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Yes, we can

With time ticking away, Ritabrata Ganguly, student at a leading school in south Calcutta, is busy brushing up on his biology. Keen on studying medicine, Ganguly is appearing for the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination (WBJEE) the test you need to crack to gain entry to state engineering and medical colleges on April 19.

Ganguly is confident about physics but it’s imperative that he scores well in biology too. “I am a bit worried about the biology paper which is expected to be tough,” admits Ganguly. “If I concentrate on the West Bengal higher secondary board syllabus, I’ll be able to tackle at least 60 per cent of the WBJEE questions in each of the three subjects (physics, chemistry and biology).”

Shiladitya Mukherjee, another WBJEE aspirant, is taking no chances. “I feel that about 40 per cent of the questions will deal with topics not included in the board syllabus,” he says. “So I’m reading other books and journals as well.”

But teachers in premier educational institutions in the city say that WBJEE aspirants more than one lakh candidates appear for the exam every year primarily need to study the higher secondary (HS) syllabus thoroughly. The WBJEE syllabus was overhauled in 2006. “Since then the trend has been to closely adhere to the state board’s HS syllabus while setting questions. Earlier, candidates had to face a considerable number of questions on topics that were not covered by the board syllabus. But now it’s a different situation altogether,” says Anuradha Goswami, head of the department of biology, South Point High School, Calcutta.

“The objective is to test a candidate’s aptitude, not how much he or she has learnt by rote. The syllabus change will make it easier for students of other boards take the exam,” says Dibyendu Kar, registrar, WBJEE Board.

“The WBJEE syllabus covers about five per cent more than what the HS science syllabus does,” says Ajay Dhar, head of the department of physics, Patha Bhavan, Calcutta.

The physics, chemistry and biology papers of JEE consist of multiple choice questions (MCQs 80 per cent) and short answer questions (20 per cent). The biology paper is of 100 marks while the chemistry and physics papers are of 50 marks each. For each incorrect answer to an MCQ, 33.3 per cent (one-third mark) is deducted. So you must avoid random guesswork. Choosing incorrect options in MCQs can prove expensive.

Candidates need to adopt a smart strategy to deal with multiple choice and descriptive or objective questions in each subject. Here’s how you should go about it.

BIOLOGY

The biology paper is a crucial part of the medical entrance exam. There’s apparently no shortcut to mastering the subject. “You cannot possibly leave out any particular chapter. It’s quite difficult suggesting a pattern insofar as biology is concerned,” says Goswami.

Tapan Kumar Ghanti, a teacher associated with Pathfinder, one of the leading JEE coaching centres in the state, says “The WBJEE Board tests whether a candidate has a solid grounding in the subject. So candidates can expect biology questions to be pretty conceptual,” says Ghanti.

Since the number of seats in state medical colleges is limited, competition is fierce. This year around 1,10,000 aspirants are vying for just 1,255 seats. Therefore, the biology paper is usually the toughest of the lot. “At least 30-40 per cent of the questions in biology can be really tough,” says Ghanti. “It has been seen that medical toppers score in the 80s in biology whereas they maintain a 90 plus score in chemistry and physics.”

It is best not to go through all the MCQs right at the beginning. “Several questions could be unfamiliar. And this could be demoralising. So candidates should take one question at a time. I’d advise that they quickly answer the ones they are familiar with and not waste time on questions they can’t answer at one go,” says Ghanti.

CHEMISTRY

There’s no fixed pattern for the MCQs (40 marks) and objective questions in this paper either. “Sometimes, the emphasis is on numerical problems while at other times the questions dwell on informative aspects,” says Ashis Siddhanta, head of the department of chemistry, St Xavier’s College, Calcutta. “I’d say that there has been a considerable dilution in the standard of chemistry papers in the last three years. So students need not be in a sweat over chemistry at least,” he says.

In addition to thoroughly revising the HS syllabus, Siddhanta advises students to read up some extra topics as well. “Candidates should bear in mind that numerical problems do not involve complex calculations and answers to objective questions should be short and to the point,” he sums up.

PHYSICS

Like the chemistry section, the physics portion in WBJEE carries 50 marks. It’s divided into Group A (40 MCQs of one mark each) and Group B (five short answer questions carrying two marks each). “There is no rule as to whether you should attempt chemistry or physics first. Just begin with the subject you feel more confident about,” says Dhar. “Before you begin answering, read the question paper thoroughly, marking the questions you are familiar with.”

If candidates can identify questions or numerical problems that can be time consuming, they should keep them for the last. “As in other subjects, candidates must not guess when it comes to MCQs as it can lead to negative marks. Some candidates do take a calculated risk. But you should ideally risk up to three questions as that can result in a loss of only one mark,” says Dhar. He adds that a partly correct answer can get you some marks in objective-type questions. “You can get one mark for partially getting an objective right. So do not leave out objectives completely.”

Since mathematical problems in physics can prove to be a weak point for students who are not strong in maths, every effort should be made to attempt non-numerical questions. “You could easily answer at least 15 to 16 non-mathematical questions (among 50) in the physics paper. For instance, you cannot possibly miss a question like, ‘what is the unit of force?’,” says Dhar. “Non-numerical questions can be tricky as well. So your basic concepts should be clear.”

MOCK TESTS

With just a few days left for the exam, candidates could practise taking mock tests. “It’s not absolutely necessary to enrol in a coaching centre to take mock tests. There are numerous publications available in the market these days that contain WBJEE model questions. These are helpful,” says Goswami. “All in all, if you have studied hard, cracking WBJEE is not an impossible task.”

Trick questions

Unless your concepts are clear you could get stumped by these seemingly simple posers

Biology

Structural proteins are involved in maintaining the shape of a cell or in the formation of matrices in the body. The shape of these proteins is:

  • a. Globular
  • b. Fibrous
  • c. Stretch of beads
  • d. Planar

What lies beneath: Although the answer is (b) students often get confused over whether the shape of proteins like collagen is ‘planar’ (d) owing to their assumed pleated structure. Actually, when the axial ratio of length and width of a protein molecule is more than 10, it is called a fibrous protein (for instance, alpha keratin from hair or collagen).

Chemistry

The catalytic (finely divided Ni / Pd / Pt / Ru, Raney Ni) hydrogenation of ethyne/ ethene to ethane is commonly carried out at:

  • a. About 1 atm. pressure and 150-160C
  • b. About 1 atm. pressure and 275C
  • c. About 100 atm. pressure and 25C
  • d. About 1 atm. pressure and 25C

What lies beneath: The answer is (d). This is a common textbook error. Only in special cases, for example, tri- / tetra- substituted alkenes, are pressures higher than 1 atm., and temperature higher than 25C employed.

Physics

Density (= mass / volume) is dependent on

  • a. mass
  • b. volume
  • c. mass and volume
  • d. none of the above

What lies beneath: Most students pick the option (c) whereas the correct answer is (d). Density depends on the ratio of mass to volume.

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