GATE Aspirants' Question Answered #3

"The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” − Michael E. Porter

Its indeed known that having a good plan/strategy preparing for GATE will help you perform better. But if you ask me, what is that single winning success formula, it is as foolish as starting a shoe shop that sells shoes of only one size. In essence, one size doesn't fit all. But we can indeed generalize and abstract certain points. If we see, unlike JEE or AIEEE, GATE is written by aspirants of varying backgrounds.

A GATE Aspirant can be a

  1. Final year undergrad Student
  2. Repeaters who drop an year after their college.
  3. An Employed person (IT / Acad)
  4. Even you can spot many aspirants taking GATE preparations seriously, even in their second or third year of undergrad.

What should be your ideal strategy depends on

  1. Which category you belong to in this classification?
  2. How strong are you in the subjects, especially how well you studied the subjects in your college?
  3. How much time you can afford to spend?
  4. What mode of learning you prefer (Coaching / Self Study / Group Study)?

Since you have decided to take GATE Preparations seriously, I would suggest that you invest some time in figuring out what turns out to be the best case for you. Well that's easy to say, still a question that now brews in your mind will be where to start. As said, it is easy to be smart when you're parroting smart people. Start reading GATE preparation strategies from the toppers. You could find plenty all across the internet. I intend to post more links in this page. Try reading these articles as much as possible. Keep a note of the ones you find that suits you best and suits to your constraints. Make a list of your own, as easy as making a set of assorted chocolates or pretty much the way Indian constitution was made. Try doing them for a week or so. If you find something is not working out, try changing that particular factor and try something else from the list. You should finally arrive at a stable pattern soon. I would now add certain points that I have taken from different smart people and practiced myself.

For GATE, you need to have a good command in the basics of each subject. It is advisable that you should have read & learnt from at least one standard textbook for each subject, though need not be in the recent past (if so, it is better). If you are a second year or a third year student, this is the best time to focus on getting your basics right. Start learning from standard textbooks, do the problems and exercises from these as well. You can rely on online lectures as well. OCW, Youtube edu, Academic earth, NPTEL, coursera, udacity, edx, all these provide good video lectures and materials for your learning. In this phase you should not worry much about GATE oriented preparations (even final year students should be doing this). It may be the case that you are good in some subjects, while you wouldn't have a good grasp in some others. But be sure that you have got your basics right in every subject and then focus on the ones which you feel you are good with. Learning by increments turned out to be more fruitful for me. You learn something, try some problems. Find out your weak points and learn more about that area. It will be helpful to keep a checklist of topics you need to study more.

Once you are good with subjects, you must think about strategies, that could help you to excel yourself. Now if you did your studies some time ago, maybe you should check out short lecture notes, slides or videos that could help you to refresh what you have done earlier. Your coaching center materials / coaching classes could be of great help here often. Using coaching center materials directly is not advisable though.

After this, you should start solving practice problems and previous year questions. Again, this is best if you could do in increments, say you study a portion or topic in a subject, then you attempt the questions, and you should answer this only if you are 100% sure of your answer. Guessing at this point won't help you (not even intelligent guesses), make a note of the ones that you couldn't solve, learn those portions again, attempt the questions and repeat this until you can arrive at an answer. It will be useful if you can gather a peer group, while solving questions. Facebook groups or forums can be effectively used here. I used to post questions, attempts what others have posted there, and even used to have heated discussions and fights regarding answers. As a bonus, we used to get guidance from a lot of people who were GATE toppers as well.

Your last month should be more focused in solving previous year questions only. Questions from past 10 or 15 years are more than sufficient for you to cover almost every topic from the syllabus. Again, I strongly disagree with keeping a key of answers for those questions. But should ask out to others, if you are stuck somewhere. For revision purposes, I relied more on lecture slides (Mostly from MIT, CMU, Berkeley and likes). I was using lesser and lesser detailed materials and was spending less time as GATE was approaching closer. This is something that I have learnt from Ankur Gupta ( Speaking of him, I should mention another good method he adopted. Since he was working in an office. He used to get up early and solve one question paper each day, He then used to analyze and ponder over his mistakes during his free time at the office. You can read more about that in his blog.

During the initial stages I tried out many other methods for studying of which many didn't work out for me:

  1. Time based study: Keeping a rigid timetable and unrealistic goals in finishing topics. This never resulted in any quality work.
  2. Studying multiple topics together: Certain people like to learn multiple subjects everyday, say one theoretical while other numerical or analytical subjects. But again my brain wasn't wired for such switching activities.
  3. Learning from Study materials / Short notes alone: I learnt its a bad idea from my own experience.
  4. Solitary learning: Much improvement was seen when I started to be active in Facebook groups, and taking helps from others. Though, you shouldn't underestimate the need of reading and learning from textbooks by yourselves.

Hope, these points would help you in forming your own methods. At least you could choose what not to do, before it's late to. Do post your plans when you prepare those.

Note: Many of the points that I posted here is a result of my discussion with "Gate CSE"  through Facebook discussion.

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