Written on 3rd April 2008

Today, I got an email from a IIT-JEE aspirant about how to prepare for the exam. I was replying to that, but then it grew up very long so I just converted the reply into an article about how to prepare for IIT-JEE, though the strategies mentioned should be applicable to any competitive exam. Other aspirants may also find the article useful. As I appeared in it some 7 years earlier, I am not very updated about the current JEE patterns, but this article talks about general strategies. Let me divide the article into following sections:

  • Proper Guidance (choosing right coaching class, books etc)
  • Proper Planning
  • Time Management
  • Confidence
  • Optimizing the output (Baniyagiri)
  • Fun/Health
  • Some examination day tips

Proper Guidance:
Choosing a right coaching class for JEE preparation is crucial. It may depend on where you live, how much money you can invest in coaching etc. But it is also important to understand that any coaching has success ratio of less than 10% (i.e. Out of 1000 students in a coaching, students who finally get selected in IIT is less than 100). So, a good coaching class can help you only 10% in achieving the success, rest 90% should come from you. A coaching class helps you in following:

  • What topics to study first
  • Formal teaching by the instructor
  • Helps you not to loose focus
  • What books to refer
  • Provides a competitive yet friendly environment

Personally, I suggest Bansal Classes in Kota (if you happen to live in kota or nearby areas). Not because it has good teachers (which I am not sure of), but because you can find lots of bright students there and it provides a good competitive environment.

Proper Planning:
Usually, students study for about 1 or 2 yrs to prepare for IIT JEE. So, planning plays an important role. A good planning strategy will keep you focussed and results in better gains. Make a to-do list, set your goals, work out how much time is needed to achieve them, and allocate a realistic time window. See if you are able to achieve them, if yes, set more ambitious goals next time, if not, analyze what went wrong and how can you improve.
Planning can be divided into two parts: Short term planning and Long term planning. Long term planning looks at the bigger picture. e.g. When is the JEE exam, when should I start my revision, by when should I complete blah-blah books, what topics should I excel in, how can I excel them, by when should I excel them etc.

Time Management:
One only has 24 hours in a day (and one can study only 6-8 hrs in a day). So, its very important to efficiently use that time. Proper planning helps in better time management. I will talk about how to maximize the learning in "baniyagiri" section. Its also important to take a good sleep (atleast 8 hours a day) and to have some fun.

"Jo dar gaya samjho mar gaya", said by Gabbar in movie Sholay. Although self belief and confidence are crucial in general, in this article I will talk about the confidence of solving a problem only (ofcourse a physics/chemistry/maths problem for JEE preparation). Ideally, just by reading a question, one should be able to say that I can (or cannot) solve this problem. If you say may be, may be not, then there is something wrong. Note that this is very important to judge whether you can (or cannot) solve the problem, as in exam you simply don't have time to try and test. It also makes your learning process efficient (which I will talk about in the section "Baniyagiri").
How to improve confidence, or more precisely how to answer the million dollar question? Very simple, whenever you solve a question (or see a solution), think about the big picture. e.g. Why this method worked? Is it possible to apply other methods to the question (or some part of the question)? Will it work? Why or why not? It may take some time initially, but thats worth. Try this strategy for a topic, and you will realize feeling more and more confident as you solve more problems.
One more thing, whenever you see a new problem, try to break it into sub-problems (Divide and Rule). e.g. What is needed to get the answer, how can I get it etc. Remember britishers ruled india for more than 200 years using divide and rule policy :)

Optimizing the output (Baniyagiri):
"Baniya" is a caste in India which mostly represents business class society. So, Baniyagiri means optimizing the output given the investment. In JEE preparation, the investment is the effort you put in, and the output is the learning. As I said earlier, one can study only 6-8 hours in a day, it is very important to optimize the output. Hard work is necessary, it does not guarantee success. In the previous section, I talked about this million dollar judgement question, which is "just by reading a question, one should be able to say that I can (or cannot) solve this problem". Obviously, for the first few questions of a new topic you have to try and see how the concepts (which you read in theory) can be applied to solve the problems. Lets assume that you are able to judge the question confidently, then use this strategy:
If I know I can solve the question, why bother solving it. Let me look at other questions, which I can't solve or I don't feel confident in solving it. This way, I can save my time and thus learn more in less time.
Just to give you an example, if you look at H C Verma (a physics book), a lot of questions are redundant. Among 60-70 questions at the end of the chapter, I generally used to actually solve 5-10 questions and simply skip other questions which I knew I can solve. Thus, while many students used to take a day or two to solve those questions, by then I would have completed questions from HC Verma, Irodov and other books (whose names I don't remember now). This way I utilized my time in a more effective manner and ended up in AIR (all India rank) 12. Please please please note that don't skip the question unless you are 100% confident that you can solve it, and don't be over confident :)

Just for the sake of completeness, let me assert that don't make fun and health secondary in your life. JEE preparation takes 1 or 2 yrs to prepare and its very important to be healthy. And of course, enjoy your life. Go out and play some games, talk with friends. But don't make girlfriends (or boyfriends for girls). These relationships need lots of time and can divert your energy/focus :)

Some examination day tips:
These tips are just for the examination day only.

  • First complete the questions you are sure you can solve. Thus avoid the waste of time in trying to solve the problems you are not confident enough about.
  • First target the questions which holds more marks. e.g. in the paper, if there are two 5 marks question and one 10 marks questions which you are confident to solve, shoot the 10 marks question first. Solving two 5 marks questions usually takes more time than one 10 marks question.
  • Divide and Rule policy: As I desribed earlier, divide the problem into sub-problems, think how can you reach that intermediate step, and then solve the problem.
  • Remain cool, don’t get nervous, read questions carefully, work out a solution strategy in mind (or in paper, whatever works for you), then write the solution else you may end up doing what is called silly mistakes.
  • Remember that there is partial marking in JEE. So, if you know anything about the problem, write it (in case you are short of time).