Australian Professors React to India’s Toughest Exam

Australian Professors React to India’s Toughest Exam

October 24, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Hi everyone so last year I made a video
about India’s JEE advanced exam but I don’t think that I really did it justice
so for this video I wanted to invite some experts in science and engineering
to share their thoughts on the exam. They spoke about the difficulty of the
questions, whether they thought the exam would prepare students well for the
future and also shared their thoughts on exams as a whole. I also spoke to a
couple of Indian students who took the JEE and are now doing research work here
in Australia. For those not familiar the JEE exam is an admissions exam into
engineering colleges and it’s sat by over a million students competing for
just a few thousand places. You sit two papers, each three hours long on the same
day and it’s a multiple choice. So with that let’s hear what people had to
say about it. I thinks it’s a very tough exam so if I was a
student at high school and if this was intimidating when you first read it I
would not be surprised and if it’s not at all intimidating for you then I would
say congratulations because you’re a very impressive student. Well it’s really really interesting. It looks pretty difficult for example the question in physics I know I
couldn’t probably can’t answer you know maybe most of it now though maybe 30
years back I could do. You know these exams seem you know they’re very long, they have a very wide variety of questions they cover and they’re
hard I think any student who comes up against these exams is gotta feel
pretty lousy by the end of it. I’d probably you know leave the exam room
crying if I was in year 12 and I had to do this yeah good luck good luck So when we compare this JEE with some of
the subjects that are taught here in some of our cities in Australia, so
here is a question paper I was looking at, the depth of questions that are asked
can be even difficult for students in the first or second year who are studying in
bachelor degree level in Australia. It’s really quite ambitious that they’re
trying to test chemistry and physics and maths and the paper is laid out fairly
nicely in that you have to earn one mark per minute. Looking at the questions a
lot of them are in some sense sort of elementary in the sense that they use
the kind of maths taught in high schools although in some
areas I would say the syllabus in calculus and a couple of other areas
goes somewhat beyond what is currently taught in Australian schools or
currently examined in Australian schools but a lot of the questions are basically
tricky or slightly sneaky but also don’t necessarily require you to work through
the question in full detail. With multiple choice questions you
have to simply decide can I reject this possibility or not. There is some attempt
to stop people gaming that way by applying penalties to some wrong answers but still it’s very much a race against the clock. I think the mathematic questions are clever it looks for the person’s
understanding of the matter just rather than doing some direct questions so in
that sense you know they are okay they can they can be done and you
know some of these concepts I do even use in my course here in masters course
here especially those involved with the system of linear equations and
determinants and those concepts. So concepts like high spin and low spin
inorganic complexes that’s something that the University of
Melbourne in first year chemistry we would treat in second semester. There was a
question on essentially Arrhenius equations so a rate of reaction as a
function of a free energy of the Gibbs free energy so here we go it asks you
something like the activation energy of the backward reaction
exceeds that of the forward reaction by two R T so again you’ve got to basically
I think you’d have to you have to sketch this out you’d have to think about okay
if the back reaction is exceeding the forward reaction what’s the what’s the
reaction free energy um so it’s not just the concepts are difficult i think it’s
asking you in a way that is that is tricky you have to think about, it’s
not just enough to know the equation and you know throw in the numbers, you’ve got
to think about it before you get the number that you’re throwing into the
equation and obviously they’re not letting you have a calculator so I guess another challenge there. Definitely this will set up basic
like a background, a baseline so you could imagine that all the IIT students
would have come with they would have had formed up the fundamentals but from then
onwards there are so many things to learn because after you come to the IITs
there is still you know it will be like a bell curve again. You know for
example you give an exam to you know very tough exam and choose the
best in the world and then give them them another exam and still again the
performance is going to be like a bell but this happens to be this is kind of
something that is there it’s kind of basic needed basic foundations for
engineering but I would guess for nearly the majority of them would be ready to
do for you know go for special engineer education and that that explains
why for example IIT students are you know IIT graduates are doing well around
the world. I had a look at a couple of the one-hour math sections of papers and
I would say I would be fairly challenged to get a decent result on those
in an hour partly because as a professional mathematician I’m
interested in actually telling a story when I answer a problem I want to lay
out why the answer I’m producing is the answer. Simply being able to say the answer
is 27 to me is not so helpful or so interesting and in terms of future
success in in mathematics or indeed in many scientific disciplines the ability
to reason properly and to explain your reasoning clearly is terribly terribly
important. So while I have no reason to believe that using the exam the way it’s
used isn’t selecting very bright students for the engineering colleges
that they’re going to it’s not clear to me that it’s the optimal selector of
that and there is also the ugly question of coaching and unequal access to
resources. We all know that in any educational system if you go to a good
school well resourced with the best teachers and so on like that you expect
a better outcome, that’s ultimately the main justification for spending money on
education as a society, that if you work harder at it you produce better results.
But with these race against the clock style examinations there’s a trade-off
between the student’s ability in the subject, natural intelligence and other things like that and there having been trained to deal
about examinations of this type. Exams can have different purpose and entry
exams that are sort of in a form of a drill type of questions usually require
students to prepare a lot before to practice. The brain is like any other muscle
the more you practice it the better gets so when you have a large pool of
candidates and only small number of spaces usually have drill exams because
what they’re showing is whether the candidate is serious enough whether
they’re able to practice and how they perform under time limited pressured
environment and conditions. They’re not necessarily
prediction of whether that candidate will then do very well in the next step of
Education. So right now I have you know two students who from India’s Institutes of
technology. One from Delhi other from Madras so right now they are here and
carrying out research on applying AI artificial Intelligence and deep learning
techniques for medical applications. So this work they are able to do within you
know short span of time that demonstrates their skills and ability. Maybe a train is moving at this velocity, at this speed, we need to consider is it really possible? is it feasible? and then
there are questions about experience, have I actually seen a wire with young’s
modulus of this? Is it really possible? So those type of questions are
actually come from experience so we actually have to try out various
experiments in lab you have to know that what exactly are the ranges of
practicality that exist in science. Two marks or maybe half mark can change your rank by a great amount, it’s possible . Like getting -2 marks can decrease your rank by 200 or 400 so you need to be very careful about how to attempt which
questions to attempt and we need to be very sure about attempting that question.
Maybe yeah for other students that are preparing for JEE I feel being
open-minded is what would really help right now all those that are thinking of
maybe starting in class 10 or 9 I feel that they need to be open-minded they
need to be considering that yes experiences in life are very important
apart from studies. I feel that those experiences can really help not only in
JEE but also otherwise and yeah enjoying life is very important with studies. One of
my things would be don’t be scared of the examination hall. So I have
experienced that in JEE main that’s that’s not good.
So be open be free whatever you’re studying just put everything and yeah
all the best to all the aspirants. So yeah, when I looked through it there was a lot
of the questions that they are based very much on this sort of principle of
memorization and recitation which i think is just an extraordinarily bad
educational tool because it assumes that everyone has the exact same capabilities
in that area and as someone who never had a great memory for these things and
had to work extra hard and then became a professional physicist for over a decade
you realize very quickly that those particular skills don’t help you much at
all once you’re actually working as a scientist because you know scientists
you know get to the point where the material they’re working with is so
complicated you just don’t remember no one could remember it. So that that skill
of memorization and recitation is not not as helpful as people might think. In
science you know you tend to not be successful every day of your working
career in fact quite the opposite you tend to you know not get anywhere for
quite a while I mean you’ll have one lucky day where something will occur and
your training will allow you to see that and identify it as being special and
that’s what makes a good scientist but for the other 360 odd days of the year
you’ll have a you know pretty rough time and those sorts of skills
those sorts of resilience skills and understanding how science and
engineering work you know the process of falsification is not something that is
tested at all in these sorts of examinations and it’s unfortunate
because you want people with those skills more than you want people with
schools with memorization capabilities. When I looked at the JEE
advanced maths exams it led me to recall an interesting article by the
great British mathematician GH Hardy Indian viewers of this blog will perhaps
be well equated with Hardy who was was generally regarded as responsible
for bringing the great Indian mathematician Ramanujan to the attention of the world
then so Indian viewers should have some affection for Hardy. You have to
understand that when Hardy was a young man and through the early stages of his
career mathematical education the United Kingdom was governed by the
mathematical Tripos examination for Cambridge undergraduates. This was a
highly competitive examination, an examination of great difficulty in the
sense that it required a large amount of preparation and training, paying for
professional coaching and so on like that
and on the basis of your Tripos result this could lead to academic
possibilities but also to to high positions in the British civil service
and the Colonial Office and things like that. In fact it was
viewed generically as some kind of way of detecting deep intellectual
superiority and ranking people and Hardy didn’t have much time for that. Hardy was
actually quite a fan of examinations and quite a fan of lecturing as I am and
this is unfashionable these days what he was not comfortable with was the Tripos
particularly in the in the first version in which he encountered it. In order
for the exam to work the way it did a kind of culture had built up in terms of
the setting of the questions the kinds of questions and so on like that and
most of these had very little to do with mathematics that was either practically
used or intellectually interesting or anything recent in mathematics. It was
basically playing certain games, the examiners would try and set slightly
sneaky questions on certain topics and students would hope to have practiced
lots of questions of a vaguely similar type in the hope that they could get
through this and Hardy saw this as actually warping mathematical education
in the United Kingdom so Hardy’s argument was examinations of the Tripos
style are not a very good way to rank people intellectually and therefore
perhaps one might consider doing things differently. It would be drawing a
long bow to claim that the JEE advanced examination suffers from the defects of
the Tripos nonetheless there are elements
of analogy there particularly the issue of expensive coaching and the diversion
of students away from studying subjects and developing their abilities and
instead teaching them to do certain kinds of questions at great speed which
is not actually something of great use either in the practical applications
of mathematics in the real world or in academic mathematics, scientific
research or scholarship.