Updated: Jul 4
CSIR-NET has become the most critical exam if you want to enrol for PhD in India. Here I have curated my strategy to prepare for the exam efficiently, which helped me crack the exam and attain a decent rank.
Understand the Exam pattern -
The first preparation step for any competitive exam is understanding the paper pattern. This helps in strategising the preparation under a proper time scale. To understand the paper pattern, go through the previous five years' papers. It's not important whether you can solve the questions, but you should understand and note the type of questions asked from different sections or units. Further, check questions from the units/topics which you can solve easily. This exercise of solving the previous years' question paper will help you note the critical units and topics from which a significant number of questions are asked.
Since the CSIR syllabus is vast and it's not possible to go through each topic, divide the syllabus as follows -
For any PhD entrance exam, including the interviews, three units are of utmost importance - Biochemistry, Cell Biology, and Molecular Biology (Units 1 to 4 in life science syllabus). These units are the fundamentals for most research work. Therefore, maximum questions in most of the exams and interviews are asked from these sections.
Next, we need to select topics from these three units. So there are two ways:
Select issues that seem interesting to you. For example, in Biochemistry, I was more interested to learn about amino acids, proteins, and enzymes. Similarly, I found bioenergetics more interesting than metabolism. So I thoroughly studied these topics, and it was also easy to remember.
Further, there can be certain topics that will not excite you, like in my case, these were vitamins and nucleic acids. However, three to four questions were usual from these topics, specifically in the B section. Therefore, I made charts and tables of some essential sections from these two topics and revised them once every month. Overall I gave maximum focus and time to understand and thoroughly go through the basics of these three topics.
Further, whatever time was left, I selected topics from leftover units based on my interest and their weightage. I particularly made sure not to leave any unit and cover not all but the most important topics from each unit. For example, I covered vulva formation in C.elegans, Drosophila development, Gametogenesis, fertilisation, and early development in developmental biology. These topics were interesting and the probability of questions from these topics was also high.
Get through the basics -
The most common tip given by everyone is to clear the basics. However, the term basics seem subjective in most cases. With my experience, I will suggest studying the three units mentioned above using standard textbooks. For instance, I went through Lehninger for Biochemistry, Karp for Cell biology, and Watson for Molecular biology. Though the syllabus for these three topics seems never-ending, the division method will help you cover particular topics thoroughly without falling short of time. Similarly, leftover topics should be prepared using standard books, and to revise, one can go through study materials available by different coaching centres.
Also, make sure to mark the topics in your notes that you felt difficult to understand or remember. This will help you to organise your schedule during revision.
The most important part of the preparation that can make a big difference in your performance is to revise. To efficiently revise the syllabus, it's crucial to have approximately 1.5-1 month in hand.
Charts, tables, figures, and organised notes can accelerate your pace of revision.
In parallel to revision, solve as many questions as possible. Here, you can take the help of various question banks available.
Group revisions are best as what you hear remains longer than what you read. So, teach and get taught with topics you are good at or struggling.
Preparing the analytical units - Methods in Biology and Applied biology
A hands-on technique always helps to conceptualise better; however, checkout YouTube if you do not have access to the same. This will help you picturise and understand the basic principle of the technique. Also, rather than preparing this unit separately, try to align the techniques with related theoretical units/topics.
Coaching or self-study -
The most apparent confusion is whether one should join coaching or not. The first time I qualified for CSIR NET was merely by self-study. Post that, since I was not sure about the cut-off marks and was confused about whether I could qualify for CSIR or not, I joined a coaching centre. The second time, my rank improved.
So, as per my experience, joining coaching depends on the following two important factors:
Finance: whether you can afford it.
Background: How well were you taught in your bachelor's and master's determines whether your basics are clear or not. Like in my case, I hardly had classes in my masters as well as for my bachelors, the teaching pattern was less conceptual and more memory-driven.
Coaching can ease your preparation, and the only thing left on your part is to work hard. However, with respect to self-study, you need to spend a considerable amount of time analysing the paper pattern. Also, with regular tests in coaching, you will be updated with your preparation and competition, whereas you might not have this experience during self-study.
Overall whether or not you join a coaching centre, the road to success depends solely on how smart you channel your energy and your hard work.
*The mentioned units and topics are mere examples. You should make your plan according to your interest post analysing the paper.