The Gateway to Computer Science Excellence

Before we dwell into how I got sucked into the swirling whirlpool of GATE preparation, I have to tell you where I was at may 28th 2016, I was back from my college hostel for the last time and having written my last semester exams (after a serious accident),I knew I was gonna fail in two of em papers (cause I didn’t study, not because of the accident, well partly because of the accident, my parents told me it was fine if you couldn’t pass because of the accident, and that’s all I needed to hear to not study for the exams the night before em, cause that’s all a cse btech student really needs to pass ).

I did’nt pass in them when the results came up on July. I had a job offer from TCS, the usual entry level associate software engineer, the one almost every btech student(irrespective of branch) from a local government engineering college ,gets and I wasn’t sure that the job would be right for me. I was always told to try for GATE from home and that education matters more than job, which I felt was true.

I didn’t really deserve the job, cause I remember that the interview didn’t really test anything, they just took everyone who they thought would pass for an engineer (no offense, but it’s true, atleast for my batch).I couldn’t write GATE 2016, because I was sick (who am I kidding,I didn’t study for it, luckily was sick too).I always wanted to go to an IIT, but that apparently didn’t work out, cause I was dumb at that age. 

Wait I’m supposed to tell you which college I went to, it was Government College of Engineering, Kannur, Kerala. So classes at my colleges were not primarily focused on making the student learn computer science but was kind of like finishing what was specified in the outdated syllabus, and there were only two or three teachers who really cared about what they taught.

So I started preparing for GATE in June, but it was like an on and off relationship, sometimes I would take a week off, my supplementary exams came up in October and lots of other things happened too. In order to start my preparation I did a lot of research into how really bad(average their whole life) students prepared and there weren’t many, I took all the goodies from their blogs (you should too, rather than sticking with one bugger) and created a style of my own, before I started I listed all of my vices. 

  1. I use to be bad in periodic revision.
  2. I couldn’t study for more than an hour.
  3. I would skip parts of a subject that was too hard.
  4. I binge watched movies every once in a while (atleast once a month).

And I found ways to overcome them

  1. I made flash cards (just search for them, they are really useful).I made it into a game, played with my flash cards everyday. For everyone who’s confused I’ll put a pictureSo it pretty much has a question on one side and the answer on the other.You shuffle ’em and try to answer, the answers shouldn’t be something right out of the text or something, it should be what brings out all the concepts in that portion.
  2. Well the problem with someone who actually hasn’t studied literally anything during college is that you would have to start from scratch and that requires a looong time (6 months in my case). Unfortunately I don’t have any shortcuts or magic for studying long hours, you just have to brainwash yourself. Sometimes you can study for 8-9 hours because it’s your favorite subject, but most of the time, you require self discipline and motivation (can’t help you here, find out why GATE? It can be something as silly as placements or knowledge). After a while you will find studying bringing you happiness and that means you’re pretty much in the zone.
  3. I watched video lectures for boring parts,I spent hours figuring out how they worked. I kind of have a theory why stuff are difficult in computer science, it’s mainly because you either skipped something else along the way or you just need more time.
  4. Well I deleted all movies from my laptop, you heard it correctly. I uninstalled WhatsApp, Facebook and removed everything that could distract me, unfortunately I became addicted to quora after a while I had to stop that too. 

After I got these problems sorted I started with discrete math and digital logic together. After digital I went straight to CO, unlike what others said I went through both books hamacher and Hennessey,I found hamacher really hard, it took me a while. I then took TOC , the last part on decidability is a badass topic, you need to really sit down to understand it. I moved on to operating systems and compilers. I have to say video lectures from iit Kanpur on compilers really helped out a lot. I read Galvin like a novel, it felt like it. For data structures and algorithms, I did a lot of coding in codechef, hackerrank and read CLRS.i found algorithms really hard especially dynamic programming and the greedy algorithms.I didn’t dedicate too much time for calculus because I was good at it from school.I used Khan academy and MIT lectures for probability and linear algebra. Networks really made me read Tannenbaum a lot, I liked his style of writing. I was good at databases from college. And finally for aptitude, I just solved a lot of questions.

That didn’t help a lot right. Well it’s the same thing that’s written in hundreds of blogs, so here’s how I can help. I’ll tell you this, preparing for GATE is not smooth. It doesn’t magically go from day 1 to exam day with you studying 18 hours a day and getting the ability to solve questions that look like you could only solve if you knew the answer. Yeah you’ll get a lot of that, you’d see a lot of that in the beginning, it’s only when you start asking why to everything even to why 1+1=2, that you can start to appreciate concepts.

Here are some key points that you need to understand

  • You are unique, everyone’s different, just because some strategy worked for a person doesn’t mean it would work for you, your individual habits, your rituals, your surroundings, your thoughts everything defines you, you have to find your comfort zone.
  • Rot learning is so embedded in our system that it’s hard to throw away. So you would have to unlearn a lot of stuff. Don’t blindly memorize stuff, it doesn’t help you get anything. Remember try to learn fishing so that you can fish everyday for the rest of your life rather than buy a fish from someone for just the day.
  • 80% of the successful people weren’t talented, they worked their asses off like there is no tomorrow. Dedication is so important that you might have to sacrifice a lot in your life in order to gain something in the future
  • 6 months or a year is a long period of time. It’s really easy to give up after a while, each time you feel like giving up take a day off it helps, then get things back in track, why? Because we’re human, we’re not machines.
  • When you realize that you’re learning in order to gain knowledge and not for scoring marks in GATE, you will actually learn that concept.
  • I remember watching Shai Simonson’s video where he says he always tries to teach students in such a way that they take a concept and tear it down and build it themselves that the concept becomes their own (you will feel like you invented it).A good teacher doesn’t try to force his understanding in a student rather he tries to make the student find his own understanding of the concept.

After you acquire knowledge it is essential that we test it. I would recommend gateoverflow’s GATE book instead of any other previous year book because you learn to think for your self. Almost all other guides or practice papers solutions might try to force you to an answer, never do that. If you don’t understand it you probably haven’t studied it properly or the answer is wrong, so don’t take that answer. Go back study come back try to solve it again, post it in a Facebook group, try to look at how others try to solve it, learn their approach not their answer.

Remember to do a lot of tests way before the exam, try to chill out during the last week, revise a lot in the last month. Don’t try to overload your brain by studying new concepts in the last month.

Last but not the least, don’t compare yourself with others in tests,I got 30s and 40s during December, 50s to 60s in January.64 was the best I ever got. I got 69.67 in set 2 for GATE 2017,66.91 normalized and an AIR 170 , this is my GATE story, all the best

posted Apr 22, 2017 in Preparation Advice by | 1,115 views


Must read blog for a gate aspirant...

Very well written and congratulations..:)
Awesome post (Y)
I conclude that your path is a path of self-study.

To have taught oneself all that in so less time is truly commendable.

Congratulations. Keep up the good work and good spirit.
Congrats :) Awareness about quality higher education is so less in Kerala. Hope people like you change it :)
I'm trying to give a talk about the same at my college
It is like a binary tree. No. of nodes at top level will be less. But soon they will grow rapidly. So, even if 1 junior listens to you, that is worth :)
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