CHENNAI: Final semester students, from both engineering and arts colleges, reported several glitches in their university online exams. Students listed connectivity woes, login issues, page loading troubles and inability to seek help, among other complaints.
The second half of September marked the start of exam season for these students, who for the first time, are writing their exams remotely from the 'comfort' of their homes. Exams have commenced for students from at least a dozen state-run universities on Monday while students from Anna University will have their exams from Tuesday.
University of Madras
Students welcomed the decision when the varsity announced an open book online exam for final semester students from September 21-25. However, when exams commenced, many students complained that they could not download the question paper despite repeated attempts.
Students had only an hour to download it. "I tried downloading the question paper for nearly two hours. I kept switching between different devices available before I was finally able to download it," said a student from the Chepauk campus of the varsity.
Students had been asked to download the question papers and upload the scanned copy of answer scripts online after completion. Some students struggled to even login. Others could not upload the scanned answer sheet after completion.
"All students were given contacts of nodal officers across the state in case they faced trouble during the exam. Alternate arrangements have been made for students with such issues," said K Pandian, the controller of examinations at the varsity. We found other means to deliver the question paper to students who reported inability to download the question paper, he said.
"Students who do not have the required technology were asked to send the answer scripts via post. We also assisted students by sending them the question paper on Whatsapp if they were unable to download it," he said. The post, however, should reach the university by 3 pm the following day.
Around 60,000 students wrote the exam on Monday and will write these exams until Friday. Almost 25 lakh visits were recorded on the varsity website when a mock test was held for students, he said.
Anna University mock test
Many students reported being denied login or being blocked during the mock test held by Anna University ahead of the semester exam starting on Tuesday. Many students also took to social media to ask the varsity how final exams will be conducted if the mock test had so many glitches.
Students added that they were unable to find help through the helpline set up by the varsity.
Varsity officials however asserted that no student would be failed unfairly because of technical error from the varsity's side and that all glitches observed in the mock tests shall be fixed in the main exams.
While the semester exams have been scheduled from September 22-29, a mock test was held by the varsity on September 18 to familiarise students with the online-mode exam. But students reported several troubles that the varisty held another mock test on Saturday.
"When I tried to login, the website said that my login was blocked because maximum allowed login attempts were exceeded. I could not take up the mock test," said a final-year candidate. Another student said that he could not login for about 10 minutes after the test began.
"After I logged in finally, I automatically got logged out within 10 minutes again. I do not know how the final exam will be," he said.
He added that many of his friends received different kinds of error message pop-ups before they could finally login. Further, students who entered wrong credentials to login were blocked after a few attempts.
"I tried reaching the helpline number in vain. Nobody answered the call," said a student, who claimed that he could not login for nearly 20 minutes.
The New Indian Express could not reach M Venkatesan, the controller of examinations, Anna University for comments. The varsity's Vice Chancellor MK Surappa said that the varsity had taken note of the various technical problems faced by students during the mock test and said "they have been looked into."
He added that the mock test was the first attempt at having such advanced use of technology for exams. "The helpline will definitely be accessible to students during the exams. I assure you that. Students also have to be careful about entering the right credentials so that they don't get blocked," he said.
DMK leader MK Stalin, in a statement on Monday, also urged the varsity to ensure a smooth experience for students writing their exams.
The postal problem
Students from Bharathiar University, Coimbatore said they too faced many obstacles during their mock test on September 16 and added that the varsity has been taking the initiative to address them. The university follows an examination model similar to the University of Madras.
While students were asked to login by 9:45 am and download their question paper in 15 minutes, many students could not login even until 11 am. Similarly, they were given only 15 minutes to upload their answer sheets - a deadline many found impossible to meet.
According to a statement issued by the VC P Kaliraj, on Monday, 96.16 per cent of the 30,393 candidates who wrote the exam, were able to download the question paper. He said that the remaining students received the question paper through the institution. The varsity has extended the time by half an hour to both download the question paper and upload the answer script.
A student from the varsity added that three other fears remain unaddressed: One, many students have not been able to convert their photos into the prescribed jpeg format on their phone; two, post
offices close by the time students upload the answer scripts and so they might not be able to avail that option if online uploading fails; and finally, students living in containment zones and in other states fear being unable to post the answer scripts on time.