Tips to crack GATE - It's all about balance
Yes, GATE preparation requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but one has to be smart about how to approach it. You only have 24 hours in a day and you have to use them efficiently. One of the most common mistakes GATE aspirants make is to indiscriminately solve as many problems as they can. We have often seen students prepare a topic from ten different books. They pick up every book available and just keep solving problems. Practising is great, but GATE is not about merely solving problems. It is a test of your concepts and there is no direct correlation between the number of questions you solve and how conceptually strong you are on a topic. So, don't panic if you friends are solving problems from every possible book out there for GATE preparation.
Don't bother picking up substandard books (they will often have wrong solutions). Just focus on understanding the basics and stick to a few recommended books from the best authors there are. Give time to each and every question, especially those which you could not solve in a couple of tries. When you attempt a problem during your GATE preparation, don't start solving it right away; build an approach in your head, figure out the underlying principles involved and think how you can apply the concepts and tools that you have learnt so far, to that particular problem. Don't just apply the formulae. It will make your thinking shallow and will deprive you of real learning.
Another issue with GATE aspirants is that they keep making the same mistakes over and over again. If we focus on merely doing as many problems as possible, we do not give ourselves time to reflect on our mistakes and revisit the concepts. We just think that the next time we won't make the same mistake, but are bound to fail again becuase the underlying concept is flawed, and there are only so many mistakes that one can remember. So, focus on the concepts. If you make a mistake, take some time and reflect on the concept and figure out where you went wrong. Don't focus on the number of problems; instead, focus on the problem in problems.
How many problems are enough while preparing for GATE? Now you must be wondering how many problems you should solve for a particular concept - 5, 10, 30 or 100? Our answer is that it's not really about the number of problems but the type of problems you solve. There has to be a gradual increase in the difficulty level of GATE problems as you move ahead with a concept. The problems have to involve multiple concepts. You can solve a 1000 problems of the same type and yet be stumped when the GATE exam asks you a slightly twisted problem from the same concept.
Therefore, place a greater focus on solving different types of problems. Ask your friends about the interesting or difficult problems they have encountered in a topic. Bounce problems off them and see their approach, understand their thought process and compare them with yours. Find out a way to learn from your peers and a way to contribute.