The IITs, which enjoy a cult status attract some of brightest minds from the whole of India. No wonder then that the competition is fierce, with the number of students appearing for the entrance exams increasing every year. This year, the exam that is being conducted by IIT Delhi will see over five lakh students appearing for the mere ten thousand seats available in the seven IITs spread across India. You don’t need to be a great analyst to work out the math for just how difficult getting into IIT can prove to be. 

The sprawling tree-lined campuses of the IITs have nurtured many dreams and continue to lure the brightest minds.

The sprawling tree-lined campuses of the IITs have nurtured many dreams and continue to lure the brightest minds.

Speaking about the increased competition, Professor Avinash Mahajan, Chairman, IIT-JEE Bombay zone, an IITB alumnus who graduated in 1986 says, “If I remember correctly, there were about 50,000 students appearing for the exam in 1982 for something like 1,200-1.300 seats. Now both have increased almost ten times. So, in some sense, the competition is still the same, but maybe there is a greater focus on the IITs now than before and so a larger fraction are preparing very hard for the entrance exam. In that sense, it may be more difficult now. Also, right now the reserved seats are 49.5 %, while earlier the fraction of reserved seats was 22.5 %. So the number of open category seats is smaller, making it all the more challenging.” So how does one prepare for these exams? Here’s the low-down.


First of, there is no formula for success other than hard work. If you are serious about cracking the exams, then you should began preparing as early as class nine. For one, it will help you to do well in school, and secondly, it provides you with ample time to familiarize yourself and study the concepts in-depth. Ramesh Batlish, Maths Expert from FIITJEE, says, “Ideally one should start preparing as early as standard nine, simply because the volume of preparations required is quite high. This will give them sufficient time to understand those concepts and apply them in the various kinds of problems which are generally asked in the JEE. Also, it covers concepts of Maths, Chemistry and Physics, which are even a part of the standard 11 and 12 CBSE board syllabi. And these are also covered to some extent in the standard 9 and 10 syllabus. So if you start preparing earlier then it will definitely give you an edge over others.


Most of the students rely on coaching classes to prepare for these entrance exams and there is no dearth of such institutes. In fact, there are some towns that have emerged as coaching class hubs, specializing in training for entrance exams. Kota in Rajasthan is one such city that has garnered a reputation of producing toppers at the IIT entrance exams, year after year. The coaching institutes, themselves have a stringent admission process. A student will be offered a place based on his exam scores and getting into a reputed institute can be challenge in itself. If you are lucky enough to get through, you will have to follow a strict study regime and your performance in tests will be constantly monitored. You will have to manage this along with your regular studies. It goes without saying that this is definitely not an easy task. 

Preparations for the exams

Preparations for the exams

While there are many voices raised against these coaching classes totally governing the lives of students, the sad fact remains that without them the chances of clearing the entrance exams are slim. But this doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. If a student is exceptionally focused, motivated and can grasp the concepts really well, then he can easily do well without the help of any classes. But for the rest, coaching classes can provide the right direction, as they are more focused on syllabi based on the entrance exams. Speaking about the need of coaching classes, Ramesh says, “The best part of the coaching classes is that it brings together like-minded students, where they get ample opportunities to prepare for exams, manage their time, build confidence, identify their weak areas and work on them before the exam. Also, we teach students to solve a particular question using two to three methods. The student can then choose one he is most comfortable with when solving problems. Apart from this, their performance is also monitored long before the actual exams and they have the opportunity to improve by working on their weaker areas much before the actual exam.” 

Prof Mahajan admits that the question of coaching classes is a tricky one. While he says that it’s not imperative to join a coaching class, he opines that joining one can definitely help. “There are lakhs of students in the coaching classes and they are doing a serious job. They are helping students learn the concepts in a way that is geared towards this sort of exam, as opposed to 12th standard which is not geared to these exams.

Just a month to go

With just a couple of months to go for the exams, by this time, you should be through with the concepts and looking to simply brush-up before the main exam. As the exam approaches, many students may also experience anxiety and it’s crucial that you don’t stress yourself out. This should ideally be the time when you are just revising all that you have learnt and practice by solving past years' papers. Also, find time to indulge in relaxing activities that will help you focus and remain calm. 

Ramesh says, “At this point of time when there is hardly a month left for exams, we generally recommend the students to take mock tests. They must revise those areas that they are weak in and they must not start anything new as there is hardly any time left. Ideally, practice exam-level problems for all the subjects everyday. The right attitude is that they must not forget their goal and must know where they stand. Also, they shouldn’t expect too much form themselves because at this point of time, whatever preparations they have done in the past two or three years is what will help them in the coming one month. Don’t expect miracles to happen. Use this time to focus on the weak areas. Just solve problems to keep the problem solving ability intact. Even during the board exams, they must find time to solve problems so that their preparations aren’t hampered.” 

Solving past years' papers is best form of practice and there are many sites like askIITians that you can refer to.

Solving past years' papers is best form of practice and there are many sites like askIITians that you can refer to.

Apart from this, both Prof Avinash and Ramesh cannot emphasize enough the need to solve past years' papers, Prof Avinash says, “JEE is not about rote learning; always bear that in mind, and your concepts have to be clear. It is therefore important to practice with past years' question papers and familiarize oneself with this pattern of exam and to be able to solve them in time. You know the questions may change every year, but the concepts remain the same, so if you have your concepts absolutely clear, then you will have no trouble and nothing can hold you back. And this will give you good practice.

Seconding him, Ramesh says, “Before taking up the exam, you must have gonethrough the past  five years of papers, so that your mind is tuned to the kind of questions to expect. Solving past years' papers helps two folds; one is that they give you an idea of what to expect in these exams, and secondly, in certain exams like AIEEE, certain questions tend to reappear. Students should brush up on the formulae and try to devise their own shortcuts. They should avoid mugging up anything other than the formulae, as mugging up doesn’t help in entrance exams.

At the Exam

On D-day, it’s important to have a clear head and be completely relaxed. Ramesh shares with us the following tips on how to approach the exams.

  • Before entering the exam hall, just revise important formulae, if you have to; don’t try to read too many things. You should remain motivated to make the best use of the opportunity to prove your worth and merit.
  • Enter the exam hall with a calm mind. It’s the relative performance on the day of the exam that counts, so don’t enter the exam hall with self-doubt or thinking that this is difficult for you. One thing that will count during your exams is your self confidence and presence of mind when tackling questions
  • Don’t start solving the problems as soon as you get the question paper. It’s important that you read the instructions carefully. Take some time, like say 5-10 minutes, to first go through it and indentify the questions that you are confident you can solve.
  • If you come across some questions that you know nothing about, then don’t panic. Instead, start with the ones you know. If you panic, then you will lose your confidence and it will have a negative impact on your ability to perform.
  • Ideally, divide the question paper in three parts. First, begin with solving the questions you know the answers to. Second, answer those questions that require some time to think about, but you are confident that you can solve them. Lastly, in the remaining time, tackle the questions that you find difficult and know will take too much of time. If there are questions you know nothing about, then it’s better to pass them than do guess work.
  • As far as possible avoid resorting to guess work. However, if the options clearly hint towards a concept involved, and only if you are absolutely sure about it then go ahead with the guess work. 

The Guessing Game

JEE is considered one of the toughest exams. Even though it follows a multiple choice exam pattern, many students, especially those from non-CBSE boards are baulked by it. The urge to resort to guess work is too strong and it can be the cause of their undoing, as the wrong answers have negative marking. 

Starting early

Starting early

Warning about the perils of guess work, Prof Avinash emphasizes on the need of original thinking and being absolutely clear about the concepts, “Even in multiple choice, there are different types of questions. There can be one where just one answer is correct, and at times, there may be questions where more than one answer could be correct. And to discourage guess work, there is negative marking. So unless your concepts are clear, this is not something you can figure. It’s not reproduction of something from the text book and it calls for original thinking for which you need to have your concepts clear. Even if there is a problem that needs to be solved, you will have to work it out and not rely on guess work, so you need to know your concepts.

Ramesh agrees that students shouldn’t rely on guess work, but at the same time, he says it can be fine in certain cases, “Guess work can lead to negative marking and must be avoided. But at times, if the options provide a very clear idea of the concepts involved and if the students are absolutely sure about the said concept, then there is no harm in guess work. But generally, it is not recommended.”

An important change this year is the compulsory use of ball-point pens to mark your answers. In the past years, students could mark their answer with pencils, and this provided them with leeway to erase and mark another answer. However, with the mandatory use of ball-point pens, they no longer have that option. So think twice and be absolutely sure before marking your answer, because you cannot cancel it later. Also, this year they have introduced chemically-treated papers, which will replicate your answers on the sheet below. Students can then take this sheet with them so that they have a copy of the answer sheet. All said and done, what’s important is that you approach the exams with a calm mind, have belief in your abilities, and give it your best shot.

Image credit: Getty Images

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