GATE Topper Interview – Muthuraj Pillai, AIR 6

Electronics and Communication Engineering is one of the most sought after GATE papers. A majority of PSUs have advertised for candidates appearing for GATE 2016 EC Paper. spoke to Muthuraj Pillai who secured AIR 6 in GATE 2016 EC paper. This being his second attempt (he earlier secured AIR 70 in GATE 2014); Muthuraj believes that the determination to succeed is the driving force behind his success. Here he talks about how working with MDL further inspired him to continue with his desire to complete M.Tech from IIT Bombay, his GATE preparation methodology, books he referred to and more. Tell us something about yourself; where have you done your engineering from and in which branch?
Muthuraj Pillai: My name is Muthuraj Pillai and I have completed my B.Tech in ECE from SIES College, Navi Mumbai. After completing my graduation, I chose not to take up the placement from TCS and instead wanted to appear for GATE. I had appeared for GATE 2014 and secured an AIR 70. Due to some financial constraints, I couldn’t pursue M.Tech, so I decided to take up the offer I received from Mazagaon Docks through GATE 2014 scores. I have been working there since then till February 2016 when I resigned.GATE 2016 is my second attempt and I secured an AIR rank of 6 in EC Paper. Which GATE paper you appeared in? What rank did you get in GATE 2016? What is your GATE score and how many marks did you secure out of 100 in GATE paper?

Muthuraj Pillai: I appeared for Electronics and Communication Paper in GATE 2016 and obtained a score of 1000. My GATE 2016 marks are 77.85 out 100 and All India Rank this time is 6. What was the reason you appeared for GATE 2016? PSU or further studies? Please elaborate your reasons.
Muthuraj Pillai: I am very much interested in pursuing M.Tech. Actually in 2014, my idea was to pursue M.Tech. The opportunities after M.Tech are good for EC and CS candidates. Somehow due to some constraints, I wasn’t able to and settled for a job at MDL in November 2014. My job was quite good and I learnt a lot of things there. It made me more determined to be better equipped with EC knowledge which I can get at the IITs. Just to leave nothing to chance, I have applied to a few leading PSUs like NTPC, etc. but I know I won’t take the offers up. I plan to do my M.Tech this time now that I have got a good rank and I will get admission.
I am clear that I want to pursue M.Tech from IIT Bombay or IISc Banglore – as education at these institutes is a different experience and the environment is very conductive. In B.Tech, we don’t get so much exposure. At IITs, placements are good and the chances for pursuing Ph.D from abroad are also bright. When did you start your preparation? How did you prepare? How many hours did you put in to study everyday as per the stages of preparation?
Muthuraj Pillai: My GATE preparation actually started during my 2014 attempt when I didn’t accept the TCS offer and instead decided to do self-study and prepare for GATE.
Meanwhile, I was working at Vidyalankar classes in Mumbai for a period of 3 to 4 months and then quit to concentrate on GATE.
I first started with checking the GATE Syllabus. This was to know which topics were my strengths and which ones were my weaknesses. I started this exercise in July itself. The idea is to tackle the weak ones and convert them to strengths. There was nothing fixed about my schedule. I would study as per the need of the day and practice accordingly.
Once I had segregated topics I needed to work with, I would start with the reference books. You need to be clear about the concepts and that will only be possible when you read and understand the topics and subjects. I would also solve the questions at the end of the topic.
Coming to GATE 2016 preparation, I started it in July 2015. Here I would like to tell you that NPTEL is an awesome resource. If there is no time constraint, I would suggest checking them out for all those topics you don’t understand. I used Prof. Nagendra Krishnapura’s video lectures for Analog Electronics. I checked the reference books again. By October, I completed revising my subject.
November to January, it was all about practise. I enrolled for online test series and went on practicing till I was sure to get confident about where I stood. Have you taken any coaching? If yes – from where? How did it help?
Muthuraj Pillai: I focused more for self-study and have just used the test series from leading coaching institutes. The advantage of doing the test series from the different coaching institutes is the varied experience and the different approach of each. So, it’s good to attempt them all.
If your preparation is good, these test series are helpful in boosting your confidence, they help you hone your exam strategy and time management. The virtual calculator is the new feature introduced this year? How was your experience with it? Do you think it is necessary that students should practice with it to get acquainted with its working as most of the engineering students are used to the good old calculator?
Muthuraj Pillai: I have been exposed to the virtual calculator with all the test series. In GATE 2015, it was cancelled at the last moment. So I was actually hoping for the same this year. Well they didn’t cancel it.
I am used to work with the virtual calculator, courtesy the various online test series I was appearing in. They have the in-built virtual calculator. But still I feel it is not an easy thing to master. I also found that I was wasting time with it. So I did away with using it except for big additions and such stuff. I worked on most of the problems using the scribble pad and used the calculator only when I needed to use it for big calculations.
If you ask me, it is not a right thing to add as we as engineering students are comfortable to use the physical one. The virtual one requires plenty of practice so all the future GATE aspirants must also note this fact and get familiar with the virtual calculator with plenty of practice. GATE 2016 saw a substantial amount of numerical questions asked when compared to previous years. Were you prepared for this eventuality? How did you prepare for the numerical questions considering that they require speed in calculating the solutions?
Muthuraj Pillai: I was prepared for this. If you see, NAT questions don’t carry negative marking but they are all about accuracy. It’s like a double edged sword. You have to be accurate and you have to be fast. That one number here or there could lose you marks. You should be alert and should be clear with your formulas and concepts. Can you share any preparation strategies with our readers? How to schedule study time and make timetables?
Muthuraj Pillai: You should start preparation from July and by October; you should complete the study of the basic concepts. Strengthen your hold on the weak topics and be clear with the subject. Reference books will be pretty useful here. I would also advise to plan the study as per the most important topics which may feature more than the others. The complete syllabus is important but some topics are also so important that their coverage is inevitable.
Short Notes: While studying, prepare short notes for reference. These will be pretty handy and useful for revision during the last month prior to the GATE exam. From November onwards, it’s practice, practice and more practice. I would advise give as many tests as you can. The online test series from good coaching institutes will serve this

I would say that if you are not able to complete all the topics, it’s ok. You should be prepared for that also. You need to ensure that you are good and confident at what you have prepared. How should one schedule answering the GATE exam – which section to attempt first and which next?’
Muthuraj Pillai: Though this is a personal choice, but I attempted the questions with the options first. Then I later moved on to the NAT questions, as they require calculations. I also attempted 1-mark questions first and then later the 2-mark ones. I marked them for review and rechecked them in the last 15 minutes of the exam.
I couldn’t complete the GATE 2016 Exam in time so a few questions were left out. I wasn’t happy about that but was at peace with the fact that what I attempted, I was confident about it. Name some important Topics that you feel are a must read for any student attempting GATE exam? Which books did you follow to read them? 

Muthuraj Pillai: Here they are Since all the GATE exams are online now, how mandatory is it for students to practice online and how frequently?
Muthuraj Pillai: Practice makes a man perfect. It’s sort of true because the tests are not just for gauging how you stand in your preparation. They are also tools of time management that allow you to understand the exam pattern and in general get familiar with the GATE exam. So definitely yes, students have to be comfortable with the online exam. What did you find most challenging in the GATE exam?
Muthuraj Pillai: For me, time was an important factor and I missed answering a few questions. So I think time was the only problem. How important do you feel mock tests are and why? Is it true that if one solves the previous year question papers, there is a good chance of cracking the exam successfully?
Muthuraj Pillai: The GATE 2016 Practice tests and mock tests are tools for students to use in their GATE preparation. The benefit is that the more you solve the better you get with it, provided your preparation is very good and then your confidence levels improve. One of the most important factors is the confidence one has in cracking the exam. It feels nice to do well and that carries you forward on the day of the exam. What leisure activities did you pursue to unwind from the tough studies and tension?
Muthuraj Pillai: I like chess very much. During my breaks I would rejuvenate myself by playing chess online. Any advice for the future aspirants of GATE?
Muthuraj Pillai: More important than anything else is the determination to crack GATE 2016 exam. Once that is in place, everything else can be worked on. Get your subject, concepts in order, be clear with them and then start testing your knowledge. Don’t forget to prepare the reference notes when studying the subject. Use time wisely and be honest with yourself. GATE 2016 will just be one barrier you will have crossed to a bright future.

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