A little background
My GATE preparation started in November 2016. It was the middle of 7 month holidays(you read that right). The holidays started as normal one month inter-semester break(end of 4th semester). I had already decided to devote my entire 1 month holiday in learning Android. But in the middle of the 1 month break one of the top militants in Kashmir Burhan Wani was killed. Indefinite strike was called by the separatist leaders. Since it was only the mid of holidays I thought things would become normal towards the end of the holidays. But I was wrong. At the end of holidays the strike was still going. My college extended the holidays by 1 month. Since my android app was not complete I decided to focus my mind on that. Even at the end of this extension the strike did not ended. Now I got little frustrated. Bad thoughts started coming to my mind. What if something like this happens just before the placements. I had come to know that NIT Srinagar 7th semester placements were taking place at NIT Delhi. But still it wasn’t the same as getting placement in one’s own college. At this time I started thinking about other options. And one of the options that I found was GATE. For the next 10–15 days I read extensively about GATE and related things. And after that I decided that I would not be sitting in placements and GATE became my one and only aim. But there was one big problem. I did not know whether I should go for coaching or not. Previous year toppers had not recommended coaching for GATE. But still I had doubts. So I decided to solve some of the GATE problems to get an idea about whether I can crack it on my own. At that time the only things that I knew from GATE topics was data structures, C programming and combinational circuits. I tried to solve previous year questions of these subjects and I was able to solve most of them. This convinced me that I could do this on my own. After this I noted down the list of subjects which would be taught to us in the upcoming sem and also in GATE syllabus. There were four of them: OS, DBMS, Algo and COA. I decided that I will cover these subjects parallely in college( I was hopeful that the college would reopen soon). I ordered standard books of these subjects online. It took around 1 week to arrive and by this time September had ended. I was ready to execute my plan but at this time the college extended the holidays by another month and put out a notification asking us to undergo training at some place. I did my training in Computer Networks and during that time I did not study GATE. However I read some network topics from Tanenbaum. Finally the college put out a notice that college would now resume in February since it was already start of November and colleges in Kashmir don’t remain open in these months due to extreme cold.
Beginning of something Big!
So I started my GATE preparation. And when I started the only thing in my mind was rank 1. Nothing less. I decided to leave algorithms for future and concentrate on OS, DBMS, COA and networks. During this period I was putting too much hard work and no smart work. I had noted the list of subjects from GATE syllabus and started reading the book even without having a look on the topics to read. This has been a problem since my childhood. While preparing for any examination I would read the entire book even if only half the chapters were to come and since I never joined coaching(even during my JEE preparation) nobody told me about this mistake. And I had some more problems such as:
- Not marking important points on book. I was crazy about keeping my books clean. So I never used to write anything on them(sometimes even my name).
- Not making notes. I always believed that once I put it in memory I would not forget it.
- Reading things in too much depth
Due to all these I faced a lot of problems. I had decided to start with OS and networks. I read networks but after some time I would forget what I had read. At this time for the first time in my life I decided to make notes. But since I was making notes for the first time they were terrible. I was not able to decide what to write on notes and what to leave. I remember studying Ethernet and making its notes only to find that I had written almost everything written in book. I threw away those notes and made a fresh set. They were much better but still nowhere good. After sometime I got bored of reading networks and OS. Then I decided to read COA. I wasted a lot of time reading topics which were never going to come in GATE. At end of December I had read a lot but a substantial percentage of this was never to come in GATE. And I had prepared notes for networks only. I did not get time to study in the month of January as I was visiting my village after a very long time.
Finally the college opened in February. The college authorities decided that the 5th semester would be completed within two months and the 6th semester within 3 months and no gap between 5th and 6th sem.I set two objectives at the beginning of 5th sem. The first one was GATE, the second one was to get an above 9 pointer in this sem. My overall pointer upto this point was 7.5 and I decided that I will make it 8 by the time I complete my B. Tech. I decided not to make the same mistakes that I earlier did while preparing. This time I read only selected topics instead of reading the whole book. OS and DBMS became my favourite subjects. For future candidates I would suggest the book by Galvin for OS and korth book for database. If you use these two books wisely I bet you can solve all questions of GATE. Similarly Cormen is more than sufficient for algorithms. For COA, I used book by Carl Hamachar. This book is very good but it does not cover some(only 2–3) topics. You can cover those topics from internet. While reading these books I noted down only those things which I would forget after some time. For example I would note down the name of the process scheduling algorithm only, not the description of the algorithm. My OS notes were less than 30 pages and same was the case for DBMS. For future candidates my advice is that always prepare your own notes. There are some things which our mind is able to store after reading once(and hence must not be recorded in notes) and there are other things which need repeated reading to make it stick. Since these two things differ from individual to individual one should always prepare his own notes. I would revise from these notes at an interval of around 3–4 days. After 3–4 revisions I decided to revise after 7 days and finally changed the interval to 15 days. The 5th sem was extremely hectic but I managed to achieve both of my objectives. I got a SGPA of 9.04 in that sem and my CGPA shot to 7.8.
When the 6th sem started my objectives remained the same as 5th sem. There were two subjects to cover -computer networks and TOC. I had already studied some part of networks from Tanenbaum. So I decided to use it for further reading. For TOC I was confused between Peter Linz and Ullman. After a lot of thought I decided to buy Peter Linz and I haven’t ever regretted that decision. One of my friends was preparing computer networks from Farouzan. I gave it a try and found it to be better than Tanenbaum(only for GATE). I threw away my network notes which I had made during the holidays and made fresh set of notes. This sem went quite well with me getting a SGPA of 9.32, CGPA of 8.05 and throughly completing both networks and TOC. At the end of this sem we were given holidays of 1 month.
Upto this time I had covered OS, DBMS, TOC, data structures, algorithms and networks completely. During the holidays I started Machine learning and Python. I devoted my entire holidays in learning these. However I made sure that I keep revising those subjects which I have already learnt.
GATE is more about persistence than talent
7th sem started in the month of August. This was the sem students were waiting for, the sem of placements. I had already decided before starting my GATE preparation that I was not going to sit for placements. My focus was now on Maths portion of GATE. I started with discrete maths. When I had made a plan for this sem I did not take into account that I would be getting a lot of holidays since every time a company came we used to have a 3–4 holidays. Since I had extra time I parallely studied machine learning. I also joined ACE test series and started giving subject tests. I used to get 15–16 marks out of 25 in those tests. I was happy since I felt that with practice I will definitely be getting more in time. Now my life was like ML, Discrete Mathematics, Compiler Design and tests. I took a print out of GATE syllabus and pasted it on my room wall. For Discrete Mathematics I used Kenneth Rosen. I found it sufficient for GATE. For Compiler Design I bought book by Aho. This book gave me a lot of trouble. I found its language to be extremely difficult. But my mam was teaching this subject well so I decided to follow whatever she is teaching. Also I watched some of ******’s free videos. It had been some time since I joined the test series and my marks instead of increasing started decreasing. Now I was getting 12–13. First I thought this may be once in a while case but no. Those 12–13 became very regular. I felt dejected and lost my confidence. This was the only time during my GATE preparation that I began to question my abilities and decisions. I thought maybe I should have sit in placements. I left GATE preparation and started doing thing which I enjoyed the most- playing cricket. I had stopped playing altogether after the 7th sem started. For a week I left studies altogether. I just played and played. After this I joined madeeasy test series, took the 1st test and scored well. Playing has provided my mind the break that it needed. After this I never stopped playing in that sem. Now I started giving full tests. I remember scoring 52 in my first test(without attempting the aptitude part). After 4–5 tests my score rose to 60 and I felt very happy. After scoring 60 I did not take any more tests in that sem. For some time I focused only on sem exams, seminar and pre project. I ended the sem with 8.92 SGPA and 8.17 CGPA. The lesson learned here is:
Never stop enjoying your life while preparing for GATE or any other exam
Our exams ended on 20 November and now was the time for winter break(upto beginning of march). After I reached home I gave a full test only to score less than 60. This was the effect of not studying for around 20 days. Around this time my friend told me about GO facebook group and asked me join it. At first I was not impressed with the group and I could not understand why the Admin was adamant on staying away from test series. My initial reaction was this group sucks.But after sometime I found some good questions posted on it. So I decided to use it for one hour everyday. Things that were remaining- some part of maths, sequential circuits, aptitude, Decidability in TOC and some part of algorithm. For probability I used SC gupta. For other topics in maths I used NCERT books. For sequential circuits NesoAcademy videos on youtube was used. During the month of December I studied for around 12 hours each day. I would wake up at 8AM, start taking my full length test at 10 AM, finish at 12:30(leave 30minutes for aptitude),and then check my mistakes. After this I would take my lunch and again sit from 2–7. Then I would watch TV, have my dinner and again continue from 9PM-around 1AM(sometimes 2AM). My father and mother have never seen me studying with this much dedication. They supported me with all they can. Both of them never asked me to do anything and even if I tried to do something they would ask me to focus on my study and leave it to them. At the end of December I had covered everything apart from aptitude. I practiced aptitude for 6–7 days and found it boring and then left it hoping to get 12–13 marks in GATE exam. After this I decreased my studying time to 8–9 hours and didn’t study anything new. In the last few days I solved previous year question papers. I found GATEOVERFLOW site very useful during this time as madeeasy book had lot of wrong answers. While solving previous year papers I finally got why Arjun Suresh sir focuses too much on previous year questions and less on test series. Test series questions were nothing but previous year questions with minor modifications. So if one solves previous year questions then he does not have to depend too much on test series. Still test series is a must for improving speed and accuracy. While attempting tests I did a lot of experiments. During the initial days I used to solve 10 marks section and then the 2 marks section. But I found that towards the end of tests my accuracy decreases. So I should attempt 20 marks section first and then one marks section. It is my advice to every future candidate that try to experiment something like that and find something which suits you. And not take test series too seriously, if u are getting good marks keep going and if u getting bad marks try to see if they are asking irrelevant questions. Sometimes test series put questions which are not even in GATE syllabus and sometimes they put a question which is too hard to solve. Some even ask a lot of theoretical questions. You would know these things if you have solved some previous year papers which I had not done. The great thing during this period was that my never rank never crossed above 10 while giving tests(ACE, Madeeasy, Gateforum and testbook). It is not necessary to join 4 test series like I did. Two are sufficient. I attempted 4 because I started giving full tests too early and hence completely used ACE and madeeasy. I hoped that I would be able to replicate my performance in test series during the GATE exam. The only thing that worried me that I used to make a lot of mistakes while solving easy questions but my accuracy was good with difficult questions(since I solved them carefully).
In the month of February I gave 4 mock tests. And in the 3rd test for the first time my rank crossed above 50. I was terrified. Have made a lot of mistakes. On the day before the GATE paper I gave another test and in this my rank was above 100. My friend has already warned me against taking tests one day before the exam but when I had listened to my friends? Above 100 rank was a disaster but I told myself not to worry about that. The final exam is the only one that matters. I watched two movies on that day: Thor Ragnarok and Wonder Woman. Finally I went to sleep at 11PM hoping to get a sound sleep and wake up at 6AM(since my exam centre was far away from my home). But I slept till 12 AM only. I found myself awakened at 12 AM with my throat dry and feeling extremely thirsty. I drank a glass of water and came back to bed hoping to sleep again. But sleep didn’t come till 3AM. I slept between 3AM and 6AM. I woke up and I knew that I am in serious trouble since I haven’t slept properly. I met my friend(another GATE candidate) in the bus. I told him that I want the paper to be as difficult as possible and he just smiled(He wasn’t surprised, has known me all my B.Tech). For future candidates I would advise not to take any test on the previous day of examination.
The exam started. As I have always done during tests I started with 2 marks questions. I couldn’t solve the first question. I skippped that question only to meet a question from database which I was not being able to solve. I was shocked. How could I not solve something from database, my favourite subject. I tried harder but at last I gave up on that question. 10 minutes gone, nothing solved. Couldn’t solve the 3rd question either, worst possible start. I started to panic but then I told myself if these are hard for me they are hard for everyone. Finally the 4th question appeared. It was on hard disk and we had to calculate the power consumption. I did it and did it carefully. Took some time but the important thing was that it gave me some confidence. But then the 5th question I was once again unable to solve. I wanted the paper to be difficult but not so much difficult that I couldn’t solve it. 30 minutes were gone. But after this my luck changed. I solved most of the upcoming questions. I looked at the time, 1 hour 40 minutes gone. But still I was satisfied. Now I moved to 1 marks section. It felt too easy. Solved within 30 minutes(left only 1 question). Now attempted aptitude, done in 20 minutes(one 2 marks question left). Looked at the time, 30 minutes time. Now comes the part which cost me my under 10 rank(if not, definitely under 50). Upto this time I had attempted 55 questions. And if I had done nothing for the next 30 minutes I would have got 70.66(definitely under 50 rank). And if had just revised my 2 marks section I would have got under 10 rank. But I was caught in a dilemma. When I used to attempt test series most of the times I had faced this situation where at the end of aptitude part I had done almost 55 questions. The situation was the same here. But the time remaining was different. During test series I used to complete those questions in 2 hours. So the next half hour I used to revise my 2 marks section and the last hour was devoted to solve those unattempted questions. But here in the real exam I had just 30 minutes. I had to make a decision and I made a wrong one. I decided to solve the unattempted questions. I could attempt only 5 questions during that period and all 5 were wrong(2 of them were objective type 2 marks question and hence brought down my marks to 69.33). And among these questions there was that database question which I was initially able to solve. I again wasted a lot of time in solving that and I finally did it wrong. But I never regret for this question. The question which I regret the most was a networking question based on carrier sensing. After wasting 10 minutes I found the answer to be 50(it was numerical type, 2 marks). Before writing the answer I read the question once more and it said something like rounding to the nearest integer. This got me confused and I thought why were they asking to round it. Then I made some complicated assumptions and I finally wrote the answer as 51( 50 was the right answer). When the paper ended I had attempted 91 marks. I felt that the paper was easy and definitely this time someone would score more than 90. There are many lessons here:
- Don’t panic if your exam starts in a bad way.
- Don’t get stuck on a particular question cause it was from your favourite subject
- Follow the same strategy as u did while taking tests
- Avoid making complicated assumptions.
- When your brain says something else but your intuition tells something different, follow your intuition. The brain always complicates things
I knew that I would not get under 10 but still expected to be under 50. I came home and opened gatecse overflow to match my answers with other people. All my excitedness disappeared after some time. Most of the questions that I checked, I found that I had solved them wrong. I thought that I have only checked 20 questions and 8 of them are already wrong. No need to check any further. I felt depressed for 2–3 days. Then I started preparing for infosys(company to come when the college reopened) since I knew that I am getting nothing from GATE. I also started my B. tech project to take my mind off. Some days after response sheet came and then by using GATE predictor I checked my marks. It read 72 total, 2.66 negative, 69.33 final. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I checked my answers. Entire aptitude section was correct. Out of 24 one marks questions attempted, 23 were correct. In the 2 marks section, the questions that I had not earlier checked were correct. Finally I felt some sense of relief. When I started for GATE preparation I would not have accepted this rank but the same rank now made me more happy than ever. As I was checking my response sheet I checked that network question and found the answer as 50. I literally slapped myself. I knew that those 2 marks would hurt in future(They did hurt, didn’t get IISC as well as ONGC). The lesson learned here:
Never calculate your marks too early. Wait for the response sheet to come.
Time went by and my rank kept on increasing. It stabilised after reaching 60 and I predicted my rank to under 70. On 16th March as I was browsing gatecse overflow I saw that someone had posted that GATE results were out. I went to the site and logged in to found my rank as 67. I ran outside and told all my friends about my rank. One of the happiest days of my life.
I would like to thank:
- My family who always supported me in this quest
- A few teachers from my college. Can’t mention their names, it’s better if they keep thinking that I hate them.
- Gateoverflow community
- My classmates during my B Tech who provided indirect motivation by saying things which hurt me deeply. They kept the fire burning
- My friends who listened to my nonsense during the first two years and some more nonsense during the last two years.
- StackExchange network
- Standard books