Swarnim Shirke, a B.Sc. graduate from Fergusson College (Pune) secured Rank 1 in IIT JAM Physics Exam 2018. Although, this Topper has been a brilliant student through out the academics, his success story has many twist and turns. Let's know him and get some actionable tips for IIT JAM Exam.
Q) Hello Swarnim, Tell us something about you.
Born and brought up in Pune, I completed my schooling here at SPM English School. After which, I took admission to Fergusson Junior College, Pune where I opted for bifocal subjects. My subjects were PCM and Computer Science replacing Biology.
My 1st year B.Sc. subject combination - Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Electronics which was just perfect for me (all related to Physics) was offered in B.Sc. course at Fergusson Senior College, Pune.
In 2nd year I kept Physics, Maths, Stats and the 3rd year was just Pure Physics which would be my major.
Q) You have secured JAM AIR 1 and JEST AIR 15. How did you prepare?
The thing is I never prepared for any exam. The only thing that was and still is in my mind is to understand and know Physics as good as I can.
I took my coursework seriously. I referred to reference books for the concepts that I felt I didn’t understand completely. Also, even though if I fairly knew that I would do a Physics major, I gave other subjects Math, stats, and electronics, an equal importance.
This helped me a lot because I started feeling the power of these mathematical and statistical tools later in Physics and didn’t have to struggle much with them later (They are extensively used in Physics). I would take any co-curricular exams that came my way, to probe myself, find the weak areas, practise problem solving and just stay in touch with different subjects. Although I didn’t take these exams very seriously. The key ingredient, I would say has been consistency. Learning just a tiny bit, but every day yields lots of returns.
Q) JAM or JEST. Which is better?
I like JAM questions more as they involve more of conceptual understanding rather than long sets of calculations. However, it doesn’t matter, since the set of institutes accepting the scores of these exams are different (except for a few IISERs). So, it depends on where you would like to apply.
Q) How should JAM aspirants study to crack JAM?
I feel the following points should help:
1. First go through the JAM Syllabus, so you know what all you are supposed to know by the time you are graduated.
2. Do the B.Sc. coursework thoroughly; make sure you understand all concepts in and out (along with the concepts of 11th and 12th grade)
3. Solve a few question papers so you get an idea about the exam.
Study the topics that are in the syllabus but not covered in your coursework from other sources like reference books, internet, interactions with other people, other available material, etc.
Solve problems in general (if you can’t, read the solutions and try to understand them) so that you develop problem solving skills, and know more tricks to save time.
Note - Points marked with star * next to it are not a must. They are subjected to one's interest and availability of time.
As I mentioned before the key ingredient is consistency.
Learning something just a bit, but every day gives a compounding effect. It even builds subject confidence because what you’re doing is very little, hence you feel it is doable.
You can just mug up in one day, but you cannot understand and know the essence of so many topics in a day.
Furthermore, if you’re not consistent, you’d lose track and there is a chance that you might lose interest in your subject altogether which is the fuel that drives you in the first place.
The real fun is in knowing the subject better! If you’re enjoying what you are studying, then you are going right. Knowledge is what will take one ahead at the end of the day. So, keep learning and enjoying and then not only will you crack all the exams but also everything else will fall right in place in your favor.
Q) Most of the students are focused on cracking JAM only but you appeared in a list of examinations, cracked most of these, share some details.
There are several exams for which B.Sc. final year students can appear in. I would assume that students focused on cracking JAM are interested in science and want to pursue the same ahead. I am specifying the ones that I appeared in-
IIT JAM - This is a Post Graduate level Entrance Examination where I secured AIR 1. In general, all IITs, NITs, IISc some CFTIs and IISERs accept JAM score.
From these institutions, I applied and got selected at IIT Bombay and IISER, Pune. This year, applications started around in September and the exam was held in February.
JEST - This is an M.Sc. level examination where I secured rank 15. This is the list of research institutes which accept JEST score.
From these institutions, I applied to and got selected at TIFR-Mumbai and ICTS-TIFR-Bangalore through this exam. To my knowledge, almost all of these research institutes offer only Integrated Ph.D. and Ph.D. courses.
This year, applications started around in December and the exam was held in February.
INAT(IUCAA-NCRA(TIFR) Admission Test) - This is an entrance exam for those who want to pursue Astronomy & Astrophysics at IUCAA or NCRA-TIFR research institutes in Pune.
Note that you don't need a background of astro, the questions are based purely on Physics and mathematics. I got selected for Integrated Ph.D. at NCRA and pre-selected for Ph.D. at IUCAA which are the two courses you can get selected for.
This year, applications started around in September and the exam was held in December.
TIFR GS - This is an entrance exam conducted by TIFR for admission to TIFR-Mumbai, NCRA-Pune, ICTS-Bangalore, which are various schools of prestigious TIFR Public Research Institute.
Although I cleared this exam, I didn’t apply anywhere through it. This year, applications started around in October and the exam was held in December.
Q) Where will you take admission now? What are your future plans?
Right now, I think M.Sc. would be the right option for me. This would keep things flexible for me and also, I don’t want to rush with the theory in an Integrated-PhD course. An M.Sc. would let me build a proper Physics base. So, I am joining IIT Bombay.
I usually don’t plan the future, which is one of the reasons I prefer M.Sc. over an Integrated-PhD. It is like deciding fate. I’ll eventually find out my future and what it holds for me. The fun is in exploring and keeping all possibilities open. Something that one believes would be the best for him/her may not really be. I happen to shrug away from any long-term plans although it has some other benefits like getting an edge over others. All I can tell right now is that I am enjoying Physics and hence, M.Sc.
The same goes as far as the field in Physics is concerned. I like astronomy and astrophysics from the exposure I have right now since it really includes all the topics of Physics. But there is still time for me to explore different fields and to find out which field I really want to get in. An M.Sc. would help me do so. There are so many fields in Physics that by fixing upon one right now would deprive me of many opportunities. It is like you are going to a whole chocolate factory fixing beforehand that you’d have an eclair toffee over there.
Q) Why not abroad?
Indian Institutes seem quite good, at least for an M.Sc. It is a speculation that most of the top rankers get admitted to various top institutes in India itself even though they can easily get into any institute abroad.
Also, it is clearly tougher to get an admission here than abroad. As one has to clear these tough exams and interviews, to get admission and interviews. So, unless we are talking about the pioneer universities in the world like Cambridge, it doesn’t seem worth.
There is no need to emphasize that IITB is very well known all over the world. So, I don’t really think I am missing out on anything.
Q) Every year nearly 13,000 students appear in JAM Physics. Do you think Physics is a great option for a research career?
Yes, I do think so. It is probably one of the best fields for research. The reason for this is that Physics is a very huge field itself and has wide applications.
It includes Astronomy and Astrophysics, Biophysics, Condensed matter Physics, High energy, Photonics, Quantum computation, Non-linear Physics, Theoretical Physics (like Gravitation, Cosmology, String Theory, etc.) just to name a few.
It is also wide in the sense that it covers the study of objects right from the smallest scale like strings (10^-35 meters) in string theory and quarks to the largest scales like galaxies and the entire universe (10^26 meters).
Another reason is that there are lots of institutes and research centres not just in India but all over the world which aggressively focus on Physics. This emphasizes the ocean of opportunities available and signifies the importance of Physics.
Q) What intrigues you most about Physics?
The fact that it has tremendous predicting power. It is a subject which uses the language of Maths, the most precise one, to model and explains simply nature and the universe.
It is a science which quantifies and predicts precisely the future based on the most fundamental cosmic laws appearing in their purest and rawest form. But nothing is perfect! There are always errors and variations in everything. Here, Physics uses statistics, again quantifies precisely, this randomness of our mother nature. And it all works! One can rather just sit here on the Earth and put an object in an orbit around the entire Earth or the Sun!,
That too knowing beforehand what trajectory it would follow in the following years!
Q) Any resources or helpful notes that you would like to recommend to the JAM aspirants?
Nothing specific as such. Books having previous solved papers and extra test papers could be useful at later stages. Referring to standard reference books for each subject would help.
Note- Do not use reference books as textbooks. Use them only to understand the concepts that you need to know.
The following are the ones I like in general because of the lucid language used-
Concepts of Physics - H.C. Verma
Introduction to Mathematical Methods in Physics - Mary L. Boas
Introduction to Electrodynamics - David J. Griffiths.
Q) Is it possible to crack IIT JAM Physics without Coaching? What's your take on classroom coaching?
A big YES. This is a very popular question trending now, but people don’t find any live example of it. So. I guess the case of JAM AIR-1 should be convincing enough because the result can’t get better than this.
I have never joined any tuition or coaching for any studies in my entire life.
I have been consistently scoring above 95% throughout my academics;
I have cleared all major entrance exams JAM, JEST, TIFR entrance, INAT, ACET (Actuarial Sciences) and other exams like NGPE, Madhava Maths, PUSA Statistics, EEE Electronics, etc. without any coaching.
So yes, it is possible. It is YOU, the most precious ingredient in any journey. In the case of IIT JAM Physics, all you need is the syllabus, good material to study from, and your desire to understand Physics. The more you invest in knowledge, the better it gets.
Rather than joining coaching classes, it is better to self-study, which you anyway have to do in either case. You free up a lot of time by not joining one. Also, doing these classroom coaching apart from your regular college classes might burn you out.
Most of the students who join classes just require guidance and a proper material, not coaching. They end up spending time, efforts and money on something they don’t even need.
You don’t even need to go overboard and study extra. Another example of clearing JAM without any coaching is my sister whose AIR was under 200. Sticking to the regular college curriculum thoroughly, as she did, works! She started focusing on Physics in her 3rd year of B.Sc. lately. Imagine what you can do if you’ve already decided it way before!
Q) How do you keep yourself motivated?
If you’re doing something where you need to keep yourself motivated, you’re probably doing the wrong thing.
Do what you love, love what you do.
This, I believe, plays a very important role in the long run. Artificial/external motivation only works on short timescales and might lead you to an incorrect path.
Q) How did you decide your career path?
I personally think it is too early to choose a career path after 12th standard just like choosing a stream in 10th Standard. What I have seen and experienced is that very few really know what they really want to do or what they really like and most of the students are just following the masses, following the deceptive trend.
There are so many options available that we never even find out. On contrary to the popular trend, I never applied for the JEE Exam or any other. This lets me explore what I liked with an open mind. I had no idea what to pursue ahead. I have varied interests like football, learning new languages, traveling, etc.
It was at the end of 12th standard when I started to feel that I liked Physics. I think it is very difficult to decide a career path very early. It was a big problem for me. So, I thought, I'd stick to Physics as career path and continue with other interests as hobbies. Given that, 3 year B.Sc. was the obvious choice which let me study physics in its purest form.
Q) What are the other activities that you enjoy?
One word - Football.
I play football regularly. I love it. I like sports in general and have played a variety of them, but football is the one that remained there.
My other interests include learning new languages, traveling, music, etc.
Q) To whom do you owe your success?
Most of the credit goes to my family. I credit them for my success and I have various reasons. For maintaining a conducive environment for studying as well as for other activities like sports, for making me aware of different opportunities, possibilities, and options, for having an open mind and encouraging me too to do so, for helping me in my decision making, etc. I don’t think I’d be in this position right now without all of this.
Talking very specifically about the Physics subject matter, I would say my college, its faculty and consistency played an important role.
I wouldn’t call getting the rank 1 as “success”. So I firmly believe that getting good marks and ranks is not what success is. Talking from a student point of view, one is successful when one understands his subjects and gains confidence, regardless of the marks and the rank.
Every time a student expands his knowledge, he is successful. So getting a rank 1 by just formulas or tricks, without actually having understood the concepts behind everything wouldn’t really count as a success.