I am Aravind and I appeared for GATE CS in 2020, and I scored 82.67 marks and got 6th rank. This was my first attempt, in my final year of BTech. I have seen many students (including some of my friends) worked really hard for GATE but still not getting a good enough rank. My experience tells me that GATE CS requires smart work, and not just hard work, and I feel that was one of my biggest strengths. In this blog, I’ll share my own experience as well as some useful strategies and tips for future aspirants as well. I have broadly divided my preparation into 3 phases for convenience. (This is a long post, if you want to read only my tips for future GATE aspirants, you may skip my preparation experience and scroll to the bottom).
Phase 1 (Jan 2018 to May 2019):
Most of the core Computer Science subjects in the GATE syllabus are covered in 2nd year and 3rd year of BTech. So if you are a college student and thinking about giving GATE in future, 2nd year would be the ideal time to start your preparation (my personal opinion) so that you can study in parallel with your college.
I myself started preparing in 4th semester of BTech, and started with Algorithms and Data Structures, which was one of my strong subjects. I also enrolled in an offline coaching, so that I don’t get carried away and complete syllabus on time. During this phase, I was able to finish most of the GATE syllabus in my coaching and also since I prepared well for my semester exams, I got a good grip on all the core subjects by this time. I also prepared neat and organized handwritten-notes for all subjects in my coaching itself.
Phase 2 (June 2019 to September 2019):
I started solving GATE Previous Year Questions (PYQs) from June, and also revised all of the subjects in parallel. After solving each PYQ, I would check the answer on GO website, and also read all the discussions and comments. This is very important, as solving a question correctly does not necessarily imply that you have fully understood the concept. This is where GO helped me the most- reliable answers for every GATE question or concept. I also spent a lot of time in solving questions from Maths, Aptitude and Verbal Ability because these 3 subjects are the most scoring subjects, and I didn’t want to lose a single mark here. Also, whenever I faced difficulty in solving any of the PYQs, I would write down that question/concept in my mistakes copy (I maintained a mistakes copy for keeping track of all the questions I found difficult / solved incorrectly). This helped me to not repeat the same mistakes, and my accuracy improved as a result.
I allotted around 1 week per subject for solving all GATE PYQs. I also attempted a full-length mock test in the beginning of June, just to check how well I have prepared so far. But I failed miserably in that test, and could score only 26/100 marks. After giving that one test, I realized that it’s not enough to just study a concept. I made lots of careless mistakes/calculation errors, and lacked practice. After that, I decided not to give any more tests for a few months and completely focused on solving PYQs, to improve both accuracy and problem solving ability.
I also participated in my campus placements during this period, so I took a break of approximately 1 month to prepare for interviews and coding rounds. In my view, taking a break for campus placements is totally justified because if you have a backup job-offer in hand, you will feel less pressure in the months of December and January, leading to better performance in GATE. We don’t know what might happen in those 3 hours, so it’s good to have a backup. I managed to bag offers from both TCS (7lpa) and Infosys (8lpa), even though I didn’t prepare that much for interviews. If you prepare well for GATE, cracking interviews of software companies also becomes easier. In fact, in my Infosys interview, I was asked a few questions on Computer Networks, and I was able to answer them only because I prepared for GATE.
Phase 3 (Oct 2019 to Feb 2020):
Since I had already completed the PYQs and revision of all subjects, and also had backup job, I focused only on giving lots of mock tests during this phase. I started with topic-wise and subject-wise tests, and later moved on to full-length tests. I attempted multiple tests every day, and after every test I noted down all my mistakes in my mistake copy (whether it’s silly mistake or conceptual mistake). If I come across any new concept in Test Series, I first check whether it’s included in the GATE syllabus, and then studied that concept from Wikipedia or some standard resource, and included it in my mistake copy. From time to time, I also revised all my mistakes that I have noted down, so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes. For e.g., if you previously made a mistake in a Pipelining question in COA, the next time you see a similar question in another test, it should immediately click in your mind that you made a mistake here previously, and you would be more careful while attempting that question. Whether you get a single-digit rank or 2-digit rank or 3-digit rank will ultimately depend on how many silly mistakes you made in the exam hall. That’s why it’s crucial to properly analyze all your tests. Also, I always revised a subject after giving it’s test, not before giving the test. This way, it’s easier for me to analyze which concepts I’m forgetting.
I attempted more than 300 tests during this period. I know that it’s not required to give so many tests, but since I already completed my syllabus and had plenty of free time (I didn’t go to college after getting placed), I thought why not give as many tests as I can 🤣. When I finished all tests of one coaching, I would purchase yet another test series and continue giving more tests, just to keep the flow going. I also took a break of 3-weeks in December to prepare for my BTech semester exams, lab exams, etc.
After my semester exams, I had a lot of free time so I made short notes for each subject (15-20 pages per subject). I made short notes for all subjects in 3-4 days. Making short notes is very easy- Just read 10 pages of your main notes and compress it to make 1 page of short note, by including only the most important concepts and formulae. Short notes help you to revise all subjects very quickly just before the exam, and one more benefit is that while preparing the short notes, you become aware which concepts are the most important which needs to be kept at fingertips all the time.
In January, I was able to score 85-90 marks in most full-length mock tests, so I thought of giving the final touches to my GATE preparation. One last time, I solved all the PYQs of all subjects very quickly (I focused on medium/difficult problems and skipped the easy ones in which I was confident), and also kept on revising the full-length notes of all subjects in round-robin manner. Revision is the most important part of GATE preparation- after all, on the day of GATE exam, what matters is how much you remember, not how much you studied.
I also attempted the Made easy Centre Based Test (CBT): it’s a mock test which you have to give in a real, proctored exam centre. The thing is, you might be very comfortable in giving mock tests while sitting in your home, but traveling to the exam centre and being seated in the exam hall with hundreds of other candidates can make you nervous and lose concentration. After preparing for GATE for 1-2 years, after putting so much effort, getting nervous in the exam hall is the last thing you want. So it’s good to be prepared for such situations by giving CBTs (Centre Based Tests).
During the last 1 week before GATE (1st Feb to 7th Feb), I decided to relax a bit, gave only one mock test, and just revised all my notes one last time. Still, after so much efforts and precautions, I became nervous in the exam hall due to some unforeseen circumstances, and ended up doing many silly mistakes, that too in easy questions (I attempted 64/65 questions in GATE). Luckily, I somehow managed to get 82 marks in GATE (Even I couldn’t believe it till I saw my GATE response sheet with my own eyes).
Some tips/pointers for future GATE aspirants:
- GATE is NOT just a test of your knowledge. It’s also a test of your aptitude (ability to solve problems), speed (solving 65 questions in 3 hours), accuracy (identifying and controlling silly mistakes), observation skills (reading and interpreting all questions properly), ability to remain calm under exam pressure, and even the ability to use the virtual calculator properly. So just having good knowledge is not enough for getting a top rank, you have to work on all the above points too.
- Give lots of mock tests and analyze them properly. You won’t know your mistakes and weak-topics till you start giving tests. Not giving tests or giving tests but not analyzing them properly, can be fatal. And maintaining a separate notebook for keeping record of your mistakes and weak-topics can be very helpful.
- Don’t ignore Aptitude and Verbal Ability. Many students study the technical subjects for years, but completely ignore the Aptitude and Verbal section, and end up losing significant marks in the Aptitude section itself. I agree that Aptitude is very easy compared to core subjects, but still it’s good to practice them. Even solving the Aptitude and Verbal PYQs would be more than enough for GATE, do that atleast.
- Give equal importance to all subjects. Don’t check the subject-wise marks distribution and all. If you want to top GATE, you cannot afford to leave any subject, since easy questions can come from any subject.
- Don’t go into too much depth in any subject. It would mean less time for other subjects, and moreover GATE questions require just the basic concepts. Know what to study, and more importantly, know what NOT to study. Also, it’s good to follow standard resources but again, make sure you’re not spending too much time on one subject. And if you are following some coaching and want to clear doubts from standard resources, searching in books can be time-consuming. Alternatively, you can also use Wikipedia as a standard resource to clear doubts, it saves time (I did that for some subjects).
- Limit your usage of social media. This is very subjective and varies from person to person, but I personally find it difficult to manage time for both social media and preparing for competitive exams at the same time (maybe it’s just me, I don’t know). Since I was determined to top GATE at any cost, I did not want to take any chances, so I deleted every social media account during the last 7-8 months of my preparation, even Facebook and WhatsApp. You may keep a separate Facebook account for GO.
- Don’t follow any topper’s advice blindly (not even mine 🤣). Don’t just copy someone else’s preparation schedule or strategy, instead, create your own strategy (so that you can post it here when you top GATE next year). And don’t blindly trust any coaching or tutor to guide you in your journey. Don’t be afraid to think independently for yourself, and ask lots of questions. If some solution or concept doesn’t make sense to you, use the internet. Google let’s you search for anything in the world and gives you results in a few seconds, so use Google more often. If you can’t find your answers on Google, ask questions on GO. But at the same time, try not to argue with anyone during your discussions. It’s important to have an open mind while learning new concepts and solving new problems.
I will end this blog with one of my favorite quotes:
Jaan laga do, ya jaane do!