JEE Advanced topper Mridul Agarwal of Jaipur has created history by achieving the highest-ever score in the examination with a staggering 348 marks out of 360 in the Common Rank List for 2021. Like most other toppers, Mridul was studious. Yet, what probably gave him the edge was a unique set of circumstances that came into being due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was complemented by his ingenuity and immense support from family and friends.
“When the lockdown was initially imposed, the situation wasn’t clear,” Mridul said Friday, adding he’d assumed that the 2020 lockdown would last just a couple of months. But as it persisted, he quickly adapted to the new situation.
“The lockdown helped a lot in giving me extra time. All the time spent in going to and back from school and coaching was saved. So, I utilised that time to read extra books, went through extra study material and gave more test papers,” he said while thanking his coaching centre for quickly “normalising online classes.”
There were other keys to his success: Closer to exams, he and his close friends decided to discuss topics at the end of a day. “We used to allot time that we’ll discuss this at such and such time. This happened year-long but as exams approached, we decided that we’ll study in daytime and at a particular time at night, we would discuss our doubts which had come up during our study (earlier in the day),” he said.
“This mentally enhanced me quite a bit. We got to know of several new things. Upon research, we would find that something is different elsewhere from what a book tells us. We developed new concepts and our strength on old ones became better. We got to learn from a different perspective. Like when two to four people discuss something, you realise that you can see something differently and tell yourself aesa toh kabhi socha nahi tha maine (I never thought of this),” he said.
But his “best friend,” he says, was a “mistakes copy” which he maintained throughout the year. “You don’t notice certain things while studying but when you give mock tests, there are a particular set of mistakes, which you can call silly mistakes. They used to eat up 10-20 marks for me every time. And that ‘mistakes copy’ was my best friend till a week or two before the exam. So all those mistakes were reduced during the exam, and hence the result,” he says.
He can’t thank his parents enough for their immense support. “When offline classes used to happen, the entire schedule at home used to be around me, be it meals, family outings, or other activities. Even in lockdown, when the schedule changed, mother adjusted accordingly and took care of me and my activities. Like for example, we didn’t go on family outings if my test was due,” he says.
Mridul says he used to tell his father about his day in the evenings, after he returned from office. “I used to sit with him for half an hour and tell him about my day. He didn’t ask in detail and would tell me to continue to do things my own way.”
“And JEE is a long, stressful journey and has ups and downs; sometimes your rank is low and then up, other times you don’t understand a subject and feel low. So my first destination used to be my mother – sit with her for 5-10 minutes and my stress used to go away,” he said. At other times, it was his father. When Mridul felt low, his father took him out for a post-dinner walk in the colony, or for a drive.
Two days before the examination, Mridul says he planned a trip with five of his friends. It was scheduled for two days after the JEE Advanced exam. “It was quite a stress buster for me. Due to all that planning for the trip, I was quite chill during the exam. I was shocked at myself that I have no hesitation, no anxiety. I believe it played a big role in how my JEE Advanced paper went,” he said.
He has interests outside of studies, specifically travelling and table tennis, but hasn’t been able to pursue them for the last two years. Inspired by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Mridul says his long-term goal is to make a lasting contribution in the field of “tech development.” For now, however, his next target is to pursue BTech in Computer Science Engineering from IIT Bombay.