Despite hailing from different states and backgrounds, a commonality among students making it to the top ranks of the Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) is an early start. Some start as early as class 8 to prepare for an undergraduate-level entrance test.
For Keshav Agarwal (all India rank 5 in JEE Advanced), the preparation started in class 9 when he joined a four-year programme at FIITJEE — an IIT coaching institute. However, he says that joining coaching early is a choice and there is no one size fit all. “Everyone is different and so is their preparation strategy. To start for engineering exam preparation, one first needs to focus on their own ability rather than worry about what others are doing. Self-study is extremely important. If a student feels they can start study in a competitive environment for such a long time, only then they should apply early on. Else, joining a focused training for IIT at class 10 or 11 will be more suitable for them.”
Vedang Asgaonkar, AIR 7, started his preparation from class 8 by joining a foundation level course alongside his school. Aiming to study computer science from IIT-Bombay, he has cracked Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana — which is an entrance test to study research at IISc. He claims, “One needs to have the syllabus at their fingertips before appearing for the exam” for which he claims focused training and “tests series of varied difficulty level” are critical. He too joined FIITJEE in class 12 to “shape his score better”.
Asgaonkar realised his potential from class 6 after he won a gold medal in a science competition. When one of his cousins joined engineering, he started to aim for the same.
To have subject-wise training and experience national-level competition, both the rank holders had appeared for various olympiads. Even the All India Rank 1, Pune’s Chirag Falor had also been winning olympiads from a young age. Falor wants to pursue research in astrophysics and is currently enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.
Haryana’s Harshvardhan Agarwal — who got All India Rank 9 in JEE Advanced — had won a silver medal in last year’s Internal Physical Olympiad. Agarwal too started his preparation from class 9 onwards. NCERTs make for the basis of JEE Main and Advanced. He claims to have studied class 11 NCERT books in class 9 and by class 10, he was thorough with class 12 NCERT books. Thereafter, he started coaching and practising mock test series with help of coaching institutes.
This year, across IITs about 16,000 seats are available for which over 1.5 lakh students competed. For JEE Main, over 11 lakh studnets apply every year including both the January and April attempts. With limited seats and a high number of aspirants, the competition is cut-throat, which makes most of the students to start for preparations years ahead of the exams.
Asgaonkar believes, the exam is not just about syllabus but also requires one to “practice a lot to build calculation speed, have a strategy to manage the time and pressure during the exam, and get over the psychological pressure”. Apart from his study schedule which varied between 8-12 hours over the years, he also focused on breathing techniques.