A tale of IIT admissions, coaching institutes, and students as brand ambassadors

How many coaching classes does an IIT-JEE topper need? 42
I’m told some of the more popular JEE test-prep schools are so focused on maintaining their track record that they admit students after an admission test (Pradeep Gaur/Mint) PREMIUM
I’m told some of the more popular JEE test-prep schools are so focused on maintaining their track record that they admit students after an admission test (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Updated on Oct 22, 2021 03:56 PM IST
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How many coaching classes does an IIT-JEE topper need?

42.

I say that because it is the answer to everything – and also because THHGTTG turned 42 last week (the first book was published on 12 October 1979).

The answer is definitely not one, at least not on the face of it.

First, the facts.

This year’s topper seems to have benefited from coaching from at least four different sources according to full page ads in the papers; online courses from Sri Chaitanya and Narayana and classroom ones from Allen and FIIT-JEE. There may be more, but since I am not in the market for IIT-JEE coaching, I didn’t look beyond two days of newspapers.

It’s not easy to top JEE. Back when I was in Class 12 (which is a long time ago), there were two major JEE-prep institutions, Brilliant and Agrawal, apart from a few tutors who would take on a few students (and tutor them in batches of two or three). One of my friends from school, the closest to a genius I have met, used to receive the Agrawal study material by post (as did everyone else) and got a rank in the low 400s.

Since then, of course, test-prep has become a business. And JEE has become even more important as the main exam is now the gateway to admission to many engineering colleges across India, not just the IITs. I’m told some of the more popular JEE test-prep schools are so focused on maintaining their track record that they admit students after an admission test (and that there are other test-prep schools that prepare candidates for this test). This could well be an urban legend but you get the picture.

It’s not just business but big business – at least a few tens of thousands of crore worth by most estimates – and some aspirants start early. How early? As early as Class 6, and it is the rare serious candidate who does anything less than a four-year test-prep programme.

Competition is intense, which could explain why some aspirants end up enrolling in more than one test-prep school, but there is also a simpler explanation for this.

It’s an explanation best posed as a question. Does anyone really think Indian cricket’s finest and Bollywood’s best actually use the phones and cars and clothes they endorse?

Topping an IIT examination is a feat that’s up there with really rarefied achievements: Climbing Mount Everest, running a sub-4m mile, getting into an IPL team….It takes intelligence, years of really hard work, and an-almost unidimensional focus. Purely from a free-market perspective, there’s nothing wrong in toppers wishing to monetise their ranks through endorsements.

Sure, there is a bit of dishonesty involved (they may not have actually taken the test-prep programme they are endorsing), but the damage is minimal because there is, I am told, very little difference between the top test-prep schools. I am surprised that given the competition, test-prep schools aren’t insisting on undertakings from students enrolling with them that they will not endorse any other test-prep school should they crack JEE with a good rank. Such agreements, much like anti-poaching ones between companies, or employment bonds of the kind IT companies once insisted upon, are not legally enforceable, but their very presence could be a deterrent.

As for the students and parents who are the audience for such endorsements, the only thing they’d do well to remember is caveat emptor.

PS: I’m aware that there are larger issues with the whole test-prep phenomenon, especially for JEEs, and the physical and psychological toll it takes on students, but that’s for another column (or perhaps even a book, if someone wants to write it).

R Sukumar is the editor-in-chief of Hindustan Times

Pulp-it is a weekly column for HT-Premium subscribers

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sukumar Ranganathan is the Editor-in-Chief of Hindustan Times. He is also a comic-book freak and an amateur birder.

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Monday, November 29, 2021