Examining the entrance

Writing a competitive exam to gain acceptance to the institution of one’s choice can be a daunting experience for candidates, considering the sheer numbers involved

WRITING AND preparing for an entrance exam is a demanding job — we all have our stories from the time we appeared for one. The Indian teenage dream is to study engineering or medicine and the first step in this process is an entrance exam. Well, that is before one goes through tonnes of training at coaching institutes and learns the proficiency and skill it takes to crack the test, apart from the knowledge of the subject.

Even to get into a government-administered university in India, one has to sit for a test that qualifies a person to be considered for the number of seats in a course. Some may think that it is not the ideal way to select students for a classroom. Western countries have mastered the art of sifting through thousands of applications and design their next cohort based on how a student talks about their work in their statements and the entire quality of the application.

Specially for subjects like design that are interdisciplinary in nature, an individual will require adeptness in multiple disciplines to be able to do well in it. An entrance certainly does not confirm a person’s merit in a plethora of subjects via a standardised test. However, India has in fact found a way to test design skills by means of an entrance exam. To keep it transparent and cope up with the massive number of applicants, it is an Indian education institute’s only resort.

The entrance test for a Master’s programme at Tata Institute of Social Sciences that happened on 4 January this year has about 37,000 candidates that appear for it. For someone, who hasn’t appeared for a national level test in the last seven years, it can be an intimidating experience.

One of the tests happened at iON Digital Zone iDZ in Noida, which is essentially a chain of examination centres that avail exam rooms with computers, security services and invigilation duties to institutes. A sea of applicants wait outside for the gates to open. Some look through the roll number lists that indicate the floor and room number one has to head to at the centre. What was indeed surprising about the list was the number of students that were placed in a single room.

According to the list, some 500 students were going to sit together in a room and appear for the test. It was going to be an online test and for anyone who hasn’t given one ever, to imagine that many people in a single space with equal number of computers took some getting used to.

Once the candidates were allowed to enter, they were required to let go of all stationery, bags, phones, wrist watches and papers before they headed for their exam rooms. A line of shelves had been provided for everyone to store their bags till the time of the exam. And it doesn’t end here. Now is the time for frisking to make sure everyone is in compliance with the instructions regarding what not to carry to the examination hall.

Walking some metres and climbing a few stairs, students locate their exam rooms. For TISS DAT, it was a room as big as the expanse of a parking lot. Imagine a room laid out with computers on hundreds of tables. The sight is surreal. Invigilators walking in neon jackets to confirm their authority within the room. One of them will come to you and ask you to sign the attendance sheet and mark your presence with a thumb impression. It is a rather traditional measure to maintain identity of the candidates that also led to some of them mistakenly signing for someone else. Anxiety is real, after all.

While everyone’s experiences with entrances may differ, what remains a constant is its importance in student’s career — to get into a good institute and eventually into a good life.

In the month of January, students have appeared for exams such as the XAT to get into XLRI, CMAT that is a common entrance for management courses and the sought-after JEE mains that happened between 6th and 11th. It is a season for students to get into their respective colleges.

The entrance test for the Master’s programme at NID took place on the 29th of December. While the students waited outside the test centre, learning institutes that mentor students for design institutes used this opportunity to market their brand. Some gave a book with sample test papers to students while others gave away writing pads to leverage the name of their coaching institute.

The entrance writing phase has only started and will go on until the month of June giving a fair chance to people from all walks of life to get formal education.

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