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Restaging Z-Score Debacle



The release of the Z scores for university admission by University Grants Commission (UGC) has brought thousands of complaints and issues from the students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders into discussion. Some others have vowed to take the issue to courts, expecting a fair and just solution.

Most of the complaints are related to the issue of two different cutoff Z scores for new syllabus and old syllabus and comparisons thereof. It is understood that the solutions proposed to resolve a crisis must not only be fair and legal but also seen to be reasonable for the stakeholders. Print media during the last couple of weeks published several opinions on this issue and the use of Z score for university admission is often blamed as the reasons for these discrepancies. It is time we had a closer look at the problem and baseless allegations against the use of Z-score for university admission. The use of Z-score in place of aggregated marks of the three subjects is, by all means, a better method, which has been amply demonstrated with data and examples and subjected to discussion since its introduction for university admission in 2003.

There is a diverse degree of variability in nature itself and so it is with the humans and their work. The scientific discipline called statistics provides the conceptual and procedural approaches to understand the variability and manage it fairly and equitably. Due to the inherent variability present in question papers and evaluations, it is very well understood that the simple aggregate obtained from the marks of different subjects is not a fair criterion for determining the eligibility for university admission. The degree of difficulty of the question papers in different subjects varies significantly and also there are variations of the aptitude measurement scale in different years. Therefore, it was not possible to have a fixed cut-off mark or simple aggregate solution to determine eligibility for university admission. For example, marks for one subject could have a range from 5 to 70 while the range for another subject spans from 45 to 99. A student who obtained 70 is the best among the lot in the first case and the one who obtained 70 in the second case is a mediocre student. When the simple aggregate is taken as the criterion for university admission, the best student in the first case is treated equally with the mediocre student who opted for a relatively easy subject as in the second case. Within the general assumption that students who sit for these two different subjects have a more or less equal level of competence, the disparity in the relative difficulty of the question papers or evaluation criteria warrants some sort of an approach for standardization. This issue was the theme for a series of discussions in academic circles and despite several advanced methodologies available for standardization, the Z score approach was adopted about 20 years back as the criterion for university admission due to its simplicity, computational convenience, application efficiency and the need for only two parametric estimates for its calculation.

Today, the issue is somewhat different and it is not possible to assume that the students who sat for two different papers in the same subject are having a more or less equal level of competence or they are random picked from the larger population. The first group has sat for the examination for the first time and the other group has at least attempted to pass the examination on one or more previous occasions. This is evident from the number of the first, second and third attempt students in different disciplines. In exploring a solution to this present problem, the underlying assumptions made in calculating the Z score rankings need to be reexamined. One of the assumptions is that the aptitude of knowledge and skills of the student population opting for different subjects or subject streams are not significantly different. This assumption should be validated now because almost all the students who sat the examination under the old syllabus except those with valid medical or other reasons have made a failed attempt to enter university earlier. 

Those who qualify from the new syllabus are a group of students who took the examination for the first time. The assumption of equal knowledge and similar competency level and skill background for these two diverse groups introduces an error into the fair selection process. It is not possible to issue a single series of Z-scores for these two groups. Before processing marks, the hypothesis of statistically non-significant difference between these two student groups needs to be validated with at least past data for a period of 5 years. Since this hypothesis cannot be proved, then the degree of dissimilarity needs to be assessed to determine a fair ratio for university admission from these two groups of students and design a quota for these two groups. This is what the UGC has attempted to employ in the selection process, however, higher differences in the cut-off Z scores due to the impact of quota applied for the two groups has led to serious doubts in the mind of those without an in-depth knowledge of the method.

The second issue is whether the relative difficulty of two questions papers in both old and new syllabi is significantly different. The expert opinion is the only choice we have in this decision. If experts believe that the two sets of questions papers are of more or less a same level of standard, then the two results could have been combined into a single data series with only one set of Z scores and cut-off marks. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to show that this option had been explored by the UGC. If the question papers are at significantly different standards, then it is not possible to combine the two results series. Then the question must be asked from the Department of Examinations why the standards were made to be different and a strong justification for such an action. We always advise our students that they should propose a valid statistical methodology before they collect their data for research to ensure the compatibility of data with the statistical techniques to be employed in the analysis. Unfortunately, the Department of Examinations could not stick to this advice and only seeks a statistically valid solution after collecting the data from student examinations.  

Without understanding the pertinent facts, some argue that the mistakes made in 2011/12 university admission have been repeated in releasing the Z-scores for 2019/20 university admission. A similar problem indeed arose in 2011/12 admission due to the release of Z scores, combining the results of students who followed the GCE Advanced level under old and new syllabi. However, in 2011/12 university admission, the major issue was the errors made in the calculation of Z scores by the Department of Examinations. That mistake was further complicated due to the release of a single Z score combining the two distinctly different student populations of old and new syllabi as a single group by the UGC. A presidential expert committee was appointed to look into the problem and the mistake in the calculation was quickly identified and corrected. Besides, the need to consider the two student populations of old and new syllabi separately for university admission was proposed and it was later approved by a Supreme Court judgment in a case filed by a group of aggrieved students. 

There are few solutions which could have been adopted to avoid the complexity of the problem and misunderstanding among the students, parents and teachers:

a) The easiest approach would have been the designing one question paper for both groups of students sitting the examination under both old and new syllabi giving options to select questions from the areas that had been revised or amended in the new curriculum. It is observed that there have been no major deviations and only minor changes have been made as regards Physics and Chemistry. The relative difficulty level needs to be maintained across all optional questions. Then, it is a single question paper and a single Z score series generated from the results. This should have been achieved at the point of setting of question papers by the examiners with clear instructions.

 b) if the two questions papers, although structurally different, are of the same level of difficulty, the results of the two examinations could have been combined and Z scores computed as a single series. 

This solution could have been explained to the Supreme Court and concurrence on this approach sought. 

It could have been assumed that although the student populations were different, the same level of tests had been administered for both groups and therefore,

c) The most reasonable solution for the problem is to determine the ratios of students admitted to universities for each subject stream and each degree programme separately for old and new syllabus students, and then for each case use the five-year maximum proportion to admit students to universities. Then the total would exceed one hundred since the maximum of both ratios would exceed 100 and a small proportion of students needs to be admitted to each degree programme to avoid any obvious injustice. The use of median value can also be adopted unless there is a positive or negative trend in the ratios. If the five-year values are stationary and have a low variability among years, this becomes a fair solution. In case the five-year values are having a higher degree of variability and an obvious trend, the most recent value should have been the choice. This method of median value was adopted this year and due to the quota being significantly different for different disciplines and degree programmes, the cut-off Z scores have shown many differences for new and old syllabi students. Also, the cut-off Z-scores are significantly high compared to the figures of the previous years due to the application of quota which sometimes 25% of the original 100. This is the reason for the complaints although the method used for selection is in keeping with the ruling of the Supreme Court in 2012.

However, this problem could have been avoided if the two series of Z scores were adjusted as per the quota granted for each series. A simple mathematical computation could have brought the two distributions on a comparable model. The adjusted Z scores are comparable with the figures of the previous years and it would not produce cut-off Z scores which are much different for students in two groups. The confusion created due to the releasing Z scores indicating a different level of access to university entrance in the two different groups could have been avoided with the help of such an approach.


The writer is Former Vice-Chancellor of the Uva Wellassa University and Chairman of the UGC University Admission Committee in 2013/14 and member of Presidential Committee on Z score in 2012 .

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Hair Growth and Thickness



LOOK GOOD – with Disna


* Oil:

Oiling is an old home remedy for hair growth and thickness. Oiling is also used for the strength, shine, and length of hair, from ancient times. The use of coconut oil, especially, is very effective when it comes to the amplification of hair health. Additionally, there are many essential oils for faster hair growth which you can use, too.

* How to Use: Generally, hair oiling works best when applied overnight. You could use this therapy every night, or after each night, then wash your hair, in the morning, before heading for studies, or work.


* Aloe Vera:

Aloe vera has long been used as a home remedy for hair growth, thickness, and treating hair loss problems It contains vitamins A, C, and E. All three of these vitamins are known to contribute to cell turnover, supporting healthy cell growth and shiny hair. Plus, vitamin B-12 and folic acid are also included in aloe vera gel. Both of these elements can keep your hair from falling out. Aloe vera plants can be easily grown indoors. A leaf can be plucked, occasionally, and cut open to reveal its gel. This gel needs to be applied on the scalp, basically, to provide nourishment to the roots.

*  How to Use:

Rub this gel on your head properly, leaving no area dry; wash after half an hour or so. Keeping this massage as a part of your weekly routine will eventually make your hair thick and long.


*  Green Tea:

Green tea is often consumed as a home remedy for weight loss. Surprisingly, it has many other benefits, including hair-related benefits.

* How to Use:

Consuming green tea once every day can add to the strength and length of your hair. If your body is extremely comfortable with green tea, then you may even consume it twice every day.


* Onion Juice:

A bi-weekly application of onion juice can relieve you of your tension, regarding hair health. The smell can really torture you, but divert your attention in doing something else for a while, like making a puzzle or washing the dishes. From an early age, onion juice has been used as a home remedy to control hair fall. Research has shown that onion juice has been successful in treating patchy alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss condition) by promoting hair growth .

* How to Use:

Take half onion and blend it. Apply the mixture on every nook and corner of your scalp and let it sit for some 60 minutes, or so. Shampoo it off when it’s time for the hair-wash.

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Fun-loving, but… sensitive



This week, my chat is with Nilu Vithanage. She is quite active, as a teledrama actress – having done four, already; her first was ‘Pavela Will Come In The Cloud, Mom’ (playing the role of a nurse). Then Came ‘Heavenly Palaces’ (student), ‘Black Town’ (a village character Kenkaiya), and ‘Wings Of Fire,’ currently being shown, with Nilu as a policewoman. You could checkout ‘Wings Of Fire,’ weekdays, on Swarnavahini, at 7.30 pm. Nilu is also active as a stage drama artiste, dancer…and has also been featured in musical videos.

And, this is how our chit-chat went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

Let’s say, I’m a bit on the playful side, and I like to have a lot of fun. But, I do find the time to relax, and, at home, it’s dancing to music! Yeah, I love dancing. Oh, I need to add that I’m a bit sensitive.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I get angry quickly. Fortunately, that anger doesn’t last long – just five to 10 minutes. But I wish I could get rid of anger, totally from my system!

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Nope, can’t think of anything, in particular. Everything is fine with us, and I’m proud of my only brother, and I feel safe when he is around. Or, come to think of it, if I did have another brother, I would feel doubly safe…when going out, in particular!

4. School?

I did my studies at two schools – C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, and Panadura Sumangala Girls’ School for my higher studies. Representing my school, I won first place in a speech competition and dance competition, as well.

5. Happiest moment?

When my husband comes home, or talks to me on the phone. He is stationed in Hatton and those calls and home visits are my happiest moments

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I really find a lot of happiness feeding the fish, in ponds. I love to see them rush to pick up the tidbits I throw into the pond. That’s my kind of happiness – being close to nature.

7. Are you religious?

I would say ‘yes’ to that question. I like to go to the temple, listen to sermons, participate in meditation programmes, and I do not miss out on observing sil, whenever possible. I also find solace in visiting churches.

8. Are you superstitious?

A big ‘no.’ Not bothered about all those superstitious things that generally affect a lot of people.

9. Your ideal guy?

My husband, of course, and that’s the reason I’m married to him! He has been a great support to me, in my acting career, as well in all other activities. He understands me and he loves me. And, I love him, too.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say my Dad. I truly appreciate the mentorship he gave me, from a young age, and the things we received from him

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

My family.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

A camel would be ideal as that would make it easier for me to find a way out from a desert island!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

One day, recently, with the greatest of difficulty, I managed to join a one meter distance queue, to withdraw money from an ATM. And, then I realised I didn’t bring the card along!

14. Done anything daring?

I would say…yes, when I ventured out to get involved in teledramas. It was a kind of a daring decision and I’m glad it’s now working out for me – beautifully.

15. Your ideal vacation?

I would say Thailand, after reading your articles, and talking to you about Amazing Thailand – the shopping, things to see and do, etc. When the scene improves, it will be…Thailand here I come!

16. What kind of music are you into?

The fast, rhythmic stuff because I have a kind of rhythm in my body, and I love to dance…to music.

17. Favourite radio station:

I don’t fancy any particular station. It all depends on the music they play. If it’s my kind of music, then I’m locked-on to that particular station.

18. Favourtie TV station:

Whenever I have some free time, I search the TV channels for a good programme. So it’s the programme that attracts me.

19. What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Maybe a bird so that I would be free to fly anywhere I want to.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m currently giving lessons to schoolchildren, in dancing, and I plan to have my own dancing institute in the future.

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Snail-napping sets the stage for CGI road trip



The SpongeBob Movie:Sponge on the Run

By Tharishi hewaviThanagamage

Based on the famous and one of the longest-running American animated series that made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ is the latest addition to the SpongeBob movie franchise, coming in as the third installment after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ (2004) and ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

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