Friday, January 2, 2009

Removing GATE

A recent article in NY Times discusses the trouble with using SAT as the sole criterion for admission. This is actually one of the followups from several articles published on this issue in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This is based on the report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. which discusses that tests like the SAT and ACT were never meant to be viewed in isolation but considered as one of the factors that include grades, essays and so on. But with the college ranking systems considering SAT as one of the main criteria for ranking, the colleges seem to have preferred the exam as the one of the major criteria of admission until recently. Now many colleges in USA have made SAT optional, though the major institutes like MIT and Harvard still require SAT.

This backdrop is interesting considering that IISc is planning to drop GATE as one of the requirements for admission to its research degrees (masters and doctoral programs) in engineering. Under this proposal, the main criteria is the percentage of marks obtained by the candidate in the B.E/B.Tech examination and anyone who secures more than 70% marks in their undergraduation will be eligible for admission.

My opinion on the above has always been that we should not obsess with admissions tests like GATE for doctoral programs and we should take an expansive view of merit that would include GATE, the undergraduate scores, communication skills and motivation. However, for masters program, we need an all-India entrance exam just to screen the huge numbers. With nearly six undergraduates in engineering (and 2.5 lakhs of them expressing an interest in higher studies by writing GATE) with wide variations in the undergraduate marks awarded in each university, it would be nearly impossible to screen them only by interviews.


r said...

Interesting that an esteemed institution like IISC is considering removal of GATE scores altogether.

I have always wondered how candidates appearing for GATE master all the areas presented in the syllabus. I'm pretty sure even if a Prof. at IISC were to take the exam, he/she may not be able to answer questions from areas other than their specialization. GATE I believe only tests whether the candidate has a sharp memory of all things mentioned in the syllabus and ofcourse how they apply them. If one doesn't "remember" concepts one cannot "apply" even though one may have a decent aptitude and that too in a stipulated time.
In a "google" world where informaton is at your fingertips I believe its how creative you are that matters, especially in a time where interdisciplinary research is getting more importance.

One way to make the exams more interesting and relevant would be to provide a "cheat sheet" along with the questions where the relevant information required for answering each question is also provided. This may be used by the candidate to arrive at the correct answer. What you really test is the creativity and aptitude at ariving at the answer rather than memory.

Another way might be to create a textbook along the lines of the syllabus that contains all the material covering areas that will be tested and out of which the questions will be based of. A pdf copy may be provided on the web which the candidates may be allowed to print and carry to the exam hall and can be referred to during the exam.

Anonymous said...

IISC seems to be going towards a college full of conventional idiots. The reason why gates is really great is the simple fact of mixing the subjects and concocting a problem that would be absurdly simple provided the student's grounding in a majority of subjects connected with the paper is perfect. Research is all about taking an unconventional look at a particular problem which requires thinking in a different perspective that what is the norm. By the way, your blog reads like a newspaper. are all your research papers just as inconclusive?

Sapan said...

I strongly agree with what 'r' said.

Though it is strongly believed that the GATE exam tests ur application skills and u can crack it easily if ur fundamentals are clear, i don't think so.

The syllabus of maths is "everything" taught while in B.E./ B.Tech. Now do u think that if fundas are clear the student will remember all the formulas he has studied in 4 years !! Its just next to impossible... So rather than testing ur application skills it tests ur skill to remember things, in simple words "how well can u mug up".. Take any GATE paper and just flip through the pages. I would say that even a non-technical person can say looking at the questions that majority have some or the other formula and u can't make that formula looking at the question even if ur fundas are 110% clear.

Moreover I also don't agree to the 70% cutoff that is being thought about. How can u arrive at such a generalisation ?? There are 1000s of engineering colleges in India and from my personal experience I can say that all have different marking strategies. Some feel that giving more marks increases the value of the college and people think that the college has brilliant students while there are colleges which think that being more than strict is the key and they just cut the marks like anything. So how can u conclude that the student is not intelligent if he doesn't get 70%.
Maybe he is a college topper at 65%. This is just like another type of reservation !!!

Also I totally disagree with the result validity being made to 1 year instead of 2 years previously.. That gave chance to students to strive hard to get in the college of his choice next time. But now its like if he scores 98%ile and is getting a seat in any of the IITs, he/she won't take a chance to appear next time and try getting into the IISc.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Sapan,

I agree with you and R. As I have written in the blog before, I do believe that GATE should be modified. I have proposed sectional marks, papers with cheat sheets (like what R suggested, and what I have for all my courses). The other way is to have analytical questions (like GRE used to have) and some basic engineering questions.

Thanks again for your comments. It is good to know your ideas.

Best wishes,


Sapan said...

Thank you very much sir,

I had come across this blog accidentally while searching some information about GATE....But truly ur blog is very nice...

Sir, just one more suggestion...
U must be knowing that the frequency of taking the exam for GRE and TOEFL is quite high... As per my knowledge it is something like 4 times in a month. So why can't we do it for the entrance exams in India. Bcoz i think that the frequency of the exam is one of the reasons for the migration of students to US and other foreign countries.
eg. A person appears for GATE in 2009. Now he secures say 95%ile, which is quite good but not at all enough to acquire a seat in IISc./IIT.. So if he wants to appear again he has to wait for one whole year and in the mean time the circumstances may change which may lead to his migration or even dropping the idea of further studies. I don't tell that the frequency should be like GRE/TOEFL but at least we can make it once every 3-4 months i.e. 3-4 times in a year. Also doing this will automatically reduce the stress on the students coz if u want to crack GATE the next year you have to be in touch with the subjects throughout the year, which is very difficult if have finished ur graduation and are a working professional. You can't take the books just 2 months before and try to crack it (excluding the exceptions ;))

I strongly believe that the education system in India can be made one of the best in the world by some reforms. We have the best brains in the world but we are behind just due to the lack of proper system.
Hoping that happens real soon.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Sapan,

Yes, I do agree with you regarding the frequency of GATE. We had discussed it extensively when I was in charge of conducting GATE. The first problem is that all faculty require to put in considerable time in setting question papers every three months, conducting it, correcting it etc.

Even if we do all this, the problem is how to compare candidates writing GATE, say in Aug and Dec? GRE and TOEFL are standardized exams and are held throughout the year. Scores can be compared across different exams.It is much more difficult to conduct (and set) standardized exams in engineering subjects.

Some feel we already have too many exams. For example to enter IISc in sciences, the candidate needs to qualify only in one of the five: GATE, UGC, CSIR, IISc entrance exam, JEST. Therefore, one option people are thinking is to have GATE "equivalent" exams like the above.

Having said that, GATE is planning to go online from 2011 tentatively with standardized questions from a question bank. After that, a candidate can take an exam a maximum of four times a year. It is just delayed to 2011 because one has to put the required infrastructure (computers, server etc) in place.

Thanks again for your comments


Sapan said...

Dear sir,

Thank you very much sir for your quick and apt response.

I am very pleased to know that at least the problem regarding the frequency of GATE has been given a thought and already the work is in progress to make the exam online.
That's a really good option. It will not only solve the problem of frequency of the exam but even the post-exam process like results and all will be very speedy..

I agree with you that its difficult and requires extensive efforts from the faculty members and all the persons linked with the exam especially on the administrative side. But anyway, 2 years is not too long if such good changes are going to take place in the education system. :)

btw, sir i just got a query.. After the exam goes online will the course commencement period be also changed ? I mean will be like batches start 2 times in a year (like Jan and Aug in US) or will it be the same like now ie. once in a year ? I don't think that's a major issue though.. The main thing is cracking the exam with flying colours... :)

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Sapan,

The discussion about GATE going online was when I was incharge (in 2005-7). Therefore, at that time, we had four more years to plan.I do not know the progress now.

Regarding admissions in Aug and Jan, we (IISc) already do it for our Ph.D program. Please do note that B.E/B.Tech can join our Ph.D program. I think this is the case with all IITs. We used to have admissions to both our masters and Ph.D program in Aug and Jan, but stopped admitting masters students in Jan effective last year.



Anonymous said...

Respected Shri Prof. Giridhar,

At the outset, I would like to thank you for your very informative blog. I had a question w.r.t the post regarding the minimum cutoff marks for the admission under the direct interview scheme:

a) Your post mentions it to be an aggregate of 70% in all semesters.

b) Your post on the prospective faculty website mentions that, "For the engineering departments,some departments require that the candidate be qualified in GATE but most departments will interview any student with a B.E/M.Sc/ME/M.Tech". (with the minimum criteria fulfilled?) []

c) The institute brochure and admissions page mentions that the minimum requirement is 55% or a second class as awarded by the university/awarding institution, with the process (Class X, XII and degree marks used for shortlisting).

Please let me know which one of these holds good as the minimum shortlisting criteria for interviews. Is 70% an aggregate requirement of Class X, XII and degree marks?

My son has applied for a PhD but he has an aggregate of 67% in his B.E. and has 7 years experience. Would he stand a chance to be called for the interview?

Thanking You,
Rajendra S. Thakur

Giri@iisc said...

The institute brochure is correct and it mentions the minimum requirement. Satisfying the minimum criteria does not qualify to be called for interview.

Venkatesh said...

Dear sir,

I am planning to write GATE next year, is there any chance it will be removed or modified in anyway like including university exam marks etc...? To be honest with you after reading that IISc is considering the above (of course this post is one year old) i am bit worried!

Manoj said...

Hello Sir,

I would like to know whether direct PhD. from IIsc after B.E.\B.Tech is good or not?

Whats its scope regarding the Job after completion of the Phd?