The Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test (MDCAT), conducted this year by the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) from Aug 30 to Oct 2, 2021, proved a total fiasco from beginning to end. The social media is replete with complaints against the PMC, from mismanagement to financial corruption, by the candidates taking the test this year, and their parents. A student of a private educational setup, with its head office on the Wahdat Road, told Cutting Edge she was charged Rs18,000 for changing her test date from the first week of September to the last dates of the month by a representative of the commission, and she was also offered help in the form of a “leaked” question paper if she could arrange for a “big” amount.
Another student of the same college claimed his result was announced by the PMC, though he was yet to appear in the test. More than 90% students said they were made to take tests which carried a large number of “out of syllabus” questions. In some cases the number of such questions was as high as 25 to 30. In some cases, as students allege, one question carried two correct answers. For example, at both (a) and (c) MCQs options, the correct answer was given. There may not be any issue if the paper is checked manually, as the paper-checker would find out that both options “a” and “c” were correct. But, as the MDCAT results are prepared by software, it would declare only one answer correct, which had been fed to it. A student doesn’t know which choice has been fed to the system as the correct answer. If any student marks the other ‘correct’ answer, the computer would declare it wrong and deprive him/her of a precious mark.
In the previous system, when the MDCAT was conducted across Punjab on the same date, and the same question paper was given to the students, in case of any “out of syllabus” questions, students were awarded marks against those questions. However, in the new system under the PMC, there’s no remedy at all. All students are given different question papers, and there’s no way out that the students could verify as to how many “out of syllabus” questions were part of their question papers.
A large number of students also lodged complaints about non-functional internet or computer systems during the test. As it is a common perception that a huge amount of information circulating on social media is incorrect, this write-up would discuss only verifiable facts.
From the first week of Sept, when the test session started, a large number of ‘aggrieved’ students were on the streets, protesting against the PMC system, especially in the federal capital and Quetta in Balochistan, as reported by the print and electronic media. Not only students but also their parents have been holding protest demonstrations and sit-ins in Islamabad, Quetta, Lahore and many other cities across the country against the inefficient and unverifiable online testing system. In Quetta, protesting students were arrested, sent to jail and later released on bail. They continue the sit-in in the federal capital and Quetta.
Half a dozen ‘affected’ students also moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the PMC’s discriminatory system. On Sept 21, Justice Muzammil Akhtar Shabbir of the LHC issued a notice to the PMC and sought a reply on a writ petition, filed by a student, Hadiya Khalid, seeking cancellation of the then ongoing MDCAT for being in violation of the law.
Agha Intizar Ali Imran, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, contended in the petition that under the mandatory provision of Section 18 (1) of the Pakistan Medical Commission Act, 2020 (PMCA), the MDCAT was to be held “on the same day” as “a single admission test” in order to provide equal opportunity to all candidates. But the PMC held the test from August 30 to September 30, which was a sheer violation of the Article 4 of Constitution and the Section 18 (1) of the PMCA.
The senior lawyer substantiated his arguments by citing a judgment of the LHC in the Abwa Knowledge (Pvt) Ltd. case wherein the court ruled, “The authority shall conduct annually on a date, approved by the council, as per standards, approved by the board, a single admission test, which shall be mandatory requirement for all students seeking admission to medical or dental undergraduate programme.”
The petitioner argued that the students who had been asked to appear in the beginning of Sept-2021 found only a span of one month for preparations for the entrance test, whereas those appearing in the end of Sept-2021 enjoyed a period of almost two months for the preparation, which was discrimination in contravention to the Article 25 of the Constitution. The petitions are still pending in the LHC.
Meanwhile, the PMC continued posting clarifications on social media about the fairness of the system and results. A major development was the PMC succumbing to the pressure from the protesting students and those filing petitions in the court and announcing the conduct of a post-exam analysis of the MDCAT by the Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.
The PMC had announced on its official website that the revised results, after the independent post-exam analysis of the test, would be announced in the afternoon on Oct 9. But again the results were ‘leaked’ before time, and the result cards reached students as an attachment from the PMC official email address in the first half of the day. PMC President Dr. Arshad Taqi and Vice President Ali Raza had to face a lot of embarrassment during a press conference at the National Press Club Islamabad on Oct 9, when they were told by the media persons that the ‘leaked’ result cards carried blunders.
The PMC officials announced withdrawal of the result cards delivered to students through emails “as they had a number of mistakes”. According to some of the result cards, shared by reporters with the PMC officials, students got 45 and even 51 marks out of a total of just 20 marks.
Similarly, there was a difference of around 30 to 40 marks in the total. When the result cards were shared by the candidates on social media, the Commission responded by saying that they should ignore the results. “Please ignore any email received from a PMC address with an attached result certificate. The final MDCAT result will be announced online only,” the PMC tweeted.
The PMC president and vice president also refused to reply to queries of the media persons, terming them ‘planted questions’ and abruptly ended their press conference.
Earlier, the PMC officials announced that around 125,000 candidates, 65% overall, had failed to get the passing marks (137/210). They also claimed that around 78% candidates each from Sindh and Balochistan, 70% from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 65% from Gilgit-Baltistan, 62% from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 57% from Punjab and 54% candidates from Islamabad had failed to qualify the exam.
They informed the media that a record number of 194,133 students took the MDCAT from Aug 30 to Oct 2, out of whom 68,680 passed, with the national pass percentage of 35.4. According to the breakdown, 42,860 students passed the test in Punjab, with pass percentage of 42.84, 7,797 students qualified in Sindh with a 22.37% ratio, 12,205 students remained successful in KP with a 29.32% pass ratio, while in Balochistan 1,537 students cleared the exam, recording pass percentage of 21.12.
Similarly, in Islamabad 2,139 students qualified the MDCAT, with 46.26 pass percentage, 456 candidates passed in Gilgit-Baltistan with 35.21% success ratio and 38.13pc (1,478) candidates remained successful in Azad Kashmir.