GATE 2019 Topper Interview Vikash Raj (AIR 1-PE)-“Empower self, you become a force to reckon with”
Prabakaran K, 26 Mar 2019, #GATE
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GATE 2019 Topper Interview- Petroleum engineering is one of the most unpredictable of papers in GATE to excel at. So, when an alumunus of IIT(ISM) Dhanbad, hailing from Madhubani, Mr Vikash Raj clinched this milestone with an overwhelming AIR 1, thereby leading the pack of all those students who appeared in this paper, it was definitely a moment to cherish. A disappointing first attempt of his GATE notwithstanding, Raj's calmness and equanimity expressed itself in the intensely stressful 3 hours of GATE 2019, thus sealing the results fully afterwards. Raj's preparation was unlike commoners. He kept things to a bare minimum. One really cannot contest that school of thought, not when it worked so magnificently for him. In an exclusive interview with Careers360, the GATE 2019 topper shares details about his journey and a lot more.

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Careers360: Tell us something about yourself; Where have you done your engineering from and in which branch? 

Vikash Raj: I’m Vikash Raj from Madhubani. I’ve done my class 10 education from IPS Madhubani, while 10+2 education from DPS Bokaro; and thereafter, qualifying JEE Advanced, I went for admission in 5-year Dual Degree B.Tech + M.Tech course in Petroleum Engineering at IIT(ISM) Dhanbad which concluded in 2018.

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Careers360: What was the GATE Paper you appeared in? What rank did you get in GATE 2019? What is your GATE score and how many marks did you secure out of 100 in GATE paper?

Vikash Raj: I appeared in Petroleum Engineering (PE) paper in GATE 2019. I secured AIR 1, obtaining a GATE score of 961, with my marks being 84.67 out of 100.


Careers360: Is this your first attempt or did you attempt GATE earlier?

Vikash Raj: This is not my first attempt. I’d qualified GATE 2018 also, but my score wasn’t adequate enough that could have enabled me to land up in a post of my choice in ONGC.


Careers360: What was the reason you appeared for GATE 2019? Please elaborate.

Vikash Raj: Reasons are convolutely myriad and therefore, may look not-so-concrete. This is because last year during the preparation of GATE 2018 itself I’d decided, “This 2018 GATE is going to be a final tractate of this sort of exam in my life, come what may.” But then, nobody knows what really may come, isn’t it?

After my summer vacation period in 2018, the following few months had me assisting an author in the completion of his book. Post this, I was a bit confused as to where I should manoeuvre my professional boat as I was not just content but also happy to drift along. To admit honestly, I’d an uncanny wish of doing my engineering stuff hands-on in real places i.e., upstream oil & gas companies. And I daresay, then, there was no other democratically open, linear, and fairly measurable-merit based process as a GATEway of my this sort of dream; even today there is not one besides, of course, this stand-alone. For us, Petroleum engineers, GATE achingly lays bare this sweet truth, ”For fulfilling your wish of working for a reputed oil & gas company, here it won’t matter who you are or whom you know, all that matters is what you know!”

Finding their son vacillating, my parents prodded me to go for the exam one last time, expounding me, ”It doesn’t matter what your goal is, the point is that you need something to work towards with all your heart.” I promised them so, and the rest is history.


Careers360: Have you applied to any PSUs recruiting through GATE? Which ones?

Vikash Raj: If the trend of previous years’ recruitment exercises is anything to go by, then again ONGC will be, perhaps, the only PSU to recruit Petroleum engineers through GATE 2019. I’m absolutely going to go for it as soon as the application channel through ONGC notification opens.


Careers360: When did you start your preparation?  How did you prepare for the GATE exam? How many hours did you put in per day as per the stage of preparation?

Vikash Raj: Time for a quick flashback. Preparing for any examination formally is a lousy exercise, so I kept pushing it until some fine sunny day in December when the time was finally ripe to initiate the process. I’d say I devoted somewhere between 50 and 60 days for it because my ultimate inspiration was the deadline (laugh!), the exam day. Preparation, this year, didn’t come much strenuous of an effort to me as an imprint of last year’s study, fuzzy though, was still afresh. This time I was already familiar with what was required, and the only new thing that I put into action was looking for areas where I made silly mistakes repeatedly, thereby cautiously improving them. 

I’ve always felt studying in gaps each day is more effective than studying for an extended period of time a day. Therefore, I studied taking frequent breaks (say, every 30 minutes) in the study period, and stretched until it didn’t bore me too much. Don’t be that guy who starts off with a bang and ends in a whimper. Effectively, what we need is a simple study plan that easily fits into our days and not requires too much unsavoury preparation from us, for studying to crack an exam inexplicably turns out to be a boring pursuit, unlike learning which is fun & cool. Hence I say keep questioning yourself what you are doing, you’ll definitely learn much. Learning without thought is a labour lost.


Careers360: Have you taken any coaching? If yes- From where? How did it help?

Vikash Raj: No; I believe self-study is of enormous value and the only kind of study there is for an exam like GATE.


Careers360: Can you share any preparation strategies with our readers? When should one start their preparation for GATE? How to schedule study time and make timetables?

Vikash Raj: Here I want to make it bluntly clear that there is only one real piece of guideline for accomplishing any art or clearing any exam in the world. All boils down to how religiously you follow it.

That is, “Invest enough time and effort in exploring what that art or competition demands, and then, go for it doing it meticulously enough.” Rules of life are utterly simple, and it’s the simplicity which holds the key to brilliance. Take for example, if you aspire to be a good batsman, learn its basic necessary skills by investing the required time and effort followed by doing it sincerely enough. You’ll become unstoppable. Again, the same goes for everything else, be it Chess, coding, playing a musical instrument, speaking, writing or any other damn thing in this world.

Please don’t go for copying completely individual choices of study schedule and timetables. Craft your own individuality, realizing yourself and figuring out what fits you best.


Careers360: How important do you feel mock tests are and why? Is it true that if one solves the previous year question papers, there is a good chance of cracking the exam successfully?

Vikash Raj: Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice to realize your mistakes. Mock tests surely offer a way to make it nearly permanent, but the very unpleasant truth for PE is the complete dearth of quality test series in this paper. In all test-series available out there, you find plenty of irrelevant questions flooded in some areas while engulfing spaces of the most pertinent ones. To make it worse, add to it the hazy outline of questions and the egregious mistakes which is committed almost ubiquitously. Until the time you witness a radical transformation in this area, you yourself need to develop an eye for good, useful (little though) things in tests, and see your mistakes there. This is not to discredit the test-series curators; I’m only making a call to make this landscape better. (By the way, I’d joined Petrogate academy test-series which I think is slightly better than the rest for now, specifically in Reservoir, Well-testing and EOR areas.)

Previous year question papers are of immense value, definitely. That’s the only clue you have to penetrate into the paper setter’s mind. Nevertheless, the GATE PE paper always manages to surprise you given that there is no fully established set of things to be followed rigidly. I hope PE students understand here what I meant to say.


Careers360: Which books did you follow for GATE preparation? Please name some very important must read books for GATE.

Vikash Raj: First 

Engineering Mathematics: First-hand preparation should be from any basic source like BS Grewal, Made Easy Book, or any other notes. To gain an upper hand in this subject and almost completely eliminate any chances of losing marks in this area, go for rigorously solving all previous 23-year question papers of GATE of all core branches particularly from CSE, Electrical, Electronics, Civil, Mechanical etc. You’ll learn a lot, and no matter if, in any case, GATE raises the bar of Mathematics in PE paper, you will be the winner hands down.

Aptitude: This is all common sense, at least in GATE. Not everybody needs to practice this separately as you’ll have sufficient practice of this topic in tests itself. However, for those who lack confidence I’ve heard a combo of “Indiabix & Aptipedia” websites is more than required.

Reservoir Engineering & Well testing: LP Dake, Tarek Ahmed (Fundamental as well as Advanced).

Oil and Gas Well Drilling Technology: Herriot Watt University, Rabia, Pathak sir’s material.

Petroleum Production Operations: Lyons, Herriot-watt university, Arnold, Allen & Robert.

Fluid mechanics & Heat: This is the only thing that I studied separately even though it is not mentioned overtly in syllabus only because of its role in the entire scheme of things. Here, go for a rich mix of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering stuff that may as well fall in your area.

EOR: Brigham Young University EOR pages, Tarek Ahmed, T Kumar sir’s classroom stuff.

Petroleum Formation Evaluation: Halender book and Petrowiki; Youtube for actual log plotting techniques.

Offshore Drilling and Production Practices: Laik sir is the only god here.

Petroleum Exploration: ISM notes of Bhowmik sir for geology, Notes by Abdullah M. Al-Amri Dept. of Geology & Geophysics King Saud University, Riyadh + William Telford book for geophysics. 

HSE & Latest trends: ISM professors materials, Slideshare, random websites, and whatever meets your eye from wherever matching keywords of syllabus-text.

Besides all these sources, I am & shall always be highly indebted to this non-living entity, yet one of the greatest technological inventions- the internet, which throughout this treacherous journey not only served as the guiding light for bridging my knowledge gaps but also meant a life in itself to me, albeit of a different shade.


Careers360: Which are the topics one should focus more on? Kindly give us some details.

Vikash Raj: First tightly secure those areas which can be held fully, like Mathematics, Aptitude, and numerical (particularly from the previous-year areas). Now, go for the most basic and popular theoretical areas (primarily in Reservoir, Drilling, Production, Formation evaluation, Offshore etc) from the most popular sources.  Finally, cover the rest in whichever way suits you the best.


Careers360: what was the toughest aspect of your GATE preparation?

Vikash Raj: Preparing completely informative topics like Geology, HSE, Latest trends and likewise.


Careers360: Name some important topics that you feel are a must read for any student attempting GATE exam?

Vikash Raj: Already covered in “topics one should focus more on.”


Careers360: What did you do for leisure? Any specific activities that helped you unwind?

Vikash Raj: For leisure, during the preparation period I simply enjoyed Youtube videos and gossiped with my family members and friends (on phone).


Careers360: How should you schedule answering the GATE exam – which section to attempt first and which next? Did you have any strategy? Kindly share your exam experience with us.

Vikash Raj: Usually, I attempt the questions in the same order as they are thrown at my computer screen, and leave out the questions which I’m unsure about for later review. This ensures that I complete the easy ones quickly on time as well as have the full view and idea of the entire question paper and its standard. Now finally, those remaining questions that I couldn’t confidently touch in the first attempt can be solved relaxedly by devoting ample time that I’ve been able to save by this way.

Again please do not blindly copy this method of mine or anybody else’s unless it suits you too.

Careers360: What did you feel was a tough thing for you in the GATE exam?

Vikash Raj: I hesitate to share this now after the results but let the truth be told unadulterated. This story will assure a  delightfully taut smile on your face in the end even as you gasp in awe levitating in your heart and mind.

I got acutely ill in the days just preceding the GATE exam and wasn’t even able to take sufficiently required sleep around 3rd Feb, the exam day owing to illness. Even just a few days before the exam the prospect of my writing the exam was questionable; only my family knows this. I was on medicines, that too, prescribed by two different, specialized doctors to somehow be able to maintain my bodily-balance. Despite all this, I turned a blind eye in order to do what I did best i.e.,  dropping off every baggage for one last time. Except, there was no other last time. 

Unsullied, I firmly said to myself, “I’ll not let anything flutter my state of mind for these 3 hours.” That’s it. You know the rest now.

Now, I’m starting to think that nothing is going to change destiny. Whatever is meant to be, will itself work out perfectly. Perhaps my illness was an impending countdown to a terrific episode of my life that will forever stay in my heart and remain etched in my memory.


Careers360: Any advice for the future aspirants?

Vikash Raj: I would not say anything about the exam at this juncture because surely there is more to life than these boring, dry exams. This is not to discourage them from writing the exam but to alarm them that we all have a limited time here. Preparing for an exam is fine, choose it intelligently. But meanwhile, choose to live joyfully, and you can create it in every single activity that you do in your life. You need to celebrate and enjoy, or at least feel relaxed in every moment of your life because it’s not going to wait for you even for a moment. Pause and realize this. This is not for someone else’s sake.

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