VANI DORAISAMY & MEERA SRINIVASAN
Five students, who emerged toppers in the Plus-Two and entrance examinations this year, explain their winning methods.
Is academic excellence the only hallmark of a good student? In a world where career goals and aspirations are getting increasingly competitive, do students look beyond their curriculum? Do school and examination toppers even realise the need to develop 'soft skills', the one area which educationists say is still a grey area even for the best performing students?The Hindu Education Plus spoke to five students who have topped their class XII and entrance examinations held this year to ascertain the importance of non-academic skills to a student's overall development. The five students are L. Arun Kumar and T.C. Vivek Sandeep, who topped the State in the Plus-Two examinations; V. Vinodh Kumar, State topper in AIEEE; Sandhya Suresh, who topped the medical stream of the TNPCEE, and Shreya Mehta, who topped her school (CBSE) in Commerce stream. While Arun, Vivek and Sandhya were from D.A.V. Gopalapuram, Vinodh and Shreya were students of Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, K.K.Nagar and Nungambakkam, respectively. For all five, preparation for the examinations began well ahead of the actual schedule. Vinodh who was attending coaching classes for IIT-JEE says that those classes helped him in his board examination and other entrance tests as well. He has obtained a good rank in IIT-JEE and hopes to study Mechanical Engineering. For Sandhya, who had shifted to State Board after class X, preparation began right from day one. She is most likely to pursue medicine in one of the leading institutions in Chennai. Arun and Vivek felt there was no need for one to get worked up with examinations. Planning schedules effectively, concentrating and relaxing when necessary were their keys to success. Stress would not help and on the other hand, if one enjoyed the process of studying, it was actually a lot of fun, they admit. Shreya, too, was consistent with her efforts, as she knew there was no entrance examination for students of the Commerce stream. Interestingly, she has taken up a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. She confidently lists the several career options that she could take up without having to give up her passion for the arts. "I can become a textile designer, graphics expert, art critic or can take up freelancing assignments or even look up to MNCs for a good career choice. I had always wanted to do fine arts,'' she asserts.The stream one studied in also made a lot of difference to the mode of study. "Under CBSE, you don't need to do too much of memorising, unlike State Board where preparations have to start at least a year in advance,'' says Sandhya.And, not all toppers believed that an engineering or medical degree was the logical next step. What mattered was the degree of one's interest and the aptitude. "Parents and teachers can only help you make up your mind. The ultimate choice has to be yours. You have to choose the course that you think would suit your career aspirations the best,'' chorus Vivek and Vinodh.The toppers concede that the new syllabus for Plus-Two examinations this year and the TNPCEE brought in its share of problems. "All teachers may not have been fully prepared to tackle the new syllabus. Also, there was not enough time to get acclimatised,'' says Vivek. "Despite the scores of revision tests, there still was a problem with time management,'' Arun adds.One area that all toppers unanimously agreed was important was developing communication skills even while at school. To that extent, most of them had been active organising cultural activities in school. Shreya, for example, was the school's cultural secretary and had invested quite a lot of effort in getting together a lot of competitive events. "All of this has helped me improve my people management skill and given me confidence to pursue my aspirations,'' she says. "Communication skills should be taught much early at school level. As one enters the higher secondary stream, most students tend to concentrate only on academics and ignore non-academic interests. For example, even though the English paper has a separate section for spoken English, most schools give the students full marks, irrespective of the student's capability,'' says Sandhya."One needs to blend a practical approach with theoretical knowledge. Lateral thinking is the key,'' Vivek adds.
Common Entrance Test
Another issue that all toppers had a near-unanimous view on was the importance of the Common Entrance Test as a means of admission to professional courses."The CET establishes a common platform for students from various boards to compete.Doing away with it could be disadvantageous to many students,'' says Sandhya. "If the Government feels rural students are being left out, then they could be given extra coaching to bring them on a par with other students. On the other hand, removing the CET would severely upset the ranking structure,'' says Vivek.The toppers also seemed to think that being a CBSE student was not too much of a disadvantage and that a good CBSE student could still do well in TNPCEE, contrary to popular perception. "It all depends on individual students and the methodology they adopt. In fact, when a student shifts from the CBSE to the State board, though they have been taught the same things already, many take quite some time to adapt,'' says Sandhya."CBSE is advantageous when one faces competitive examinations such as the AIEEE and JEE as their requirements are better suited to CBSE needs. Also, CBSE syllabus lets a student develop extra-curricular skills too,'' says Vinodh.So, what is the toppers' formula for success? "A sound aptitude, attitude, guidance and adequate preparation. Also, one needs sustained focus and a plan of action,'' is the unanimous verdict.