National Testing Agency

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A brief history

As in 2019

Manash Pratim Gohain, August 22, 2019: The Times of India

National Testing Agency  vis-à-vis ETS
From: Manash Pratim Gohain, August 22, 2019: The Times of India

From outside, the building in Noida’s Sector 62 in UP looks like one of those common structures jutting into the Delhi-NCR skyline. Inside, the headquarters of the National Testing Agency (NTA) is a whirl of activity. Rooms are filled with hawk-eyed specialists glued to screens. “Roll it out,” a person directs someone on the phone. “Agra centre is slightly behind schedule,” says another. It is the swiftness of its workforce and use of robust technology among other things that has catapulted the agency to the league of the world’s biggest competitive exam testing bodies in a short span of seven months.

Since it first conducted the UGC NET in December 2018, the agency has examined over 54 lakh candidates in 11 national-level entrance tests for top institutes. In contrast, its global counterparts like Educational Testing Service (ETS) which conducts SAT and GRE in the United States had tested 28 lakh candidates for college admissions in whole of 2018. Set up by the ministry of human resources development as an autonomous, self-sustained organisation, NTA has been mandated with creating an exam system which is scientific and at par with international standards. NTA also has its eyes set on a bigger goal — to make exams smarter and less stressful for candidates.

Technical know-how and artificial intelligence will play a major part in the leap forward, according to NTA officials. “The idea is to create a scientific and secure examination system that measures up to international standards,” R Subrahmanyam, secretary, higher education, ministry of human resources development, told TOI.

For this purpose, NTA has armed itself with sophisticated technology to crack down on paper leaks. For the NEET exam, which was not computerised and held in May this year, geo-fencing devices for secure delivery of question papers were used. If any box was opened at a different place and time than the one designated, an alert would go to the headquarters.

Next on the agenda is rolling out aptitude testing. “We do not test aptitude which is why after getting into certain courses, like engineering, students might suddenly find themselves not interested in the subject any more and drop out,” said Subrahmanyam.

Another plan is to introduce computerised adaptive testing or CAT — an exam that adapts to the examinee’s ability level and can identify a student’s learning level more precisely than fixed-question exams. Such tests are also shorter and therefore less tiring.

An NTA official explained: “Computerised adaptive test starts at an average difficulty level, which is determined through existing database. The exam rolls out questions based on a candidate’s answers. If a student gives a wrong answer, the computer follows up with an easier question; if the student answers correctly, the next question will be more difficult. The total score is based on the number of correct answers provided and the difficulty of the questions completed. This method is in use in global competitive exams such as GMAT, SAT, GRE.”

In India, the stakes are high with hundreds of students fetching almost the same percentile and marks. A professional, autonomous body for testing like NTA was needed

At the core of NTA’s testing model is computer-based examination which allows greater flexibility, according to officials. Exams can be held over a span of four to five days and students can choose the dates. For the first time, JEE (Mains) was conducted twice this year.

NTA has brought uniformity in the way tests are conducted and students are assessed Counsellors said that the option to attempt entrance tests for premier colleges twice in a year was a relief for students. According to counsellor Pervin Malhotra, “A second chance to take an exam in the same academic session takes the pressure off. If the candidate messed up the first time because they were nervous, knowing that they have another chance can lower their stress levels.”

NTA has now been entrusted with a total of 13 entrance exams. Top universities like the Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have also engaged its services to conduct entrance examinations from the 2019 academic session. Also in its kitty is the entrance test of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), one of the premier B-schools of the country, and the CSIR-NET, the eligibility test for science lectureships and research fellows. Earlier, all of the exams were conducted by multiple agencies.

Introduction of NTA has brought uniformity in the way tests are conducted and students are assessed, said experts. Speaking on the need to have a centralised testing body, Delhi-based educational expert Deekshant Sahrawat said, “In India, where the number of aspirants on any testing platform is always far more than the number of opportunities available, even a small error or deficiency in the content or conduct of a test can make or mar a career. The stakes are high with hundreds of students fetching almost the same percentile and marks. A professional, autonomous body for testing like NTA was needed.”

M Jagadesh Kumar, JNU vice chancellor, said the university opted for candidate testing by NTA since its methods are at par with international standards. “The question papers are scientifically prepared, delivery of papers is error-free and conduct of the examination and submission of results is smooth. The examination data available with NTA can be used for research to further improve assessment techniques.”


Better use of technology, artificial intelligence

Scientifically-prepared papers, smooth delivery of papers & submission of results

Uniformity in how tests are conducted, students assessed

Computer-based examination for greater flexibility

Trained workforce

For non-computerised exams, geo-fencing devices for secure delivery of question papers

Aptitude testing to be rolled out soon

Plan to introduce computerised adaptive testing (CAT)


NTA became operational in July 2018

Total centres: 2,546

First test conducted: UGC-NET 2018, which was live-streamed at NTA HQ

At present, entrusted with 13 exams

UGC-NET, JEE (Main) & Swayam entrance exams conducted twice a year

NTA will conduct entrance & eligibility test for IIFT and CSIR

NTA has, so far, conducted exams in 142 subjects

One CCTV camera per 25 candidates

Live webcast of computer-based test

NTA workforce: Total invigilators - 50,000, observers & NTA representatives on ground - 6,000, virtual observer at HQ monitoring examination in real time - 1 for 20 centres

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