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What does it take to be a topper? Q&A with Shivang Singh

Shivang Singh, NCR topper of 2017, and alumnus of the KWHS summer programme, talks about his daily routine, the importance of extracurricular activities, and why everyone needs to chill.
BY Skendha Singh |   14-07-2017

Shivang Singh

Shivang Singh, a class 12 student of the Scottish High International School, Gurgaon, ranked second in Delhi and the National Capital Region, in the ISC exams, and received a full scholarship offer from the University of Hong Kong. In a Facebook Live session on June 9, 2017, he chatted with BrainGain Magazine about the secrets of his success, his exam-time stress-busting strategies, and his future plans. He also offered some tips for students and their parents, and talked about the lasting impact of his participation in 2016 of the Knowledge@Wharton High School Global Young Leaders Academy at the University of Pennsylvania. Edited excerpts:

  1. You’ve achieved second position in the Delhi-NCR region, and scored 98.75% in the science stream. How does it feel?

    Well, when I saw my result, I was very happy and enthralled. More than me, my parents were very happy. They were literally crying because they were so happy. They were overwhelmed. And that just made my day.

    Apart from that, I was always confident of a good result. But I was never expecting a rank. That was like icing on the cake! So, a good result with a good rank – that made my day.
  2. What did it take for you to achieve this level of success? Can you describe a typical day leading to the exams?

    For a topper, not only like me, but any other topper, parents and schools expect that person to have his nose into books all the time. But that really wasn’t the case with me. I’ll be honest with you, I was participating in extracurricular activities through the year - till October, in fact.

    I would play my drums. I’m training in tabla, so I would also take out time to play tabla. I would go down cycling almost every day for an hour - hour and a half, doing 15 kilometers as a stretch.

    So you need to have a balanced routine. That’s what I can say to everyone who’s watching us right now. The balanced routine helps you rejuvenate yourself because if you have your nose in the books all the time . . . you really can’t mug up everything. You’ll end up cramming; you won’t understand.

    And one thing that we’ve been taught in school very particularly is that you can’t really cram stuff and then hope to achieve something. You need to understand everything – the concepts, and you need to fit it in your mind properly. You can only do that with a fresh mind.

    So, study for an hour, take a break for 10-15 minutes. You want to watch TV, go ahead and watch TV. You want to take to social media for a while, do that. But, use your time constructively, so that you’re able to make the most of your time, you’re able to use your potential and maximise it.

    So that’s how I tried to have a routine.
  3. What about school? How did you balance studies with extracurricular activities there?

    Right. As I said, I was taking part in extracurricular activities until October. And as my friends who are watching right now would know, I am an avid MUNer (Model United Nations). And I take part in youth parliaments as well. That’s something I’m really passionate about. And that’s the reason I love doing it. That’s again a break for me from regular studies.

    So, I was participating in Model United Nations conferences, in youth parliaments, and playing my drums.

    I’d like to add something - drums to me was always a stress buster. So whenever I would feel that “Ok, I can’t do more right now. I need to go get a break, take some time off,” I would go pick up my drumsticks, and would just play with them for 15-20 minutes. It would help me re-energise [myself]. And I would then carry on with my books. So, it was great because I was happy, I was able to balance my day. And apart from that, parents should never keep children from participating in extracurricular activities. That’s one very essential thing that we’ve always learnt because you need to have a very balanced routine.
  4. One of the very important extracurricular activities for you last year was when you attended the KWHS summer programme at University of Pennsylvania. Tell us about that and how it helped you over the year.

    The Knowledge@Wharton High School Global Young Leaders Academy last year was a phenomenal two-week programme for me. It was really memorable and [filled with] learning. In fact, scoring a perfect 100 in Economics – the credit really goes to that programme because there were so many topics, so many subject areas that were related to the Economics we were studying in school that it actually helped me a lot.

    And it wasn’t only restricted to academics at the summer programme. I’m grateful to BrainGain Magazine for that opportunity because it helped us widen horizons. We were interacting not only with fellow students who were participating there, but apart from that, we were interacting with the faculty at Wharton, with full time scholars who were there. We were sharing dorms with them. We would go out in the evenings, roam around, and we would make the most of the time we had.

    It was an amazing experience. Those two weeks will always stay with me.
  5. What are your plans for college now? What comes next?

    I’ve been able to achieve a 100% scholarship from The University of Hong Kong to pursue a major in Economics. It’s a 4-year undergraduate course. And I’ll be minoring in various other subject areas like marketing, finance, management, and business strategy. That’s where I want to go.

    Apart from that, with the percentage that I’ve got, I’m confident that I will be able to get into a good college into the University of Delhi as well.

    So the only factor that’s keeping me from going to Hong Kong right now is my family because staying away from home for four years at a stretch will be very difficult. But then again, I’m up for the challenge. So, Hong Kong, I’ll probably be coming to you.
  6. Speaking of DU – you’re eligible for admission, you’re one of the lucky people. But, what is your opinion of the high cut-offs?

    I’m thankful that I was able to get a good percentage. But for the several students who are not able to get good percentages in spite of putting in a lot of effort, in spite of working hard through the year, it is extremely difficult.

    Having such high cut-offs is restricting the potential of so many students especially because you’re moderating their marks in Board examinations. The students who actually deserve only 70-80 marks end up getting marks in 90s. And not early 90s but late 90s. That is virtually increasing competition which is actually non-existent. You’re pushing people into a bracket, which shouldn’t be done. The deserving ones should get into the colleges. And, automatically when you stop moderation of marks, when you end the policy of grace marks, you will have the cut-offs falling, and you will have deserving students getting into those colleges.

    I was on a recent NDTV discussion about the same thing and I put forth my [views] saying that you need to have one unified board for the union of India. [Currently] the education system has become so complex in our country because there are so many boards. We have CBSE and ISC at the national level. Then we have around 32 state boards. We don’t need so many education boards. Why are students of our country studying different syllabi? Why are they being marked differently? Why are they asked different questions? Why do we have different rules for them?

    It is very important that there is one board that each and every school in the country follows. And automatically, the system will become uniform because there will be one marking pattern.

    Right now, CBSE tries to allot more marks to students in English and ISC won’t. But then ISC probably allots more marks to students from another subject and CBSE doesn’t. True marking is non-existent. That shouldn’t be the case.
  7. What do you think marks say about a student? Would you like to be judged by them?

    Not at all. Whenever I step out of my house these days, I have a few friends . . . I meet them and they’re like, “Topper!” It’s not a tag I really want.

    A good scorer can break his life and a bad scorer can make his life against all odds. So, marks do not really define you or your life. They’re just a part of it. They’re not it entirely. That’s what I can say about this.
  8. Now, if you end up going to Hong Kong, what are you looking forward to from this international study experience?

    As of 2015, The University of Hong Kong is ranked 3rd worldwide for international outlook. One of the major reasons that I want to go there is because of the exposure that I will get and the number of opportunities that will be available. So, I do look forward to it.

    It’s one of the fastest growing economies, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world, so it’s a very challenging environment. That is something I look forward to. An adventure in life is always cool.
  9. Ultimately, what are your career goals? Do you have a career in mind?

    Well, not really. I haven’t thought of it right now. But, when my passion speaks, I always say that I ultimately want to get into Indian politics or administration. My friends, who’ve seen me debate [and at] regular mocks in school, they can relate to what I’m saying right now because they probably see me at some position in the future, and I do too. Let’s hope that I will be able to make the most of the qualities that I have, and I’ll be able to pursue my passion.
  10. We’re confident that you will. Finally, is there a message you would like to share with students who’re working hard, and with parents who might already be stressed?

    Sure. This might seem a little shocking but through the year, my parents were very stressed because I wasn’t able to get a very good percentage in Class 11, like we all don’t. But that’s alright. Parents need not worry. As I said, marks don’t define you anyway. Dropouts from colleges, or failures in school can end up winning awards, can end up reaching places in life. So, this is again just a part of your life. Hoyega theek hai, nai hoyega koi baat nai. It is chill.

    But for parents, yes, your stressing out is definitely justified, you care about your children’s future. But that’s alright, I mean even if he or she is not able to perform well in the boards, he or she will definitely be able to reach somewhere in life. You need to give them that confidence. You need to tell your child again and again that we’ve left you by yourself, we know that you will do it, we have put in our faith in you, and we’re confident of a good result. So no matter what happens, we’re happy.

    That’s all that matters at the end of the day.
  11. What is the best way to get scholarships?

    Sadly, the best way to get scholarships today is to get good marks. And apart from that, I got a conditional offer from The University of Hong Kong which said that if I am able to get an aggregate result of 97% or above in all 5 subjects combined, I will get a 100% scholarship that would cover my tuition, my accommodation and everything. That’s one of the universities that offers good scholarships because there are various slabs for scholarships. I don’t know about other universities because for a while now I’ve had HKU as my aim. With your marks, your extracurricular resume will definitely count. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s your marks that matter for scholarships.

Related stories:
ISC topper from Mumbai shares the secret of his success and some advice
KWHS Global Young Leaders Academy – An Incredible Experience
Two Unforgettable Weeks at the KWHS Global Young Leaders Academy
Day 1 of the Knowledge@Wharton High School summer program


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