Threats from hackers, possibility of rampant cheating by candidates and tech glitches overshadow the government’s move to set up a single testing agency (National Testing Agency) for Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for engineering, Graduate Aptitude Test for Engineering (GATE) and National Eligibility Test (NET), say experts.
Some of the tests are likely to be computer-based and conducted multiple times a year which requires high-end technology, detailed planning and proper execution for safety and quality.
Testing authorities have to strengthen the system against cheating, impersonation and corruption. According to Dr Bipin Batra, executive director, National Board of Examinations (NBE), all high-stake examinations currently face hacking threats. Handling a major examination such as the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and JEE and standardisation of content could get to be tricky, too.
“The proposed NTA being a specialised agency will have to invest in creation of robust infrastructure as well as best practices to overcome these challenges,” he says.
The system will require constant testing. Eliminating technological glitches and using biometric systems will help, say experts. Biometric capturing at every stage and cross verification of biometric database across years can bring impersonation to zero levels. Digital technology for distribution of question papers can eliminate the remote chances of paper leak and highly secure virtual private networks can eliminate any chances of cheating and malpractices,” adds Dr Batra.
Lessons also have to be learnt from NBE, which is using such technology for conducting tests such as NEET Postgraduate, NEET Super Specialty and Foreign Medical Graduates Exam.
NBE has smoothly migrated all the entrance and licensing examinations from paper to computer-based testing mode. The popular perception a few years ago was that “medical graduates will not be able to use computers. No such barriers exist as digital technologies are used widely today. “However, the conduct of operations remains a challenge as many tier 2 and tier 3 cities in the country do not have requisite infrastructure in terms of electricity bandwidth and computer labs,” says Dr Batra.
Conducting entrance tests is not the core function of institutes handling this task today. Authorities of these institutes feel this is an added responsibility. Testing is a specialised job which needs the right blend of technology and operations expertise and should be outsourced to a specialist agency, say experts. It will allow the institutions to concentrate on their core job of policy-making and implementation.
As Soumitra Roy, country manager, Prometric India, a global testing agency that has conducted tests such as the Common Admission Test (CAT) for IIMs in the past, says, India’s biggest challenge is to identify the required technical and physical infrastructure which is conducive to testing.
Online testing can be used for low-stake exams such as HR exams or tests for hiring. Any computer-based test has to be conducted in a proctored environment like that of an entrance test, he says. The government’s aim is to convert all paper-pencil based tests into computer-based tests.
While some tests like JEE and CAT are computer-based, the better solution is to convert them to continuous tests rather than conducting them on one or two days and in specific testing windows. “This is a must in a country like ours with a varied demography, infrastructure and low internet bandwidth in certain cities. There have been several instances of candidates not being able to give their best performance due to emergencies on the test day and they end up losing the entire year. If the candidate is unable to schedule the entrance test flexibly and has to lose a year, then what kind of technological and societal advancements are we aiming for?” asks Roy.
Another perception is that paper-pencil based testing is outdated and does not offer the advantages of the computer-based testing platform. “The option of conducting paper-pencil based tests may still be there. However, it needs to be supplemented with robust technology such as biometrics, capturing CCTV recording, electronic database verification, digital image and fingerprints capturing and archival etc,” says Dr Batra.
NTA can become the single source of introducing innovation and guiding policy makers on test administration.
There is a need to find perfect balance between technology in testing and operational capabilities. Technology alone cannot solve all problems in testing. Besides test delivery, good content is also necessary for testing agencies.
Speaking about tests such as JEE and GATE, Anil D Sahasrabuddhe, chairman, All-India Council for Technical Education, says, the number of candidates is likely to go up by two to three times in the next few years. Multiple dates for the exams in a year could also be a possibility to give students the opportunity to improve their performance. Modalities, curriculum etc are yet to be finalised such as whether paper 2 of JEE Main for architecture can be moved online as well. These points will be deliberated in the next few months.
Successfully administrating a test like the CAT is based on a number of factors besides high-end technology. According to Prof Tathagata Bandyopadhyay, convenor, CAT 2015, with increase in the size of the pool of candidates, IIMs went for the computer-based test from 2009. The delivery part was outsourced.
“Test construction is still the job of a core group of IIM faculty members who have been doing it for years. It needs tremendous effort, high intellectual capabilities and huge experiences. The integrity and honesty of the people involved is exemplary. Construction of tests should be such that it effectively differentiates the candidates in terms of abilities that are being tested,” he says.