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“Prove 1=2” and other bizarre questions asked during entrance interviews at India’s elite colleges

With limited seats and intense competition, a few Indian colleges have discovered a quicker way of finding the brightest students—ask them some bizarre questions.

A number of colleges have gruelling personal interviews but some prestigious institutes, such as St. Stephen’s College and certain elite management schools, include questions that range from slightly odd to downright disturbing to keep applicants on their toes.

After speaking to a number of students and digging through online resources, we present to you some of the most offbeat questions asked at India’s top educational institutes in recent years:

  1. What is the recruitment and HR structure of ISIS?
    Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow—sourced from Quora.
  2. How would you react if one fine morning you found out that you were pregnant?
    IIM Lucknow, candidate wished to stay anonymous.
  3. What is the absolute truth?
     -Nishant Agarwal, IIM Lucknow—sourced from Quora.
  4. How’s the weather outside? (The only question asked to the aspirant during his interview.)
    Karan Sehgal, St. Stephen’s College.
  5. How many air conditioners have we installed in this college?
    St. Stephen’s College, candidate wished to stay anonymous.
  6. What would you do if one morning you saw a stranger coming out of your mom’s room?
    IIM Calcutta, candidate wished to stay anonymous.
  7. Panelist whispers in the student’s ear—“Incredible India. Act it out.”
    Vamshi Krishna G R, IIM Calcutta —sourced from Quora.
  8. Recite a story with a cow as the protagonist.
    Pulkit Aggarwal, XLRI.
  9. Prove 1=2.
    IIM Indore—sourced from Quantologic, a blog dedicated to solving mathematical problems for IIMs.
  10. Tell us how to make octopus soup in 30 seconds.
    -Nisarga Vichare, Symbiosis Centre for Management & Human Resources Development—sourced from Quora.

Although students are worn-out and exhausted while preparing for such strange interview questions, many of them believe there is no other way colleges can pick the best students out of all the prospective candidates.

“If I score 95% in my grade 12 examination and another student scores 96%–how will a college figure out which one of us is better?” says Pulkit Aggarwal, a student who got into several of India’s top management institutions.

“They have to ask such bizarre questions to make us think out of the box and react to situations outside our comfort zone.”

That may be true to some extent. In recent years, India’s education board has been giving out obscurely high marks to class 12 students. The high scores, along with limited seats, results in soaring cut-offs. For instance, to gain admission into one of the top undergraduate courses at the University of Delhi, students need to attain a near-perfect 100% score in their class 12 examinations.

Telephone calls and emails to St. Stephen’s College and a number of IIMs went unanswered.

But research conducted by a number of corporations—including Google, which became infamous for asking intimidating questions—suggests that brain teasers aren’t particularly helpful in picking the right candidate. In 2013, Lazlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, even acknowledged that such mind-scrambling questions were “a complete waste of time.”

“They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart,” he told the New York Times.

Some institutions in India have slowly started taking note and are now tweaking their strategy. One such institute—IIM Bangalore—has decided to scrap stress interviews and instead focus more on understanding the candidates and their ambitions.

“Candidates are already so stressed out and so the first thing we now do is make sure that they are comfortable throughout the interview,” Sourav Mukherji, dean of academic programs at IIM Bangalore, told Quartz. “We want to judge their communication skills, their presence, and whether they are truly interested in pursuing an MBA rather than put them in a spot.”

But for now, IIM Bangalore remains an anomaly among management schools. Indian students are stuck with figuring out the answers to all manner of odd questions, including how many golf balls can fit into a school bus.

Were you asked a strange question at an interview? We would like to hear about your experience. Write to us at ideas.india@qz.com.