02 Jul 2013

Meritocracy in India

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Alex Mayyasi tells us all about the IIT Entrance Exam.

The admissions test for the Indian Institutes of Technology, known as the Joint Entrance Examination or JEE, may be the most competitive test in the world. In 2012, half a million Indian high school students sat for the JEE. Over six grueling hours of chemistry, physics, and math questions, the students competed for one of ten thousand spots at India’s most prestigious engineering universities.

When the students finish the exam, it is the end of a two plus year process. Nearly every student has spent four hours a day studying advanced science topics not taught at school, often waking up earlier than four in the morning to attend coaching classes before school starts.

The prize is a spot at a university that students describe without hyperbole as a “ticket to another life.” The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are a system of technical universities in India comparable in prestige and rigor to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the California Institute of Technology. Alumni include Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, co-founder of software giant Infosys Narayana Murthy, and former Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin. Popular paths after graduation include pursuing MBAs or graduate degrees at India’s and the West’s best universities or entertaining offers from McKinsey’s and Morgan Stanley’s on-campus recruiters.

Government subsidies make it possible for any admitted student to attend IIT. The Joint Entrance Exam is also the sole admissions criteria – extracurriculars, personal essays, your family name, and, until recently, even high school grades are all irrelevant. The top scorers receive admission, while the rest do not.

This means that the test can vault students from the lowest socioeconomic background into the global elite in a single afternoon. Entire families wait outside the test center, as involved in the studying and test process as the children they pin their hopes on. In extreme cases, parents have sold their land to pay tutors to coach their children for the JEE.

Only two percent of students will be rewarded for their hard work. In 2012, Harvard accepted 5.9% of applicants. Top engineering schools MIT and Stanford had acceptance rates of 8.9% and 6.63%. The acceptance rate at the IITs, as represented by the pass rate in the JEE, was 2%. Every year, when the results are announced and the media swarms the accepted students, 490,000 students receive disappointing news.

You sit in a room with hundreds of test takers and look around and smile because, personally, you enjoy these kinds of tests, and besides, you have a private contest going with yourself. You mean to try to be finished with the test before anybody else, so that you can stand up, hand in the answer sheet, and theatrically leave, with dozens of eyes looking on at you with hatred.

Hat tip to the Dish.

8 Feedbacks on "Meritocracy in India"


This is what we should be doing at our public colleges and universities. The “test” should take the place of all general education courses that currently occupy 3 to 4 semesters of an undergraduate’s time. That would shorten the bachelor’s degree time, unless, of course we want to make the bachelor’s degree actually mean something. There should be no remedial courses taught at a public college or university. The “test” should be in two parts. First, what do you know? This is pure objective on a scantron sheet allowing it to be scored immediately. And second, how well can you write about what you know? If you can’t pass the first part, you don’t get to take the second part, because it doesn’t matter how well you can blow smoke if you don’t actually know something. Students should be allowed to take the test whenever they want and if they pass, they are automatically admitted to any public college or university they want. They can leave high school immediately if they want. The tests should not be administered by a school district or a college or university. If students fail the first time, which is free, they can take the test (different versions) as many times as they want if they pay for it out of their own pocket. This would make high school a little more relevant than it is now and put the pressure on the kids to shape up. Post the success rate of each district in the local newspaper so that parents can compare results and move their kids, if needed, to a different district. Use a voucher system (good at public schools, colleges and universities only) that guarantees 12 years of schooling. If the kid passes the test early, or if his parents homeschool, then the kid has an automatic scholarship.


For the curious, the answers to the two questions in the linked article are:

(A) Proton, Neutron, Positron
(C) 3

I do like standardized tests, but I’ve never tried to finish first. That’s idiocy as they don’t score you on who finishes first, they score you on who got the most questions correct.

I’ve always stayed until the last minute checking and refining answers. When you’re fighting to distinguish yourself from the one-in-a-hundred to the one-in-a-thousand (which these tests are) the cost of a single mistake is grave.

Would you give back 10 minutes of your time to get into Stanford versus State School?


Who wants to go to Stanford? I went to Yale.


Yale doesn’t make a nice alliteration.

I’d also wonder how many Indian engineers (as mentioned in the article) would head to Yale vs. Stanford.

Yale, of course, is an excellent school, was my #2 and I chose Stanford so there’s at least one in that set. Yale is easily better than Princeton or that stink hole of Harvard.

I didn’t find anything enjoyable about Harvard. The campus is drab when it’s not outright ugly, the student body is morose and pretentious, and the class offerings are pathetically antiquated. I don’t understand how it maintains its elite status when they outsource anything requiring more math than a tip on a restaurant bill to MIT.

Stanford, of course, has an otherworldly campus, excellent geography, a diversity of excellence that extends across academic disciplines and on to athletics as well. And, the liberal douche aspects of SF and Marin are easier to ignore than the strident and entrenched old money trust fund socialists that have made the East Coast schools their sandboxes for many decades.


I was living in Silicon Valley during the first half of the last decade, and visited Stanford to use the library and shop at the bookstore from time to time. I found the campus less posh, the library smaller, and the girls less pretty than Yale’s. I expect that Stanford could beat Yale at football though pretty easily today, and you do have better nearby restaurants and bars. The PC’d mascot in the form of a redwood tree, called something else, was a constant irritation. Northern California struck me as even more appallingly bolshie than Taxachusetts. I could never reside long-term in either state.


The confluence of Spanish Mission (run for the border!) style and proximity fault lines have not made for particularly elegant architecture in some cases (my freshman dorm was a bunker with no charm), although I was disappointed on my tour of Yale to learn that the only-decades-old buildings we were being shown were intentionally acid washed and distressed to appear to be centuries old. Not that it wasn’t /decorum/, it was more the artifice of it that was disappointing, like Craquelure paint.

Princeton was quite gorgeous architecturally with its gothic buildings but they too seemed out of place in such cowtown environs. The Harvard Law School was perhaps the most drab let down, especially after being fooled by Love Story and its subsitution of CUNY and other more classically beautiful buildings for Harvard. Combined with the ab ovo fraud that is their waspy name-sake, the pretense was simply too thick.

As for the people watching and eye-candy, I can’t say that toned and tanned and on display for almost the entire school year is inferior to the bundled up and clad in peacoat pastey/pudgy show that occurs in places with sleet and ice and depressing east coast snow/ice. Surprisingly Stanford typically ranks quite well in the assessment of male beauty, but all elite schools do seem to suffer from the appeal of party schools to those seeking MRS degrees. Luckily the Bay Area does boast bevies of such types if you’re looking who are likewise more impressed by the “I got in” credential since they didn’t. Given that it’s California, the entire beauty scale has to be re-adjusted anyway.

Mascot-wise I too am disappointed at the hyper-libtard “sensitivity” treatment, which is incredibly paternalistic and condescending. It basically says “We feel that you as a group, our red skinned charges, are so mentally and culturally inferior as to be unable to handle the deep burdens of mascot status, something even those filthy Irish and sadistic Viking-spawn are deemed fit to burden, so we shall save you by striking your name from our athletic teams! Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay us back right away, but we’d appreciate it if you’d vote for us as an unthinking block for the next few centuries, seeing as how we’ve done so much for you. Welcome to the Liberal Plantat..errr Reservation!”

That being said, I’ll take entirely underivative Tree, and being the premiere athletic institution in the country so there’s actually quite a lot of quality to cheer for, versus being wed to the most decrepit of inbred monstrosities the bulldog. Mascots should be laudable and there’s really nothing to praise about the fascination with that most British icons of inability. Malocclusion, skin folds, and flatulence is no way to go through life.

Plus, we get to regularly destroy our rivals who are smelly hippies instead of being the incestuous WASPy cousin thing Yale and Hahvahahd have going on.


Santa Cruz has the best mascot.

Princeton & Yale’s modern campuses were both largely built (during the Depression) by the same architect, James Gamble Rogers.


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