With the number of GATE aspirants expected to touch an astronomical 1.4 million in 2014, the IITs have decided to go online. Abhijit Chaudhari analyses the merits and demerits of the computer based test.
Changes in GATE 2014:
The test will be conducted online for all the streams. Last year six streams (Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Computer Science and Information Technology (CS), Mechanical Engineering (ME) (EE), Electrical Engineering, Instrumentation Engineering and Production and Industrial Engineering) were paper based while the remaining streams were online.
The test will be conducted in multiple sessions (12) spread over one month, starting from Feb 2nd to March 2nd. It will be held on alternate Saturdays and Sundays, with two sessions per day.
Papers with more number of applicants (most likely ECE, CS, ME and EE) will have multiple sessions. This means that there will be separate papers having a similar level of difficulty in these streams.
The test will have numerical answer questions apart from multiple choice questions.
The application fee has been increased to Rs 1500 for general and OBC category students while it is Rs 700 for female and SC/ST students. Last year, the application fee was waived off for female applicants.
GATE test online is a good move in many ways
Firstly, at such a huge scale, an online exam is relatively easier to administer. Compared to a paper and pencil test, the chances of human errors are also reduced.
In an offline test, there are chances of paper pilferage or leaking of the question papers. This is almost eliminated in an online test.
An online test also leads to faster and relatively error free results processing.
Lastly, it also results in huge paper saving, and is considerably more environment friendly than a paper and pencil test.
There are a few glaring demerits as well
One issue with administering the exam is the lack of infrastructure in the country. As a result, the IITs are forced to conduct the test in multiple sessions, spread over a month.
This means that they have to create multiple papers for some streams like ECE (four sessions), ME (four sessions), CS (three sessions), EE (three sessions) and Civil Engineering (two sessions). Creating multiple papers containing dissimilar questions (to maintain the surprise element across the sessions) and yet maintaining a similar level of difficulty will be a major challenge.
For streams with multiple sessions, the score would probably be the only parameter to compare performance of students across multiple papers. The all India rank may not be very relevant for these streams.
With the exam going online, a lot of practice would be needed to get familiar with a computer based test. A peculiar problem that can arise in GATE, where some questions might need workings to be done on a complicated figure/diagram, is that of replicating the diagram. Students might need to practice on that. In case of a paper based test the same can be done on the question paper itself.
With the test having numerical answer questions, wherein one has to enter an answer, instead of choosing between four options, guesswork is eliminated and hence one cannot bet on luck or on a solution based on elimination of wrong options.
The author is the director of Gateforum.