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Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Mess-Up That is the Common Law Test: A Parent’s Lament

There are moments in every parent’s life where certain images of their progeny get imprinted on the mind. Twenty-three years of motherhood have left their share of footprints on the landscape of my memory but no image has been so fraught with despair, fear, uncertainty and anger at self and at the system as the look on my son’s face when he reached home on the evening of 10th May after giving the entrance exam for the National Law Universities (NLUs) of India. Courage deserted me and I busied myself with everything that didn’t need to be done so that I could avoid asking him the question: How was the paper?

Under the National Law School of India Act, 1986, the first autonomous law school was set up in Bangalore. It admitted its first batch in 1987 paving the way for more NLU’s being set up in different states, each trying to come up to, and maintain, the standards of NLS, Bangalore. They succeeded in giving law as a profession a makeover and made it so attractive and competitive that they started attracting the best brains and talent. Parents like me , till now attached like a limpet to the idea of engineering and medicine as careers for their children, could no longer trot out any reasoned argument against law- specially when confronted with the placement and salary figures.

Till 2007 each NLU conducted its own entrance exam. The Common Law Admission Test was held for the first time in 2008 under the aegis of NLS, Bangalore. Like every entrance exam in India CLAT is tough by virtue of the fact that the number of seats on offer are extremely few—only 1336 in the 16 NLU’S. After removing the seats reserved for different categories only 1,069 are available to a general candidate. Total applicants this year? 40,000.

My son was aware of this fact and threw himself into preparations from the day his 12th board exams ended- giving himself a month and a half to prepare. My husband and I watched in secret pride as he gave mock tests daily, went through past papers, and did as many exercises as he possibly could of the different sections.

Fitting perfectly into the stereotypical role of middle class parents who know that 12th is THE year in their child’s life we kept dipping into the funds we had kept aside for the +2 year and for the entrances. By the time the exam day came near my son was pretty confident of getting a decent score. This confidence was bolstered by his mock exams scores. Till everything came crashing like a pack of cards not just for him, but for most of those who gave the CLAT this year. The disillusionment is not so much for his rank which is still good enough to get him admission into many of the NLUs – it is for that system that promises to deliver but lands up betraying.

Today the irony cannot be missed. The 40,000-odd candidates who appeared for the online Common Law Admission Test 2015 could have never imagined that even before they gained admission to the prestigious National Law Universities they would be a part of an engrossing legal and moral battle with all the classic elements of a courtroom drama. A drama to which they not only have a ringside view but are also divided neatly down the middle into the prosecution and the defence.

Prof. Gurdip Singh, Vice Chancellor, Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University (RMLNLU), Lucknow, and the convenor of CLAT 2015, could have  also never imagined that he would make it to newspaper headlines, television channels and be an objet de la haine in the homes of the  students who appeared for the CLAT this year.

Failures galore
The charges vary:  a paper which was inexplicably tough; questions were culled from previous years’ papers of management entrance exams (CAT); general shoddiness and lack of transparency. The FAQ 13 on the CLAT official website had stated that question papers and answer sheets would be mailed to the students right after the exam in the interests of transparency. Not only were students not mailed their question paper and the answer sheet but  FAQ 13  was also removed from the website.

Allegations also abound about a couple of coaching centres in Lucknow being in the know about the paper and concomitantly  students from these coaching centres performing very well in the exam; bucking tradition and custom no merit list was taken out;  the question paper being uploaded only after 20 days from the exam date-that too at the directive of the Allahabad High court. Furious and upset students claim that their papers have been tampered with. The number of questions they attempted in the exam is not being reflected in their answer sheets. Social media was afire with angry allegations and complaints soon after the test was conducted at the poor cut and paste quality of the paper.

The question paper itself has turned out to be the proverbial can of worms. The numbers vary from 30-40  but experts agree that many answers are wrong , questions wrongly framed and  there are questions which have no correct answer options. Gautam Puri, an IIM Bangalore alumnus, co-founder CL Educate, and someone who has been coaching and mentoring test takers for entrance exams for more than two decades says that he has never felt so pained and aggrieved at a question paper as he feels at the CLAT 2015 paper. In his tellingly titled post ‘Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum’ (‘Where have we come‘), he has divided the errors into two categories:
Category I has 25 questions that have incorrect questions or answer choices that have harmed the students and therefore corrective action needs to be taken.
Category II has errors in 5 questions that could be ignored (e.g. q. 22 and 23) because the student may have been able to solve, regardless. Arguably, the students should be compensated.
Cut-and-paste job
Unfazed by the allegations, Prof. Singh, has said on a television channel that an expert committee had been constituted to set the paper and once this paper (CLAT 2015) was set it was further whetted by a panel of four NLU VCs. A typical reaction to that claim is: In all their collective wisdom the expert committee and the panel could come up with a paper which is a cut, copy and paste job of past management entrance exam papers. Even this plagiarized job is a botched up one. The paper is riddled with grammatical and [typographical] errors. The VC also says that there is no error in the paper except for one typographical mistake. To give you an idea about how untrue this claim is, here are a few samples from the English section.
Question 2: The critics censored (A) censured (B) the new movie because of its social unacceptability.
The correct answer is of course B here but the official answer is A.
Question 25: The analogy given is Dulcet : Raucous. The relationship between the two is clearly antonymous in nature and the correct answer option  should be C, Palliative : Exacerbate. However, option B, Crazy : Insane  has been given as the official answer and one the ‘expert’ committee is sticking to. There are definitely three more questions wrong in the English section alone. This makes it five questions definitely wrong in one section alone.

CLAT is an exam in which even a minuscule 2-3 marks gained or lost can see one’s rank change by 50-100 positions, or more. Minus any hysteria or hoopla there are at least 25 questions and answers which are wrong. As a parent who saw her son burning the midnight oil to crack the CLAT, I feel that justice is not being done when a process like conducting an entrance exam for which students and parents invest their time, money, hopes and aspirations is not being conducted in a correct and fool-proof manner. We have slowly allowed questionable morals and commercials to creep into every crevice of society. Could we not at least spare the education system and save our children?

On the same channel, the honourable VC reiterated in dulcet tones that the paper is absolutely error-proof as corroborated by another expert committee set up in response to the allegations. Is anyone buying this? If one were to judge by the raucous voices, not many.

This article has been published in The Wire


  1. It is very disappointing indeed. I can feel for students whose career may get affected.

  2. It's such a pity that it is the way that it is when so much is at stake.

    1. Kalpanaa, you have hit the nail on the head!!!