From being laid off during the pandemic to securing All India Rank-2 in GATE 2021 exams, read the inspiring story of Chirag Kataria

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Chiragbhai Jagdishbhai Katariya has secured the all-India second rank in the recently concluded 2021 GATE exam. While his achievement seems along the lines of other toppers before him, his path to glory is equal parts fascinating and inspiring. Chirag’s success relays the power of the indomitable hard work- how even an average student can scale the heights of success, given the right amount of dedication.

Chirag shared details of his journey with The Story Watch team over the course of an interview.

Unemployment as Motivation

Of the many people left unemployed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Chirag was also one of them. After graduating from Pandit Deendayal Energy University (PDEU) in 2018, Chirag began working as a geoscience data engineer with L&T. But in October 2020, he was let go from the company, due to the Covid-19 induced slowdown. Chirag’s immediate priority was to secure another job as he had to pitch in and support his family financially. But since circumstances were unfavorable, he turned his attention towards the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), a qualifying entrance test for post-graduate admission.

“I had given the exam twice before, but the scores were unsatisfactory. My preparation was good, but not enough to secure a high rank,” he says. He was an average student in college, usually scoring a 7 point GPA. Psychologically, he had the innate notion of being not good enough. This idea was further reinforced by those around him, who assumed he would not succeed with his lackluster academic history.

Building Confidence and the Importance of Self-study

But despite his own reservations, Chirag decided to prepare for the exam in the earnest. Since he had been laid off just before Diwali, he had only three months for his exam preparation. Even when he talks of the tight timeline, he sounds subdued, but a confident undertone belies the neutral response.

Chirag followed a meticulous and systematic approach in his preparation. He relied on self-study and purchased practice papers and test series. He devoted the first month to catch up on important concepts he had already studied. The next couple of months were devoted to solving more and more numerical problems. Such problems have a hefty weightage in the exam and Chirag resolved that he would not make any mistakes while solving them. By his own calculation, he estimates to have solved about 200-250 practice papers in a span of sixty days.

However, simply solving practice questions was not enough. “I took note of all my mistakes, reread concepts, and tried to understand where I had gone wrong. Then I revised and corrected myself again and again,” Chirag explains when asked about how he built confidence during his study routine. “Noting down each and every mistake that I made while solving practice paper and going through them regularly is a practice that ultimately led to this”, Chirag adds

He recalls an interesting anecdote in which he scribbled his mistakes on a tree on the way to the examination hall. On exam day, he panicked upon seeing the first numerical. But he calmed his nerves, solved the questions with a lot of care. This boosted his morale and gave him confidence. A few of the theory questions troubled him, but overall he gauged his performance as satisfactory.

Challenging the Answer Key

Once the exam was over, he waited for the response sheet and answer key to analyze his prospective score. After checking the response sheet released by numerous coaching institutes, it appeared that he would score around 80 marks out of the 100. A lot of his friends and fellow exam candidate has a similar score.

As per IIT Bombay’s official key, Chirag’s score was 84 marks. Perturbed he attempted the wrongly answered questions again at home. After numerous tries he concluded that his answers were correct and the official answer key needed a few corrections. Trusting his instincts, he challenged the released answer key on one theoretical and two numerical questions. After revaluation, Chirag was proven right and his score increased by 5.5 marks.

The final result delighted him. He scored 89.67 marks and secured the second All India Rank in the category.

“For someone like me, this is a big achievement. Even if I had secured the 25th or 30th rank on my first attempt, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today,” he remarks, joy effusing his tone.

Demotivation on the Way

Before success came calling, Chirag’s education remained largely uneventful. Like numerous students in India, he had clarity of the path forward in college, no motivating voice pushing him to try harder. Some peers also taunted him about his mediocrity.

“You wouldn’t amount anything,” they would say in derision.

As with most young adults, Chirag too believed the words of those randomly assessing his academic capabilities. “Coming from a school where they do not start teaching English up until the 7th class and then interacting with people who have been studying English since kindergarten is not a good feeling,” he explained.

But at home, he faced less than fortunate circumstances and a tight financial situation. With a sister to be married, he understood the necessity of a job. So, he sharpened his aptitude and communication skills, vowing to secure employment at the earliest.

And he succeeded by getting a job offer at L&T during campus recruitment.

Unfortunately, with the advent of COVID-19, his career was short-lived. Losing his job cleared his perspective, renewing his spirit to tackle the difficult GATE exam head-on. Since he could not afford to stay unemployed, he began answering questions on an online website ( pertaining to his field of study and helping others. This also allowed him to earn a living while preparing for the exam.

‘Portal like these can help students and aspirants who are preparing for competitive exams. It will help them practice, sharpen their skills and aptitude and also allow them to earn as well. It is something you can always check out,’ emphasizes Chirag

Future Plans

Chirag aspires to secure a permanent job at one of the PSUs like ONGC. Higher education is not an immediate priority, but he plans to apply for post-graduate admission in multiple colleges. Though his undergraduate discipline is petroleum engineering, he is keen to explore further studies in Data Analytics and Data Science. Given his high score, Chirag hopes to take one of the data courses at IIT Bombay or IIT Bangalore.

Another viable choice he has kept open is the post graduate diploma course in industrial engineering at National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) Bombay.

Message for Hard Workers

Chirag believes in the power of hard work and uses his success as an example to justify his point. He was forced to choose the path of self-study. He recalls a time when he felt inferior among other students from superior English backgrounds or CBSE board. But self-confidence helped him overcome his insecurities. He is a self-taught achiever who advocates the power of belief in oneself.

Many students prepare for competitive exams every year in the country. Chirag wants to help those like him deprived of resources like coaching classes or private tutors. He insists that no one is born knowledgeable and success in competitive examinations is possible for those willing to put in hard work.

“Anyone can achieve anything,” he declares in conclusion, “Hard work can work wonders. In fact, hard work could also put us ahead of the ever increasing smart workers around us.”

The inspiring story of this young man could help many others realize their potential and rise high above labels of mediocrity.

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