How to crack competitive exams?

Cracking competitive exams like JEE, NEET and UPSC Civil Services require much more than just studying. Let’s find out what does it take to crack competitive exams in India.

How to crack competitive exams
How to crack competitive exams

India has an extremely competitive environment, especially when it comes to admissions at the undergraduate level. In the science stream, be it engineering, medical, or pharmacy, students struggle for admissions in the top institutes. This year, 11.5 lakh students appeared for JEE Main, while there are over 11,300 seats in the IITs. With NEET, 13.5 lakh students aimed at receiving admission in government colleges which have a capacity of approximately 26,000 students. Not just science, commerce, arts and social science related courses in top colleges or professions like CA and civil services (UPSC) have become extremely difficult to crack. As competition keeps increasing year after year, students start preparing from a very young age.  This has led to better skilled students and an increase in cutoffs. This in turn leads to examiners increasing the difficulty levels of their exams. In fact, the HRD ministry had to ask the IIT Council to decrease the difficulty of the JEE Main exam, citing that difficult tests are putting extra pressure on students, in spite of the increasing competition.

With such competition in entrance exams, students are bound to need direction and advice. Here are a few tips that can help you crack competitive exams.

1. Start as early as you can

The biggest factor that makes a difference to your entire journey of preparation, is how early you start. This will decide how much time you have for learning new concepts and practicing complex questions. Experts at Toppr suggest starting during or after grade 10 are optimal for an undergraduate course. You will have a fair understanding of basic concepts with enough time to learn the advanced ones. Starting 2-3 years before your final exam provides you enough preparation time..

However, don’t be disheartened if you have missed the grade 10 bus. There are many engineers, working in Toppr itself, who had started preparing much later, but still made it into the IITs. If you have started after all your friends, you may need to simply put in more intensive and longer study hours to make up for lost time.

2. Planning and strategizing is essential

Before you start preparing for any competitive exam, you must design a plan and strategy that suits your needs. The first step is to get yourself completely familiar with difficulty level of the tests that you are targeting. Evaluate where you are and what should be your approach to acquire the required skills. Number of hours you should spend for self study and practice. Ensure your plan is not aggressive that you feel overburdened and are not able to keep up, and not so relaxed that you end up with a lot of free time.

Ensure that you have also considered subjects that you find difficultand allot more time to these. If necessary, develop a high level plan and a low level plan which is a break up of the high level plan. Your high level plan is an overall plan which divides the entire syllabus into 3 phases - learning, practicing, and revising. Your low level plan considers individual subjects, modules, and chapters, and allots time to each of them.  You can start with a month long low level plan and then create one every month, ensuring that it is in line with the high level plan.

3. Focus on understanding and not on memorising

Exams like JEE, NEET and CPT are extremely complex, and check your analytical skills. You cannot crack these simply by isolating various concepts and memorising them. You not only need to understand them, but you must also analyse them and know how they are interlinked. These help with getting a strong understanding of concepts.

Ensure that you have a thorough understanding of your basics. Concepts that you have studied after grade 8 form the foundation of concepts that you will be tested on in these exams. If you have started preparing at an early stage, you should leave some time to revise these concepts before moving on to the core syllabus.

Moreover, simply memorising the concepts will not give you a good base to build on while you are pursuing your degree. It will eventually hamper your growth.

4. Practice is the key

Now that you have understood your concepts and remember them, you must start practicing. Start by explaining these concepts to your friends and peers. This will help you create a stronger foundation.

The next step is to take subject or topic wise practice tests. Focus on using your understanding to solve an array of questions based on those concepts. As you start attempting these questions, you will get better at solving them. The amount of time you will spend per question will reduce.

Once you have completed the syllabus, start solving as many mock tests and previous year question papers as you can. These will give you a real feel of the exam and you will be able to plan an overall exam strategy. The more mock tests you solve, the more acclimatised your body gets to focusing for long hours and dealing with pressure situations.

5. Manage your time judiciously and stick to the plan

Now that you have made a plan for yourself, nothing is as important as sticking to it and executing it effectively. Time management at this stage is extremely important. The key to time management is developing a strategy that suits you the most. Some students feel that they study well in short but intensive study hours, which gives them time to relax. Study at an hour that suits you the most - be it early in the morning or late into the night. Avoid long breaks, but ensure that you do spend some time relaxing, enjoying, and even exercising. Pick out one sport and one hobby and spend time away from your books. Remember, focused preparation doesn’t mean overburdening yourself and completely cutting down other activities. A nice balanced schedule for extra-curriculars helps you concentrate better in your studies.  

6. Learn from your mistakes

Blindly solving practice questions or mock tests is not enough. You will end up repeating the same mistakes again. After every test, find out where did you go wrong, and correct your understanding of that concept. Map out subjects and topics where you have been repeatedly going wrong.

In fact, many edtech apps provide an in depth analysis of your performance by analysing your behaviour during tests. These help you get a fair understanding of topics that you need to revise. This will get you closer to perfection. Ensure that all of your doubts and queries are answered.

7. Revise your concepts

After several rounds of mock tests and solving previous years’ question papers, take time out to revise your concepts. This will ensure you don’t lose touch with concepts that are not frequently asked. In case such questions are asked in the final exam, you must be well prepared. This is where edtech can help students. Since students who have subscribed to edtech platforms have constant access to hundreds of video lectures, they can revise their concepts any number of times without needing to sift through a large pile of notes.

So, there you have it – a holistic strategy to crack competitive exams in India. By following the tips and advice given above, you will surely be able to design a winning preparation strategy for any competitive exam in India.

About the Author:

Manish Kumar graduated from IIT Bombay in 2006 with a degree in Metallurgical and Materials Science. He then pursued masters in Materials Science Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Post his graduation, he joined Indian School Finance Company, where he was part of the core team responsible for business strategies and growth. In 2013, he co-founded SEED Schools, a venture focused on improving quality of low-cost K-12 education in India with a vision to make quality education accessible. He is currently Vice President of Product - Learning & Pedagogy at

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