For IISER Aspirants

Each year during the entrance examination season, I receive many emails requesting for guidance regarding clearing IISER Aptitude Test (IAT). As I am moving ahead with my life now, it seems that I would not be able to devote time to responding to such queries that usually warrant similar responses and advices. So I thought of writing a blog article here which you may find useful for studying for and clearing the IAT to get into your dream institutes, the IISERs. In this blog post, I will first briefly share my story of getting into IISERs and then suggest you some tips which helped me and may also do so to you. But again, do not be too serious with taking suggestions from any one person in life as such, discover your own path and see what works best for you.

The Journey

During the summer after my 10th boards my mother rightfully opined that I would really love studying sciences and doing research and hence motivated me to target for the IISERs. We looked up the possible ways to get into them and then I started preparing for the 11th standard KVPY (SA) exam. Despite of studying really very hard for it, I could not clear the cut off of its written round. Though I was slightly disappointed, my parents cheered me up and asked me to take a short break and then continue with focussing on the KVPY next year. I again attempted the 12th standard KVPY (SX) exam and failed in the written round miserably, this time by an even greater margin. This was mostly because my preparation was purely based on self study from NCERT and reference materials without any coaching. Thus, while my fundamental understanding from textbooks was very good and clear, I lacked the problem solving practice and insight required for cracking a tough exam like KVPY. But I always maintained very organized notes of everything and anything I studied that helped me a long way ahead, it does even now. Anyway, thanks to my parents, I moved on from the setback from these failures and started working harder for the CBSE 12th board exams and got done with them. Luckily enough, I also cleared JEE Mains without ever having studied for it seriously. But in JEE Advanced, I failed badly shattering my mother’s hopes that I would be able to get into the IISERs through this JEE channel.

At this point of time (around May after my 12th boards), I was completely depressed with my academic performances for the past two years and had a guilty feeling of not having lived up to my parents’ expectations. Meanwhile most of my old city-raised friends, with access to coaching facilities, were already celebrating for cracking into the IITs. Now, I had only one entry channel left in front of me, the SCB. Thankfully, my thorough preparation for boards and the piled up stock of notes helped me clear the 95% SCB cut off making me eligible to appear for the IAT. From the end of May, until the hour before my IAT exam (which was on 12th July, 2015 10:00 am in IISER Pune), I worked extremely hard studying for over 15 hours a day. Along with my habitual way of making notes, this time I adopted an exam oriented strategy, practicing a lot of variety of problems on each chapter of each of the PCMB subjects. I recognized and prioritized my weaknesses such that I became very confident at them by the end of my preparation. Equally importantly, I kept brushing up on my strengths increasing my capability of tackling even very advanced questions on them. I was worried with the fact that without coaching I would be unaware if I were doing enough efforts in the right direction for clearing the IAT and that made me work even more. Those two months were a complete frenzy and I had only one purpose of life then, cracking IAT and getting into the IISERs. In fact, I had refused to take admission in any other local college just for safety. Failure was not an option for me, and I also did not know what I would do if not IISERs. My parents got very worried with how fanatically I was working. But they placed their complete faith in me and I placed my faith in them. Looking back, it really was very crazy of me to work that way as if my life depended on that exam. Everything went well though. I appeared for IAT on 12th July 2015 and solved 37/60 questions, of which, I was 100% sure about the answers of 35 and confused about 2. The results came out very early morning on 18th July 2015, after a frustrating technical glitch and delay. While I was extremely tensed and agnostic about my result, my father was extremely confident and optimistic, so much so that he had already bought sweets one day in advance of the results date. I got into IISER Kolkata, I was very very very happy that morning. All thanks to the efforts, direction, and support from my parents. I owe this to them.

The Tips

  1. Be thorough with your fundamental concept understanding. NCERT (or even the state board textbooks) are the greatest resource for a thorough clarity of basics. HC Verma is also recommended for Physics.
  2. If you attend coaching, then work hard for clearing JEE Mains. With that preparation you can easily clear IAT. The difficulty level of IAT is almost equal to JEE Mains.
  3. If you do not have access to coaching, then work hard on the boards syllabus. First, get extremely thorough with NCERT. Second, focus on your board exams and clear the SCB cut off. Then finally focus on revision and problem solving for IAT.
  4. Be sure to solve all the previous year question papers for IAT.
  5. For problem solving, I used Arihant publication’s Master Resource Books for PCM. Any good book of JEE Mains level will help for PCM.
  6. For Biology, I relied on my board exams preparation and occasionally revised from Dr. Ahlawat’s Rapid Biology Book. Using and solving AIPMT/NEET level books may also help.
  7. As said earlier, I faithfully worked on my selfstudy style by keeping detailed and organized notes. Develop your own style of studying and adhere to it religiously, it will go a long way for you.
  8. Out of 4 PCMB sections, be very good and confident in at least 2. In these 2 sections, make sure that you solve 10 to 12 questions without making any mistakes. In the remaining 2 sections, you should be decently good to solve 8 to 10 questions in one, and it is okay if you are weak in the fourth section, attempting to solve 5 or so easy questions you feel good about. Try to solve 35 to 40 out of 60 questions, with making as less mistakes as possible to avoid negative marking. Again, please remember that this is just a general suggestion. Think and strategize for yourself. Adapt according to how you feel about the question paper, its difficulty, time management, and your comfort level during the exam.
  9. Some people do not have all the four subjects for their 12th boards. Many students clear the exam even by solving majorly three out of four sections (PCM or PCB). But a basic knowledge of the fourth subject is advisable. If you never studied Biology, quickly study important chapters on Cell Biology, Genetics, Biotechnology, and Evolution. If you never studied Maths, try to study easy chapters on Statistics, Probability, Linear Programming Problems, Logic, Set Theory etc. Do not fret too much about the fourth subject, build on your strengths in the other three subjects.
  10. Students who have sincerely studied  2 years for JEE level competitive exams find IAT extremely easy to clear. Many say that this was the easiest exam they appeared for and cleared without any substantial preparation. But if IAT is your only/highest target, better go prepared.

Generally Advisable Preference Order for IISERs during form filling (ignoring subjective biases like distance from home):

Pune > Mohali > Kolkata > Bhopal > Tirupati > Thiruvananthapuram > Behrampur

Final Words:

Everyone’s journey in life is a unique and beautiful one, and there is no one certain path that everyone should follow. While it is true that institutes like IISER provide good academic exposure to the students, one can also certainly do great science and career from local institutions that are less renowned. Everything just depends on how dedicated you are towards the current studies and how much passion you have for it. I know several students at IISER/IIT who do not make enough use of the resources available to them and eventually drop out due to poor grades. Similarly, I also know very bright students who are doing their undergrad at local colleges but have great future ahead due to their sincerity and hardwork. Therefore, at the end of the day, it is just an exam. Take the exam seriously, but the result lightly. You surely will succeed in life. Best wishes to you all for all your good endeavours including this IAT.