How to read books?

I came across a very nice answer on Quora which beautifully differentiates a coach from a player or a king from a kingmaker. This compelled me to put a disclaimer on this post.

Disclaimer : Views expressed here are personal. Do not blindly follow them. Tweak the methods/approaches to align with your lifestyle. Devise your own strategy.

The best players are often not the best coaches. You must seek the best knowledge from anyone and not influenced by the source of the knowledge.

Source : Awdhesh Singh’s answer to “Should one avoid learning the success mantras from exceptionally successful people?”

Before blabbering about the book reading, I introduce the broad categories to which a GATE aspirant may belong:

  1. Category -1: one who is new to concepts or the one who has not read them even once.
  2. Category-2: one who has read them but feels there is a room for improvement or the one who has not touched the books for past 2-3 years.
  3. Category-3: one who has sound knowledge of the concepts.

Well, strength/weakness is subjective. I leave it to your conscience to choose a category for yourself. For instance, I was a member of Category-2 when I started GATE preparation.

Rules to be followed by everyone

  • Finish syllabus as soon as possible
  • Enroll in at least two online test series
  • Never guess the answer, be honest.
  • Leave substitution, elimination etc. methods for the Final exam. Do not practice them in mock tests.
  • Learn, Test, Analyse & Improve
  • Revise as much as you can – first revision after 7 days, second after 14-15 days of first revision, then after a month and then monthly.
  • Use the internet, do not settle for unconvincing solutions/explanations

Category -1

Option 1 (without coaching) : If you can complete your syllabus by the end of November (2 months before the exam), I strongly recommend you to follow standard books. They will help you in the long run. Beware they consume time. So, if you are preparing along with the job and have less time, you may refer postal_study_course/video_courses too (I may not comment on their usefulness as I haven’t read them).

  1. Read only those topics which are mentioned in the GATE syllabus.
  2. If some of them require some background, then you should learn that as well. Mugging-up concepts without a strong base will eventually collapse your “building”. But try to do all this as soon as possible.
  3. Make notes of whatever you study.
    1. Don’t copy the entire book.
    2. Your notes should be very concise.
    3. 10-percent rule : If you read 10 pages, try to summarize them in 1 page.
    4. Revision from these notes will be easier and take less time. It also helps a lot in retaining the information.
    5. This is the reason I don’t share notes.
  4. Make use of the internet as much as you can. Most of the information is available online for free.
  5. Other resources:
    1. NPTEL lectures
    2. Coursera lectures (on ADA by Tim Roughgarden especially)
    3. Random, FREE, “reliable”, online lecture videos.
    4. Wikipedia

Option 2(coaching) : Here, I shall give an example of my sister. She is an automobile grad and she appeared for GATE in Mechanical stream. As most of the subjects were new to her, she joined Weekend coaching classes in the month of July and secured AIR-75.
But . . .

  1. Never rely completely on coaching classes. They are there for guidance. They are teaching thousands of students and all of them are not toppers.
  2. Classes may extend until Jan.
    1. Ask your coaching institute to schedule classes of important subjects (subjects with more weighting) first like Maths, DS, ADA, Operating System etc.
    2. Don’t blame coaching centers. Try to study some subjects on your own.
  3. Don’t just sit and listen in the classroom. Prepare notes too.
  4. Make sure you enroll in a test series of some other coaching institute too.
  5. Bug your teachers if you have some doubts. Do not settle for unconvincing explanations.
  6. Use internet.

I shall not comment on whether join a coaching institute or online video lectures for I haven’t taken any of them.

Category -2

Since you have read the concepts at least once :

  1. Brush up on the concepts
    1. You may refer the books you have referred in the past
    2. You may also refer the PPTs of the standard books available online.
    3. OR refer the notes/handouts available on NPTEL/IITs website.
    4. This shall take 2-2.5 months. (well, it depends on your strategy)
  2. This may reveal some of your weaknesses. Work on them. Prepare notes!
  3. Use the internet if you don’t find the explanations (in books/notes) convincing.
  4. You may refer some postal study course too (I may not comment on their usefulness as I haven’t read them).

Category -3

You are the boss!

  1. Even if you know the concepts you should test your ability to apply them.
  2. Take a full test – this will help you know where you stand.
  3. Although you know most of the concepts, it doesn’t harm to test and improve them repeatedly.
  4. Do not take your competitors lightly – do you remember the “hare and tortoise” story?

Please do let me know your concerns, I shall edit this post accordingly. All the best!