On June 4, as most of India had its eyes on the results of the Lok Sabha election, the National Testing Agency (NTA) published the results of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, Undergraduate (NEET UG), the competitive examination for Admission to medical, dental, and AYUSH courses in government and private colleges.

The results drew immediate attention for the extraordinarily large number of candidates who got the perfect score of 720/720, and for the reason that some candidates got 718 or 719 — marks that others claimed were impossible to get in the scheme of the exam.

At least two petitions have been filed in two High Courts against the results. On June 1, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court asking that the examination be held again on the ground that the question paper had been leaked. Last month, hearing another, similar petition, the Supreme Court had declined to stay the publication of the results.

Around 2.4 million candidates took the entrance examination held on May 5 in 571 cities, 14 of which were outside India. According to the latest available data, there are a total of 1,08,940 MBBS seats in more than 700 medical colleges across the country.

Why has NEET UG 2024 been so controversial? On Thursday, the NTA issued a press release clarifying some of the concerns that have been raised around the examination.

Festive offer

The case of 67 toppers

A total of 67 examinees maxed the paper, achieving All India Rank 1. There were two toppers last year, and one, three, one, and one in 2022, 2021, 2020, and 2019 respectively.

As The Indian Express reported in its edition of June 6, 44 of the 67 toppers got the answer to a basic physics question wrong but were still given “grace marks” because an older version of the NCERT’s Class 12 textbook had a mistake.

A provisional answer key released by NTA on May 29 picked the correct answer out of the choices given to the candidates, but more than 13,000 candidates challenged the key on the ground that the textbook contained information that pointed to a different answer.

An NTA official told The Indian Express that it had been decided not to penalize these students “since we strongly recommend all aspirants study only from NCERT textbooks for their NEET preparation”.

In its press release, NTA said that the number of candidates who appeared in the 2024 exam was almost 3 lakh more than the 2023 number, and “the increase in candidates naturally led to an increase in high scorers due to a larger pool of candidates” .

Also, according to the NTA official, the 2024 NEET was “comparatively easier” than previous years.

The ‘odd’ case of 718, 719

It was argued that after the maximum marks of 720, the next highest possible score was 716, and that marks of 718 and 719 did not make sense. The NTA explained in its press release that some candidates, including six of the toppers, had got “compensatory marks for loss of time”.

Students from a few centers in Bahadurgarh (Haryana), Delhi, and Chhattisgarh, complained that they did not get the allotted time to complete their tests, and writ petitions were filed before the High Courts of Punjab & Haryana, Delhi, and Chhattisgarh.

According to the NTA release, a “Grievance Redressal Committee consisting of eminent experts from the field of examination and academia” looked into these grievances “on the basis of factual reports of the functionaries and CCTV footages from concerned exam Centres”.

Thereafter, “the loss of examination time was ascertained and such candidates were compensated with marks based on their answering efficiency and time lost, as per the mechanism/formula established by the Hon’ble Apex Court, vide its judgment dated 13.06.2018”.

According to the release, “1,563 candidates were compensated…and the revised marks of such candidates vary from – 20 to 720… Amongst these, the score of two candidates also happens to be 718 and 719 marks respectively due to compensatory marks.”

‘Paper leak’, wrong paper

There were allegations that the question paper had been leaked in Patna.

The Economic Offenses Unit of Bihar Police said it had seized “admit cards, post-dated cheques, and certificates” from “members of the organized gang arrested in this case”. However, while a “thorough” investigation is ongoing, the Special Investigation Team has said that the evidence collected so far is not enough to confirm a paper leak.

The NTA has “categorically denied any case of paper leak”. It has said that cases have been registered against “impersonators”, and “NTA has been extending support” to investigators.

NTA has, however, confirmed that in Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan), some Hindi-medium students were mistakenly given English-medium question papers, and the examinees had responded by walking out of the examination hall taking the question paper with them.

According to the NTA, the question paper was posted on the Internet around 4 pm, but by that time the exam, which had started at 2 pm, was well underway at all other centers.

Early declaration of results

Questions have been raised over the publication of the results 10 days ahead of the scheduled date of June 14.

However, according to the NTA, the results of all its examinations are “declared at the earliest on the completion of the necessary checks in the result processing post the Answer Key challenge period”, and “the Result of NEET (UG) 2024 has been processed as per the established procedure”.

The NTA has pointed out that it “managed to declare the Results of about 23 lakh candidates within 30 days”, and “the Result of JEE (Main) 2024 Session-1 was declared in 11 days and of Session-2 (combined with Session – 1) was declared in 15 days”.

Question of high cutoffs

The NTA has attributed the unusually high cutoff this year to the fact that more students appeared for the exam, and achieved “higher performance standards” in general.

“The cutoff scores are determined based on the overall performance of candidates each year. The increase in cutoff reflects the competitive nature of the examination and the higher performance standards achieved by the candidates this year,” the release said.

NTA has provided a table showing that in 2022, when “the average marks out of 720 of qualified candidates” was 259.00, the “minimum score to qualify in UR (unreserved) category” was only 117, whereas in 2024, when the first number was 323.55, the cutoff was a high 164.

Also, according to NTA, a record 23.81 lakh students registered for NEET UG this year, significantly higher than the 20.87 lakh registrations last year, which could have contributed to the higher cutoff.