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The Five Sins of CLAT 2012

The Five Sins of CLAT 2012

Bar & Bench

It is wrong to expect fairness by default. In this column Ramanuj Mukherjee discusses the five sins of CLAT 2012. He says, “it did everything a national level prestigious entrance should not do”.

By Ramanuj Mukherjee

It is wrong to expect fairness by default. As you have read on Facebook probably, expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the lion will not eat you because you are a veggie. That’s the rule of the jungle, which we often find very inconvenient to live with in a civilized society.

Hence, we set some rules for everyone to play by. The funny thing is that those rules apply only when all the parties involved have the capability to enforce them. Otherwise no one gives a damn about those rules. When everyone is playing by those rules, if some people do not follow them, they automatically get a huge advantage over others who have to play by the rule. In human society you can see manifestation of this everywhere – stock market to international conflicts, constitutional elections to environmental policy. This is what forms and informs the necessity of law and its enforcement.

It’s even funnier that this lesson had to come to 25,000 kids writing CLAT 2012 starting with their entrance test.

When I wrote law entrance exams many years back, we were not told any specific syllabus except that there will be 5 subjects. We studied past years papers and figured out what are the possible things that could come and prepared accordingly. There were no rules, anything could come and we prepared for everything.

However, since CLAT has been introduced, especially since last year, a specific, descriptive syllabus has been set out for CLAT. Students were told that they would not be asked questions that require legal knowledge, because they are supposed to be taught law in law school – how much law they already know is not a good criteria to judge people on. Students don’t go behind the rule to debate whether it is a good rule or bad rule – they just accepted the rule and prepared accordingly.

Now what appears to be the case, prima facie, is that the CLAT committee failed to give the right instructions to the “expert committee” that Prof. Mathur is talking about. I don’t believe that the expert committee would have committed this blunder if they were told they are not supposed to be asking static GK or questions that require prior legal knowledge.

Why was the “expert committee” not informed about the syllabus? There can be only two rational explanations. It could be intentional, or it could be an oversight.

This raises another question – does CLAT have a process through which questions are finalized, cross checked for validity? Are there safeguards put into place to avoid oversight, mistakes, or corruption? These questions are relevant not only for this year’s CLAT, but relevant to all future CLATs which are going to be held. Unfortunately the answers all seem to be negative from the outcome. Prima facie NLU Jodhpur and the CLAT committee did not put into place any process that ensures a mistake-free, good quality question paper. What are the repercussions? Let’s look at that.

The 5 irreversible sins of CLAT 2012

It misled the students about what will be tested in the paper

This is what has led to most of the furore – and this is definitely the most indefensible sin (no matter how many coaching-wallahs come out in support of the paper – why they are doing it is explained later). It’s one thing to not tell students what will come, and then asking whatever you want to ask – like NLUD did. It’s altogether different to tell students that certain kind of questions will not be asked, and then to ask those questions.

In English language, there is a word for this – “LIE“. In law, there is another term for this – “misrepresentation“, provided this was an unintentional mistake. CLAT committee should take its announced syllabus more seriously.

I have read that Prof. Mathur still believes that no question that was excluded from syllabus has been asked, although he is ready to consider giving grace marks. What has happened is on record and open for everyone to see. In interest of transparency and fairness I would request him to publish the paper to the stakeholders (before someone files an RTI). I have complete faith in him – I am sure he would look into the matter and throw some light on what exactly went wrong in the interest of preventing such mistakes in the future.

Also, it is not correct to blame NLUJ alone for it – it is a failure on part of the entire CLAT committee – failure to exercise effective oversight, failure to take care of something as important as the entrance exam that decides what kind of students gets to go to the top law schools.

It failed to frame original questions, copied questions from certain books

This is a recurring problem with CLAT. What is the point of creating expert committees if they are not even capable of creating original questions? Why do they need to copy questions from books available in the market? It is important to create original questions so that people who read a particular book do not find it easier than those who learned the subject by reading a different book. CLAT – please start framing your own questions!

Instead of making original questions, CLAT test setters lifted even basic things like reading comprehension passage from a Tata McGraw Hill textbook. According to some of my students, reasoning questions were similarly lifted from certain books. Such copying highlights a very sad lack of capability in the paper setters. This will be very easily confirmed once the paper is in the public domain. However, the CLAT committee should clarify whether they asked the committee which framed the paper to make original questions. Future CLAT exams should explicitly prohibit paper setters from copying questions from books.

Oh, not to mention that publishers of certain books are going to get very rich next year. 25,000 students, likely to increase next year – no joke.

It did not put in thought, effort or expertise into the paper

When 25000 students write an exam, it is not your average semester exam that you can ask whatever question without putting in some thoughts and deliberation. Even setting up an expert committee doesn’t help – unless the committee is provided with the right mandate. For instance, it is difficult to ensure that a lot of people don’t tie for the top ranks. It is a challenge to decide what are the right kind of questions to ask so that specific abilities and aptitudes are tested. Time management is another factor – a paper should be of the correct length – not so lengthy that good students cannot attempt all questions, also not so easy that people finish the paper half an hour before the allotted time. Most of my students finished the CLAT 2012 paper 20-30 minutes ahead of time. One needs to ensure safeguards against paper leakage, against corruption, against human errors, mistakes and oversights. If these are not done, disasters like the present CLAT paper takes place.

CLAT is not an exam where you just decide to set a paper and put together 200 questions. That is exactly what appears to have been done in this case.

It took a retrograde step, moving back to knowledge from aptitude

Last year CLAT committee announced that CLAT will be about testing aptitude, not prior knowledge. A very good reason was offered. A person who went to a good school, who had access to books and a good learning environment will know more GK than a first generation school-going kid from a remote village who went to a not so good school with limited resources, who doesn’t have access to the internet. It is a natural advantage – which doesn’t make the former student a more suitable candidate for a law school. Give the village boy the learning environment of a law school, and then test him on his knowledge of law and trivia! According to some people, putting emphasis on GK is a sure shot way of promoting the interest of rich students who can afford costly coaching, books and learning products over less privileged, and I see merit in this.

For instance, one particular law entrance paper asked a GK question about golf – is it not obvious that a rich kid whose parents can afford a game of gold will answer this easily as opposed to a person who is not so privileged? It is important for a paper to be culture and class neutral – people from a certain region, strata of society or culture should not have advantage over others.

It is well known, also that many 1st year law students take CLAT. They find it easier to answer questions of legal GK, questions on constitution and contract law, for obvious reasons. This does not mean they are more suitable to study law over someone who has not studied law for one year already.

Hence, to select better students, it was announced by CLAT 2011 committee that CLAT will test one’s aptitude rather than prior knowledge of history, constitution, law etc. and this was a very welcome move.

All that good deed unfortunately has been undone by CLAT 2012.

It made students more vulnerable and made them play right into the hands of coaching centres

So what is the net effect of all this?

There is no certainty about the syllabus – people don’t know if they can believe the CLAT website also. There is more emphasis on learning trivia, more things to mug up. This year’s CLAT paper had a question on Austin’s concept of Law. One needs to learn law before they can join law school. One needs to learn about law of torts, law of contracts and criminal law. Why not family law and environmental law then? What about intellectual property law? Who would answer what is enough?

CLAT as an entrance is now moving towards more uncertainty – people need to rely on “CLAT gurus” and coaching centres – since they cannot decipher themselves what is expected, and what can be trusted. Legal GK itself gives a lot of business to coaching classes, and makes it difficult for those who wants to prepare on their own – no wonder some people who runs coaching centres are delighted. Thank you CLAT 2012.

Little more to say…

Every time you commit a sin, someone suffers. It’s not necessary that the sinner himself or herself will suffer, but someone in the world do suffer for that. Guess who will be suffering for the sins of CLAT 2012. Not just this year’s CLAT takers, I am sure about that.

Ramanuj Mukherjee is an NUJS alumni, founder of and an expert CLAT coach. He was one of the toppers of 2006 NUJS entrance tests. He conceptualised IMS CLAT preparation course and BarHacker, a course for the All India Bar Exam, while he was studying at NUJS. Ramanuj currently works at Trilegal.