Govt needs to restore NEET’s credibility - Hindustan Times
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Govt needs to restore NEET’s credibility

Jun 16, 2024 12:07 PM IST

Thanks to the results, NEET 2024 has come under a cloud of doubt. It is only hoped that NTA and the ministry of health address the concerns raised sooner rather than later

The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), the country’s annual pre-medical entrance test, declared its results on June 4. However, the results threw up some startling data and raised many questions. In less than 48 hours of the results getting published, four students had committed suicide. Who is responsible for such a state of affairs?

Students holding placards protest against the alleged irregularities in the NEET examination, at Shashtri Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma) (Amit Sharma)
Students holding placards protest against the alleged irregularities in the NEET examination, at Shashtri Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma) (Amit Sharma)

The declaration of the results a full 10 days before the scheduled date of June 14 was itself rather unusual. The qualification score for a general category student was 164 marks out of 720; that is just 22.77%. Why was the qualification score pegged so low? This meant 1.316 million aspirants “qualified” even as the cut-offs may actually be quite high — 67 aspirants scored full marks (720), in the process getting ranked 1. The unprecedented number of perfect scores — aspirants with perfect scores were a low-single-digit pool in previous years — raises questions about the integrity of the examination process itself while the resulting high cut-offs create their own set of problems as seats are limited in prestigious colleges. For such a conundrum, the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the examination, came up with a rather strange response: Admissions may be offered on the basis of “ascending order of the application number”. Is this a fair system? On the other hand, for students scoring less than 660, it’s the end of the road this year as far as government medical colleges are concerned.

Moreover, given that in 2021 just three aspirants scored 720 and the year after no aspirant got this mark, is 67 aspirants netting the perfect score merely a chance happening? What is startling is that eight of the top-ranked aspirants — six of them with perfect scores due to grace marks for 1,563 candidates that have now been reversed — were from the same examination centre in Haryana. In all, there were about 4,100 exam centres across 550 cities. What is the probability, all factors considered, that eight top scorers would have sat from the same centre? Moreover, some aspirants reportedly scored 718 and 719 marks, technically infeasible totals — again due to grace marks. The arbitrariness of the award had the Supreme Court, which is hearing multiple petitions against NEET 2024, seeing red, and ordering a retest for the 1,563 candidates.

But this will throw up problems of its own. Will the same level of difficulty as the earlier test be ensured? A different question paper will eventually be unfair to either those who have to take the test again or those who don’t.

Even the marks needed for a rank seem to have fallen off a cliff. A 99th percentile aspirant will be assigned a rank close to 24,000. In 2023, for 700 marks, the rank was 294. In 2024, it is 1,770. In 2023, at 650 marks, the rank was 6,803; in 2024, it is 21,724. In 2023, at 600 marks, the rank assigned was 28,629, in 2024, it is 80,468. Entrance exams provide a standardised method to assess aspirants, against the same criteria, thereby reducing bias from differences in curricula, grading systems, etc. Research shows a correlation between entrance exam scores and subsequent academic performance, making them a useful tool for admissions committees. For students from diverse backgrounds, entrance exams provide a level playing field. Notwithstanding their importance, there are criticisms. They can sometimes favour those who can afford extensive preparation. Test anxiety and the pressure they place on students sometimes can be unbearable.

The Tamil Nadu government had constituted a high-level committee headed by justice AK Rajan to study the impact of the NEET-based admission process. The committee’s report, based on inputs from various stakeholders, highlights NEET’s anti-poor and anti-social-justice aspects. The report further states that while the share of Tamil-medium students in medical college seats ranged from 1.6% to 3.27%, the share of English-medium students shot up from 85.12% in 2016-17 to 98.41% in 2017-18, and was 98.01% in 2020-21. These, by themselves, justified a relook at NEET. Now, the integrity of the test coming under question adds to the demand.

The concerns mentioned here, especially in the context of the persistent rumours of question paper leak, undermine the credibility of the NEET. It is only hoped that NTA, and more so the ministry of health, addresses the concerns sooner than later. Can test-optional or test-flexible admission policies emphasising other aspects of a student’s application be considered? Shouldn’t the clouds over NEET 2024 call for a re-test? We need to preserve the credibility of every exam conducted at the national level.

SS Mantha is former chairman, AICTE, and chancellor, RBU, Nagpur, and Ashok Thakur is former secretary, HRD, GoI. The views expressed are personal

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