The JEE Main 2019 results have just come out, and there is a lot of discontent among the students, with a majority of them saying the normalisation system introduced by the National Testing Agency (NTA) wasn’t fair and luck paid a key role in the final rank list. Let’s understand the NTA ranking system.

Until 2018, JEE Main Offline was being conducted by the CBSE in a single shift. The rank was decided on the basis of the score, which made the process straightforward. The paper constituted of 360 marks and had 90 questions. Here is a table showing students’ ranks along with their scores in 2018:

JEE Main 2019, NTA ranking system, NTA, Gradeup, National Testing Agency, CBSE, NIT, IIT, JEE, JEE Advanced

In 2019, NTA took over. The pattern was similar to previous years’ exams, but the ranking process was entirely new. The exam was held twice in an online mode across 16 different sessions. Based on their marks, students were allocated a percentile for their particular session. Since many students took the exam twice, they received two different percentiles: one after the January attempt, and one after April. A rank list was calculated based on the best percentile amongst these two. When the list was being prepared, the rank was based on the percentile and not the scores. Earlier, the exam was held only once, which made the process a bit simpler: students were ordered by their scores and then the rank was decided.

According to this new system, the scores do not determine the rank, the percentile does.

Now, it is possible that a student’s marks are high in their session, but if their percentile is low, their rank falls. The percentile may depend on certain external factors like the performance of aspirants within the session, the difficulty level of that particular exam, and the presence of relatively high-scoring students.

Here’s an example: student A scores 285 marks in session 1 and his percentile is 99.56. Student B scores 171 marks in session 2 and his percentile is 98.92. In this case, student A’s rank will be 5060 and student B’s will be 12420. In 2018, the rank difference between student A and student B would have been over 20,000, whereas now it’s about 7000. So, the ranking system may seem a bit unfair which has led to some student uproar.

This makes the ranking system vastly different from previous years. For eg. after the 9th April’s session 1 exam, these were the scores and their respective ranks, in comparison to what their ranks would have been in 2018:

This system of normalisation works well for exams that have a pure cut-off system, such as the prelim exams of Banking or SSC. For elimination purposes, it makes sense, but when it comes to ranking, it’s a questionable method.

JEE Main exam has two primary objectives:

1. Getting a good rank to get into NIT and centrally funded engineering colleges
2. Falling in the top 2 lakh students who subsequently take the JEE Advanced exam

So, for a highly sensitive and rank-oriented exam like JEE Main, the conducting body needs to re-think this decision and understand how well this mechanism works. It may work well for objective (2) but for objective (1), it does seem to fall short.

As of now, we would advise students not to get distracted from their upcoming exams, i.e. JEE Advanced or BITSAT. While we understand this could be disheartening, this situation is currently unavoidable. So, what is important right now is to look forward and focus on their exam preparation.

[Navin C Joshi is Academic Head and VP (JEE and NEET) at Gradeup]