The Ultimate Test

The two years of preparation for IIT-JEE are very challenging for the students. One of the main contributors to making the situation difficult is the large variety of opinions available in society. If you are currently a student preparing for IIT-JEE, you have at least three things to handle at once: your school, your coaching institution and your own preparation. You might have even joined a postal coaching institute and perhaps a test series of some sort. All these places definitely have some advice to offer and most probably, the advice you receive from different places are not the same, perhaps even contradictory.

May be your chemistry teacher says that chemistry is the most important subject for IIT-JEE and you don’t find yourself comfortable with chemistry. Is your chemistry teacher right? What should you do then? Should you ignore all other subjects and focus on chemistry for the next few months?

Perhaps the coaching institute you have joined had a mock test and you did not perform very well in it. How do you cope with the fact that you are not getting the first rank in all the mock tests organized by your coaching institute? Surely, the coaching institute consists of a very small percentage of people who are going to be competing with you in IIT-JEE. If you can’t consistently be the best even among the small set of people, how can you even hope to be one of the best in the entire country?

How about your school exams? School exams are definitely much easier than IIT-JEE. So if you hope to be among the top 5,000 in the country in IIT-JEE, shouldn’t you be at least the topper in your class in all school exams?

So what advice should you listen to and what should you ignore? What test results should make you worried and which ones should be overlooked? There should exist one ultimate test that truly tells you if you are going in the correct direction or not.

Fortunately, there exists such a test: a question bank that contains questions asked in IIT-JEE in the past 10-15 years. If you are able to comfortably solve 60-70% of the questions from the question bank, you are going to get an All India Rank in the top 500 in IIT-JEE (well, provided you perform in the actual exam as well as you perform in the comfort of your own study room, but that’s a different issue). It doesn’t matter what your teachers say or how well you perform in various mock tests. Your performance on the questions asked in IIT-JEE in the past is your ultimate test.

You can also use actual IIT-JEE question papers for creating a mock test. Sit at your study table with a question paper, a notebook and a timer and time yourself while you solve the questions. Tell your parents to not disturb you for the next few hours. Give yourself exactly the amount of time that is specified in the question paper.

You might wonder if it is really possible to have an average performance in mock tests conducted by your coaching institutes but get a good rank in IIT-JEE. The answer is yes, in the same way as it is possible to perform poorly in a horse-riding competition but get an excellent rank in IIT-JEE. The two test different set of skills. Of course, a mock test is not as different from the real IIT-JEE as a horse-riding competition. But there could be small and subtle differences and that could bring your performance down. For example, may be the mock test gives an advantage to students who are good at remembering and applying several formulas but IIT-JEE does not.

There is plenty of evidence for this found in real life. It is not at all the case that only the toppers from various schools and coaching institutions get into IIT. There is quite a bit of difference even in the ranks that people get in two different national level competitive exams. For example, I got a rank in the top 500 in IIT-JEE, but a rank in the 5,000’s in AIEEE. My rank in the 12th boards was probably very disappointing.

Thus here is all of it summarised in the form of one important lesson:
Test yourself by solving questions from an IIT-JEE question bank. If you can solve around 60% of the questions, ignore every other advice.

Monday, December 31st, 2012. Written by Vinayak Pathak. No comments.

Choose the Right Books for Your Preparation

Students preparing for IIT are often confused about what books are best for their preparation. They ask their friends, teachers and book sellers at the nearest bookshop, but there seems to be no definitive answer to the question. This article is about how to decide which books are the best.

Books are the most important source of help and guidance during JEE preparation. A wrong selection of books can be the single differentiating factor between your success and failure.

First of all, you need books to understand the topics that constitute the syllabus. These books should be able to create high amounts of interest and excitement in you about the subjects. It should provide you with a sufficient number of questions of varied difficulty levels to give you some practice on those topics. Your understanding of a topic will become stronger if you read a book that describes good applications of various concepts and gives you challenging and application-oriented questions.

Number of worked out problems and exercises are not the right criteria for selecting books. Similarly, if a book is full of difficult questions and claims that it has IIT-level questions, the book may turn disastrous to you. A book not suitable to you can kill your interest in the subject and can make the preparation extremely difficult. So, take it easy and use books that explain the concepts in a simple way, generate interest in the subject and make the study enjoyable. Good books are generally simple books.

The books used in your college/school usually satisfy the criteria above. The syllabus of the class 12 board exams definitely has all the topics that are in IIT-JEE syllabus. Concepts involved in these topics are same, whether it is for your boards, or for IIT, or for any other purpose. Building the concepts is a must for any examination. There is no need to try any short-cut for any examination and make the task unnecessarily complicated. So, if your books are focusing on concepts rather than question-answers related to some examination and are able to create interest about the topics, they are good books for you.

As you build the concepts on various topics, you may want to check whether that is good enough to handle IIT-level questions. What can be a better source to get IIT-level questions than the question bank containing past 10-15 years of questions asked in the JEE itself? JEE questions are concept based and mostly application-oriented. Since most of the students are not used to building concepts and applying them, they find such questions difficult. This builds a common misconception that JEE questions are very difficult. In order to get some practice on difficult questions they get hold of books or resources that claim to have a large compilation of difficult questions. Practicing on difficult questions that are based on little tricks or involve too much lengthy calculations will only kill your time and ensure your failure in the examination. So, get a book that contains questions asked in the JEE in the past few years and use that for practice.

As you enjoy the subjects, you will study various topics several times. Studying from the same book again and again may become very boring towards the end. So, you need variety. Have a good collection of books. But follow the rule that the book should suit your style, should create interest in you about the topics and focus on concept building. Books containing tricks to solve difficult (trick based) questions and providing short-cuts on various topics are harmful for JEE preparation.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. Written by admin. 2 comments.

Keep Your Priorities Right

People often naively assume that setting the right priorities is trivial. After all you are preparing for a tough examination. Shouldn’t your priority list have just the following one item written in large and bold fonts?


Well, the answer is “Not really.” And here’s why.

The common belief is that preparing for IIT entrance means devoting two years of life completely to subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Most of the students, even the brilliant ones, hold this view. Then, why is the cut-off of such examinations so low—as low as around 40%? Talk to enough people who have experienced it and you will know.

Very often, students are not able to handle the pressure during the exam. They make a lot of silly mistakes. They get nervous at key moments. They go into the examination hall with a belief that not performing well will be devastating for their lives and thus even a small deviation from their expectations completely derails their performance. And that happens with an amazingly high frequency.

Thus you need to do something so that this doesn’t happen to you. Moreover, “study hard” in itself is an ambiguous thing to say. How hard is hard enough? Given options for subjects to study at a given time, which one should you pick? What does studying mean anyway? Does solving all problems from the book, “10,000 problems in Physics that a nine-year old can solve” count as studying? How about sitting with your Organic Chemistry textbook open in front of the TV while your favorite movie is on?

Below, we discuss three different crucial areas where you need to set your priorities right so that you take the right decisions during different stages of your preparation.

Studying vs. going out for a walk

Just studying all the time, as much as you can, is not right. Your preparation should be a sustainable one.

People starting a weight-loss program are often advised to start things slowly. The body is not able to adapt to a sudden and drastic change in the living style, which leads to injuries and unnecessary illness and thus taking extreme steps at the beginning of your program will only make you give up within a matter of a few weeks.

Similarly, if you set out with a plan to study ten hours per day, every single day, you will soon burn yourself out and won’t want to spend even one hour a day on work later.

Moreover, for maximum productivity, the number of hours is not the only thing that matters. What also matters is:

  • A high energy level.
  • A high happiness level.
  • A general state of calmness and satisfaction in life.
  • Passion.
  • A healthy competitive nature.
  • Lack of nervousness and anxiety.
  • Confidence.

You definitely do not want to exert yourself so much during the two years of preparation that by the time you reach the examination hall, you are filled to the brim with hatred for Physics, Chemistry and Math and are completely drained out of energy because of which your productivity level is at an all time low.

Thus you need to participate in different activities in a proper combination to ensure that you perform close to your potential during the exam. So what are these different activities?

Sports is an excellent contender for the top spot in this list. The effects of sports on mental health have been well tested and documented. It is known that playing sports helps reduce anxiety, improve self-esteem, improve mood and improve cognitive functioning in general. Moreover, playing sports pushes you to do things that are very similar to what you need to do to perform well in an exam. For example, making smart strategies for winning and implementing them, performing to the best of your potential in critical situations, maintaining calm in a high-pressure environment when all eyes are on you, taking responsibilities in a mature way, and so on.

Meditation is another activity that has been found to have profound benefits to the mental health of an individual. Studies have found that practitioners of meditation undergo a gradual and positive change in the structure of their brains. This increases mental alertness and focus. Moreover, meditation also relaxes your mind and body, thus making you more productive.

In general, do not be afraid of participating in activities that you enjoy and that refresh your mind and increase your energy level. Thus next time when the weather is really pleasant after four months of torturous summer and your parents ask you if you want to go out for a walk, say yes.

However, there are certain activities that are deceptive in nature. They make you feel like you are enjoying them but they only drain you out of energy and make your brain irritated and slow. Examples of such activities are: watching a slow TV series, random channel surfing, spending too much time on Facebook etc. You should stay away from these activities as much as possible. Next time you feel tempted to see who all updated their status on Facebook, don’t. Instead, meditate, go out and play, play your favorite music and dance or talk to a real person and make jokes.

You should also stay away from activities that are highly addictive and/or throw you mentally off-balance. Video games are a prime example of activities that fall under this category. The video game industry is based on the psychology of making people addicted. Companies that make the most amount of money are the ones that are the best at swallowing up a few weeks or months or even years from your life without you even noticing. Video games are good if you have accomplished all you wanted to in life and now you are only looking for ways to entertain yourself. Or in some special cases, if you have got excellent self-control and perfect mental on-off switches that help you switch between any set of tasks at any desired time with absolutely zero overhead, then go ahead and indulge in video games. But most probably, you don’t. So be extra-careful.

Coaching institutes vs. your own preparation

Most of the students preparing for IIT join coaching institutes, attend classes in the school and often join some form of tuition for 12th boards as well. Managing all three at once gets very taxing and they start missing deadlines and performing terribly in either one or all of them.

While some coaching institutes and private tutors do provide excellent quality study materials and lectures, you should not let them take crucial decisions on your behalf. You should be the one sitting at the driver seat of your own career. You should treat the world as a collection of resources and you should be the one deciding which resources to use and when. Letting someone else take this decision is very dangerous unless that person has huge investments in you and is superior at the skills required to prepare for IIT entrance. A coaching institute does not care so much if you, in particular, qualify for IIT or not. As long as the percentage of students enrolled with them that qualify in IIT is more than their competitors, they will be satisfied. This isn’t the amount of investment you are looking for.

Thus, if your coaching institute decides to hold three hour long classes on Inorganic Chemistry twice a week, but Inorganic Chemistry is not your strong area and you don’t plan to spend so much time on it, then feel free to ignore these classes. But if they organize a month-long series on a topic that you really like, by the best teacher in your city, then don’t miss the opportunity.

IIT vs. 12th boards

This is another critical issue that students have to deal with. They need to handle two things that look very different from each other simultaneously. Moreover, in light of the recent possible changes proposed in the examination starting 2013, this issue has gained even more importance. Some of the students decide to concentrate on the 12th boards almost entirely and “prepare for IIT” after the final exams. Others plan to ignore 12th boards completely and devote their full attention on IIT.

Both of these strategies are fallacious. Even though the patterns of these two exams are different and so are the kinds of questions asked, the syllabus is almost the same. Learning and understanding the contents of the syllabus is the first step for both the exams. Thus the question of which one to prepare for first is not a very meaningful question.

It is, however, true that usually, getting a good score in the 12th boards does not require as deep an understanding of the syllabus as qualifying for IIT. Thus at some point, the optimal strategies for the two exams do diverge. There are two basic differences between the two exams that need to be considered:

  1. IIT entrance is a low-scoring exam, but 12th boards is a high-scoring one. Thus it is possible to get a rank in the top 500 in IIT even after completely ignoring the 10-20% of the syllabus that you most dislike. However, ignoring such a substantial portion of the syllabus will bring your performance to a very average level in 12th boards.
  2. Most questions asked in the IIT entrance are conceptual in nature and require a very high level of understanding of the syllabus. There are a few similar questions asked in 12th boards as well, but most other questions require you to reproduce certain points that you memorised from your text book.

Thus the following general guidelines work well in order to handle both exams properly. If you like a certain topic, understand it really well. Read it from different good quality books and solve several challenging problems from that topic. The aim should be to reach a level where you can answer almost all IIT-level questions that can be asked from that area. If you dislike a certain topic, do not spend too much energy on mastering it. Just “get acquainted” with it in the first round and leave it aside until the month or so before your school exams. In this one month, you will be fairly comfortable with the topics you have already mastered. All you will need to do is to identify the kinds of questions where you need to memorize points and memorize them before the exam. For the topics you didn’t like in the first round of preparation, do only what’s required for getting a good score in your school exam. This way, in the end, you will have mastered a significant portion of the syllabus, which is good enough for securing a good rank for IIT and you will have enough understanding for all the topics required to get a good score in your board exams.

The strategy above works only if there’s a significant portion of the syllabus that you genuinely like. If you hate most of the syllabus, then that’s a much bigger problem and needs to be addressed before anything else. This either means that you were never exposed to the exciting aspects of Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics in your school or anywhere else, or it might just mean that engineering is not for you — you wouldn’t want to be stuck doing something you hate your entire life, would you?

Moreover, the above only provides general guidelines regarding the kinds of issues that arise during two of the most important years of a person’s life and the strategies used to handle those. There are of course, several intricacies and low level details involved that are way outside the scope of this article. Each student is different and there’s no generic solution that applies to all of them.

Fortunately, we do offer a service called Personal Preparation Plan that provides a personalised guide and a preparation plan that takes care of all these issues for you or for your son/daughter. Sign up for our service and take control of your own career.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. Written by admin. No comments.

Don’t Leave Temperament Control Issues Unattended

The single reason that contributes most in failure to qualify for IIT for good students is poor temperament management. Some of the situations described here may look familiar to you. You make too many unintentional errors. You are suggested to be careful. You prepare hard but forget important points at crucial moments. You know things well but are too slow in applying them; perhaps you are not sure whether you are applying right or not. You get hold on the issue and suddenly lose concentration. Mind becomes either blank or starts wandering.

Sometimes you feel confident—JEE is well within your reach. Sometimes you feel just the opposite. Everyone else seems to have prepared better than you. You keep changing your strategy with every suggestion you receive from different sources.

The number of brilliant students sitting for IIT entrance is several times more than the number of students who qualify. What do you think is the differentiating factor? A person who ranks 2,000 might have a similar understanding of the subject matter as a person who ranks 10,000. One of the main differentiating factors is temperament management.

Mostly, temperament related issues go unnoticed and you keep suffering due to that. Hence there is a need to put conscious effort in identifying these issues. The good thing is that there are simple solutions to handle these issues. We all know them. We just need to practice.

It is very important that you own your preparation and be in control. For that you must have your own plan. You may take help where ever needed. But it is very difficult to manage temperament and feel comfortable if somebody else is on the controlling seat of your preparation.

You also need to feel happy as a unit to be able to perform as per your potential. There are activities that help, for example, practicing meditation, yoga, outdoor physical activities, good eating and sleeping habits, prayer and listening to music. Even doing some social service and helping others can be helpful in making you happier and thus improving chances of success at IIT entrance in an enjoyable way. Preparing for IIT doesn’t mean you have to study all the time. There is no point in spending so much of time studying if you are not able to reap the benefit of it anyway.

If you study right, your potential to score in a concept-based exam improves. But, to score as per your potential you need to manage your temperament right. A large number of students do the first part right but ignore the temperament front. Don’t leave these issues unattended.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. Written by admin. No comments.

Dynamics of low scoring exams

Given the limited amount of time you get to prepare for an exam, what exact skills should you work on to achieve the best performance? The answer to this question depends on your own personality as well as the nature of the exam.

Exams such as IIT-JEE (or whatever form it takes in the future) have two properties that distinguish them from other exams that students face during their school education:

  1. It’s surprisingly low-scoring. For qualifying, you usually only need an aggregate of 40% and people who score more than 80% get All India Ranks in the top 10.
  2. Most of the questions test how deeply you have understood a topic, instead of how well you have memorized certain facts or can perform some simple calculations.

So how do these two properties affect your preparation? Well, there’s a good news and a bad news. The bad news is that if you don’t develop a deep understanding for any of the topics, then you will not qualify.


Here’s what makes IIT-JEE one of the best exams you have ever prepared for in your life. It might even make you want to change your career path if you were not thinking of going into engineering.

Since you only need a score of around 40% to get in, you can completely ignore 15-20% of the syllabus that you dislike the most and you will still be fine! Imagine sitting in an exam where you go in knowing that you won’t be able to answer 20% of the questions, then you attempt 80% of the questions after seeing them, you correctly solve only 50% of them and are still called the cream of the nation! Is that fascinating or what?

Of course, you will have to make sure that for the 80% of the topics you do study, you understand them thoroughly. But fortunately, most of these topics will be the ones you handpicked from the syllabus yourself, based on your own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and so understanding them well will be enjoyable!

Of course, the same strategy will not work for other exams. So don’t do this with your 12th board exams! A 40% score in the 12th board is a horrible score! It will not only kick you out of the nation’s cream, but will probably put you into the nation’s undisolved sugar.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. Written by admin. No comments.

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