UPDATE: June 16, 2004. Will be rewriting some essays soon. Anyway, wanted to share an interesting story with you now. A long time ago, when I was studying at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, I had a graduate fellowship in the Business school. Some of the IITians there told me that getting a fellowship was not a big deal, and nor was getting a high score on GMAT. According to them, a classmate of theirs got a fellowship there but decided not to accept it. It seemed like it had come to Carbondale when he first arrived in the USA. Fine with me, as we all know, IITians tend to set world records in such things. Nothing unusual. One day, I took a ride on these IITians' car and while sitting in the front opened the storage-bin in the dashboard and a letter fell out apparently from SIU's business school addressed to that IITian who had refused a fellowship. That time I was new and being curious opened the letter. (Nowadays, normally I won't do such a thing. Anyway, when I started reading it it said something like, "Thank you for your application. However, we cannt grant you admission to our school because your GMAT scores are lower than our mimimum cut-off score."
GRE General Test was a requirement for those aspiring to come to the USA. GRE Subject test in Engineering was a common requirement. I guess Computer Science Subject to be a common requirement now. A few IITians, especially those from rich and westernized families, took GMAT to get into MBA programs.
Indians take pride in their mathematical abilities and IITians seem to do well on the quantitative section of GRE. GRE is a very watered down test and it is rare for engineering students in general to score less than 700 (out of 800), and scores of around 800 are commonplace. Even many English literature majors manage to get 800! It is good for the ego and gives bragging rights to parents but does not prove a thing.
My classmates from electrical enginnering were scoring in the 99th percentile range, but I am not sure about the others. My guess is that the IIT graduates, already a self-selected group, had median scores around 80 percentile and around 75 percentile if the top 20 or so (out of 180), mostly from electrical engineering department, were excluded. Very decent scores considering the competition but nowhere near the hype created for IITians. Hope IITs require its graduates to take an exit GRE-style achievement test in order to determine if IITians really learnt much during their stay in IITs. I think the results will be disappointing.
Each year 2-3 of us managed to get 700 plus scores. Considering that someone scoring in the 99th percentile of the quantitative section needed to score about 95th percentile or above on the verbal section, it was not such a big deal. English may not the the native language of Indians, but there are enough Indians brought up in English-medium environment, mostly from upper-middle to upper classes, for whom English is quite easy.
My assertion is that the IIT education succeeeds in producing about 10% of its class for world-class research, most of whom are absorbed by the US universities and corporations. Instead, IITs should be concentrating on educating everyone well since it is the quality of students, under the current circumstances, who are not in the top 10 percentage who will most directly affect the contribution to the Indian society. GRE Subject or its cheaper clones should be given as exit exam to monitor the learning IIT students got at IITs. And please stop bragging, we are not that good.