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They say there is a substitute for diligence when it comes to cracking the upcoming entrance exams. However I’m sure most of you must not be satisfied with your efforts in the past two years. Fret not, you still have a pretty decent chance to crack even the toughest of the competition papers.

As a veteran of shoddy preparations and unsatisfactory study habits, I present to you the following 16 tips and tricks to beat just about any exam you attempt. A word of caution, these tips won’t make you a genius overnight, but they’ll surely help you improve your score by a huge fraction. That being said, I attribute all my success in the competitive exams to these methods I devised.

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1) It’s all in the averages

It’s all a game of deductive reasoning, and in most questions, provided you studied well for your board examinations; you can reduce to number of options from four to two. The tricky part is selecting the correct option. Now you must not try to plug in the values into the equations. You’ve gotten as far as you could have, and must try an alternative approach. Analyze both options logically. Even if you choose the wrong option, no real harm is done.

Consider this, in the AIEEE in my year (2012), the marking scheme was +4/-1. Say you have reduced a question down to two alternatives, and must decide which one to choose. If the answer does not strike you within thirty seconds, choose what your gut tells you (unless you’re naturally unlucky) and move ahead. This way you have a 50% chance of +4 and a equally chance of -1. So basically (+4 + (-1))/2, on average you would earn +1.5 out of every such guess.

2) In with the best, out with the worst

Always start with the subject you’re most comfortable with. For example I loved chemistry, and hence always started each exam with the chemistry section. Then I moved on to math and finally physics. As I was weak in physics, I would give it the least time, concentrating more on solidifying the answers I was sort of sure of.

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3) One minute at a time, wastes nine

When you read a question for the first time, make a decision whether you’re going to solve it then and there, or would you come back to it later. You might waste precious minutes trying to decipher a question then eventually move on without choosing any option. Later after racking your brain trying to solve other questions, when you come back to the above-mentioned question, you’d have lost all the previous work you had done on it.

4) The answer lies in the question

Cheat. I don’t mean look at other people’s answers (well do that if you must), but look at the questions given. Sometimes the answer to one of the questions lies in the body of another. Not explicitly of course, but while solving a similar question, you may come across the logic required to solve a previous question. So if you’re solving a question on organic, just try to remember other questions of organic. This approach may sound flimsy, but it has helped me a few times.

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5) After six days of effort, even god needs a break

Always take a watch and a water bottle. It goes without saying. Don’t forget either. After about an hour of solving, take a break of a few minutes at most, thinking anything but PCM. Maybe something about the recently concluded Cricket world cup. Drink a gulp of water and start battling the paper again. These breaks help your mind unwind, much like in olden days when fighting stopped after sunset to allow the soldiers to relax.

6) Giving up questions is always an option

Leave the questions in which you cannot reduce the options to two and are unsure about the answer. Even if you cross off one option, a random guess of the remaining three would yield 0.6667 marks on average. But that’s hardly enough to take a chance.

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7) Oh my God what did I just read?

If you’ve never come across the question before, and have absolutely no idea how to solve it, a few minutes worth of thinking would hardly help. Cut our losses and move on.

8) Leaving questions untouched is just not an option

If there is no negative marking, attempt all questions. You may say duh, but I know a lot of people who left a significant amount of questions in papers with no negative marking simply because they were battling with the earlier questions. You aim is to score maximum marks, not reduce the number of wrong questions.

9) Rise above your mistakes

If a paper goes bad, forget about it. Look ahead to the next one. No point dwelling over past mistakes. You’d waste your time and energy which would lead to poor performance in the next paper.

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10) The formula to success

Be familiar with all formulae since they’re the only tools apart from logic (and extensive practice) you have. Before attempting any paper, understand what all formulae mean, and don’t just mug them up. Work out which quantities are directly proportional and how much would one quantity increase if the other was increased by a certain amount.

Consider this made up equation

Here speed is directly proportion to distance and force, and inversely proportional to viscosity and mass. Now what that means is if speed increases, so will distance and force. Automatically viscosity and mass would decrease. Therefore an increase in speed is only possible if

  1. a) distance increases
  2. b) force increases
  3. c) viscosity decreases
  4. d) mass decreases

These options are not mutually exclusive, and two or three of them may sometimes factor the increase in speed.

Moreover since speed is proportional to force squared, so a large change in speed would lead to a much lesser increase in force. Similarly a large increase in speed may only lead to a small decrease in mass.

Analyze formulae like this. According to Newton’s equation on gravity, a small change in radius would lead to a large change in gravitational force. Now when the comes in a question, you would automatically cross off the options in which the change in gravitational force is not are enough.

11) A novel approach to cracking exams

When you’re practicing for the exams and come across a question you cannot solve, don’t be satisfied with just the answer. Now armed with the answer, try to visualize how you would solve the question. A similar question may come in one of your competitive papers with the values changed, and you must know the approach to solve the question.

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12) Sitting on the fence

It’s worth spending a few extra seconds to verify an answer you’re sure of. Don’t waste your saved time to try solving questions you have no idea how to tackle. Spend that time consolidating what you already know. Use that time to attempt questions on the fence too. But what’s on the other side of the fence, usually stays on the other side of the fence.

13) The frustrating moments in life

If you aren’t absolutely sure of your answers, and mark three questions in a row as C, you have every right to be paranoid. Change your options. If you were fifty fifty on one of those question, choose the other option. Almost always there won’t be more than two of the same correct options in a row. However this is totally based on personal paranoia. If you’re confident you have chosen the correct options, such back the fear and doubt and plow on ahead.

14) The theory of everything

Don’t think the boards are over and you can conveniently forget the theory part of all chapters. Competitive exams do focus primarily on the application side of the chapters, but quite a few questions exploit the theory given. Don’t give theory as much importance as you did a month before, but don’t dismiss it either.

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15) An approximate solution

Nobody cares the method you used to reach to the correct answer. No marks are given for your approach. Learn tricks provided in many guide books and on plethora of educational websites online.

(45 * 81)/(99 * 70) is 81/154 which is roughly 1/2. Don’t even think of the steps involved. Also as shown above, approximate values as and when you proceed unless two of the options are very close. Remember that if in a question you once approximated by rounding up , next time when you approximate values in that question, round down. Keep a mental track of the magnitude of the rounding operations so that if your answer comes 175 and the magnitude of overall rounding is slightly up, the answer would lie between 160-170.

16) A fresh mind is the genius’ workshop

Sleep properly the night before each exam. What you couldn’t learn in two years, you cannot learn overnight. May as well sleep and relax your brain.

Remember, nothing beats studying. Practice does make one perfect. But now is the time for many of you to realize you don’t have much of a chance to crack those papers using conventional methods. There are two methods of cracking any competition exam. The diligent way and the smart way. If you spent the past few minutes reading this, the diligent way has sailed far beyond the horizon. You may as well as board the smart one.

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