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Which exam to prepare for? JAM, ISI, NBHM, TIFR or NET?

Dushyanth Edadasula

Dushyanth Edadasula

I am from Srikakulam, a small town in Andhra Pradesh, and have done my MSc in Physics from Pune University, B.Tech from Andhra Univerity. I love Photography and I run this 'Citizens of Science' on the side. you can read our incredible journey from the 'Story so far' page in the top bar.


Disclaimer: I’m an engineer turned Physicist, so, all the information I’ve written is from what I found on the Internet or by speaking with people who have given those exams, to whom I’m forever indebted. Also special thanks to my 3 roomies for lending me their laptops to do this thing wherever I needed them.

I’d like to start off by classifying exams into groups rather than viewing them individually, I’d strongly recommend readers to do the same, otherwise might lead to confusion-given the huge number of exams one can give.

The mathematics entrance exams can be divided into two categories broadly based on the education level of the students they’re designed for, BSc level and MSc level. Do read the blog post [How to do MSc Maths after B.Tech/B.E?] below to find out all the exams we can give.

Here I’ll be classifying and analyzing all of them to see which of them suits whom.

BSc Level Exams

These exams are Screening tests for BSc grads to enter MSc or Integrated Ph.D. (MSc+PhD). All these exams have more or less the same syllabus, so preparing for one of them would mean you’re mostly prepared for the other ones too. Of course, there is no 100% overlap in the syllabus but you can always prepare those few extra topics as required for any specific exam.
  • JAM
  • TIFR-GS (I-PhD)
  • Maths GRE
  • ISI admission test
  • MSc Entrance tests for universities like HCU, LMNIIT, DU, JNU, Pune University, and many others mentioned in the blog post above

MSc Level Exams

These exams are Screening tests for MSc grads to enter a Ph.D.

  • NBHM
  • GATE
  • CMI Ph.D. entrance test
  • A few other tests mentioned in the blog post above

Things to consider

  • No.of Institutes accepting the Exam: This, to me is the most important factor. In this post How to do MSc Maths after B.Tech/B.E?, I have listed all the exams one can give and the institutes that admit through those exams.
    •  Of all the BSc level exams,  JAM can get you into a maximum number of institutes like IITs and IISERs (But there is a lot of confusion about eligibility in IITs, read this post on ambiguity in Eligibility for admission in IITs through JAM to know more).
    • And from the MSc level exams, NET can get you into a maximum number of institutes, which of course is much lesser than JAM.
  • Stipend & Scholarships: All I-PhD programs and Ph.D. programs provide you with a monthly stipend of Rs 31,000. On the other hand, most MSc programs don’t provide you with a stipend. However, they provide scholarships for the economically weak

                Ph.D. and I-PhD programs

    • Through NET and other MSc level exams you’ll be mostly entering IPhd programs or Ph.D. programs. Hence, you’ll be provided with a stipend. For I-PhD programs it’ll be Rs 16,000 per month for the first year, then it’ll be enhanced to Rs 31,000 per month as a normal Ph.D. student. If you are economically struggling or if you need money for any reason then it’ll be the better option.
    • Through JAM you’ll be getting mostly into MSc programs, however, there are a few I-PhD programs you can get in with JAM in IISERs where again you’ll be receiving the same amount of stipend.
                MSc programs

There are a few MSc programs that give financial support in the form of stipends and scholarships. I’m listing all that I’m aware of (and engineers are eligible for)

    • With the NBHM MSc exam, which engineers can give after joining MSc mathematics and get them a scholarship of ₹6000 per month if one clears the exam and the subsequent interview.
    • ISI    –  ₹8000 stipend and with zero tuition fees and very less hostel fee.
    • CMI – They have scholarships for almost everyone and stipend (₹6000) for a limited number of students [Details here]
    • IITs  – I’m told that all IITs have a scholarship scheme for the economically weak. The amount varies from institute to institute and they also require the concerning candidate to maintain some minimum GPA(or percentage) specified by the institute to avail the scholarship. For details do check the websites of corresponding IIT.
    • other universities like JNU, HCU, Pune Univ, and other ones mentioned in the blog post will have their own scholarship schemes based on economic conditions and merit.
  • Duration: Doing a Direct Ph.D. will save the two years by skipping the time of doing an MSc. An I-Phd will save a year.
  • Difficulty level of exam: BSc level exams are obviously easier than MSc exams as the syllabus to be covered is much lesser.
  • No.of seats: Through Jam this year people of rank around 500 also got into new IITs (They are not comparable to old ones, but still they are fine to do our first Mathematics degree) the other universities offering MSc also have good amount seats as compared to the no.of Ph.D. seats. On the other hand, less than 400 people qualify CSIR-NET and there will be an additional round of interviews. You check here in this list that most people who made it to physics(not maths) after engineering from our community have made it through BSc level exams(JAM in particular).
  • Going abroad: If you wish to go abroad at some point(which I highly recommend) then you need to wait until Post doc if you get into I-PhD or a Ph.D. program. But if you do an MSc program and build a good research profile with Internships (additionally publishing a paper will be extremely helpful) you can go abroad for Ph.D. right after MSc.
  • Choosing a research field: If you join an MSc course, during your two years of learning different subjects of Mathematics, you’ll get an idea about which sub-stream to choose to pursue your Ph.D. in, but in an I-PhD, after the initial coursework for 2 years, you’ll have to do your Ph.D. in the same institute only, and that institute may or may not have people working on the topic of your interest. Since engineers won’t be much knowledgable about the various research fields, it’d be better if we decide it on-the-go while doing coursework. Even with people who already have an inclination towards a specific field, It sometimes happens that they find that this is not the right fit for them or they may find some more interesting when they’re exposed to more number of streams during the course. It is to be noted that though some institutes let you quit an integrated Ph.D. in the middle and leave with a master’s degree, and it’s usually not followed for some reason.
  • Interviews: All the I-PhD and Ph.D. programs will require you to crack the Interview while MSc entrance exams don’t.

In praise of JAM

     JAM is rather easier to crack for us engineers since it is of BSc level syllabus as opposed to CSIR NET and other MSc level exams which will need us to cover a lot more syllabus.
Second thing, JAM happens in February and most other BSc level exams (i.e MSc entrance exams) happen in June or after that. Hence, even if you screw up in JAM or you’re deemed ineligible for admission in IITs, you’ll have a lot of time to prepare for those exams which are essentially on the same syllabus as JAM. If you couldn’t crack JAM for some reason, it’ll give you a lot of time to reflect upon and correct mistakes in the June exams.


      JAM to me seems a clear winner and will be suitable for most people. [This is not the case with Physics. We have an exam called JEST which is accepted by almost all the good research institutes for I-PhD] NET seems to be beneficial for those that want to do a direct Ph.D. and can’t afford to spend 2 years doing without stipend. So, if you’d ask me which exams should I prepare for, then I’d say “In most cases it’d be best to prepare for BSc level exams with a major focus on JAM. But if you’re looking for Direct Ph.D. or have other specific interests, then focus more on NET or the other specific exam corresponding to your interest”
So, my picks are
  • JAM             –   from the pool of BSc level exams
  • CSIR-NET    –   from that of MSc level exams
     Notice, I only asked you to focus ‘more’ on those particular exams, not to ignore the other exams. If you are preparing for BSc level exams then prepare with focus on JAM and orient your preparation around that exam, but that doesn’t mean you’ll not give the other exams or not prepare for them. One better appears for as many other exams as they can(Both in their chosen pool and the other pool) and study the few extra topics for individual exams (of the same group, of course) as needed. The same goes if you choose NET.
   All in all, no matter which exam you choose, you need to top the exams and outdo the candidates who majored in Physics stream in a Physics exam! That means, working one’s bottom off is a necessity independent of their choice of the exam. So, all the best in that and if you need any help or motivation we’ve got a whole community to help you and cheer for you, CHEERS 🍻!!
Also, do visit all other useful content of our blog 
Here is the link for our WhatsApp group of members all of whom are engineers who actively discuss and help each other out in entering mathematics stream after engineering. 
Mail me on for suggestions/queries.

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