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On preparing for the GATE

There is a simple method of ascertaining whether you should take the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) 2017:

Think of one of the harder “core” papers in your department’s syllabus. Now, call forth the memories you have of the paper. If you felt a cold shiver run down your spine, as chilling recollections of esoteric lectures and incomprehensible assignments flooded your mind, then you probably should not take the GATE.

If, however, you are one of the blessed few who faced such courses without a tremor, then you might want to consider joining the ranks of thousands of undergraduates who sign up for the test each year, hoping to matriculate at one of the prestigious IITs for their graduate studies.

But if you thought the GATE was only for that spectacled nerd in the front bench, think again. The eligibility to write the test is very straightforward – you need to be in the final year of your engineering or architecture degree, and there are no age restrictions. This gives the exam an interesting feature: it is a popular Plan B for many students in their final year who want to work after they graduate, and need something solid to fall back on, should things not work out quite the way they had planned. This, of course, is in addition to the many technically sound minds who plan to continue their education with an M.Tech.

Additionally, the GATE is not a gateway (see what we did there?) to the IITs and the IISc alone. Of late, the range of institutions and organisations that accept the score has broadened considerably, from private-run universities around the country to the sixteen Public Sector Undertakings (P.S.U.s). There are even a few schools in Singapore (the NUS and NYU) and Germany (RWTH Aachen and TU Munich) who require the score from Indian applicants for some of their programmes.

What all this means is that, far from being an obscure potpourri of the difficult bits of engineering, targeted at a niche group of junior Einsteins, the GATE is in fact accepted universally (sort of) and written by everyone (almost) who has an engineering degree.

Insofar as content goes, you may be surprised to hear that, though the GATE is essentially a test of your knowledge of your engineering discipline, you will not be required to bring back to memory any of the physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing 16-mark answers that you had to struggle through in your coursework. The test consists entirely of multiple-choice and numerical entry questions, and is more a test of your wits than intellect. The questions prioritise analytical thinking and conceptual understanding over rote memorisation of formulae. As with most other competitive exams, familiarising yourself with the format will serve you much more than hours spent slogging over devilish derivations (though you will have to slog over those at some point).

For all the lyrical waxed over the merits and joys of self-study, the accepted way of preparing for the GATE is to enrol oneself at a training institute. The better ones are generally distinguished by the presence of IIT alumni among their faculty. The classes are generally in the weekends, and the institutes work systematically through the syllabus, beginning with the mathematics sections that are common to all departments. The institutes also have one other important resource: their online mock tests, which are invaluable tools for time management.

If you are a second-year student reading this, then this is a good time to start researching different institutes and to weigh your class timing options. You can start the training classes from your fifth semester, and close attention to the relevant papers taught in college will do you a world of good.

If you are a third-year student reading this, time is of the essence, and you can still join a course if you are serious about the test. There are various courses of shorter durations available, and though your time might be limited, dedicated and focused preparation will help recover ground lost by not starting sooner.

If you are a final-year student reading this, here is a patent for a time machine. Fabricate the device for your final-year project, travel back to your third year, and start preparing in earnest.

The idea of toiling hard for an exam that probes a student’s technical foundations can be disconcerting to a lot of students, and many an eligible candidate has shied away from a serious shot at the test simply because the GATE just isn’t “cool” enough. While most people will agree that there is more to college than one’s hardcore engineering papers, it does no harm to step back for a moment to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, technical students, pursuing a technical degree in a technical institution. Which is why the idea that all engineering students, regardless of career plans, should write the GATE just to see where they stand, is not so far-fetched after all.

Mind you, that is most emphatically not the only reason to write the test – after all, a master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Science is hardly a thing to be scoffed at.

Tagged in : News and views, Mary Jeana, Shivani P., Opportunities, Sabarish Narayan, Mark Benjamin,