway there are going to write all engineering exams in the country. I see that but then, I also sort of see the point in parents being reluctant about sending girls at 5 AM / late at night or packaging them off to Kota for 2 years]

[4] Alleppey? Did you say Alleppey? You bloody Bong, next time you get the district wrong, I will get you to pay twice your share of the rent. And write down all districts of Kerala 100 times, ok? This good friend (who in reality is my friend who you have adopted as your friend) lived in Alappuzha. Get it? Alappuzha.

[5] Falsie, there is hope for you. You can start an IIT coaching center that teaches Ulysses and make zillions. I can so imagine this: kids comparing Falstaff Tutorials and Prufrock classes.

18 comments:

ggop said...

I'll be very honest with you - I found the exam very difficult. I went with no coaching (unread notes from Brilliant Tutorial gathering dust does not count). I took the test because my parents never begrudged me anything on the academic front. I can't say IIT discriminated against me because I am a woman.

I agree with Bill when he says the first year of engg is essentially JEE revision. When I did my first course on engineering mechanics I realized, hey if only I knew all this I actually would have had a chance at cracking some portion of the JEE.

ROTFL visualizing what you wrote in footnote 5 :-)
gg

Falstaff said...

I think you (and Bill) are missing the point here. Why would someone who was able to understand and appreciate Ulysses want to waste his life being an engineer? Personally, I'm convinced that the whole point of the JEE preparation racket is to keep candidates so busy that they don't realise that they don't have the opportunity to get acquainted with the really meaningful things in life - music, poetry, women.

Aurko Roy said...

Well, it's certainly true that the vast majority of students who get into IITs take some form of coaching or the other.The flipside of all this is that the students devote so much of their time and energy to prepare 2 years for JEE that, after coming to IIT they are tired, morose and looking just for fun.JEE in a way destroys the enthusiasm that people have for knowledge...

Veena said...

ggop: Well, yeah, its not like there's the prof sitting there at IIT correcting papers and going "oh, this is a woman, mark as zero" though that would be quite funny.

Falstaff: Yes, the whatever number of years you did not study for the IIT, you were "getting acquainted" with every woman in Delhi. Of course.

And the point here is that these students don't really need to appreciate, or understand Ulysses. They just need to crack an exam based on it. Which is all they do with engineering anyway.

Falstaff said...

Veena: Not women. Poetry. Music. I have my priorities right, you know.

And at least the years I spent not studying for (or at) IIT meant that I didn't come out of my undergrad convinced that women were mysterious half-mythical beings and just being able to talk to one was an achievement.

As for Ulysses - if they don't want to understand it they shouldn't attend my coaching class. If I'm teaching Ulysses I'm teaching it, not wasting my time helping them clear some silly entrance exam. You can see why the Falstaff coaching class idea wouldn't work therefore.

On your one serious comment - there's a big difference between saying you need coaching to pass JEE and saying you need to attend 5 am classes in Kota to pass JEE. The latter is almost certainly not true. I remain unconvinced that motivated women in urban, high-middle income families couldn't get the coaching they need.

What I'd be curious to see, actually, is the % of women in the candidates clearing JEE in their first attempt, vs. the % of women in candidates clearing JEE overall. I'm wondering if all of this is just about women self-selecting (or being forced to self-select) out of second attempts.

Bill said...

Falstaff: Yes, after one year of marriage, I think my wife is non-mythical, but I can't swear to it.

Yes, I (or Veena who is too lazy to type) agree that women are self-selecting out of the JEE in large numbers. I see your point about how this is compounded by the large % of second or third timers.

Why are girls self-selecting out? The obvious reason is the societal stereotypes against women in math / engineering. This is not exactly helped by the proliferation of coaching classes. These are (deeply, I think) sexist environments with low % of women, hyper competitive, chauvinistic teachers and peers. Also, there are really no support structures in place for these girls.

These biases are ingrained in our society and no one can claim this is JEE's fault. My problem with the JEE is that it does not even attempt to do anything to reduce this bias. Instead it only serves to perpetuate it by its dependance on coaching classes. Maybe it even manages to skew it more as the Kota classes dramatically increases your chances of cracking the JEE, as does taking the exam more than once.

As I said, I was at CMU where they have become concerned by the low number of women entering CS (did you see the Times article just over a week ago?) and are in the middle of seeing how they can modify the situation. Their tweaks over the last five years have slowly but steadily increased the number of women applying, and also, getting admitted. Of course their entrance procedures are very different but my point is does IIT even recognise this as a problem? I, for one, see no evidence of that.

The maybe-not-mythical creature is saying that the group that JEE is least biased against are probably women (needless to say, the Marxist in her is in full force and soon she will start talking about class war and how everything else is a sham) and so the group who will immediately (and most) benefit from any tweaks to the JEE are probably the classmates of the men who get into IIT. I see her point and will get her to write more if she manages to get out of bed sometime today.

Tabula Rasa said...

hey, great (foot)notes :-D

Veena said...

Falstaff: Won't repeat Bill as its sort of what I think too. Esp as he is in a better position to talk about coaching classes and that JEE prep stuff.

I like this theory of women self-selecting out of second attempts. Loved all that dork stuff on 42 about that. But yes, we do need the numbers - if the diff in % of boys and girls who are attempting the JEE a second time as you seem to think they are, then obviously nothing else matters. I suspect its probably somewher in the middle with other factors weighing in. Did you see that 28% to 40% jump in first timers in 2006 JEE as they changed some pattern or something? But the % of women didn't budge. Ofcourse its just one year, but what do you make of that?

Veena said...

Aurko: Yes, plus IIT gives them no incentive to work. Its not like you can change to a "better" branch or something if you do well.

TR: Thanku, thanku. I will be sure to tell Bill how you did not appreciate his long post but liked my (foot)notes. He will soon come running to you asking for some Bong-Bong comradeship.

Tabula Rasa said...

or maybe it will cause him to generate an even longer post for you to (type and) annotate. goody!

Tabula Rasa said...

on further reflection, i thought it was a little opportunistic of me to not say anything about bill's pov. bill-bondhu, this one's for you.

as you may have inferred from my comments on abi's and vivek's posts, i went with the vivek side of the argument. i think veena put it very well in her 'only serious' footnote -- the jee discriminates equally against every group or person who cannot or does not attend the coaching class. boiled down to basics, all behavior depends on motivation, ability, and opportunity, and the purpose of the jee is to somehow try and identify those with the maximum ability to become engineers. since ability can be developed with motivation, the jee is a reasonably good test of both. the big question we're debating is opportunity, or the lack thereof. if i read you right, you're advocating "tweaks" to the examination as a means of equalizing these differences in opportunity. i, on the other hand, feel that these differences in opportunity require actions that would involve changing the system much more radically, not just tweaking it, and tweaking the parameters of an entrance exam isn't going to change the essential problems with the system.

that's one point of difference. the second is regarding the coaching classes themselves. i feel they're a necessary evil -- you have coaching classes wherever you have competition. there are coaching classes for board exams as well, indeed going all the way down to class 1 and 2 -- and people who don't take them end up worse off. at the other end of the spectrum look at the trouble people go to to get into harvard. one can't wish them away -- they're part and parcel of the competitive system. are they bad? well of course taken to extremes they *can* be bad, but then think about the fact that we're trying to get people to be the *best* that they can be in a given field. an example with sports may not be too much of a stretch here. here too teenagers jump through crazy hoops in order to be the best in their country (and then the world). we don't compromise on standards for sportsmen, do we?

the last point that remains is, post-jee, is there indeed a drop off in "sparkling eyes"? is there burn-out, and if so, whose fault is it? again i'm not sure whether the jee is to blame for this, even if it is indeed the case. for better or for worse, many people now go into iit viewing it as a stepping stone. an iit-iim hot-shot banker told me last year -- taking an engineering job after an engineering degree in india is "career suicide". no wonder the good prfoessors don't experience the fizz anymore -- people ar ethere to kill time. and i'm not sure an entrance exam can screen for this kind of problem either -- again, we need to look elsewhere for the fix.

sorry, this went on too long. think of it as an adda by monologue :-)

Falstaff said...

Bill: Agree entirely - both with you and with the not-so-mythical being. I find the pro-rich bias of the JEE deeply troubling, though I see that as yet another symptom of the evils of living in a capitalist society rather than a particular failing of the JEE. And I agree that the IITs could do more to correct gender stereotypes, though I'm unconvinced that changing the JEE in any way would help. As the Dork post suggests, I'm not sure whether it's really an anti-engineering bias or just that society takes women's careers less seriously, so that women end up self-selecting (or being forced to self-select) out of more competitive options.

Veena: Yes, I did see that jump in first timers. And did you notice that it went hand in hand with a dramatic increase in the % of women actually taking the test? I wonder how much of that first-timer increase was women (and how much of it was driven by the % of third attempts going down). Of course, there wasn't an increase in the number of women getting in, but I have to wonder how much of that was driven by announcement effects. Presumably people who only decided to take the exam after the new policy was announced were less well prepared than those who were preparing for it all along.

Anonymous said...

>> During one such, up popped a folder from someone at an IIT[1]. Among his notable achievements, he listed his All India Rank at the IIT JEE. Obviously, getting that rank is one thing that he is really proud of, something that he is going to talk about 5, 10, maybe 50 years after the fact. This attitude is not uncommon either.

@@Bill, Did you read this application around 2000 ? because there used to be a chap with us who has a very high AIR and would not let us hear the end of it. But he was the only one, the culture at IIT in our times used to be one which discouraged all talk, particularly boasts about AIR. You dont mention your AIR unless asked, was the unwritten rule. Not least because AIR didnt matter once you got in, after that what got you on the A list was sports, how funny you are and how helpful you are. (Like any other college really).. Ofcourse, when you are applying to a grad school, you sell what you have :-)

@@It does become noticeable when the candidates come from all over India but the bulk of the successful ones are from Hyderabad and Kota[2].

well, heres another thought for you. The bulk of IITians are from colleges in Bbay, Del, Mad, Kpr, Kgp, Gwati, etc.. It doesnt prove anything, apart from the fact that all IITs are in these cities.

>> Why is it that students in high school are being tested on undergraduate level stuff?

Because you want an exam that gives you long tails in the distribution of its results.

>> A really small minority of students go on to apply anything learnt in IIT in their professional careers. Are they losing interest during their four to five years within IIT (which would be a dreadful indictment of the professors, if so), or were they never really interested in the first place?

Equally true for many other colleges. I have a stan. grad. sitting next to me and what he does is the same as what I do. I dont think both of us apply anything we learnt in our respective colleges :-D [at least not at the level taught].

>> In other words, to get into IIT, after spending time, money, and effort, single-mindedly devoting most of your waking hours to preparing for IIT for 2 years, maybe more, you should realistically be thinking of doing it for another year, or maybe more. Are we then surprised if students are burnt out?

Not really. Many people, (esp. people from out of Kota/Hyd etc) move to these coaching centers only after they have cleared their 12th and so its really their first attempt, or the first serious one any way.

>>But indeed, what is the proportion of women in the bigger coaching classes? I am sure that is indeed more correlated to the number of women in IIT.

Not sure about the composition now, but it used to be ~10% in my days. But then, the coaching centers themselves conduct tests to admit you. You cant just walk in, plonk down your wad of cash and hope that you will be coached in 1-on-1s with a teacher. You clear an entrance exam/show extraordinary ability like clearing NTSC examinations. Even 100% in your board exams will not get you in.

>> With the JEE set as it currently is, people like a good friend from Alleppey[4] studying on his own have to overcome almost insurmountable barriers.

But thats always been so. People in urban areas/people close to centers of learning will always have an unfair advantage over those who arent. If you think that you can clear any competitive exam (E.g. CAT, PET, PMT, CMPT, IAS etc.) without someone teaching you, you are mistaken. Its a given that this system is unfair to people who dont have access to this kind of training, but this is the fairest system we have.

>> Does merit, whatever it is, play a large role in clearing the exam? If so, certainly merit can be taught in coaching classes in Hyderabad. Or unsuccessful candidates can acquire merit by trying again in another year.

Its equally true that before you acquire the 'merit' you mentioned, you need to go to a reasonably good high school. Is it that merit is being acquired at high schools also ? You cant compete in anything before being trained for the competition. For instance, you cant pick a student with poor scholastic ability, take him/her to Kota and expect them to clear JEE. But if a student is bright to begin with, goes to Kota and studies there for a couple of years or one, it gives them an added edge in the competition.

>> What does clearing JEE mean about the candidate, beyond the fact that they are good at taking exams? Is it intelligence, motivation, perseverance, ability to work hard, passion for science, engineering bent of mind?

good at taking exams, intelligence, motivation, perseverance, ability to work hard, cant comment on the last two.

Sudeep

Falstaff said...

Sudeep: "If you think that you can clear any competitive exam (E.g. CAT, PET, PMT, CMPT, IAS etc.) without someone teaching you, you are mistaken"

One minor correction. You can clear CAT without coaching. I know several people who have. Which is not to say that coaching doesn't help or that it isn't harder without it. But it's eminently possible. This, I suspect, is mostly because CAT doesn't actually require any knowledge beyond basic class X maths and a reasonably strong vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

>> One minor correction. You can clear CAT without coaching. I know several people who have. Which is not to say that coaching doesn't help or that it isn't harder without it. But it's eminently possible. This, I suspect, is mostly because CAT doesn't actually require any knowledge beyond basic class X maths and a reasonably strong vocabulary.

I was speaking in a loose sense, dont take it literally. I know several people who cleared JEE without coaching and got low double digit AIRs as well. FWIW, Some of these people were really brilliant.

Its a misconception to say that JEE requires concepts that are totally beyond XII std CBSE. If you look at the syllabus, its largely the same, except that JEE is a problem solving exam, and CBSE is an exam geared towards ensuring that all students meet a minimum common denominator.

Also, things that are skimmed over in XII std. CBSE books, are explained much better in first year UG books, and hence people use those books, and hence the aha feeling that one may get from reading a first year eng. book and a JEE paper. There isnt really anything in JEE that isnt covered to a certain extent - however limited and in however dumb a manner - in CBSE books.

Its not unreasonable to expect a brilliant XII std student to know how to solve these problems. For e.g. Many of the books we used to study for JEE were Russian books that were for XII std. (or its russian equivalent) students, except the problems that we solved in those books were more difficult than one may expect CBSE book problems to be.

As an aside, these kind of difficult papers were also set for NTSC exams.

Sudeep

Bill said...

TR: I may yet get used to the idea of adda by long monologues, separated by a few hours!

Yes, I know what you and Vivek (and others) are saying about it not being IIT's place to fight societal biases. This is a matter of opinion, and I think the key difference in our positions. I am strongly on the side of thinking IIT should be doing something, with whatever little tools it has. Two reasons. One is the moral aspect. These are national institutions, and I would want them to take a lead in making society fairer. The other is the pragmatic aspect. If they do not act and remain visibly unfair, they will be forced to act eventually. That would become unpleasant. Of course, I am not saying IIT should go out and engineer society, but certainly they can fix things within their power.

Coming to the point of tweaks versus radical changes, I am more in favor of incremental smaller changes rather than radical
"vive la revolution" movements. Those I leave to my wife, who grew up in People's republic of Trivandrum watching Bernal, er, Che movies, and "encouraging" people to vote when she was in her second grade. And certainly I am in favor of them over doing nothing and waiting for society to come around. Also, these smaller changes are things that are well within IIT's power, and can create a noticeable impact (propaganda value as came up in the discussion on Vivek's blog).

About coaching classes, I agree totally that coaching will always be around for those looking to get an edge. What I am arguing is that JEE should be designed so that someone who is not coached has some chance. This is true for example in the NTSE that Sudeep talks about. I haven't personally gone through the other exams of Sudeep, but do know people who succeeded without coaching at CAT and UPSC. I am a little surprised by Sudeep talking of people who got high ranks without any coaching whatsoever, since I did not meet such people when I was at IIT. This new trend is rather encouraging.

Also, it doesn't bother me much that the JEE is rather hard. What I am bothered about is that
1. It requires undergrad level material, rather than at the level of a XII grade student,
2. And more importantly, I am not convinced that this advanced material is necessary.

Falstaff:
Heh, we need the revolution now! Workers, er, something, of the world, unite! Seriously, as mentioned above, I think small changes to JEE can help. Also, maybe we can think in terms of the entrance procedure without restricting ourselves to the JEE.

Sudeep:
About the long tails, cannot you get the long tail without asking for undergraduate level material? As Falstaff mentions, the CAT gets by with std X level stuff.

I am not sure about your point of everything in JEE being covered at std XII level. For example in mechanics, arguably all you need is Newton's laws, which I was taught in my 8th std. I wouldn't have been able to crack JEE back then:) Many of the techniques required were taught in the first year of Btech.

I know you think the JEE is the fairest system we have and perfect as is, but I still think it can be made fairer.

Tabula Rasa said...

I know you think the JEE is the fairest system we have ... but I still think it can be made fairer.

I think that's a very nice summary of your position, and one which I'd accept as mine as well.

I'm sure given a long enough evening and ample alcohol we'd be able to arrive at a workable plan as well :-D

I don't fully disagree that the IITs should be seen to be doing something. However, I don't think that's their primary function and hence I don't think that any such action should be at the cost of standards. OTOH, I do agree that women may be being (sorry, bad phrasing) scared off by the JEE, and for that I feel the solution lies elsewhere. If not in revolution (hey, my turn to ask what sort of Bong are you?) then at least starting with the sorts of messages society - in the form of their schoolteachers, say - gives them about things such as the joint roles of motivation and ability in developing mathematical aptitude.

Anonymous said...

@@Bill >> I am a little surprised by Sudeep talking of people who got high ranks without any coaching whatsoever, since I did not meet such people when I was at IIT. This new trend is rather encouraging.

Uhh.. I am not sure when you attended IIT, so it may be a new trend or an old trend. I was there from 96-2000. :-)

@@>> Also, it doesn't bother me much that the JEE is rather hard. What I am bothered about is that
1. It requires undergrad level material, rather than at the level of a XII grade student,
2. And more importantly, I am not convinced that this advanced material is necessary.

I wrote JEE more than 10 years ago. I am pretty sure about how I felt about the things I was studying.

If I explained the solution of any JEE type problem to any reasonably sharp student who was not preparing for JEE but using CBSE books instead, he/she would usually have no difficulty in understanding the solution.

Solving those problems required clear concepts, an ability to think in abstract and an ability to break down a problem into smaller parts.

Its not clear to me what advanced techniques you are talking about.

>> About the long tails, cannot you get the long tail without asking for undergraduate level material? As Falstaff mentions, the CAT gets by with std X level stuff.

First of all its not clear that its undergrad material in the first place, secondly CAT *has to* get by with std X level stuff because theoretically, you can be a BA/BSc and still write CAT. It has to cater to those exam taking populations too. I did not write CAT, but I did skim over the books people used to prepare for it, and for e.g. some of the reading comprehension questions are difficult, certainly not Xth std, and certainly requiring an urban background and an english medium education to crack effectively. All factors that help a 'long tail' :-)

If one thinks about it objectively, an exam that requires a thorough knowledge of a second language thats not your mother tongue is anything but easy or unbiased.

Also, consider state level engineering examinations, they are not Xth std stuff, but a lot simpler than JEE, yet one sees fewer women, and as much coaching as JEE !

Its not apparent that making JEE conceptually simpler will help increase the female population in IITs or make it any 'fairer'.

>> I know you think the JEE is the fairest system we have and perfect as is, but I still think it can be made fairer.

JEE is 'most perfect system' we have given our constraints. Also, dont criticize coaching centers in such a broad manner. For many, they are the only chance to get a level of instruction thats commensurate with their abilities, all for money. Why jump in between a capitalist commercial transaction ?

Sudeep