If this is too long to read, here's the summary:
1. I found a good peer group to study with.
2. I used standard textbooks and standard resources for almost all subjects.
3. I realised that analysis of the mistakes I made in tests is more important than the marks that I scored.
You can find the resources I used here: https://goxul.github.io/My-GATE-prep-pt2/
You can find my test series marks here.
I decided to appear for GATE somewhere around October 2017, but didn't actually start preparing for it until January 2018. I enrolled for a coaching in Bombay - Vidyalankar Classes. They used to happen on the weekends and while some of the teachers were good, some were okay and that's putting it kindly. They didn't even finish our syllabus and the only subject I learned there was Theory of Computation (which to be fair, is the same content that's freely available online by ***.) and as time progressed, I slowly became uninterested in attending classes and kept studying on my own. With all this, I also had to manage my semester exams and a final year project which I was trying to do seriously. Oh and also, I decided not to sit for my campus placements because I thought it'd give a an impetus to do well in GATE.
The biggest mistake I did was not solving enough problems and giving tests. I was so engrossed in just understanding concepts that I totally ignored problem solving, foolishly believing that I'd be able to do it on the D-Day. I had read some blogs in which the toppers said that they didn't appear for any test series and yet were able to clear the exam, and I thought I'd be like them too.
Takeaway 0: Do not overestimate yourself. Be brutally honest when you are analysing where you stand in your preparation.
The signs were there that I wasn't on the right path - I still remember the first Made Easy topic-wise test I gave in September 2018 and I scored 5.33/25. Instead of working on the mistakes that I made, I simply chalked up that performance to me being sleepy. This was just one of the countless tests that I failed to analyse during my preparation.
Takeaway 1: More than the marks of the test, the mistakes of the tests are more important. Analyse the hell out of your tests and make sure you don't commit the same mistake twice.
Eventually, I was able to finish my syllabus around last week of December 2018 (and finishing to me meant solving all the questions of GO Book at least once.). I still didn't know where I stood in terms of my preparation because I had barely given any full-length tests. I gave my first full length test in second week of January (it was Bikram Mock 1 on GateOverflow) and I was happy to see that I had scored 69/100. However, the paper was easy (my friends scored 79 and 80 respectively) in the same test. So in a way, scoring well proved detrimental to me as I thought that my prep was in the right direction and gave me a false sense of confidence. I attempted a few more tests and I remember the last test I attempted was of GATEBOOK and I had scored 44 marks in it. I just ignored and tried to focus on whatever I had learnt till now, and kept revising. I had used Anki to make flashcards for the entire syllabus instead of making proper notes and that's what I used to revise. I had zero written notes.
As soon as I started the paper, I realised that I had no proper strategy on how to attempt the paper. Why? Because I had hardly given any mock tests to form a strategy. Anyway, I started with the aptitude section and gave it some 15 minutes, and still wasn't able to solve all of it. Then I moved directly to the 2 mark section and started solving stuff, and post that, it's all a blur to me honestly. The only thing that I remember is I was stuck looking at simple, basic questions and thinking to myself "Surely GATE won't ask such simple questions. There _has_ to be a twist in this somwewhere.", which turned to be horribly untrue.
Takeaway 2: Go in without ANY presumptions about the paper. Don't expect the 2 mark questions to be difficult, don't expect the 1 mark questions to be easy. Just don't have any expectations - take the questions at face value and solve them. And for the love of God, don't ignore aptitude at any cost. It can make or break your exam.
As soon as I left the exam hall, I knew that I had screwed up. I thought the paper was difficult, and when I came out and checked Facebook, people were discussing how easy the paper was. And as expected, my result was bad - I had scored 44 marks, with rank of 4434.
Anyway, I had already started preparing for other exams - namely IIIT Hyderabad and CMI. I was weak at coding and algorithms in general, and this is when I slowly started improving my coding skills. I used to solve problems from GeeksForGeeks and Leetcode and I had solved around 100-120 problems in a month. While this is a pretty small number, it allowed me get comfortable with coding and get better at time complexity analysis. I used the textbook "Algorithms by Dasgupta, Vazirani et al" as my primary resource to study algorithms. Since I was also preparing for CMI, I also used to solve subjective exercise problems, which were mostly proof related problems. So in short, I got better at Algo/DS, relative to where I stood before.
IIIT Hyderabad's exam was on 28th April and I was able to clear the written test and got called for an interview. Meanwhile, around mid-April, I lost interest in preparing for CMI, and just gave up on it. CMI's exam was on 15th May and I scored 51/100 (Objective: 27/30, Subjective: 24/60), while the cutoff was 60/100. Had I solved even one more subjective question, I probably would have made it to CMI.
Either way, with these results, I knew that I had the capability to do well in GATE and my marks weren't an accurate reflection of my preparation level. So I decided to take a drop, and move to Delhi for my preparation. I convinced my parents to let me a famous coaching institute, as I thought it'd be a great coaching institute (I couldn't have been more wrong.) and as I had decided to take a drop, I didn't even appear for IIIT Hyderabad's interview.
[A small detour - luckily a few companies were still recruiting in my college and due to that, I was able to get one job on-campus and one job off-campus. Why is this relevant? This, along with me clearing IIITH's exam, gave me the confidence that even if I screwed up GATE after a drop, I'd stll be able to find a job or at least get into IIIT Hyderabad, as I had already done it once before. ]
I moved to Saket, Delhi on June 15, 2019 and joined a coaching class. I won't name it, but it should be obvious.
After attending a handful of classes in the beginning, I knew that I had wasted my 70 thousand. I only attended a few classes, which I felt I personally needed.
There were around 450 students in each batch and we had to stand in line early in the morning, just to get good seats in the class. I literally saw people running to catch seats. Since the classes where hugh, there was no scope of personal attention. On top of that, the pace was too slow (on one instance, the professor taught Fibonacci series for over two hours. I doubt even Fibonacci spent so much time on it.), some concepts were irrelevant (eg: we were taught 8085 instruction set architecture? Why? God knows.) some concepts were wrong (eg: simultaenous memory access was being taught extensively in the classes. Till date, I have not found a single textbook which mentions this concept.), the syllabus was delayed by over a month (they finished the syllabus in first week of December).
Takeaway 3: Join offline coaching classes only if a) you have a lot of money to waste or b) you are an absolute beginner and have no clue about computer science or c) you have zero self discipline and can only study in a classroom environment. Else, you're better off with online coaching or free resources, both of which are available aplenty.
That being said, the only advantage that the classes offered me was that it helped me find a peer group. The PG I lived in was filled with people who were preparing for GATE CS, and all of us had joined a nearby library. We used to go study together, take breaks together and helped each other with studies. I never studied in my room and spent most of my time in the library.
Now, given that I was taking a drop, I had the entire day to my to study. However, I never tried to study more than 10-11 hours a day, because I knew that it wasn't feasible over a 7 month period. I didn't want to start off by studying 16 hours a day and then burn out later. There's a wonderful answer by a professor of Computer Science at UIUC, who was asked this:
”Q: How can I study hard with full concentration 8-9 hours every day without getting tired or burning out?
A: You can’t.
But if you really insist on trying, here is what I would strongly recommend. Take a 15-minute break after every 30 minutes of studying, take a 30-minute break after every two hours of studying, and take a full one-hour break after four hours. During your breaks, stand up, walk around, go outside, and relax and/or exercise; do not think about work. Eat three leisurely healthy meals every day; do not work while you eat. Stop studying (and I really do mean stop) at least two hours before going to sleep every night, and get at least eight full hours of sleep every night. Take at least one day completely off studying every week. Go easy on the caffeine. Don’t forget to bathe, or do laundry, or shop, or pay your bills, or go to classes, or talk with your friends and family.
Finally, and most importantly, do not strive for perfection; instead, work for improvement. Give yourself credit for every modicum of progress, every new concept that you understand, every new skill that you master, every new tool that you can use, no matter how small.”
So as a result of that, my routine used to be something like this:
Wake up at around 8, have breakfast and reach the library by 9. From 9, study till around 1, have lunch and come back to the library by 2:30-3. Study till 5:30-6, take a break and again come back to study till 9.
[PS: It's not the hours that you put into your studies that matter but how effective those studies are. Please don't be obsessed with a number - that I need to study 8 hours, or 10 hours, or 12 hours. It. Doesn't. Matter. Always study still you are satisfied with what you have done - it could be 2 hours or 15 hours.]
I used to not study on Sundays and kept myself busy with things I liked - attending concerts, plays, sightseeing Delhi etc. That one day of the week was something I believe helped me to not burn out and anybody considering a drop should definitely have it.
Coming back to studies, as I had already done my syllabus once, this time completing my syllabus was aking to just revising it once and doing previous year questions again. I was also solving questions from foreign university assignments and textbooks.
So I kept chipping at the proverbial mountain and before I knew, it was already November. I finished giving all my topicwise and subjectwise tests by the end of November and I was doing okayish at them. [I've shared my marks from all tests in the other blog post, you can find it there.]
I gave my first full length test on 1st of December. It was a TestBook test and I scored 58.7 marks. I was disheartended, so I gave another one the same day. Again from TestBook and I scored 51.7 marks.
I was at a complete loss of words.
I had prepared well, I was putting in the hours and yet, I was scoring terrible marks.
I say terrible because the paper was easy (if I remember correctly, the topper had 88 marks.).
I went back to my room that day and confessed to my friends that maybe I couldn't do it and that probably I wasn't made for GATE. But somehow, they gave me the courage to try again harder tomorrow and hence I say,
Takeaway 4: It's really really important to have a good support network of friends and family who'll help you get through the difficult times. It would have been impossible for me without the help of my friends. They were the ones who gave me hope when things were looking bleak, as they often did. If you can't find any such people, feel free to contact me as I know how much it sucks at that time, and I'll try to help you in any way possible.
I woke up next morning, revised a bit and gave my first Made Easy test. I scored 69.34. Not bad, I guess. From there, I gave almost a test daily for the next 25 odd days and I mostly stayed in the 60s. Not once did I cross 70 in any Made Easy test and my ranks mostly used to be under in double digits.
My scores used to fluctuate a lot and at times, my frustration, stress, anxiety and everything else used to be so bad that I'd randomly break down at times, for no apparent reason at all. Heck, I didn't know why it was happening and I didn't talk about it to anybody either. I just assumed it was due to stress and ignored it, hoping that it would go away after the exam. My point being -
Takeaway 5: My last two months were awful. The stress was horrible and at times, I wished that I hadn't prepared for GATE at all and just taken up a random shitty job. This was further compounded as I was preparing for it a second time and I could see first timers score much better than me. And most likely, they'll not be easy for anybody who's reading this. It will suck, but the good part is - you will come out of it. You're not alone and EVERYONE goes through this.
Then, January 11 was the date of my first Made Easy CBT. In my mind, for some reason, I had convinced myself that this would be accurate reflection of what GATE would be like (spoiler alert: it isn't).
I went and gave my test and again, it was dogshit. I made countless silly mistakes and I was again dejected that the same would happen in GATE as well. When my results came, it was bad. I had a lot of incorrect attempts. Half of them were silly mistakes, which I was able to solve after the exam. I had given a lot of tests up to that point and yet, my exam temperament sucked. And there's no magic wand to fix it - I just realised that you have to practice more and more tests.
[On a side note - my friend scored more marks than me in Made Easy's CBT and got a worse rank than me - go figure how.]
By the point, I was kinda used to the disappointment of not doing well in tests, so I just rolled on with it.
12th January was ISRO's exam and again, I made loads of silly mistakes. The results haven't been declared yet, but there's a good chance I haven't qualified for the interview. [EDIT: I did.]
But amidst all these disappointments, I did one important thing - I noted down all the mistakes that I had made, and was very careful to not avoid the same mistakes again. It didn't matter to me if I made new mistakes, but I wanted to be 100 % sure that I wasn't repeating the same mistakes. I used to frequently revise the mistake book again and again.
CBT 2 wasn't any stellar either.
I didn't take my results any more seriously and just kept giving more and more tests. But I never forgot to analyse it. I'll repeat it again - ANALYSIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
I gave Ace Academy's CBT and it was easy - I scored 76.67 marks and a rank of 24 out of 500 odd people. But the questions were so bad, I wished I had not given it at all as I had to travel loads for it.
Then, 22nd January was Applied Course's AITS 4 and I scored an amazing 48 marks in that, out of 100. (although, the paper was quite difficult and I got a rank of 61 out of 1200 odd people.)
After that test, I bid goodbye to Delhi and returned back home. Here, my intensity reduced and I mostly stuck to revision of my notes and solving previous year questions.
I gave one final test on 2nd February, of Applied Course and scored 76.67, with an AIR of 22. I was satisfied with it, and gave no tests after that.
The D-Day - encore
I sat down at my PC 40 odd minutes before the exam and I meditated for a while. Around 20 minutes or so. My nerves were considerably lesser this time, because I had given around 30 odd full length tests. I had a fixed pattern of attempting questions too - I did the aptitude section first and then I attempted the question paper in serial order and then I'd come back in reverse order to check the question apper. You have to make your own strategy, and find out what works for you.
The paper went according to my plan and I was able to finish it with around 30 minutes remaining. Instead of solving new questions and I was able to find a mistake of 2 marks. Anyway, I had attempted around 52 questions (this was how I usually did, as I aimed for more accuracy.)
I hope this extremely long post was worth it and was useful.
In case someone wants to read the resources I used, you can find it here: https://goxul.github.io/My-GATE-prep-pt2/