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NLAT Rebooted: All who complained - maybe up to 25% - get 2nd stab at cracking NLS making nearly everyone unhappy [UPDATE-1]

From noon today some lucky / unlucky candidates for NLSIU Bangalore have been taking up the offer of a chance to re-take the controversial National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT), Saturday’s exam date of which had been mired in technical errors and reports of few if any serious technological measures that could curtail cheating.

NLSIU had sent an email to candidates late last night (see full copy below). Curiously the email omitted to mention when the re-test would be happening, perhaps aware that giving just over 12 hours of notice of a surprise re-test might not go down well. Then, a follow-up email sent out by NLS after midnight (which is technically today, 14 September, of course), noted that the exam would be happening “tomorrow (14-September-2020)“.

Well, for the avoidance of doubt, it is apparently happening right now.

The decision by NLS to have a re-test (apparently following the recommendation of a “technical review committee”), suggests the technical glitches faced were indeed as serious and widespread as had first been reported by us and on social media (NLS’ press released and social media channeled claim on Saturday, 12 September, after the exam. NLS had implied the NLAT had gone off without any serious technical hitches (claiming 94% attendance for the exam and “improvements in attendance from similar examinations in previous years”).

The decision for a re-take also opens up what is certain to be an entirely new helping of a can of worms, in case Saturday’s can was not large enough.

Clearly many in the 94% are being offered retakes too

There are several signs that the re-take was not just offered to those who had issues logging into the exam and were therefore not able to take the test at all.

On a close reading, the email last night announced that if candidates choose to take the offered re-take “your previous exam score and answers will be ERASED” (implying that there are at least some of those offered re-takes who did indeed receive a score).

This suggests strongly that the number of candidates whose run was entirely free of technical issues is lower than just the 94% who managed to “appear” for the exam, as NLS had touted on Saturday.

Instead, from speaking to two entrance exam preparation coaches, from between 15% - 25% of the candidates coached by them at their centres may have been offered a shot at a re-take (and if this percentage is lower amongst the general population than it is at coaching centres, that’s an even worse problem from an access perspective).

The possible reasons for why offered re-take rates may be as high as 15-25%

The online form which may have been difficult to analyse for NLS
The online form which may have been difficult to analyse for NLS

For an exam that had celebrated 94% attendance, rates of 15 to 25% retakes would seem to be extraordinarily high.

The explanation might be simple: according to the coaching centres, it appears as though everyone who had submitted the form about ‘issues’ with the NLAT has been offered a re-take, even if they were able to sit the full exam.

The ‘issues’ form, which was announced shortly after the NLAT completed and was supposed to be completed by those who faced problems, again had a deadline of just over 12 hours’ notice. It also contained just six different categories of problems and a text box:

  • “Login Issues”
  • “Issues during Exam”
  • “Submission Issues”
  • “Forced Log Out”
  • “Exam did not commence on Time”
  • “Other”

As we had predicted in our article at the time, those in many cases vague and overlapping categories on the form alone could not have given NLS a very useful overview of the exact problems faced by students.

From all the numbers available, it appears that NLS should have received at least many hundreds if not a few thousand submissions (even by its own figures that at least 1,370 of those registered for the undergraduate exam did not appear for it).

As it was, once the Sunday noon submission deadline had passed, NLS would have had to analyse those numerous feedback results in less than 12 hours before the emails and messages about re-takes began going out. In reality, that time would have been even less since apparently a “technical review committee” met yesterday and had to make the recommendation some time before the messages went out.

Realistically that is probably not enough time for humans to thoroughly read, categorise and examine the bona fides of each text submission, which might run into hundreds of words for some candidates recounting their traumatic experiences. Having had a computer parse for keywords or do more advanced sentiment analysis of the text of the complaints might have been faster and yielded a overview of the kinds of issues faced, would have been unlikely to roll out at such short notice and you would never be certain that it did not make errors.

In short, it was impossible for NLS to do much with the data, so it must have just decided, let’s be safe rather than sorry, and everyone who filled out the form gets a shot at a re-take.

Update 19:40: The above has now been all but confirmed by NLSIU, which noted that its technical committee with “abundant caution” offered “most candidates” who complained “the opportunity to appear” for the retakes. We have done a separate, fuller story, though answers from NLS on how many complained and how many sat the re-take remain elusive.

Each unhappy candidate is unhappy in their own way

The decision to roll out retakes this way has managed to succeed in pissing off or at least making unhappy nearly all candidates now, including the optimistic 94% of candidates who may have had a mostly satisfactory first attempt at the NLAT.

Those who had technical issues were already unhappy.

Those who might have been happy about having been gifted a retake, are probably unhappy about having only been given 12 hours via a late night email to prepare for it.

Those who claim to have written to NLS about technical glitches but have not been offered a retest are unhappy.

A lot of previously successful candidates are unhappy, in that might have liked another bite at a cherry, especially for something for which there was not a single proper full-length mock (the initial mock exam and the second supposedly more realistic ‘simulation’ mock, were instead just the same 10 out of 40 questions that had been released on 3 September as a PDF sample paper).

Many might also think they could improve their performance with the benefit of having had a proper practice run in dealing with the technology and the constant and distracting AI-proctored warnings about background noise, face positioning, etc.

Candidates who are not getting the retake might be unhappy and wondering about whether the quality of questions the re-takers get will be similar to the main exam or cobbled together at the last minute. They might also be wondering how it will be possible to normalise the scores across four exams, of which at least the re-take was held under completely different conditions from the other three and that could have a completely different bell curve.

Legitimate candidates might be unhappy about the potential of additional and even more sophisticated cheating for this retake exam, since everyone now knows how insecure and easily broken the NLAT was for even half-way competent cheats (with simple pocket calculators, screen sharing or friends simply sitting next to you and helping you, as documented in several YouTube videos and Telegram groups).

Those unhappy sentiments are summarised in this message we received from a candidate:

Anyone who wrote a mail to NLSIU saying I had technical issues has been allowed 1 more chance at the NLAT. Now aware of the pattern, the loopholes which allow cheating & 3 mock papers (the papers given to students on 12 Sept) they shall have another shot at NLSIU.

All students got warnings on the date of the test. For face too close to screen, or mic not working or whatever. Some had legitimate technical problems such as could not log in on time, could not complete the exam as paper was automatically submitted, could not take the exam at all. But NLSIU has not differentiated between the legitimate and the common place.

Any student who wrote them a mail has got a chance to appear again.

So now the students who did not raise a hue and cry about their warnings (which were equally distracting & disturbing) are left looking like fools.

Breakneck pace that has not slowed even for SC

On top of that, even those who have retakes must be reeling from the stress of NLS’ relentless breakneck examination timetable, which has showed no sign of slowing down, even for the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had ordered NLS not to prepare final merit lists or begin admissions at least until the next hearing of the case, on 16 September.

But right now, release of the merit list is still scheduled by NLS for tomorrow, according to its admissions microsite, with admissions set to start on 18 September:

The timetable on the NLS admissions homepage does not seem to have slowed down even for the Supreme Court
The timetable on the NLS admissions homepage does not seem to have slowed down even for the Supreme Court

Having had eight days to prepare for the NLAT after it was announced, including many notifications such as exact exam timings or re-takes with less than 24 hours notice, can’t be easy for young aspirants who often place a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well.

And woe to those who for Saturday had to organise good laptops or reliable internet from outside their homes or at test centres.

For the re-take, they would have had only a few hours this morning to organise all that.

The questions for NLS

Besides the above (as well as some other questions we have regularly followed up on since publication but have received no satisfactory reply to), we have reached out to NLS for comment and information on:

1. How many candidates submitted the form about technical issues?

2. How many of these have been offered a re-test today?

3. How many of all the candidates had completed and submitted the exam on Saturday, after having made it through the full test and all questions? Do you have a detailed breakdown or idea of how many candidates experienced each kind of technical issue?

Email sent by NLS to some candidates yesterday

Dear Candidate,

We received a technical query from you about NLAT 2020 held on 12-September-2020. A Technical Review Committee has reviewed the queries and has recommended that candidates may be offered the opportunity to appear for another examination slot under the following conditions:

1. The final slot for the NLAT 2020 exam will begin at 12:00 Noon. After verification the examination will begin at 12:30 PM and extend till the allotted time.

2. If you CHOOSE to login for the exam your previous exam score and answers will be ERASED.

3. If you DO NOT appear for the exam your September 12 examination score will be retained as your FINAL SCORE.

4. Candidates will be responsible to ensure that their device satisfies the technical specifications, they provide a valid government ID and that their internet connection supports the test. This is is your FINAL attempt. No further opportunities are available.

5. You will receive your login details and pass key later tonight:

  • by logging in at admissions.nls.ac.in
  • we will inform you through SMS & E-mail as soon as it is updated at admissions.nls.ac.in
  • Admission Team

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