"The biggest challenge?" asks Srinivas Chowdhary. "I guess it was preparing the documents required to travel to India and to take the IIT-JEE (Indian Institutes of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination) test. That and the mandatory quarantine in India. Those were most stressful. The preparation for the exam itself was quite ok."

For those who came in late, Srinivas Chowdhary is the UAE topper of the JEE Advanced test achieving an all-India rank of 1,356. An examination held annually in India, it is mandatory for admission to an IIT. Over 150,000 students took the test and the result was announced earlier this month.

Although the pandemic upended the lives of many students forcing them to rely purely on online classes, the Dubai-based Indian High School student refused to let anything come in the way, scoring an enviable 97 percentile in the Grade 12 board examinations.

"Actually online classes are not all that different from the regular ones," he says. "It is all a question of being prepared and putting in your 100 per cent at all times."

Srinivas credits the tutors at Ascentria, an IIT-JEE coaching centre in Dubai, for helping him achieve his success in JEE Advanced. "Initially, my dream was to join the National Institute of Technology in India so I enrolled for coaching to help me earn a good SAT score," he says. But last December, his tutors encouraged him to consider taking the JEE Advanced. "I got interested and started preparing for it," says the student.

How did he juggle Grade 12 board exams with preparations for JEE Advanced?

"Actually the academic portions for Boards are much less compared to that for JEE Advanced," he says, adding that he was preparing for both exams simultaneously. "I spent perhaps a little more than a month preparing purely for my school boards."

While he admits the coaching and support from his school teachers helped a great deal, he adds that the 5-6 hours of study he put in every day also paid off. "However, I wasn’t always with my books. I did go out with family and friends every once in a while."

What tips can he offer students planning to take the exam?

"First, there is a myth that only students in India succeed at JEE. If you are aware of the portions, have the study material at hand and a good support system, it doesn’t matter which part of the globe you are living in," he says.

Srinivas exhorts students to be driven and have a passion to succeed. "You’d also need some professional help to guide you through the processes regarding the exam. If not, you might end up spending a lot of time learning topics and subjects that might not only be irrelevant but also not help you for the exam."

The 17-year-old underscores the importance of utilising time wisely. "You just cannot afford to waste time pursuing unnecessary topics," he says.

Consistency is the other factor. "Study consistently every day and be up to date with your projects and work. Apart from setting a weekly timetable, working out as many previous years’ question papers as you can helps tremendously," he says.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, "it really is not all that tough to crack the exam as it is made out to be," says Srinivas, who is planning to enroll into IIT Chennai. "Don’t ever believe that it is beyond you. It isn’t. Be consistent and you can make it."

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