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The IIT Entrance Exam (priceonomics.com)
203 points by hawkharris 1395 days ago | hide | past | web | 91 comments | favorite

As I was watching the Google I/O webcast last month, the one thing that struck me was how some of the most important products and services from arguably the most influential tech company of our times, were headed by IIT graduates:

Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, who heads their search team and essentially rewrote the critical ranking algorithm in 2001, and a graduate of IIT Roorkee [1];

Sundar Pichai, who heads Android, Chrome/Chrome OS, and Google Apps [2] - a graduate of IIT Kharagpur;

Vic Gundotra - who heads Google+ and social and is a graduate of IIT Bombay [3];

Nikesh Arora, who is Google's Chief Business Officer, a graduate of IIT Varanasi [4];

Sridhar Ramasway - SVP for Ads & Commerce - a graduate of IIT Madras [5], plus dozens of other key people.

(The latter two are listed on Google's management team page at : http://www.google.com/about/company/facts/management/ )

Not to make too fine a point about it - but IMHO Google is one example of the influence and impact of IITians on the world.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amit_Singhal

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundar_Pichai

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vic_Gundotra

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikesh_Arora

[5] http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sridhar-ramaswamy/2/220/972

Edit: Formatting

Clearly these men are all very capable but would they have been able to have the same impact had they stayed in India?

Given that they all did post-graduate study in the US and currently live in the US and work for an American company, I think their accomplishments say less about the quality of IIT graduates and more about the fact that a huge amount of human potential is being wasted in India.

> more about the fact that a huge amount of human potential is being wasted in India.

I think your text would make more sense by using "the world" instead of restricting to "India".

I have thought multiple times about the quantity of great people that could be having a great impact in our lives and are "missing". We have examples all over our history (islamic mathematics, old greeks,...) of different civilizations that accomplished huge achievements with smaller populations.

Obviously, I don't think that there is a genetic factor for certain ethnics to be more intelligent, but we still see how jews (13-14 million?) are on top of the Nobel Prizes on science, while arabic contribution is symbolic. The same prizes a few centuries ago would have a completely different destination.

The current distribution of Nobel Prizes surely shocks me more than seeing some Indian IT people on top of great companies (1 billion). Not to remove merit from the individuals, but from the system; I have always thought that there is something more in a person than the results of a "simple" exam.

>huge amount of human potential is being wasted in India.

Just a counterpoint : IITs are state funded, i.e most of the student fees are paid for by the government. Once they complete their education, do they not have a duty to give back to the people ? Remember, brain drain is a serious problem for countries like India.

Though my own taxes help fund the IITs, and I never was hard-working enough to get through the JEE, I'm happy that we have the IITs setting at least some kind of an example for the rest of India. I am disappointed by the idiots filling teaching positions in most other colleges.

> do they not have a duty to give back to the people ?

I hate this attitude, not just in India, but anywhere in the world. Like Kennedy's "ask not what your country has done for you...". To start with, their own parents paid taxes to support the IITs too. Do we have a way of making a balance sheet for how my taxes were utilized? How much have I lost to supporting corruption? How much have I lost to supporting undeserving candidates who got in through reservation?

In case of IITs, you are, of course, neglecting all the private funding it gets.

> brain drain is a serious problem for countries like India.

Many Indians who have left have gone on to accomplish great things. Do you think they would have accomplished even 1% of that, had they stayed in India? Brain drain is not India's problem; it is an avenue for opportunity for many Indians. India's problem is corruption and unfettered democracy.

About the brain drain problem, I think yes. They would have accomplished more if they stayed in India. Just have a look at Narayan Murthy, founder of Infosys. Just imagine if people like Sundar Pichai, Vic Gundotra etc stayed in India, they might have done something even bigger than what they had done at Google. Android or something similar would have been created in India or India would have a social network like Google Plus! Who knows!

Fakeer, you've been banned or hell banned for some reason. Nothing in your comment history stands out to me, so you might want to talk to the admins to see what happened.

On the other hand, India has a huge population and its inevitable that it will have more than a few geniuses/great persons. Did IIT help make these people, or did IIT just select them via rigid examination and admission standards? If the latter, more worryingly, how many great people were condemned to mediocrity because they weren't selected?


I don't think they are condemned to mediocrity just because IIT didn't select them. You will find far more non-IITian indians making impact in the world if you look for them. Just like not all fortune 500 CEOs come from Harvard, not all great engineers and scientists come from IIT.

True enough. But high-stakes testing and the value we place on them does act as a biased filter. I'm pretty sure it would have been very hard for me to personally thrive in such an environment.

>On the other hand, India has a huge population and its inevitable that it will have more than a few geniuses/great persons

China 1.3B population

India 1.2B population

Africa 1.0B population

Surely there's a lot more here at work rather than the raw population. The environment, social culture, peers, educational opportunities, cost, language, parental expectations and lastly, great educational institutions all surely increase odds.

China, at least, has the gaokao for identifying talent, the actual Qinghua University experience is mediocre compared to one at American research universities; its just that the gaokao + a huge population allows them to select the best students. It would be an interesting experiment to see if they could take low test performers and "make" them into high quality graduates.

Africa is not one country and doesn't have any easy way of selecting their best or brightest, or even motivating kids to study very hard to win at the test. We might say its "culture" but it has more to do with resources.

Awesome Compilation. I had the suspicion that a lot of the higher-ups were IIT grads, but I never looked into it. (Not that that's a bad thing, but it's interesting). Is there a very pro-google culture in India? Does Google recruit relatively heavily from India?

You didn't include the real big guy of Google(who died in an unfortunate accident later) who was Brin's and Page's professor and mentor.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajeev_Motwani

Motwani joined Stanford soon after U.C. Berkeley. Motwani was one of the co-authors (with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Terry Winograd) of an influential early paper on the PageRank algorithm, the basis for Google's search techniques. He also co-authored another seminal search paper What Can You Do With A Web In Your Pocket with those same authors.[3]

He was also an author of two widely-used theoretical computer science textbooks, Randomized Algorithms (Cambridge University Press 1995, ISBN 978-0-521-47465-8, with Prabhakar Raghavan) and Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation (2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, 2000, with John Hopcroft and Jeffrey Ullman).

Prior to his involvement with Google, Motwani founded the Mining Data at Stanford project (MIDAS), an umbrella organization for several groups looking into new and innovative data management concepts. His research included data privacy, web search, robotics, and computational drug design

If these numbers are true, I think it points to an academic rip off far larger than the US student loan problem. If the coaching industry is $3.4B annually, and there are only 10,000 slots at the IITs, that's $340,000 per spot. It effectively costs more to attend the nominally state-funded IIT than an Ivy League school.

Of course, most of that cost is not paid by those who get in. If we assume that every one of those half million test takers spent $6800 for coaching, they're being severely ripped off. You'd have to assume that the average IIT entrant spends over 50x as much as the average unsuccessful test-taker before that comes down to even half -- and at that point, the IIT entrants are paying $175k.

Either the article is leaving off the some important details -- perhaps the number quoted for the coaching industry does not just include the IITs -- or this is an economic disaster that no one has yet noticed.

I was a part of this coaching industry as a student, it is almost inevitable if you are applying for IIT. For a two year period, I shelled out approximately Rs400,000. That is around 9000 USD at the then exchange rate of around 45 INR to a US Dollar. This amount includes coaching, hostel charge, food, books, everything.

EDIT: And this is on the higher end of the spectrum. I had the privilege of going to one of the best IIT coaching institute.

Just FYI

- In India each state has it's own Under-Grad entrance test

- Lot of high school students just don't try for IIT Entrance Exam

- Would approximate that there are least 4-5 million students who enter poll of undergrad just for engineering

- That $3.4 B number in not just for the entrance exam it includes High-School curriculum and in many cases boarding

- Would guess the national average for two years for IIT focused cost is about $1,500 including boarding

I'm willing to bet a dollar that the $3.4B number is wrong or at least misleading. A very likely mistake is that the article is quoting the total size of the entire academic coaching industry in India. Engineering schools admission is not the only highly competitive field in India.

This is a great observation! While I cannot testify for the numbers quoted in the article, which are suspect as other comments have noted, I'll share my understanding from about 15 years back when I was one of those students. Note that I barely have any data in support of this.

Many of the students who are able to make it through the IIT-JEE examinations actually do not have to spend as much on the coaching. There are people who are in the top 2% in terms of their brains, irrespective of the exam, which have a high likelihood of being in the top 2% in the examinations too. They of course still have to work hard (1) to acquire the needed knowledge, and (2) to gain speed which is also critical via practice.

There would be people in the first 2% who do not fall in the second 2% and vice versa. All the students on the boundary need to work hard to boost their chances as much as they can. But then there are top 1% (number is made up), for whom chances of slipping outside of 2% would be relatively smaller. Reality gets more complex of course since it is not just one threshold "in-or-out", but also about being able to choose the field of one's interest after getting in.

A whole next class of people are those who believe in themselves a bit more than their real capabilities, because they do not know it just yet. These are the ones I believe who end up paying the most. They would gradually see that there are falling through the cracks while still having the desire to get in. A friend of mine took a bold step, surprising everybody around, by backing out on a timely basis.

Finally there are people who would be interested in getting in, but know they do not stand a chance with IIT-JEE. These better save both time and money and focus on something else, that may include other colleges or other fields of study.

Given the reputation of the college, there are coaching institutes which downright abuse the situation. I have heard of famous coaching centers promising money-back guarantees of making it through, which have their own entrance examination to select students that already have a very high chance of getting through! I have also heard of similarly reputed centers who would secretly promise a country-wide rank in the top 10 to as many as 50 students (!), again with a money back guarantee.

Serving as a single data-point would be my own case. I did not go to the IIT but to another reputed engineering college [1], but yet the idea is valid. My total expense for the coaching was about $150 [2], and my four years of undergrad, being subsidized by the government, was about $100 + books [3]. Yes, this is all four years of college, and this applied to ALL students in my college. Yet, some of my own cousins paid $5,000 to go to a local college of no reputation for a nominally similar degree that ultimately did not get them anywhere.

To summarize, the distribution of spending amongst prospective students is somewhat more involved, probably hurting those people the most whose idea of self-worth is not commensurate with reality.

[1] That's a separate story in itself.

[2] None of the numbers here are inflation-adjusted to today from ~15 years back.

[3] Books too were generally cheaper Indian editions, so not as costly.

Stories about rigorous tests and top-notch universities in other nations make me realize that prestige is myopic.

For example, I recently introduced two friends: One was an American who had gone to Princeton; the other was an Indian who had attended the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

Both colleges have fancy names and star standing in their own nations, but neither person fully understood the cachet of the other's education. I'm sure that employers wouldn't entirely understand it, either.

That's ironic when you consider how much we judge ourselves according to prestige ... you move to another nation and suddenly your clout evaporates.

I feel that very deeply as a french student attending one France's top engineering school (École Centrale Paris), and currently living in the US.

No one I meet here has ever heard of my school, and I kind of feel like I have to prove myself again outside of school, if I want to have a chance of being noticed by the big companies here.

The whole effect is also increased by the fact that the size of french universities is at least ten times smaller than US universities on average (my school has 500 students per year), and virtually invisible in global ranking that are based on the number of published papers...

I often found that astonishing as well. It does not help that we do not have ivy league universities here in Germany. I have met hundreds of people here claiming to have studied "in Munich, Harvard and Oxford", because they attended some expensive two-week summer schools abroad... Also, it happens quite often that people think of their alma mater as some kind of elitist, (I am looking at you, Munich, Karlsruhe and Mannheim...)even though it is not really hard to get in there, and curriculum is similar everywhere.

TLDR: It's hard to earn prestige by attending any university in Germany - but people hate that.

Just an FYI, IITs are not the only Institutes of National Importance (INIs) in India. 30 campuses of National Institutes of Technology (NITs) are also in that bracket. NITs also have more than 10,000 alumni in Silicon Valley alone. Though IITs, justifiably, hog all the limelight and we don't like it one bit. :-)


From the article: "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."

I am NOT saying that the IIT admission process is easy, but I will say that this is the wrong way to show that the process is hard. Not all smart students vie to attend Harvard, MIT, and Stanford in quite the same way that many, many, many smart students vie to attend IIT. The base of applications is broader, by far, for IIT, partly because of the especially steep drop-off in quality and in prestige from the IIT echelon of universities in India to other universities. If we compared Harvard's number of admitted students in the most recent reported year, 2,029,


to the number of students who took the SAT college entrance test in the relevant high school graduation class, 1,664,479 students,


we could calculate that 0.12 percent of all high school seniors in the United States who took a college entrance test were admitted to Harvard, quite a low base admission rate. The key, of course, is that many American students self-select out of applying to Harvard, and indeed don't self-select to submit an application to any "prestige" university.

That said, direct examination of the IIT examination item content


may suggest what level of performance on specific item content is necessary to be part of the small subset of the large number of IIT joint entrance examination test-takers who gain admission to an IIT campus. On that basis, I agree with the statement that the IIT undergraduate programs are highly selective and likely to collect on one campus many very smart young people who provide a good peer group to one another so that everyone on campus picks up habits of aiming high intellectually, as the IIT alumni I know here in Minnesota all seem to do.

>The key, of course, is that many American students self-select out of applying to Harvard, and indeed don't self-select to submit an application to any "prestige" university.

Till 2012, AIEEE was the other most important entrance exam in India and it was the basis for admission to all national colleges other than IIT. ~1,100,000 students applied for it compared to ~500,000 who applied for IIT

Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-04-28/entra...

This seemed like a key omission when comparing IIT to Harvard. As for self-selection, it seems that developed countries have more options for viable education, and a more independent youth at that age, thus it becomes possible for future students to spread more evenly across the system. Not something that's possible at this point in the developing world, where these kids carry a much bigger weight on their shoulders.

This is my thought exactly, and made me immediately suspicious of the article's analysis.

Agree with you. There are around 12 IITs while Harvard is a single institute(?). The article omitted JEE mains phase. 12.5 lakh students appear for mains, in 2013. 75,000 qualified for JEE advanced.

1.25 million, for those (like me) forgot how much a lakh is.

> The key, of course, is that many American students self-select out of applying to Harvard, and indeed don't self-select to submit an application to any "prestige" university.

Self-selecting out is true for IITs also. Let's not forget that IITs are focused purely on engineering stream and a bit on technology management courses. IVY Leagues on the other hand are broader universities covering other streams such as liberal arts, life sciences, law etc.

If you compare the size of student-body which grows up each year (the ones qualifying 10+2 intermediate school) in India, and the fact that only a fraction of it applies and appears for the IIT entrance, you will get a clear comparison on which university has the lowest acceptance rate going by this metric too.

However, let's not blind ourselves with ratios and percentages alone because absolute numbers have a bearing on competitiveness too.

I remember there was a study a few years ago suggesting that countries like India and China are so populous that the number of honor kids they produce is higher than the number of kids we have in west [1]. Also check out this video which shows how IVY leagues form a backup option for most IITians with Vinod Khosla, Narayan Murthy et al.


Not saying that universities like Harvard do not have a high enough benchmark or a lesser quality admission process, but if we were to compare quality of entrance exam/criteria of only the engineering streams of Ivy Leagues/others universities with what the IITs have, then the latter would be right on top.

[Disclosure: I am an IITian, so apologies for the conflict of interest w.r.t to my statements above.]

[1] http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/06/26/are-your-kids-smar...

I have been collaborating with 2 IIT grads, one Mumbai, one Calcutta. Holy cow, these guys are mot-ti-vated! They may not always be the inherent smartest guys, but man they can pack in the hours. I know that working smart is better than working hard but they sure as snot can work hard. Here in the US, I think we have an ok balance of the work and sports and school aspects. There in India, if your name gets published in the local newspaper next to your score, you can bet things look a bit different.

Not much to say, other than that those kids are gunning hard for a middle class life and legacy.

I think that's the case with most Indians and our education system is to blame for that. The entire schooling system is very competitive. If you're not aiming to be an engineer or a doctor, then you're wasting your life. Slogging day-in day-out becomes a part of our life. The result is a bunch of people who may not be very smart (not much practical knowledge) but can more than make it up with hard work. While this is a sure way to success, you lose a lot along the way. There is absolutely no work-life balance. Sports is seen as a recreational activity, not a profession. India is pretty much missing on the Olympics or any global sports chart because of that [except where Cricket is involved. We take that seriously:)].

Just to clear some of the myths surrounding the exams - I studied for only a week (and only one subject - physics) before the exams in 1997 (the year the paper leaked and the exams were re-administered). I cleared the exams with a rank of ~1500. In the two years prior to the exams I was busy making money assembling computers. Did not take any coaching either.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the exams are not as hard as they are made out to be, and the students, at least some students, are not as studiously dumb as they might seem in retrospect. I know that most of us who cleared the exams with decent ranks were just luckier that those who didn't.

Oh, by the way, I almost didn't join IIT because that year the tution fees were hiked by 10x (from $30 to $300 per semester).

To me it's somewhat disappointing to see how quickly HN jumps on an article like this. With all due respect to the obviously enormous hard work these people put into getting in to an IIT, and their obvious intelligence, isn't this kind of discussion about some test to determine whether or not you're 'smarter' than other people something of a pissing match?

No doubt intelligence to a certain degree is a pre-requisite, but beyond that privilege and wealth contribute a huge amount (emphasised in the article when discussing tutors.)

When I attended university I saw how important it was to strategise in exams, the actual technique of exam taking itself is clearly something you can work on, regardless of intelligence. Any test like this can be, and inevitable is, gamed by its candidates; the exams become more a matter of how good you are at guessing what will come up and being good at the art of answering exam questions rather than what the exams ostensibly examine.

I raise this because I find the whole 'elite universities, passed difficult tests = wonderfully smart people who should be given every opportunity in the world to shine' as suspect, biased towards the privileged, and false beyond a a certain base level which is probably not the 'cream of the crop' levels of intelligence people ascribe to those attending this institutions. It smacks of pomposity and self-serving arrogance.

I say this as somebody who went to an 'elite' or at least well regarded university here in the UK (Imperial College.)

Full Disclaimer: I myself may be somewhat biased as I under-performed at university because of quite horrific family issues which inevitably results in an emotional reaction to this kind of thing, however I don't think that invalidates what I'm saying.

Let's say that someone sat for the JEE and ranked quite poorly. Who would know this person's actual ranking? Presumably, given the existence of the secret code for checking one's score, not all rankings are made public. Does the test taker himself even know below a certain level of mediocrity?

I ask these questions because they seem relevant in understanding the motivations of many taking the exam. Does it reflect poorly on an Indian family if a child (especially a son, I presume) does not sit for the JEE? If so, it might be socially rational for an academically mediocre child to go through the motions of test preparation. This incentive is heightened if no one would have to find out just how badly the child did on the test. Is it a source of pride or honor for a family that a child is preparing for the JEE?

If these social motivations are present, perhaps a talented student's actual chances at getting into IIT are much higher than the overall numbers suggest. I argue that admissions percentages at top-tier US schools are similarly affected. Little Sally, even after spending hours with a private SAT tutor, got only a mediocre score. Yet, her high-achieving parents demanded that she apply to Harvard, Princeton, etc. This way, they could signal to others that they deemed their child of high calibre and (the real incentive here) themselves parents so good that they want only the best for their child. Because the acceptance rates are so incredibly low, it will not be a mark against either Sally or her parents when she is rejected from all her "first choices" and ends up at a mediocre university somewhere -- her "safety school". Sally's parents might also be rational to avoid mentioning that she applied to and was rejected from a couple schools only slightly more selective than BeerCanU as these rejections would be seen by others as a legitimate measurement of their daughter's mediocrity.

JEE rankings are public knowledge, in the sense that unranked == failure. (You don't get a rank if you don't get one of the top 10,000 spots). If you do get a rank, and choose to hide it, it can be pretty easily inferred by what you are studying (CS at IIT Bombay == top 100 or lower. Mechanical at Guwahati == over 1000).

It is definitely a source of pride/honor, and so NOT taking the JEE is definitely seen as somewhat shameful. For example, I grew up in India, and went to the US to study at Williams College. My parents were a little sad about me not writing the JEE, and it was seen as somewhat of a cop out. (I decided at the end of 10th grade that I was going out of the country for college so I didn't write it.)

What a lot people may not know is that these universities release many of their lectures online on youtube. I have watched some in the past to catch up with missing notes and it was helpful. Edit -- Link - http://www.youtube.com/iit

Could you provide a link?

Wow, this is great!

> 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.

Far from it. IITs are not even in the top 20 in Asia[1].

[1] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/asian-uni...

Look at some of the criteria for those rakings. They are heavily weighted towards how many international students and faculty they attract, research done by the faculty and grad students, the number of papers they publish and how often those papers are sited. IIT on the other hand is heavily focused on producing high quality under graduate education for Indian students.

Their goals simply don't line up with the metrics being measures by those rankings.

I'm unreasonably pleased that I was able to answer both the example questions.

That is wonderful. I struggled at both of them. :) If you don't mind asking, what is your current education level? These exam questions are attempted by high school teenagers in the IIT entrance exam.

Very nice. I can say that I understood the questions, but without consulting external resources, was not able to solve either. (It's been a long time since I've done chemistry, and factoring/roots was always a weakness for me)

First one's simple enough, but second one I couldn't figure out if there's a clever trick. Or are students expected to apply the quadratic formula and do a bunch of symbolic manipulation?

No factoring or quadratic formulas necessary. I'm going to write c_n instead of a_n and a,b instead of alpha,beta.

Since a and b satisfy that equation, you know that

a^2 = 6a+ 2, b^2 = 6b+ 2

and hence

c_10 - 2 * c_8 = a^8 * (6a + 2) - b^8 * (6b + 2) + 2b^8 - 2a^8 = 6c_9.

Dividing by 2c_9 gives 3.

Edit: asafira beat me to it!

Using the same convention as yours, I tried to break c_10 in terms of c_9 as follows:

(a^10-b^10) = (e a + f b) * (a^9-b^9)

Multiplying out the RHS, e = f = 1 are the best choices, but there remained a residual. At a second glance though, this residual was proportional to (a^8-b^8). Problem solved.

(Spoiler) Here's a way to do the second one: http://tinyurl.com/ojs6ux5

I think approximation can be the best way to answer these types of multiple choice questions.

Since its a quadratic, you know alpha is about 6 and beta is about -0.3. Then, since the answer is a whole number, and we're raising to high powers, you throw away the -0.3 and approximate a_n = 6^n.

Divide through by a_8 and you get (6^2 - 2) / 12, which is very close to 3.

There's an interesting connection between the roots of quadratic equations and Fibonacci-like sequences that is applicable to this problem. Let r and s be the roots of x^2 - ax - b, and let c[n] = (r^n - s^n)/(r - s).

Then c[n] satisfies the recursion c[n] = a c[n-1] + b c[n-2].

For instance, if a = b = 1, then that sequence is the Fibonacci sequence, and the quadratic is x^2 - x - 1. r is then the golden ratio, s is -1/r, and (r^n - s^n)/(r-s) is the famous Binet formula for the n'th Fibonacci number.

This applies directly to the ITT problem, giving the recurrence a_{n} = 6 a_{n-1} + 2 a_{n-2} for the a_{n} sequence from the problem, which in turn readily yields the answer.

I think it's easier to think about it as if you are just multiplying the original equations by some power of alpha or beta i.e.

alpha^(n-2)(alpha^2 - 6alpha - 2) = 0 = alpha^n - 6 alpha^(n-1) - 2 alpha^(n-2)

Hard to see without latex typing...

> Hard to see without latex typing...

MathJax to the rescue:


To render with MathJax, use the bookmarklet available here: http://checkmyworking.com/misc/mathjax-bookmarklet/

Since we are discussing the questions. Here is one I can't forget, it was one of the tough Physics question in the year when I took JEE.

Here goes (text from my memory): There is a rolled carpet of length, L, kept on an even floor. A person gives it a gentle push, and the carpet starts to unroll. What will be the velocity of the unrolled piece of the carpet, when the carpet is half unrolled? (You can ignore the contribution of the initial push, for this computation)

PS: I will look for answers, here tomorrow ... :-)

I sometimes wonder if I could pass the IIT JEE, were I taking them today :)

As an undergrad product of one of the IITs, and among one of the last ones to write a main exam back in 2005, this was a nice article to read and a bit too self aggrandizing. One of the most amazing things about being on IIT campus was the collaborative culture, and the drive to initiate collaboration. There was no sense of competitiveness on the campus, that was once prevalent while giving JEE. Being among bright kids, all in their developmental stage, seeing their personalities form, seeing them follow career paths after graduating is so temporally connecting. One of the best memories remain the usage of campus centric lingo [1]. I am in contact with every single of my classmate without use of any social network. The bonds formed on campuses are incredibly strong. The support of our seniors deserves prominent mention, be it in school years or after passing out...that worldwide meshed network. Unparalleled.

[1] - http://www.qucosa.de/fileadmin/data/qucosa/documents/5134/da...

It's so strange to be considered a "peer" to people who have spent years working harder than I can imagine at the same career path.

I can completely empathise with this viewpoint. People jump through increasingly complicated hoops because everyone else is doing it, without stopping to think whether the end result they're after can be achieved in a simpler way. Then again, there are definitely benefits to competition encouraging a strong work ethic, even if what you finally end up doing doesn't require such efforts.

(Anecdotal case in point; I wanted to do Mechatronic engineering at university, requiring me to place in the upper 0.75% of university applicants. This requirement was purely because of the popularity of that course. I noticed that a combined BE/BSc degree was less popular, requiring only a top 20% score - and yet the combined degree let you study exactly the same courses, and you could drop out of the BSc part if you wanted! Lazy ol' me took that option...)

That's the right choice - work harder or work smarter ? It's true that getting into a top school like the IIT will open some doors, but that's really important if you don't know about the doors you want to open and head down.

When someone already knows what they want, there's often a simpler way to get it. Unfortunately, that's not expected of 17/18 year olds and in fact, parents in India will say "Oh you want X now, but what if you want Y later ? Better go to an IIT so that your options are open".

In my humble opinion, most Americans don't really appreciate what it means to be an American.

It's not something you can really comprehend until you spend time in a country like India or China.

Think of the lost potential of the people who may still be the cream of the crop but just outside the 2%.

The logical part of me says that they should be building more of these academies (if they can without sacrificing quality).

They are building more as well as converting some of the existing non-IIT engineering schools to IIT status. More than 20 years ago when I took the IIT, the total number of students admitted was much lower (~ 2000) than the article states for today (~10000). That would seem like a 5 fold increase in number of seats in about 20 years. Definitely much faster rate of growth than the rate of population growth in India.

Also, people who are just outside that 2% mostly do fine. There are a number of other highly competitive (and pretty good) schools of sciences and engineering that are not IIT's and most of the people you are talking about (smart, motivated students who had a bad day at the test or such), do end up with good careers regardless.

The problem I see is not to do with the education but the whole "I went to an IIT" leg-up that people get (Like ivy-leagers).

Just seems extremely unfair that the social outcome for getting into an IIT is so different for people of almost identical intellectual capability.

Just seems extremely unfair that the social outcome for getting into an IIT is so different for people of almost identical intellectual capability.

Unless you could quote a proper scientific study, that seems like a highly unsupportable assertion.

Just anecdotally, I know multiple people who chose not to go to IIT despite being inside the cut-off for one reason or another (e.g., not having a high enough rank to get into their preferred line of study) who've gone on to have extremely good careers nonetheless. Although admittedly, I'm struggling to think of any IIT graduates who did not end up with a solid to brilliant career, regardless of their actual academic performance while at IIT. Some to my great surprise! So what I'm saying is... there's not enough data to make a statement like you did.

Given today's scenario the quality of engineers is dipping.So does the gap and thus even a decently meritorious engineer looks much better than the rest of the crowd.An old study http://careers.learnhub.com/news/544-90-percent-graduates-an... shows how poor the rest of the colleges are.That said the socioeconomic gap keeps widening and thus opinions.Opinions are hard to break lest someone disprove.Vast majority of indian IT companies still run aptitude test to figure out who squares out a big number faster and cracks the tell-tale puzzle quicker rather who can understand the system and engineer better.So are their parent's prioties:education is BIG investment and they only want returns not knowledge.Well then these IT companies pay for a 12 hour code/test/typo job!And these companies are PRESTIGIOUS in india!!

I'm finding it hard to decipher the point you're trying to make other than the fact that you're dissatisfied with... uhh... things in India. No argument there. I am too.

The discussion at hand was about the small set of people who perhaps have the capability to get into IIT's but for various reasons don't manage to get in the top 2% in that particular test. I asserted that such people end up in other decent colleges (and there are plenty of good ones outside of the IIT system and they still form only a fraction of the sum total of Engineering education in India) and generally tend to end up in good to great careers. Any opinions on that discussion ?

Sorry my frustration overrode clarity!! the gap across good quality colleges and others is getting bigger and bigger by the day .Unless something is done,these off-center-2% might as well get mixed up and lost.i wanted to mention the sociology-economic gap outside of IIT scheme of things.Its usually expensive if it isn't IIT and when it gets to that it creates all the more gap.Priorities change from educating oneself to undoing ones debts quickly and these very same priories can take one in a very different course.This will only widen the socioeconomic gap and lessen the opportunity for bright minds to come out naturally in times to come.

As a person just outside the 2% (yes, I failed those entrance exams) and yet currently residing in Silicon Valley, I disagree. I would much rather preserve the sanctity of those few colleges.

I'd rather have other universities collaborate/compete with the IITs. Not very different from how CMU is competing with IVY league universities here.

You are right about smart people outside the 2%. IITs own study says that entrance exam marks vary by 1 or 2 for ranks between 2000 and 10000 The govt has recently opened 10+ new IITs. I think they should add many more..though.

Surprised there wasn't greater discussion of the reservation quota, which it is widely agreed could single handedly fell the prestige/quality of the IITs.

I was one of the 1.3 million JEE aspirants this year. But I didn't join coaching classes. I believe that we study for acquiring knowledge rather than creating strategies for cracking exams which involves cramming thousands of formulas and shortcuts.These coaching institutes provide the poorest of study materials and low quality education.I prefer to study from internet.Most of the students waste there 2 years in preparing for JEE. I don't know why government encourage coaching institutes by asking questions that we are not taught at schools.Moreover, many of the IIT grads prefer to teach in coaching institute rather than going in industry and research.

I am immensely interested in computer science. I studied it a fair bit throughout the two years. I made an image editor as my project. But this backfired me as I couldn't devote my time to JEE preparations.I couldn't crack JEE Advanced.

JEE arises in students a feeling of competitiveness which prevails in them even when they are in colleges. Do you still think that this trade of coaching institutes is fair and that students should participate in this rat race?

For all the shit Quora gets on HN, it's probably the leading authority on the IIT system due to the enormous number of Indian members. See https://www.quora.com/Indian-Institutes-of-Technology/best_q... for some of the more interesting questions and answers.

Most of the questions and answers are quite narrow in their perspective probably because the community they are targeting to comprises largely of other IITians and people who are closely related to them. If you are looking at it from an outsiders view, I would rather suggest that you talk to an IITian personally. Nearly all of them are quite open to discussion about it.

Nice article. But there are bigger questions to be answered,

1. Did the person who made it in the top 4000 of the JEE actually want to pursue engineering at all ? I have numerous friends in IITs who join the bandwagon for nothing but the brand. They are clear in their minds to pursue a MBA right after their undergrad (IIT+IIM makes parents, family, girls droool). Then there are people who get into it because of family pressure. Its not a very healthy environment at home for two years at any engineering aspirant's home. Trust me.

2. What about those people who didn't get in ? That feeling of not getting into an IIT can be heart-breaking. Those two years of getting up early and sleeping late, numerous hours spent on mind-numbing problems. Missing family functions and gathering for the sake of your coaching exams. That peer pressure of making it into the next FIITJEE All-India list. Everything in vain ? We live a very black and white life in India. You are either an engineer from an IIT or you are from any-other-college. What about the person who didn't get in ? Does this mean that he just isn't good enough ? Wait, let me re-emphasis does a 6 hour test get to decide that i am good enough for my dream ? This is unfair. One exam cannot definitely be the make it or break it. Anyone can have a bad day.

3. Boards or JEE ? For people who may not be aware, the other exam results which are 'supposed' to be critical in your making it big in life are the class 12th boards. Deciding in classes 11-12th on what to study for is a major dilemma since the level of the courses are somewhat different. It isn't easy going into this thing. The horrendous pattern change in 2013 actually shows how the education ministry is actually using kids for experiments of their own.

All said and done. The JEE does a great job bringing like minds together and IITs automatically becomes the hub of the brightest minds the country has to offer. Delighted to see this on HN.

I have seen Indian non-IITians who are way better than their IIT counterparts at similar tasks. I also feel that good non-IITians are easier to work with and get the job done because they don't come with the baggage of some sort of entitlement.

But having said that, I do observe that an undergrad degree from an IIT serves as a reasonably reliable indicator of Engineering strength.

"Students pay subsidized tuition at a fraction of the real cost of their education. The Indian government subsidizes over 80% of the costs of the IIT, with alumni donations only accounting for under 3% of the system’s budget. “While the total government funding to most other engineering colleges is around $2-4 million per year,” a critical article writes, “the amount varies between $18-26 million per year for each IIT.”"

I dont get why the Indian government will spend millions on subsidizing and educating its students and then allowing them to migrate to USA - if that occurred in the USA there would be an uproar on why the government is using the tax-payers money to fund another country's workforce. Something the Indian tax-payer needs to think about, eh?

The Indian govt is surely stupid in subsidizing higher education in place of primary education. However, there is a flip side. Even though the people are allowed to migrate, it is the same people who have brought the IT industry to Indian shores. According to a study commission admittedly by IITians, there is a positive economic benefit to funding IITs.


More than stupid, the Indian government is clueless and careless about how it spends its earnings from the 2-3% of Indians that actually pay income tax. That coupled with rampant corruption and politicians only interested in saving their vote-banks adds to the woeful state of affairs.

If the Indian citizens started being more demanding about how their money was being spent, on whom and the ROI per rupee of tax collected, the government and the politicians would be forced to change. See, http://openspending.org/

I am studying/working through the summer in what I guess would be a program with "elite" students from my field. There are people from the top colleges around the world including but not limited to MIT, Dartmouth, Harvard, Columbia as well as some of the top Canadian, Chinese and European schools. My only colleague that comes off as genius level smart and has a huge breadth of knowledge is from IIT Mumbai. I know it is only one data point but he is also a fairly normal guy. Really nice, thoughtful, loves to hang out and go out for drinks. If every student from IIT is like him I could see a bright future for India

"six grueling hours of chemistry, physics, and math"

Otherwise known as three two-hour papers - hardly the stuff of legend! I'm not suggesting the papers are easy, just that by any measure, at this level the length is nothing remarkable.

It is remarkable. It is a game of chess. You have to be in upper 4000 ranks to land a good engg. stream. And the ranks often have incredibly minor mark differences between them, which makes for harsher penalties in form of being denied good streams in good IITs. The mind games played in JEE is a game of chess. You only know the syllabus, and that's it. In my times, physics paper was easy and people scored a lot. It was Maths exam that made the difference. This is what makes the exam remarkable. And these iterations are there in every exam. I have given 3 hour exams in IIT in morning and evening...those were not grueling....but JEE was.

Is there an equivalent of this? http://web.mit.edu/ir/pop/awards/nobel.html Closest would be University of Madras not IIT.

Its just a numbers game, the universities are not even smart enough to increase seats in a country of 1.2 billion.

IITs have been increasing seats at a rate that is often unsustainable. During my stay at IITB from 2007-2012, I saw the number of undergraduate freshmen increase from about 500 to about 900. I think the largest issue has been scaling infrastructure and faculty.

And no, IITs don't have any nobel laureate to boast about, largely because of the lack of core sciences and graduate/post-graduate programs when compared to MIT/Stanford etc.

Since this is HN, I'd like to draw a parallel. Six gruelling hours of complex programming.

I think you can now appreciate the level of concentration that the exam requires because no question is easy. (well, to be fair, maybe 2-3% are..) So when you have to think really hard about each question, and think really fast to solve it, it becomes a bit tricky. I don't know if they have penalty marking now but before if you got a question wrong, you'd get a negative mark too!

India should try to broad base its technical education and infuse quality among the large number of technical institutes which have sprung up across the country. Giving autonomy and aid to good institutions can be a beginning. IITs are good, but not the first or foremost requirement for the transformation of engineering education in the country.

I don't know fuck-all about chemistry or physics (I dropped out of the 10th grade), but could someone confirm for me that the correct answer to that multiple choice aluminum-hit-with-an-alpha-particle question about 20% in to the article is (a)?


Much obliged. :D

As it says in the article that the people that get into computer science in IIT are the best of the best in this test. I wonder how the quality of graduate compares with those coming out of mid/top US universities.

fascinating subject - but the article was blaringly badly written!

Maybe you should help 'em out?


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