Hello fellow rankers, and future aspirants. Congratulations are in order for all the brilliant people whom i hope to meet soon, and also to the ones who weren’t fortunate enough to meet their own expectations this time around, but still have come out of this journey wiser and with renewed hope and determination for acing their next attempt.
I didn't plan on sharing my experience as there are already a lot of them out there which are a great read and frankly way more relatable to most people than what my experience is going to be.
Having said that, everyone is welcome in giving it a read and sharing their thoughts/comments/critiques, but do keep in mind that I'm mainly writing this for the ones who are unfortunately (or maybe fortunately :D) currently in the same position as I was in 2020.
So exactly what position was I in?
I had just graduated without any placement in hand and had no hope of finding a job without drastically lowering my standards, especially because of companies slowing or freezing their hiring due to the lockdown, and being from an average private college didn’t help in attracting a lot of good companies, or even if the company brand was good, the job profiles and pay was not something I wanted to entertain. (can’t sacrifice peace of mind for a few bucks and ‘experience’. Learned that the hard way)
But this is not the complete picture. I have always been the “laid back”, “will relax and have fun whenever I can” type of guy. I had no big aspirations and just wanted to earn a good living so that I can have fun with family and friends, and enjoy my life without having to worry about my finances. This attitude towards life I’ll admit is not the best one to have, but thankfully I have amazing parents who have always taken care of all my needs and provided much more than I deserve, so I never had any overwhelming sense of urgency to get my life sorted.
I didn’t really take my 11th and 12th seriously enough, to even get into an NIT or a good state college. I wasn’t even able to clear JEE MAINS. This will be my first “what could’ve been” regret that I will have in my life, but I’ve learnt not to dwell in the past, just learn from it and move on.
Now in my college I have had some great company, and have made lifelong friends which I cherish, but it wasn’t the most intellectually stimulating environment, or an environment which motivates you to find your passion and excel. The professors were below average and I would say most of the students (not all, as there were some good ones, although that is bound to happen when your sample size is large enough) had a “study enough for passing” mindset.
Therefore it is mostly my fault, because of the choices I made throughout the years, and not entirely the college’s, that I don’t have a job or any useful technical computer science skills. No one is there to stop you from being better and change yourself if you really want to, but I guess Newton’s first law applies physically as well as philosophically :P.
Don’t get me wrong though, I always had good marks and grades, and always worked hard enough whenever it mattered (cue last minute studying), to avoid embarrassing myself, or disappoint my parents. I was good at understanding concepts, curious about science, tech and a lot of other things by nature, but as I mentioned earlier – was also lazy and the college environment certainly didn’t help. As an extra note, I was really bad in rote learning, but I did improve it a little in college, after all the Indian education system values rote learning above all :D
Fast forward to May 2020, 1 month into the lockdown, with abysmal placement support from the college, it was a new low point of my life. Fortunately (I guess), the world was at a halt, and I therefore quite literally had all the time in the world to introspect, re-evaluate my priorities, and answer the question – what next?
Won’t go into anymore detail, as everyone has a different way of dealing with stuff and therefore will have a different way of processing things. For me, the outcome of this was a strong sense of determination and motivation to not only crack GATE, but achieve rank 1 (Aim for the stars, you’ll land on the moon, am I right?).
GATE PREPARATION –
It was already 1st week of July by the time I started planning my preparation strategy for gate 2021. The idea of gate as an option was planted in my head around the 3rd week of June by my uncle, and before that I had just heard about gate from here and there and had a brief idea what it is all about.
By 2nd week of July I had a sufficiently detailed plan of how my next few months were going to be. I won’t be sharing the details of my plan as it will differ from person to person depending on how you spend your average day and what obligations you have in the near future. Also there are a whole lot of amazing preparation strategies you can read about on quora or listen to on youtube.
Fortunately it is not rocket science, and every strategy has the following generic things to keep in mind:
1. Ask yourself how much do you already know and how good is your mathematical and critical thinking aptitude.
2. Accordingly have a rough estimate (conservative) of how much time will it take to finish a subject and practice it enough to become confident in your ability to solve questions you’ve never seen before. This estimate also includes time for revision and tests in between and just before gate.
3. See if the required time and the available time add up. If not, compromises are required to increase your available time to accommodate the required time.
4. Always strive to finish your goal atleast 30% of the time before, meaning if you planned a subject xyz for 10 days (which was a conservative or ‘max’ estimate), make sure to the best of your ability to finish it in 7 days. Trust me, these saved ‘bonus’ days will be very important towards the end.
5. Be ordered when making notes, as it is the best way to save time in the future. Make it especially easy when trying to find a past mistake, i.e. what you did wrong and what was the lesson you learnt from it. I could’ve been atleast 25% more efficient in utilizing my time during revision and mock tests if only I spent a little bit more time making better notes throughout my prep (including revision and mock). Learning from your mistakes and trying to never make them again is easily the single most important thing you need to top gate. This is an important point so bear with me a little more.
The ‘mistakes’ are not limited to a mistake you made during the test. For example: when you were understanding a concept via reading or maybe watching on youtube, chances are you missed some of the subtle details and even though you feel like you understood it correctly, you either understood it partially or incorrectly. The moment you realize this later (maybe during revision), write this ‘mistake’ down! We are very susceptible to overestimating our ability to retain what we have ‘understood’. Don’t fall for this trap, and spare a few minutes to jot your thought process down clearly and concisely as a favour to your future self :)
My mental state one month before gate –
By now I had gone through all the subjects once, revised them once, and had finished all subject-wise tests and their related pyq’s from made-easy’s 30 years pyq book once. I had full length mock tests left and also a final round of revision, because the portion is just so vast you never feel like you remember all of it (or atleast I didn’t feel that way).
Now the possibility that - “what are the chances that I’m in the top 100 or even 500 students out of ~1.2 lakh others?” - started to set in. Remember I didn’t even clear jee mains. My thoughts started running wild – “7 more months gone with nothing to show for it if I don’t ace this”, “1 more year lost after all those years of college”, etc. etc.
Still, I trusted in my plan that I made all those months ago and tried to brush aside this feeling (rather unsuccessfully :P). I started giving 1 mock every 2.5 days on average. Rest of the time, one by one I revised all the subjects by simultaneously solving the GO PYQ pdf as much as I could. In retrospect I should’ve started the GO pdf from the 1st month itself.
Even though I had ‘solved’ all the pyq’s once before (from made-easy’s 30 years pyq book), to my shock there was a lot of stuff I couldn’t figure out how to solve the 2nd time around. This was a major hit to my confidence. I still powered through it, making it a point to try and remember all my mistakes this time. Thankfully, my rank in the mocks were improving, giving me the confidence boost I desperately needed. (I’ll attach an excel sheet of my marks/ranks of all the tests I gave of both made-easy and ace test series, but please don’t use it as a benchmark, because there is a lot of variability in my performance initially, and it isn’t useful for anything except just maybe glancing it once to get a glimpse of ‘my progress’ over time, which isn’t at all indicative of what an ideal progress journey should be, because I don’t think there is one.)
Side note – I found made-easy much much better than ace, both because of the number of people that had enrolled in it and the selection of questions. Although both of them had a lot of grammatical as well as outright conceptual mistakes in the questions and answer keys. In this aspect, even though only maybe 200 people on average attempted GO’s mock tests, the level of GO is easily 5x better than any coaching institute, and one should strive for scoring above 80% consistently in all their tests. Proof is Nikhil Dhama who was consistently scoring well in all GO tests, subject-wise as well as mocks.
Now, by d-day I had a fair idea of where I stand. I had decided to not let the uncertainty affect me during the test, and was going to treat it like any other mock test I was giving. Finally, it did indeed feel like one of the mocks, only this time I didn’t get my marks instantly, and after a few days when answer keys started popping up, my anxiety went through the roof. I’m extremely grateful that it all turned out for the best in my case, but still couldn’t help but think that there is no reason except some luck that I’m in the top 100, because in any other given day it is possible that I wasn’t fortunate enough and others who were unlucky to lose out a few marks could’ve done better than me.
As a final remark –
1. believe in yourself even when things seem impossible
2. be disciplined. because motivation may come and go, but the game is long, and you need something to keep you going even when you are low on juice. Fear is a strong, but bad motivator, I will discourage people from being driven primarily by fear.
3. “Success -> Hardwork”, which means “no hardwork -> no success”. “Hardwork -> success” is a false belief. This is an unfortunate truth. There is no certainty in this world. But this shouldn’t deter you from trying to work hard and be better in the first place.