As I’ve promised many, this is the post to let all know how it all started and ended. I’ll be largely focusing on only my preparation and shall provide suggestion with my own experience for each subject. Since many want it as early as possible I’m not taking care of my English in this post and my sincere apologies if you find any mistakes or if you find this post boring. I’ll constantly be updating this one. You can post what ever comments you like but please let them be on GATE alone because I feel it will be useful for many.
The Very Beginning (You can skip this and jump directly to the next section)
In my BTech, the only thing I knew about GATE was that we could do PG in India using GATE scores. I had no idea other than that. It was because there were hardly two to three persons from each batch writing GATE in our college. Most of those interested in higher studies go abroad, mostly to decent universities. I was not even thinking of my future plans when I was in my fourth year because I wanted to concentrate on my project. It was not until the end of my BTech I started planning. I wanted to go abroad for doing my masters in Robotics, given that I had a decent background. I applied for GRE. I thought about GATE also at this point since I was doubtful whether I could afford for higher studies in USA.
Slowly I began feeling uncomfortable about leaving my core studies (Electronics). I decided to drop my plans, cancelled my GRE and phoned the HR manager of the company where I got placed about my interest in doing the job. She accepted my request though I was late by one month. My job was in Embedded Systems and it was very interesting and challenging. I wanted to write GATE also, so I had applied. It was winter time in Delhi and Noida in 2010 and I was totally new to the place. I didn’t even look into the textbooks. The weekend just before the exam Sunday, I went for a tour with my friends. On the previous day of the exam I went through the EMT book by Sadiku. That’s all the preparation I had. The exam was so strange to me that I was surprised to see General Aptitude section. A month after the exam, the results came out and I got 42 marks with AIR-4898. Out of them, more than 10 marks were from Aptitude. It was not at all surprising or disappointing but the result infused a kind of obsession.
I was actually willing to go to any IIT, preferably IITD because I would get a scholarship which a professor from a Thailand university told me about when presenting my Robots at my college. But with this result it was like building castles in the air.
When I used to tell any one about my interest in writing GATE they would ask me about my aim. When a colleague asked me the same, my mind was totally blank. He said, “generally people aim for IISc, so what is your interest?”. I said I was looking for a good college just for the sake of saying something. So what really was my aim? If at all I had plans, I had to look for something big, something considered as the best. And then came a friend who used to say I was aiming for IISc though I never told her. So this is why IISc became the best in my thoughts. I was not aware of anything other than that. So I started my preparation. This is where the real challenge started and I wanted to give my best.
The Second Attempt
I thought about my conceptual levels in each subject. The only thing that I was comfortable in the syllabus was EMT. Communication Engineering was the subject that scared me a lot. In the rest, I was confident that I could manage. What I want? I want the best. So to get the best, you have to overcome the fears. Did it ring any bells? Yes, the lesson from Batman. Unfortunately I can’t remember the time I spent on each subject, but the whole preparation was almost for 10 months starting from April.
So I started with Communication Engineering. I was willing to spend as much time as it would take. I had only weekends, mornings and nights. I was little afraid to plan and manage my timings because of sudden surprises in the form of new movie releases, parties thrown by my friends and office work. I started with Amplitude Modulation. I had an old book, in view of its edition and also the manufactured date, borrowed from my friend, “Communication Systems, 2nd edition” by Simon Haykin. You could break the pages, it was that old! It was not at all boring as I was reading something very exotic for me. I managed to complete Amplitude Modulation and then the real problem came when I started Angle Modulation. After a few hours of searching on the internet NPTEL lectures proved to be very useful. Somehow I managed to complete Angle Modulation also. Digital modulation was very interesting but the book was of an older edition, so you could find some mistakes. In my case, I thought I was wrong when I was doubtful about some of the concepts. I just left them thinking that I would get answers in my revision.
Then I started preparing Analog Electronics from the book “Electronic Devices and Circuit Theory” by Boylestad and Nashelsky. After reading each chapter I solved the problems from the same book. I began to feel time running out of my hands after completing 4 or 5 chapters. So the decision was to just read the concepts then to solve problems if time would permit and it never permitted as usually.
It was time for some physics, the beautiful Electronic Devices. A friend of mine where I worked gave me the book “Solid State Electronic Devices” by Streetman, Banarjee. Initial chapters on Quantum Mechanics were really interesting though I never knew or searched for where the operators had come from. Reading these chapters for GATE like exam is an overkill but I couldn’t resist my interest. I kept on reading it. The concepts were so interesting that I revised it for almost 3 times, of course after I read the other subjects. This was the first time I learnt the usefulness of writing comments in a textbook. It helped me a lot in my revision.
I had very little time left for the other subjects, namely Digital Electronics, Network Theory, Signals and Systems, Control Systems, Electromagnetic Theory and Mathematics. I think it was almost 3 to 4 months left for the exam, but I was a little confident about these subjects. Control Systems was my first choice among them, then Digital, Signals, N/W Theory and EMT came in that order. I hardly spent a week on maths.
After all these, two weeks to go for the exam. I managed to complete a pending project in the office at that time, so I asked my TL if he could grant me two weeks for my preparation. I’m very thankful for him to be so generous. That was the time when I made calculations on how to manage my time. Unfortunately the calculations decided me to spend all my time on revision and no problem solving. Remember it was winter time in Noida with no one at home. I had to prepare my food all by myself and if you don’t eat, the weather doesn’t allow you to read, especially if you are thin. I found three quick to make items that would give me all supplements I need – Kichdi (with Daal, Rice and salt), Omelette and Curd. This was my food for the two weeks.
My mind was so obsessed to get a top rank that I decided to solve all the problems in the exam. My strategy was to directly go to the common data questions which could be manageable in less time as the data was common for two questions and could get me 4 marks. I was wrong in all my aspects. The common data question from N/W theory made me spend almost 15 minutes without a result. That was the real killer. Then I went for 1 mark questions then for two mark ones. I knew I was going to be messed up. After not getting answers for the EMT questions, my confidence levels came down drastically. After three hours, I left a few questions unread from Control Systems and Signals which were the easiest among all. It was a disaster left me blank minded. I got 32.33 marks with 3360 rank. I always believe that failure and competition makes you to be better, so was ready to give it one more try but this time with much more preparation.
Six Months After the Exam
After the results I didn’t do any thing for a month except going to office and chilling out. For a month or two later I went through first few chapters of the book “Probability, Random Variables and Stochastic Processes ” by Papoulis. After that I did a Crptography course on Coursera out of my interest, for one and a half month. I decided to leave my job for full-fledged preparation, so submitted my resignation letter and was in notice period for more than two months till July 20th. I could not come out early because of an ongoing project. Meanwhile my father paid the fee for my coaching at ACE, Abids branch. I was the first person to apply for GM5 batch, my roll number was 01. I thought GM meant Good Morning and still I don’t know what it stands for.
Six months Before the Exam (The Real Preparation for GATE-13)
The classes started from July 22nd. I had to inevitably miss a few of the initial classes. My actual preparation kicked off from mid August. I made a schedule and allocated times for each subject depending upon my previous experience. I have uploaded the photo (below) of the sticky notes on which I wrote down the schedule. I made some changes to the schedule when ever I missed the deadlines. (In fact I never met them).
From my job I learnt to gather all the resources first for doing a project and I applied the same in my preparation. I bought all the books needed and also bought a dry-erase board for doing rough work. The photo below displays my work place.
In the following lines, I’ll be focusing on my preparation for each subject in their chronological order.
This is the subject that I started with and this is the one that was taught last at the coaching institute. I prepared from the text book “Engineering Circuit Analysis” by Hayt and Kemmerly. I wrote down the points which I felt tough, in a note book which I knew would help me in my revision. After each chapter I solved questions from the GATE book by R.K.Kanodia. This pattern, I followed for all subjects so I would not mention it again. After my preparation I felt it was complete and to my surprise it was not. As I said it was taught last at the institute. I decided not to go for the classes as the classes were running whole day at the end and I was not getting time for other subjects. One day I had to attend a class as it was sand-witched between two other classes and I was not willing to go all the way to home (about 20 km). Concept related to the question that pestered me in my previous attempt was taught in this class. It was based on reciprocal and non-reciprocal networks. I had already noted down a few points about this in my notes that I mentioned. The lecture on that day proved my existing concept wrong. It happened just one and a half month before the exam. That was the time I decided to attend all the classes of Network Theory. I simply like the material given and the way it deals with all the concepts. The teacher himself prepared it and I admire his teachings. I thought it would be like a revision for me, but the teachings taught me new concepts and problem solving methods.
I was very confident on this one, particularly Combinational and Sequential circuits. I followed the book “Digital Logic and Computer Design” by Morris Mano. For the later part which comprises Logic Families and Data Conversion Circuits, I read from “Digital Systems: Principles and Applications” by Ronald J. Tocci as suggested by the teacher at the coaching institute. I really don’t like 8085 to be in the syllabus as no one uses this now in any system. 8086 would have been better because of its nearness to the current Intel Core processors. In fact you can write 8086 programs to run on your home PC. What all we get for 8085 are simulators. I checked my concepts on gnusim8085 for Linux. I did not go through any book for this and needed very minimal amount of preparation, mostly from the internet and from the ACE material. Preparing for 8085 will fetch you 1 or 2 marks easily for sure as there have been questions from this topic in almost all the previous years, except in 2012. I can surely say that Digital Electronics is the topic which is easier compared to the other topics and it is a good scoring subject with respect to GATE.
Signals & Systems
This is the first subject that was taught first at the institute. I thought I knew the concepts well, but in each class I would go wrong at least once. That was a very bad situation to be in. I almost paralleled my preparation to the lectures. I strictly followed “Signal and Systems” by Oppenheim and Willsky. I didn’t require to go through the ACE material as the same was taught in the class. The material was written by the teacher himself.
Every time I read the book by Streetman and Banarjee, I felt the concepts new to me. In fact I needed so many revisions to get hold of a bit of the concepts. My book is now filled with many comments (written with pencil) and I had to buy a new one for my colleague who had given me the book, when I left my job. It was largely like a revision, but I had taken so much time again to read the book. In the very end, two days before the exam date, I read MOS integration from the same book. The notations used in the problems from R.K.Kanodia, I think, are from the book “Semiconductor Physics and Devices” by Donald Neamen. I would have followed Millman’s “Integrated Electronics” if I had not lost the book, but now I feel happy for my loss. I also looked at the other book “Semiconductor Device Fundamentals” by R.F. Pierret, but as said by a professor in an online lecture video, all these books (Streetman/Neamen/Pierret) have largely the same content and I had also observed the same.
This is the subject on which my career would base, so I took it seriously. I found the lectures at the coaching institute to be the best till then. I followed the notes and also the book by Boylestad and Nashelsky. I also had the book by Sedra and Smith right from my freshers year but never touched it. I have no explanation for this, probably because I was afraid. Two and a half months before the exam, I went through Op-Amps, Capacitors in MOSFET, Rectifiers, Signal Generators and Wave Shaping Circuits from the book by Sedra and Smith. Two weeks before, I went through CMOS Inverter, Differential Amplifier and just a week before, Feedback from the same book. The last readings were my first and last preparation for the topics mentioned. After all the preparation, I learnt that there are various methods to solve problems on finding gain, input and output resistances. I did not follow any order in my preparation for this subject.
The teachings at the institute for this subject proved to be very useful for my preparation. I was having my own preparation at the same time this subject was taught. I prepared for this and Communication Engineering at the same time as I was running out of my time and I had to stay at the institute almost the whole day. The teachings really reduced my preparation time. I followed “Modern Control Engineering” by Katsushiko Ogata for all the topics. For Stability Analysis, I followed “Control Systems Engineering” by Norman Nise and for Polar and Nyquist plots, I followed “Schaum’s Outline of Feedback and Control Systems” as suggested by the teacher. I had practical experience in Control Systems and my initial interest was to go into this field in Robotics. So I found this subject interesting.
After my preparation last time, I was still afraid of this subject because there were still obscure concepts from digital communications, PLL based demodulation of FM and SNR calculations. I had maintained a notes when I went through NPTEL lectures for Amplitude Modulation the last time, so I did not start with Analog Modulation. For Digital Communications I went through NPTEL lectures. The lectures were so useful that after I finished with them, I was able to do Probability of Error calculations, for basic modulation schemes, within 2 to 3 steps. I didn’t even need to remember them. At the same time classes for Analog Modulation were started in the institute which I found very useful for brushing up my concepts. In my first preparation I’ve mentioned that there are some concepts which I was dubious about in the text book “Communication Systems, 2nd edition” by Simon Haykin. I searched for errata for this edition in the internet but did not find it. So I looked in the latest edition and to my surprise, the lines which had eaten my days in my first preparation were not there in the latest edition. It means that those lines were wrong. I had probably not looked it the previous time because of lack of time. I found a lot of difference between my preparation last time and this time. The last year I was struggling to get time and a peaceful day, but this year I was all alone in my room, free to read the whole day. Also I had read probability theory after my previous attempt and I had not to go through the same again. This type of preparation proved to be very useful for me. Now Communication Engineering is not all a phantom sitting in brain, eating my nerves.
Coming to the very beautiful EMT, it can be divided into two parts – Basics and Applications, with respect to GATE syllabus. Basics comprise Electric Fields, Magnetic Fields, Maxwell equations and Waves. Applications comprise Wave Guides, Transmission Lines and Antennas. We had two courses in our BTech on these topics; one on Basics in the semester 2-2 and the other on Applications in 4-2. For Basics I followed “Elements of Electromagnetics” by Sadiku in 2-2. While doing the course in 4-2, I went through “Electromagnetic Waves and Radiation Systems” by Jordan and Balmain for basics as referred by a very senior professor, who taught us the course. I did not touch it again till the time I started preparing for GATE’13. Last time I went through Sadiku. Actually I did not jump directly into the subject. I completed preparing Differential Equations and Vector Calculus because of the math involved in EMT is very much depended on the two topics. Particularly, Vector Calculus was found to be very useful when preparing for Basics. I maintained my own notes for EMT starting with Vector Calculus. I still feel difficult to grasp my own notes in an hour even though the points are brief. I followed first few chapters of “Antennas and Wave Propagation” by Harish and Sachidananda for Antenna theory.
English is particularly difficult for me as my schooling was in Telugu Medium. I really thank the god for giving me some skills to manage in this language. I still am really poor in the grammar. The teachings by the English lecturer at the institute were the only source of preparation given the time I had. All the classes were held at the end and so I was not very sure about it. I looked in the internet for Reading Comprehension after attending the classes. For Vocabulary, I left it to my luck. The mistake I did was to forget the suggestions given by the lecturer, in the last class (it was, in fact, the last of all the classes in the institute), to look for Infinitives on the net. I bore the brunt of my ignorance (I lost 1.33 marks for attempting the question on this topic wrong and it is the only question that went wrong).
Only class room preparation and nothing else. I feel that this one just helps to get above the cut-off mark, otherwise why does an engineer need to count apples? The questions are usually easy in GATE and one doesn’t need extra skills to solve them.
I followed the text books given at the end of this post (I have given the list of all the books I followed). The only thing I would like to write is that I didn’t solve any problems other than those solved in the class room and from previous year papers which I solved in the last month. One thing I followed was to read the math subjects which are related to the concepts of a technical subject. So math subjects were largely fillers in my preparation.
The Last Month
I remember the last class was on 14th January, so I got less than a month for my revision. I solved 7 previous year question papers, from 2004 to 2010 for almost ten days. I strictly tried to solve them within 3 hours. In the exam, one needs time to bubble, but it does not matter while solving the previous papers as they used to contain 80 to 85 questions with almost same level of difficulty. I did not touch 2011 and 2012 question papers as I had already attempted them.
In the final two weeks I revised all the topics without solving any problem and revision of all the topics is very essential to score high in competitive exams. It built up my confidence levels. I went to attempt two mock tests at the coaching institute. I did not care what my rank was in them, I just got the keys, verified my answers and tried to refresh my concepts in which I was not comfortable. It was not until 11 O’clock on the exam day, I gained confidence.
Final Hours and Exam Hours
I didn’t get sleep till 2:00 or 3:00 in the mid night and woke up early at 6 O’ clock. I was very tensed about my sleepless mind. I did not stop reading till 9. I got ready and took my lunch by 11:30. I meditated for 20 minutes. I really don’t know whether my meditation is a correct way of doing it, I just did it. I left for exam center at around 12:00 by bike and reached there before 1 O’ clock. One of my friends was also giving the exam and we were luckily allocated the same center. I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes done in the previous attempt. I did not take water almost for three hours before the exam because it was one of the killers in my previous attempt. I also bought a pouch for my stationery. I had bought a brand new model of calculator from Casio – FX991ES Plus – a few weeks before. I really suggest all to buy this one.
Just after I entered the exam hall, I thought for a moment of how to start the exam. Last time the paper was tough and I left easier questions because of lack of time. This time I decided to attempt easier questions first and then tougher ones. The only thing left was to execute the plan well (now a days I’m watching IPL and this sentence probably came from the post match presentations).
My question paper set was A. I started from second question because 2, I think, is my lucky number. Then my pencil and mind never stopped till half an hour before 5 O’ clock. The plan was executed so well. The questions that I felt tough in the first go were not so different from the easier ones. The literature just made them look hard to solve, and I think they were made so to scare us. I filled the bubbles and while filling, I solved 1 or two questions that I had left. There was a linked answer question (buy 1, get 1 free type) from State Space Analysis which I felt easy but could not solve. I got only 5 minutes to solve it and I was an utter looser for not solving that. Generally there is only a small difference in marks between two consecutive ranks. 4 mark difference may through you out of the toppers’ league.
One Month After the Exam
I would have been definitely sure about my 1st rank if at all I had solved those 4 marks. Now the original tension came to me and I had sleepless nights the whole month. Luckily the results were released (probably for load testing) 4 days before the announced date, for one to two hours. I was notified by my friend about the release and I was surprised to see AIR-1 on my laptop screen. I could not believe it! I told my parents and the friend about my rank. I did not let any one know just in case. The next day one of the professors from the ACE institute called me and asked me if had seen the results. I told him I was not sure about them. He said that those results were almost true. Actually I would not have been known by anyone at the institute, if I hadn’t written the mock tests well. He said that they had checked my results because I had got single digit rank in the mock tests. It was not until recent days I checked one of the mock test results in which I got 4th rank. This also surprised me as I felt I did not attempt it well and I forgot my calculator for that exam. In fact I did not even get time to solve the general aptitude questions (those questions really filled pages). I knew that the aptitude questions wouldn’t be too big to solve in GATE (from my previous attempts) and so was not much disappointed about them.
The other things I left are:
- I did not mention any of the other problems that I faced in my life. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t face any. I had my own and I never wanted them to be excuses.
- I used to travel by bus for almost 2 to 3 weeks in the initial days, then got my Learner’s License. My father used to come with me as pillion, teaching me bike riding for almost a month. He used to take morning walks on the tank-bund which he usually does at home. Then I got my license and I was enjoying my rides for almost 45 kilo meters a day. I used to start at 5:30 in the morning at my home and would reach the coaching center at around 6:10. I was hardly on time for the classes which I always regretted.
- I carried all the stationery things two in number to the exam hall. It was really lucky for a girl who forgot her calculator. You know how difficult it would be if someone forgets calculator to GATE (I forgot mine when I took my first mock test!). She saw me carrying an extra one and asked me before going into our respective rooms. Her was on the 2nd floor and mine was on the 3rd floor and it was pure coincidence that I happened to be seen by her in the ground floor. #luckmatters (I use and admire Twitter).
- The idea of writing this kind of post is not a sudden feeling after getting the results. Also the 1st ranker speeches are not spontaneous. I had been practicing them since I started preparation for GATE’13. I had been telling my parents and friends about my wish to top. In fact I used to tell one of my friends in the company about my dream of getting into IISc. On my final day at the company, there was one of the founders who got AIR-2 in CSE in his 4th year. I told him that he was my inspiration and he told me to try for 1st rank. It happened just 5 mins before my last look at the office building. The first rank was a dream, a wish and more than that an obsession and I happened to just make the dream real, fulfill my wish and get rid of the obsession.
- I really thank my friends for their support when I was in Noida. I got two very useful gifts from my friends: a watch given by my roommates and a bag given by my colleagues. I was not even thinking of buying them and believe me, these were the most useful things throughout my journey.
- My previous post on Machines and Indian Problems tells about my first ever exposure to the problems here and that made me want to serve my country with what ever abilities I have.
- There are two movies which have inspired me a lot: “The World’s Fastest Indian” and “October Sky”. Both are real stories.
- Lastly, I’m not sure where to join, though IISc had been my dream. Now I’m thinking of alternatives and I hope it will be clear in a couple of days.
List of Books I Followed:
Now it’s almost two months since the exam and I’m really sorry to post it late. I hope it’s not too late and I’m willing to give suggestions to any one who approaches me. I’ve e-mailed more than 50 members who asked me for suggestions. I didn’t e-mail many more who have sent me congratulation messages. I’m really thankful for their wishes and urge to understand my limits to reply all. If many want suggestions for their preparation, I’m up to write another post. Please let me know. I feel that preparation is different for different persons and those who are smart enough in their BTech can crack it very easily and those who are hardworking and not so smart have to go with their ability. All the very best and Adios!