Online vs Offline mode Should preparation for CLAT 2019 change
The Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is an exam that law aspirants eagerly await and dread in equal measure every year. On the one hand this exam is their gateway into the prestigious National Law Universities (NLUs) and is hence top priority for students and parents; on the other, though, enough questions have been raised in the past about whether the NLUs are capable of conducting the CLAT in a smooth, error-free and glitch-free manner that keeps students and parents at ease.
Reacting to these very concerns, a consortium of National Law Universities headed by Prof Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR, Hyderabad, decided (not too long ago) to roll back the CLAT to the offline mode from 2019. According to a press release issued by NALSAR, it was resolved that the feasibility of online test will be considered in the future (based on number of candidates and participating colleges) and also that a permanent CLAT website be created.
In the last month or so since this announcement, there have been diverse reactions from students, parents and mentors. Many simply point to the past that up until 2015, when CLAT went online, there were very few glitches and even fewer complaints. With the test now going offline, the dependence on computer labs, power and other such factors will reduce, thus allowing for fewer glitches.
Detractors however state that this is a regressive step since technology is clearly the future. They argue that the NLUs must focus their energies on solving the various issues and ensuring smooth conduct of the online exam. They point at the resolution by the consortium of NLUs for a CLAT Secretariat to function throughout the year from its permanent office in Bangalore as a step in this direction. Through better planning, operational rigour and clear demarcation of responsibilities, the online exam can definitely be smoothly conducted.
Online vs Offline Modes:
|1) Browsing And Reading Speed||DIFFICULT– Only one question is displayed on the screen. Even with the provision to see entire question paper, it is very difficult to browse quickly on a computer screen. Also, reading long passages is tiresome due to the need to continuously scroll.|
EASY & CONVENIENT– In the pen-and-paper mode it is very convenient to glance at multiple questions at the same time and also move across pages. Also, not needing to scroll is a big relief as it making reading long passages a simple task.
|2) Note-Making / Highlighting (in RCs, Legal Reasoning and Logical Reasoning sets)|
DIFFICULT– It is very difficult to underline/highlight, scribble or take notes when the given data or question is on the screen.
EASY & CONVENIENT– It is extremely easy to underline/highlight, scribble or take notes against given information in the question.
|3) Management Of Time And Attempts|
EASY & CONVENIENT– The presence of an online timer makes it very easy to monitor time. Further, the online mode allows easy access to information such as the number of questions attempted, attempted questions, questions marked for later etc.
MODERATELY HARD– While a watch/clock can be used, it is impossible to keep checking time regularly. There is no way to keep track of the number of questions attempted; while page navigation is easier, locating specific questions will need unique marking by the student beforehand.
|4) Rough Work And Calculations|
MODERATE– Rough sheets are provided, so for Quant and Logic questions the online mode is quite similar to offline mode. Also, an on-screen calculator makes calculations easy – however it can be a little cumbersome and time consuming.
EASY & CONVENIENT– There is no substitute for rough work in the question paper itself (right next to the data!). Also there really is no need for a calculator in the CLAT – the Quant section will have hardly 3-4 such questions.
|5) Marking Responses And Changing Them|
EASY & CONVENIENT– An online exam is pretty standard and convenient in terms of marking and editing responses – a simple mouse-click is all it takes in either case.
HARD– OMR-bubbling is time consuming and students need to do it carefully so that the response is considered. Also since the shading is done by pen, one cannot change a response.
|6) Test Environment|
MODERATE– Conventional wisdom suggests that an online exam conducted in an air-conditioned lab should provide a good and quiet test environment. However, students have complained in the past about poor quality of labs, computers and ACs/power back-up.
VERY CHALLENGING– Usually offline exams are conducted in school classrooms that don’t have ACs. Inconvenient benches, ambient sounds from surrounding areas (repair/construction and traffic) and the scorching summer heat make an online exam quite a formidable challenge.
|7) Cheating And Vigilance Issues|
LESS LIKELY– An online exam is fully standardised in terms of start and finish times; it also allows for different ordering of questions and minimizes chances of cheating.
MORE LIKELY– Start and end times in an offline exam are dependent on the invigilator and hence prone to errors. Past instances of center-rigging & paper leaks suggest that such issues are more likely.
|8) Evaluation And Result|
QUICK AND CONVENIENT– An online exam makes evaluation of even lakhs of candidate responses extremely simple and hence results can be announced quite early.
TEDIOUS & TIME-CONSUMING– Even with OMR-readers, the process of checking responses in an offline exam is difficult. This makes it more prone to errors and time-consuming too.
As the above table shows, both online and offline modes have positive and negative aspects. It is very difficult to say which is better even from past experience; most commentators are currently siding with the offline mode purely because of the large number of glitches and errors in the recent past; they however fail to adequately account for the larger issues that still plague an offline exam.
A better perspective can be gained by looking at the Common Admission Test (CAT), an exam that manages admission into the IIMs and the best management schools across the country. With almost 2 lakh aspirants annually, CAT went online in the year 2009 and initially faced many of the same glitches and problems as those faced by the CLAT. However, these incidental issues have been handled and now the exam is smoothly conducted each year. Maybe the CLAT Secretariat can take a leaf out of this book and find ways to make the CLAT online and yet free of issues and technical glitches.
Implications For A Student:
Is something drastic needed to prepare for the offline mode? Should students be sad or worried now that the exam is offline? For serious students, will the last few months of hard work and toil all come to naught?
These are clearly some questions that are plaguing both students and parents alike.
However, there is no need to panic or feel disheartened - the answer to all the above questions is a clear and resounding NO. The fact that CLAT has gone offline has almost no bearing on an aspirant’s preparation and hard-work. Not convinced? Read on.
There are three important steps/phases when preparing for any competitive aptitude exam. Let us consider the impact of change in the test mode on each of these:
1. CONCEPT BUILDING
The first step of preparation is to consider the syllabus and past exams to clearly identify the topics and chapters covered (in all the subjects/sections). It is important to work hard on building a working understanding of these concepts (i.e. knowing the basic concepts and learning the various approaches to apply these concepts) in order to improve one’s accuracy.
While the exam mode has changed, CLAT has not announced a change in syllabus. So if you are a student who has been preparing for the CLAT in the past year or so, your efforts will not go to waste!
A critical step in preparation is to practice a large variety of questions. Having learnt the basic concepts, one needs to learn how to apply them in a large variety of questions. Thus, practicing questions by topics, chapters and subjects is quite critical in not only improving one’s accuracy but also in developing speed.
Now, all the practice that one has already done (whether online or offline) will still be useful as the syllabus stands unchanged. In fact, the online mode allows for a better analysis of topic/sectional performance, is better at identifying strengths and weaknesses and makes bookmarking questions much easier.
3. MOCK TESTING
When preparing for an aptitude entrance exam, it is extremely important to attempt past papers as well as a sufficient number of mock tests. This is critical in order to plan exam strategy and tactics (such as deciding the order of sections, time-allocation, time-management, topic/section specific reminders etc.). Taking mocks doesn’t just help in fine-tuning strategy – it also builds exam temperament and helps the candidate react to diverse exam situations (different difficulty levels of various sections, length of the exam, surprise element etc.)
What this means is that even if you have already taken plenty of online mock tests, they will still be useful in developing your exam strategy and building your exam temperament. All you need to do is take sufficient offline mocks to acclimatise yourself to the new exam mode and its innate nuances.
CLAT going offline is not that big a deal; and even if it is, there is not much you can do to change that. However, there is plenty of time to take offline mock tests and get used to this mode. In fact serious aspirants would be advised to continue to take practice tests and mock exams online: at this stage it is more important to diagnose your performance and identify areas of improvement - and online exams will do a much better job of it than offline exams. In the last month or so, take plenty of paper-based mocks as the final fillip to your preparation.
Wish you all the very best for your CLAT!