Of Bygone Board and Entrance Exams

Deck your tables with books of JEE
Fa la la la la, la la la la
‘Tis the season to be dreary
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Yes, it’s that time of the year again: when hours of JEE preparation (or the utter lack of it) will be put to the ultimate test. It’s you versus pretty much every other sixteen year old kid in India. Not to mention the repeaters. You better be scared because as Latha ma’am from my TIME coaching class used to keep reminding us, ‘You’re competing against students in Hyderabad, who spend all day in coaching classes and don’t even go to school.‘ Imagine how sad their lives must be. I can say with a clear conscience that I didn’t trouble them at all, JEE rank-wise. Let’s just say I felt sorry for them. Haha.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted.
(Or rather, everything your parents made you think you wanted)
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

I remember how depressed I felt, around this time last year. I had made a total mess of my ISC board exams. My first paper had been Maths and I screwed up big time. Maths has and always been my weakest subject. It’s not that I don’t understand the subject. I do. But somehow, the sight of a Maths question paper makes me sick. I don’t know how I ended up like this. I used to be the kid who used to get full marks for Maths. But somewhere along the line, my parents’ jibes, (whenever I scored a little less than usual for Maths) got to me.
Anyway, the 28th of February, 2013, saw me struggling to complete my Maths paper on time. The voice in my head that constantly kept saying, ‘Dude, don’t screw up!‘ wasn’t helping at all. I knew I had screwed up but it was only after I got home that evening that I realized how much. The sheer magnitude of my screw-up drove me to tears. I’d made a few mistakes and those were going to cost me ten marks. On top of that, I hadn’t even attempted the required number of questions. Of the five ten-mark questions I was supposed to answer from Part B, I’d attempted only four. *Poof* Another ten marks gone. So twenty marks down the drain. Just like that.

And then it hit me. Eighty marks for Maths in my boards would screw up my PCM average like crazy. I could almost visualize my AIR in free-fall. On the phone that night with one of my friends, Nina, I sobbed my heart out. I cried like a bloody baby. But somehow, Nina helped me make it through that evening. She convinced me that I could still make up and maybe even score a 90% overall. I cracked one of the lamest jokes ever that night:

‘Hey Nina, I think I can still get a job at an MNC like Infosys, even after all this.’
‘Uh…. How, Nik?’
‘Infosys will need drivers and peons, na?’
*Groan*

After that conversation with Nina, I was unstoppable. I was a man with a mission. This time the maths was much easier. To score 90% overall, I needed 450/500. And now that I’d dropped twenty marks in my Maths paper alone, it meant that I could afford to lose only thirty marks over the next four subjects (English, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science). It was simple enough in theory but facing each subsequent exam required a gargantuan effort. Through it all, I was helped along by a few close friends, who put up with my constant whining and boosted my confidence. And somehow listening to the song, ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script motivated me to face the boards.

And I managed to do exactly as I’d planned. I scored 452/500. And managed an overall of 90.1%. It was nothing great but I felt effing proud of myself.

A few weeks later, I also managed to screw up my JEE Main paper. But if it hadn’t been for the confidence hit I’d taken after the ISC boards, I might have been able to do a whole lot better. And in case you’re wondering, I scored a measly 114/360. But my JEE Main score meant that I had qualified for the JEE Advanced. Albeit, by the skin of my teeth. (The cut-off was 113.) But that didn’t mean much anyway, since I had never really harboured any realistic hopes of getting into an IIT.

The JEE Advanced was a joke. I barely knew anything. In twenty minutes or so, I’d attempted all the questions I could work out. For all the remaining questions, I just marked the B option. It was a carefully weighed out gamble, which I’ll explain in a bit. The afternoon session of the JEE Advanced was pretty much the same as the morning session. Rinse and repeat.

Supposing that out of every four questions, the answer to one of them was B. I’d get +4 for that question. And 3×-1=-3 as negatives. But that still meant +1 on the whole. And you know what they say about the JEE, every mark counts.

The best part was when the JEE Advanced marks came out. I had scored 106, which was almost as much as my JEE Main score. Keep in mind that the JEE Advanced is a much tougher paper. If I’d been given a different question set with more B’s as correct answers, I might have scored 130 odd marks and waltzed my way into a bloody IIT. But sadly, life is a bitch!

The entrance exam that finally saved saved my ass was the Kerala engineering entrance exam. The thing about the Kerala entrance is that the questions are really easy. It’s more of a time trial than anything else. It’s how many questions that you can successfully attempt in three hours that matters. It doesn’t require a through knowledge of the concepts. I scored 256 for Paper I (Physics & Chemistry) & 188 for Paper II (Maths) for a combined score of 444 out of 960 altogether, which was an acceptable score. Combine that with my normalized PCM average of 86.66 (before normalization, it was 88.66) and you get a KEAM rank of 2996. Armed with that rank and sheer dumb luck, I scraped through and joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. It’s pretty much the best engineering college in Kerala. Apart from NIT Calicut. And life here is pretty damn good.

So my advice to all the kids writing your boards and entrances is to not lose hope because you messed up your boards or one entrance exam. Luck plays a huge factor in all these things and since all of you will be writing multiple entrance exams, you’re bound to get lucky with atleast one. And it’s not that I’m just saying this to make you feel better. I can assure you because I’ve been there, done that. And who knows, maybe you could get a job at Google. After all, they need drivers too… But no amount of luck is ever going to make up for lack of preparation so it’s best to hit the books now lest you spend the rest of your life trying to live down the regret of not having studied when you could have.

Sorry, Nina, for not having stayed in touch over the past few months. I know I’ve been a jerk but it’s mainly because I thought that it was best not to disturb you while your models and boards were going on. And I still can’t thank you enough for everything…

Despite the massive screw ups, I’m glad that I made it to a decent college. But I’ve disappointed my parents along the way. They thought I’d make it to a better college, an NIT maybe. And they’ve channeled that disappointment into making my sister (who’s in ninth now) study harder. It’s like she has to make up for my mistakes too. At times, she complains, ‘Eda thendi, if you’d scored ten more marks for your Maths exam, I wouldn’t have to go through all this.‘ And I realize that she’s right but my parents don’t really listen to me when I tell them to take it easy on her. I’m completely helpless and it’s hard to live down the guilt of having increased the burden of expectation on my sister.

Just realized. That it was exactly one year ago that I wrote my JEE Main.

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