GATE 101 – You shall not pass.

~Tidbit one : G.A.T.E stands for Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering that more than 800,000 Indian engineering graduates undertake yearly out of which barely fifteen percent make the cut. Brings back fond memories from four years ago when you frantically tried to clear the JEE, Joint Entrance Exam, and pathetically failed while your annoying cousin easily got through.~

You wake up realising any plans of taking that one mock test in the morning is gone with the wind as it is already 10 A.M. Your friends have been preparing for months for this exam, but not you. You have no hope. You have no expectations. You entirely rely on broken bits of collective memory and sheer logic to aid you through this exam, as you always have. After making sure none of your more relatable friends have prepared either, you set out to get dressed and ready for the day. You realise you are still yet to get your hall ticket printed out. They accept soft copies at the cinema and in trains, when is the examination hall gonna catch up? The color printing doesn’t work and you convince yourself that the instructions only asked for ‘preferably’ a colored copy. Just as you make your way back home from getting the print-out, you are surprised to see your mom dressed up too and packing food in large containers. Your dad’s friend was supposed to drop you off at the exam centre which is nearly an hour away from the city. That meant maybe your dad was to accompany you too but your mom getting dressed, that means the friend’s wife is in too. What about their two kids? Will they be coming too? And the packed lunch! Is this turning out to be some kind of family picnic? You try not to think about the company and dive into the last-minute notes you had borrowed from one of your sincere friends earlier. 120 pages filled with engineering formulae under one hour. Bring it on.

Your dad, mom, you and the bag of boxed food reach your dad’s friend’s house and you discover it’s just him and his wife. The kids have an exam the next day. Phew! The car is tightly packed and you set out to the exam centre. As the grown ups drone out in their grown up world, you try hard to focus on the scribbled notes in your phone. You barely make it to page four before deciding to give up. “I’ll just wing it this time, get a feel of how the exam is and prepare better next year”, you tell yourself. You check up on some of your other friends who’ll be writing the exam too, half a thousand kilometers away from you and their callous responses about how they haven’t prepared either feeling rather reassuring. At least we all go down together.

You reach the exam centre and hope your parents drop you at the gate and drive off only to return three hours later at the end, but you are not that lucky. You are never that lucky. The entire party walks you till the gate as you try to stare straight into the notice boards trying to locate your room. Out of nowhere, fifteen minutes before you’re supposed to go in, your mom realises you won’t be able to have lunch until 5P.M and insists you dive a little into the picnic basket right away. You try to talk her out of it but hell hath no fury like a mother who’s just realised her child might be starving. You’re twenty years old. You’re no child. But you still are slightly starving and you decide to go with it hesitantly. When anxious faces surround you, repeating numbers in your head, holding books thicker than the Kardashians, there you are – holding a plate of steaming mushroom biryani in your hand with two women tending to your needs as your father stands there holding out a bottle of water. I know I can’t whine. These people love me to bits. But do they have to love me so in front of so many people about to take an extremely stressful exam in the next five minutes? Where love ends and smothering begins, nobody can tell. You try to gobble up as much as you can and rush to the doors as you see everyone else begin to enter the halls. Yup, everyone’s seen the travelling picnic. Or so you think. You are asked to deposit everything except the hall ticket and an identity proof and a strange pang of nervousness hits you as you hand your phone off. I no longer have access to everyone I know or everything everyone knows at the press of my fingers. You are allowed inside the hall after being thoroughly patted down precisely at 1P.M. Nothing in metal, no mobile phones, no watches – digital or analog, no calculators, slide rules or clipboards. I can only imagine what someone must have done somewhere for these rules to be the way they are. But you bet someone will still find better ways to cheat nonetheless.

You are allotted a computer, neatly obscured from others with a make-shift screen and at the touch of your hands, the screen lights up and displayed are your name and photograph. Reassuring. Thanks. But the password section is left blank. Are you supposed to know the password? Is it the same password (that now you don’t remember) from months ago when you registered for this exam? You look around and you see someone entering the password into their computer. With bated breath you wait, and as they hit enter, the computer displays an error. Oh thank the seven. The invigilator notices it too and announces that no one is to do anything on their own and await his further instructions. Good, you could do that. However his next words aren’t so comforting – “Those who wish to use the restroom may do so now. Nobody’s allowed to leave the hall once the exam ensues.”

Do you have to pee? Do you not? Maybe not. But what if you have to sometime in the next three hours? Can you remember the last time you peed? Or the last time you had water? Wait. What is that feeling deep down? Okay, maybe it’s better if you just excused yourself now. Just to be safe. You wait for someone else to stand up first and quietly follow him. Now all the eyes won’t be on you and you don’t have to ask anyone directions for the restroom either. You get back to your seat and await instructions. 45 minutes to the exam. You look around and the mood is rather calm. This wasn’t the case four years ago when you were writing pretty much a different version of this very exam for high school kids to get into college. That had drama. Kids biting their nails to the point of drawing blood. Eyes that seemed to spill out any moment. The saga of IIT-JEE exams deserve a long rant of their own. Guess as high schoolers grow into graduates, they also grow to not to give as much a damn about their futures as well. There’s a bigger problem in here somewhere. Observation number dos, in the room of about 60 candidates, three of them are girls. Will post graduation be a sausage fest too? Maybe next week’s post can be on the gender agenda. 20 minutes to the exam, you are asked to login and read the instructions. “The password is your birthdate, no slashes.”,announces the invigilator. You type in. Pretty textbook stuff, really.

The exam begins and the first section is of ten basic math and language questions. The timer has already counted down a minute and is at 179 now. As everyone else is hastily working out on the scribble pad, you check out the ‘virtual calculator’. Apparently it doesn’t take any input from the keyboard and every key has to be clicked with the mouse. Still faster than your head though. You realise some of the exponent and logarithmic functions are rather weird to use in the calculator and spend a while fiddling about. Timer reads 172. You snap back to reality and begin chipping away at the questions, one at a time. You realise you feel a familiar urge from the boys down under. But you just went!

~Tidbit two : These competitive exams with negative marking usually have a low cut off score. At around 32 or 35 on a hundred. However you need somewhere close to 50 or above for the rank to be worth anything. That means you grit your teeth and somehow answer exactly half the questions under each section right and not even attempt the rest, or you’re going to be losing a whole lot of negatives. So for everyone else, its 65 questions under 3 hours, for you its only 33.~

The first section is rather easy, and you clear 9/10 questions under half hour. Thats 13/15 marks. Above quota, yay me. The next section is not so kind though – core aerospace engineering. The first twenty five questions are worth a mark each. So 12’s the target. You go through the entire 25 questions under six minutes, pausing at just one to answer. It was way too direct. Timer reads nearly two hours left. Now that you have an idea of the playing field, you begin hand picking questions, working through them one by one, careful not to take guesses. Smartwork, not hardwork. In the end of 40 minutes, you have answered 9 questions. You have gone above quota in the first section, so maybe that would make up for the remaining three questions. You proceed to question number 26, starting from which each carries two marks each. 15 questions is the target limit. You realise this section is much harder. You recognise few questions from bygone days from previous semesters. Few words of your professors stressing their importance echoes in your head. Maybe if I had studied, this would be a bit easier. You shuffle your legs together as the urge to relieve yourself gets higher and you look at the time. 110 minutes left. You realise you might barely answer five out the thirty questions at first glance. And you do. No words can explain the feeling of getting an answer that matches one of the multiple choices given, or when the numerical answer turns out to be a whole number. Now, panic sets in. Ten more questions. You read through the questions over and over again hoping something makes sense. Something is set off somewhere in the far reaches of your brain as whispers from old lectures and notes you jotted down lazily phase in and out of memory. You realise you can work out few more questions on second thought. Some of the answers make sense, some don’t. You realise you are now at 11 questions out of the required 15. It still won’t do. Maybe you could make up for the missing four questions in the previous questions. You realise it is time to start answering the ‘maybe it’s right’ questions as well. You have made this mistake before as well. Once you start going ‘maybe’, it’s all downhill from there. But desperate times call for desperate measures. You go ahead and try to make the most educated guesses possible in the previous section. After a while you make it up to the 50% mark but realise some of these are definitely wrong and will bring in negatives, so you attempt a few more as well. Told you it’s all downhill. The timer still reads a good twenty minutes left and as you look around, you realise most of the others seem to be done already and just whiling away their time. But you carry on. Never underestimate a last minute exam room epiphany. You realise you could perhaps figure out a couple more questions. You really should’ve studied just a bit more. Maybe not for months, but perhaps days instead of the wee hours you put in. The timer counts down and the exam fades out.

“Please enter your feedback”, says the screen. You hit on 4/5 in every column and run out to the restroom.

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