“Candidates to show a 360-degree view of the entire room by turning on a webcam (laptops/desktops) or front/ selfie camera (as directed by proctor) (mobile devices)/ tilt the device/ keyboard, as instructed.” “If the proctor observes a phone/ tablet/ other device falling/ slipping when the device/ keyboard used for the assessment is tilted, proctor to terminate the exam immediately.” And if the human proctor cannot see their face for more than 45 seconds, the exam will be terminated.

These are just some of the protocols that candidates who take the online National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) for admission to National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, on Saturday will have to follow. In addition, candidates will have to get their government-issued IDs verified over a 640X480 video stream.

The guidelines, released by the University on Wednesday evening, use a combination of “technological, Artificial Intelligence-based proctoring, as well as human proctoring”. Malpractices like switching windows will be detected by the software of the vendor that NLSIU has engaged.

Other malpractices, such as spotting other people in the test-taking room; talking, speaking and making gestures “that indicate to the proctor candidate may be using another device/looking at chat applications/mirror/other screen, etc.”; a candidate who is not visible for more than 45 seconds; candidate using other devices such as mobiles, tablets, etc. will be monitored by a human proctor. This proctor is being “provided and trained by the vendor engaged by the University for the NLAT 2020”, as per the FAQs. The University did not answer our question about who this vendor is.

The ‘Super Proctor’, whom the proctor from the vendor will defer to in case of an issue, will be an NLSIU personnel, the university told us.

In case of “internet failure”, the system “may” allow candidates to continue taking the test but that is subject to the proctor’s discretion and the candidate’s system reconnecting within the stipulated time and manner. This will be defined in a yet to be released “Candidate Manual”.

‘Home-based proctoring is easy to game’: Problems with the system

Kingsly John, a Linux and open-source generalist, pointed out a few flaws with the plan. “It is impossible to adequately verify government IDs over a 640X480 video stream given the resolution. Authenticating features such as holograms cannot be judged this way,” he told us. In addition, he said that a system such as the one he described in his tweet can be easily used to circumvent at-home proctoring. “Using software such as Synergy, the same keyboard and mouse can be used across multiple computers,” he told us. Thus, the proctor will be led to believe that the candidate just has multiple screens connected to one CPU, where the testing software will detect window switching, but in reality, the candidate may have multiple, undetectable (at least to the proctor) computers.

So what is the solution? NLSIU has conducted online proctored exams for its Masters in Public Policy Programme, and for its Distance Education Programmes in the past though, but by its own admission, NLAT will have a different system. “They should have gone with a centre-based online test to properly control the testing environment,” John said. When we pointed out that NLSIU is now offering such centres for students who don’t have access to devices or stable internet in 14 cities, he said that such a disparate approach does not offer “a level playing field”. “Students who take the test at home will still have an unfair advantage over those in the strictly controlled environment of a test centre,” John said.

Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), the law entrance test that NLSIU withdrew from for the fear of “Zero Year”, that is, a year with no admissions, takes a centre-based approach.

Ever since the university announced its withdrawal from the CLAT for admitting students and announced its own test on September 3, the law school has come under intense criticism and scrutiny. Alumni have accused it of being elitist and exclusionary since the original technical requirements for taking the test required candidates to have a Windows laptop or desktop and a stable 1 Mbps internet connection. These requirements were later revised to include Mac, Linux and Android devices as well as a lower — 512 kbps — connection. The 7-day application window has also been described as too narrow by multiple people.

On September 8, before the technical requirements had been revised, the university’s former vice-chancellor, Prof. Dr R. Venkata Rao, along with a parent of a CLAT candidate, had filed a petition against NLSIU and its current VC, Prof. Dr Sudhir Krishnaswamy. The petition alleged that such a move had turned NLSIU into an “island of exclusion”.

The last date to register for NLAT is today and the test will be held on Saturday (September 12).

Other responses from NLSIU

Here are the responses from NLSIU’s on the other questions MediaNama sent:

MediaNama: The announcement mentioned that the trimester reason is the primary cause behind holding the NLAT on September 12. Is a 7-day window enough to let people register for an exam in the middle of a pandemic?

NLSIU: Most candidates interested in appearing for the NLAT have already registered for CLAT. The NLAT application is simple and requires less information. It is completely online and may be done quickly. We do not anticipate that candidates will be excluded because of the registration process. We have not received any complaints about this either.

MediaNama: A person I spoke to suggested moving to a semester system, or shorter trimesters just for this year. Do the rules of NLSIU permit such a change? If yes, were these considered as options?

NLSIU: NLSIU Regulations do not currently permit such a change. As such, the trimester system is an integral part of the academic framework at NLSIU which has been in place since the founding of the University in 1986. Further, the trimester system cannot be altered for a single batch of students, as the Academic Programme is integrated with the 2nd – 5th-year B.A., LLB (Hons) and LL.M batches as well.

MediaNama: How many people have signed up for NLAT thus far?

NLSIU: We do not disclose numbers until after the test. A substantial number of applications have been received and the numbers are growing.

MediaNama: When was Testpan [the company that is offering testing centres across 14 cities in India] brought into the picture?

NLSIU: We have been in discussions with different organisations from the date of the announcement [September 3] of the NLAT 2020 to develop alternatives in case candidates found it difficult to meet the technical requirements at home. The information about Testpan was announced on 8 September 2020.

MediaNama: How many applicants have asked to take the test in a Testpan testing centre?

NLSIU: We can disclose these numbers after the exam.

MediaNama: Is Testpan proctoring the exam for all applicants or only for those who go to their centre?

NLSIU: Testpan is not proctoring the exam. Whether a candidate takes the exam from home or at a Testpan centre, the proctoring is done remotely.

MediaNama: Who is the vendor for conducting/proctoring the exam? What kind of AI tools are they using to proctor it?

NLSIU: The exam will use standard computer-based and remote human proctoring tools. Detailed reports of all potential malpractices for each candidate will also be generated for review by the examination system. We will put up the Online Proctoring Guidelines shortly.

Read more: Accused of elitism, exclusion, NLSIU Bengaluru eases technical requirements for online admission test

***Update (6:09 pm): Change made in paragraph 5. Originally published on September 10, 2020 at 11:07 am.