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Great ranks are possible with calculated risks, says Dr. Sathya (PGIMER Rank 2)

Sep 19, 2017

Hard work pays off and Dr. Sathya Sagar has proved this by achieving an unbelievable feat in PGIMER entrance exam. PrepLadder wishes him heartiest congratulations for the same. Here are some excerpts from his exclusive interview with PrepLadder in which he shares the most important factors which can maximize the score of future aspirants and can fetch them a great rank.

What is the exam pattern of PGIMER entrance exam and what should be the correct approach to attempt the exam?

While much of what I’m discussing might be quite apparent to many of you, I think it’s better to start from the basics and build on that to discuss the finer aspects. The PGI exam consists of 250 multiple choice questions with five options for each question with “single/multiple correct responses”. That gives us a total of 1250 options for 250 questions. “One or more of these options” can be correct for a particular question. The question paper will have a predetermined number of correct options as well as wrong options. You will be shading a certain number of responses and part of it will be truly correct and part of it will be incorrect. Now, if a is the total number of correct options in the question paper, b is the total number of incorrect options (So, b will be 1250-a), x is the number of correct options you have shaded and y is the number of incorrect options you have shaded, then, the total marks you scored will be calculated with the formula, Percentage score =[x/a – y/b] x 100 Now let’s take a good look at this formula and try to work it to our advantage. One thing that should be noted here is that, the total number of correct options will usually be higher than the total number of incorrect options, i.e. a will be greater than b. This assumption is backed by both logic and experience. Since ‘a’ is usually greater than ‘b’, if x =y (i.e. if number of your correct responses is same as the number of your incorrect responses), you will usually end up with an overall negative percentage. In other words, your incorrect responses will be penalized more than what your correct responses can fetch you. This is in sharp contrast to other exams like AIIMS or JIPMER, where the incorrect responses are given just 1/3rd or 1/4th the weightage of correct responses. So logically one should be very conservative right? Answer is NO. Read on, I’ll explain why one should NOT be conservative. The second thing to note is the sheer volume of questions and options that need to be processed. Apart from the 250 questions, you’ll have to read 1250 options, understand them, analyze them and process them. That’s about 1500 statements in 3 hours, giving you approximately 7 seconds per statement. These 7 odd seconds also includes the time you spend for shading the options. The point I’m trying to make here is that you’ll have to be on your toes during the entire three hours of the exam. Your choices should be very rapid and swift but at the same time accurate.

Please suggest some of the revision tips for our readers.

After you know the exam pattern, here are a few insights on how to best revise for your exams. Let’s assume you have two months before your exams. How to do effective revision? How to make the most of the available time? Most of the observations that follow are not specific for PGI, but holds good for any entrance exam. From this stage, your revision should be highly targeted and exam-oriented. Which exam? Ideally, all exams. There is nothing wrong in targeting all the exams. In fact, from my experience, people who succeed are those who cast their nets wide. I, for example, cracked all the institute/NEET exams – twice and by cracked we are talking of single digit ranks. Anyway, targeting an exam would mean solving the previous question papers, mock tests, subject revision etc. Depending on which exam you are targeting you’ll be solving the respective question papers. One useful thing to follow while solving papers will be to simulate the actual exam. For example, I used to earmark 10.00 AM to 1.00 PM for solving papers, because we’ll be giving our actual exams between this time. No breaks in between, cell-phone switched off, rooms locked, no peeping into the answers and no extension of time. Doing this regularly helped condition my mind, and the entire process of giving exams became more intuitive. After each exam, I used to rapidly calculate my marks and do a quick analysis of my weak subjects/weak areas and then plan my revision accordingly i.e. making tweaks to my schedule as and when required. To find out my weak subjects, I used to calculate my overall percentage and my individual subject percentage. For instance, if my overall percentage in an exam was 70% and I had got just 6/10 of my radiology questions correct (60%), then, radiology was pulling down my overall percentage. I’d give it more attention or maybe spend a few hours extra with it. The analysis would also include a quick look into the type of questions which I got wrong and the reason behind them. Were they facts I did not know? Concepts I did not understand? Did I make any silly mistake/calculation errors? Did not read the question/options properly? Answer discussed in the book seems wrong? Meanwhile, I used to follow the regular subject revision schedule I had, with minor changes as dictated by my subject scores of mock exams. After I revised a particular subject, I would expect to get 70 to 80% of the questions right from that subject, in all of the subsequent mocks I’m solving. Some people like to revise all subjects completely and then solve the respective subject questions from previous papers and mocks. While this might also be effective, I think solving the complete mock exam for three hours has a greater potential to improve your ranks, if not by anything else, at least by virtue of simulating the original exams and giving us a good practice. The time to spend for each subject varies from person to person, depending on his strengths and weaknesses. Ideally during the revision phase, one or two days should be sufficient for most of the subjects. Making a good overall schedule is very important. But more importantly, one should stick to it.

Can you share your strategy for the exam day?

During the PGIMER exam, the most important thing to remember will be time management. The second most important thing will be avoiding frame shifts. The third most important thing will be the number of options to attempt. This is like the holy grail of PGI that everyone keeps asking about, but no one has a definite answer and frankly I consider this to be the single most important factor which determines our ultimate rank. If we go back to our initial formula, we can see that negatives are penalized heavily in PGI. So, logically one would conclude that being conservative is the right way. But it is actually the reverse. Being conservative is actually bad. I’ll explain why. Taking a closer look at the formula, whenever ‘a’ is more than ‘b’, the baseline probability of your shaded option being correct is greater. For example, when ‘a’ is twice the size of ‘b’, you have two times higher probability of shading a correct option rather than a wrong option. This higher probability offsets the higher penalty. Hitting the above target-board randomly, you’ll have a greater probability of landing a hit in side-‘a’ than in ‘b’. This will offset the greater penalty you have when you hit ‘b’. So, what will be the total number of correct options in your paper is difficult to predict, but from my experience, till now I’ve not come across a paper where ‘a’ was lesser than ‘b’. Most papers contain anywhere between 650 to 700 correct options. Secondly, being conservative will fetch you good marks and a good rank. But, PGI is an institute exam and thus, good rank is usually not enough to get you a good residency. You need a great rank. Great ranks are possible only when calculated risks are taken. Your ‘x’ should try to cover as big a portion of ‘a’ as possible, with the least amount of ‘b’ purchased with your ‘y’. In the schematic given above, we can clearly see that, even though the first candidate has taken greater risks, he ultimately ends up getting a better rank, just because he has covered more ‘a’ ground. Thirdly and more importantly, looking beyond all these calculations, we have anecdotal evidence. I attempted 571 options (yes, I had actually counted them). My brother, two years senior to me, attempted a similar number of options. Both of us got All India Rank – 2. Almost all residents who work with me in my department i.e. seniors, juniors, batch mates had attempted around 600 options. This is the most compelling evidence against being conservative. Even though ‘a’ and ‘b’ keeps varying exam to exam, and the final decision can be taken only on the day of the exam, anything around 600 options will be a great target. All the best!! Thank you Dr. Sathya Sagar for your most valuable strategies for PGI entrance exam! Keep Following PrepLadder for More Updates!!
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