“In science, the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to whom the idea first occurs”.
I’m referring to this quote here because I feel it is necessary to state the fact that those reading the blog here are probably looking for something completely new and insightful ways of preparation for the exam, but let me break the ice right now and let you know that there’s no such “secret” formula which I used for my preparation (But there is an “Aha” moment for some of you at the end). These are all time-tested methods but are maybe not all well-known. Again, the method that I present here might not work for all but one should find a way to optimize one’s own strategy by taking these steps as a guideline to formulate their own.
I am an Electronics and Communication Engineering graduate from NIT Trichy, where my interest in physics and mathematics developed early. Although engineering wasn’t my primary interest, it provided me with invaluable professional growth experiences. After graduation, I joined Western Digital as an ASIC Development Engineer, a role I balanced alongside my preparations for the JAM exam starting from mid-August 2022. This period coincided with the pandemic-to-normal transition, offering a flexible work-from-home option, which I utilized for exam preparation. These circumstances, combined with dedicated study, led to my achievement of AIR 1 in JAM Physics and AIR 114 in JAM Mathematics in 2023.
The road to acing exams like JAM (Joint Admission Test for MSc) isn’t a straightforward one. It is an intricate interplay of thorough preparation, the right study environment, and a healthy exam temperament. Based on my experience, I’ve compiled this guide to provide some insights into effective preparation and help navigate this path with greater ease and confidence.
Part 1: The Preparation
1. Design Your Study Schedule
Start your preparation by laying out a comprehensive study schedule, covering all topics and concepts. Aim to finish your initial concept preparation 1-2 months before the exam. Don’t lose touch with these prepped concepts.
2. Short notes
Make short notes while learning the concepts. They can really helps during the times when you need to recall old concepts and have last-minute preparations.
3. Leverage Study Materials
Utilize exercise problems from books before diving into previous years’ question papers. The last few months should be reserved for these PYQs and test series, if needed. However, remember that some test series might slightly deviate from the actual exam’s format from what is generally expected out of the actual exams.
4. Getting in exam mode
Set up a deadline before which you complete all your preparation. For me it was before TIFR GS (which I could not manage) which happens about 3-4 months before JAM and take TIFR as a serious exam. It can be some other exam for you. This helps you get into that exam mood and enables you to focus better.
5. The Power of Peers
Engage with a motivated peer group with the same study objectives. Participate in meaningful problem-solving discussions and don’t shy away from asking or answering questions. I used to daily check for new problems to solve in the group and try to be the first one to answer it. I know this sort of sounds childish, but from the point of view of an OP, it encourages them to post more questions only when they see such active participation when they post a question. This interaction can provide fresh insights into concepts and problems.
Part 2: Resources
Books I used for my preparation:
1. Classical Mechanics: Kleppner and Kolenkow (Also used Dr H.C Verma’s lecture playlist on Youtube that is in parallel with this book’s exposition – saved me a lot of time going through the math and rigor)
2. Electrodynamics: J.D Jackson (A bit of an overkill I know, I think Griffiths is good enough (based on general opinion). I used to study from this book during my B.Tech days. Reading Feynman Vol 2 and a lot of math + rigor was a prerequisite to enter this book for me) (DO NOT use this if you’re only going to prepare for JAM, it’ll eat away all your time)
3. Quantum Physics: Used Griffiths’ book and Resnik & Eisberg’s book. The type of exposition is different in both and I think they both complement each other well. (As far as JAM syllabus is concerned. For further study Shankar or Sakurai is needed)
4. Mathematical Physics: Did it alongside JAM Math preparation half-heartedly. I had separate books for each of these sub topics as they were separate units for Math.
5. Thermodynamics and Stat Physics: Used this book called Intro to Thermodynamics and Thermostatics by Herbert Callen. For KTG and related stuff used Arthur Beiser’s expositions. (Used this for a bit of Stat. Physics and Quantum as well)
6. Nuclear and Atomic Physics: Covered using the Quantum physics books and Arthur Beiser.
7. Solid state Physics: Used Arthur Beiser and Kittel’s book.
Part 3: The Examination
1. De-stress and Deliver
Keeping your options open and having backups allows you to have a less stressful mindset. If you’re a working professional or have some solid backups, remember that you don’t have the same stress level as those who’ve taken a break for preparation. This mindset can change the exam dynamics significantly. More on this in the following section.
2. Exam Temperament
Your ability to manage stress and maintain a calm demeanor during the examination significantly impacts your performance. Identify the elements that either trigger your stress or comfort you in the examination environment.
3. Simulate the Exam Conditions
To help create a similar atmosphere to the actual exam, conduct your mock tests under conditions as close as possible to the examination environment. Set a timer and create as many similar conditions as possible.
4. Master the Exam Tools
Get comfortable with the tools you’ll be using during the exam. For instance, the prefix calculator used in JAM can be tricky, and getting a grip on it ahead of time can be advantageous.
5. Evaluate Your Performance
Following each mock test, compare your scores with the “marks vs ranks” data available online or on CoS blogs. This comparison will shift your focus from obtaining a certain “rank” to answering as many questions correctly as possible as ranks are relative but the score gives you a correct understanding of where you stand. Initially, I was making numerous errors due to negligence. But after implementing the above techniques, I noticed a steady decrease in such mistakes, providing real-time evidence of my improvement.
6. Identify and Learn from Mistakes
Pay attention to your mistakes in each test. I noticed that I was making a significant number of errors due to carelessness, and consciously noting these mistakes helped me avoid them over time.
7. Finding your stress triggers
As there are many external factors which affect you on your exam day, giving the mock test in stressful conditions seems a good practice. The trigger that causes the stress of the exam could be different for you. For me it was the cool AC temperature, formal clothing, small desk and paper sizes, a bottle of water beside me, the prefix calculator given in the JAM exam and a freaking timer running on the screen. On the day of the exam though, I did not have any of my triggers beside me, I wore casuals, and kept my water bottle away from sight. Look for the triggers and try to cope up with them before the exam.
The above strategy, although may sound cliché or too simple, can effectively enhance your performance in exams. The key lies in consciously acknowledging and managing the elements that impact your exam temperament. These simple techniques might be the “aha” moment for you.
Part 4: After JAM
Interestingly, despite preparing for JAM and giving exams, I used my previous year’s GATE rank from EC (with a score of 733 and rank 202) to enroll in the M. Tech program on Quantum Technologies at IISc. This decision was driven by my desire to create a bridge between academia and industry options during my transition.
From my interactions and readings about many PhD folks in basic sciences research, I realized the path can seem daunting, to say the least. Thus, I chose to play it safe and remain an engineer. This decision came after taking advice from PhD scholars and professors, who suggested that I “tilt my ship slowly to prevent it from capsizing.”
I urge readers to engage with people in their field of interest, consider various aspects such as finance, personal interests, family considerations, and not to make drastic changes without careful thought. While many have dared to embark on this rigorous journey due to their unwavering devotion to science, there are also those who start but don’t see it to the end.
After thorough preparation and engaging with experts in the field, I realized that perhaps this demanding path wasn’t the best fit for me. I suggest that you, too, explore whether this arduous journey aligns with your goals and capabilities.