The reception area of Be Ahead with Sustained Excellence (BASE), a prominent coaching academy in Bangalore, is a hub of activity. Two students are waiting to meet a teacher to clear their doubts; a few parents and students come in to check their results for the entrance exam to enrol in BASE. Some seemed happy, others seemed disappointed in the meantime a couple of parents wait with their child in tow, to speak to counsellors about their coaching options. It is summer – schools and colleges are not in session but some students are getting a head start.

BASE is one of several organisations in Bangalore that offer coaching classes for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). JEE is the entrance exam for admission into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and has a reputation for being one of the toughest competitive exams in India. For instance, this year 384,977 candidates appeared for the exam and only 10,035 candidates (2.6%) were eligible to seek admission in the IITs. (Source:JEE 2009 press note ).

Given the stringent admission criteria, it is no surprise that most students start preparing for JEE after their 10th standard exams. That’s where the coaching academies come in. In Bangalore, depending on who you ask and based on research on the internet, the popular names one comes across are BASE, ACE (Academic Centre for Excellence), FIIT-JEE, and Brilliant Tutorials. Other academies such as the IIT Study Circle and Engineers Study Circle are available, in addition to individual tutors.

To get a perspective on IIT-JEE coaching in Bangalore, Citizen Matters spoke to people from the coaching centres, and to students who wrote  JEE.

The Coaching Centres

Typically, most students who take up coaching classes do so after they finish their 10th class exams. To gain admission into the coaching classes, students write an entrance exam, and they are admitted based on their performance in this exam. Once admitted, students attend classes several times a week and take regular tests over two years of the course.

The interesting aspect of the coaching centres now is that they offer more than just coaching. Krishna Kant, Academic Co-ordinator of Brilliant Tutorials, says that midway through its two-year course, students are coached on memory techniques, time management strategies, and how to cope with the stress of preparing for the JEE.

BG Purushottam, Head of Corporate Planning, BASE says that the institute adopt a particular mentoring mechanism. Their mentors keep track of students and help them if there are any problems. Students who want to drop out of the course are counselled (with their parents present) about their options and can shift to other programs within BASE.

Dr. HN Subrahmanyam, BASE’s Head of Academics, says that the emphasis is on teaching students how to learn and on making the process of learning enjoyable and challenging. He adds that one-third of the class time is used for explaining concepts and the remaining is used for problem solving. “At BASE, we try to make the journey itself rewarding by encouraging students learn and then apply concepts”, Dr. Subrahmanyam says.

Students’ Perspective

Students enrolled at coaching centres not only have to worry about attending classes and writing exams at the centres, but also have to attend their college (Pre-University) or school (11th or 12th) classes and appear for school exams and board exams as well. Some centres, such as BASE and ACE, have tie-ups with a few schools and colleges to offer integrated programs. These programs align the curriculum for the boards with the JEE curriculum so the students’ load is reduced. In addition to the classes and exams, students must also spend time studying what they’ve learned.

So, what stresses do students face? How are they able to cope? How do their parents support them? Citizen Matters posed these questions to few students who wrote JEE recently.

Studying at FIIT-JEE

Chaitanya K, a student of National Public School (NPS), attended the FIIT-JEE four-year program, starting from class nine. In retrospect, he believes that he shouldn’t have attended the program for four years, adding that peer pressure was one of the reasons for joining. Chaitanya says that it he found it hard to balance the work from the school and the coaching classes. He felt more stress towards the end because of the mock tests [from the coaching centre] and the board exams. Because his school had extra-curricular activities, Chaitanya felt that it was helpful in managing the stress.

“Coaching classes give you a hard time because the question papers are tough and this can be discouraging. There is a mental barrier concerning the JEE and hype as well, probably because it is the first entrance exam that students have to face. But, guys who work hard do well,” Chaitanya says.

Chaitanya was not happy with his JEE performance but believed that he would get a low rank. He ended up with a JEE rank of 4148. He said that he would probably end up studying at BITS (Birla Institute of Technology & Science), Pilani or NIT (National Institute of Technology), Suratkal. He has no plans to write JEE again.

Studying at ACE

Harsha, a student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, attended the two-year course at ACE. He says that he was able to manage balance between his school and coaching centre because he feels there is an overlap of concepts to some extent. Far from feeling stressed, he says that he actually enjoyed the experience. He feels that the coaching at ACE supplemented by their notes was “more than sufficient”.

According to Harsha, his parents expected him to perform well and were a “driving force”. He says that when he was going through the course, he sometimes felt it was tough but looking back that he’s happy with whatever happened.

Harsha says that one should make an effort to make friends at the coaching centres because it makes life easier; otherwise, you feel left out. According to him, teachers are more interested in students getting through JEE than the students.

When we spoke to him, Harsha was confident about his JEE prospects. He ended up with a JEE rank of 4346, which he said was “bad”. He did very well at CET with a rank of 41. His plans were to go to BITS, Pilani or RVCE (Bangalore). When we asked him about writing JEE again, he said, “I don’t want to waste another year.”

Minimal Coaching

One student who wrote the JEE but did not prepare a great deal was Suma Suswaram. She attended coaching classes in the 10th standard but found it difficult to manage and left after six months. Her only preparation for the JEE was after the board exams, which she concedes is not enough. She feels that one needs “two years of systematic coaching” to prepare for the JEE. Though she attended a CET crash course and wrote the CET, Suma is planning to study in the field of speech and hearing.

Studying at BASE

Amit M. Warrier, a student of NPS, Rajajinagar, is in the enviable position of being able to choose which IIT to attend and which subject to study. His JEE rank was 78.

Warrier, who studied at BASE, says that he was able to balance the demands of school and the coaching classes. Because he had to attend coaching classes only three days a week, he had the time to study on the other days. He says that the coaching classes moved at the same pace as the school and that made it easy to cope.

According to him, the advantage at BASE is that they don’t give assignments and pressure you to finish them—you are encouraged to self-study and put in the work that’s required. The only times that he felt were problematic was when the school tests and BASE tests clashed. However, he adds, “What matters is the final exam.”

During his preparation, he noticed that he had a problem with his Chemistry scores, which he puts down to a mental block. He said that a technique called the Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a self help technique, helped with Chemistry especially towards the end.

His parents didn’t put any pressure on him to perform or forced anything on him. He felt some peer pressure from a fellow student but his father was able to provide sensible advice to help him handle the situation. He also explained that BASE handles students well citing the mentoring sessions (not mandatory) and reports on students' progresses. He adds at BASE “they motivate you from the beginning”.

On what advice he would give JEE aspirants he says, “Don’t let the pressure get to you. The last thing that you want do is pressure yourself—you need to work when you are comfortable. Ensure that you plan your work and spend time on each subject.” He adds, “Sometimes people spend a lot of time on the areas that they are weak in, but neglect their strengths. Working on your strengths is extremely important.”