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the topper prepares Soum Paul graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2000 with a Computer Science degree. Since then, he has been part of several technology startups based out of the US, the UK and India. Along with technology, he continues to pursue writing and film-making and has directed a number of short films and documentaries for various organizations.

the topper prepares True Stories of Those Who Cracked the JEE

Soum Paul

First published in India in 2015 by Collins An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers This edition published in India by HarperCollins Publishers in 2017 Building No 10, Tower A, 4th Floor, DLF Cyber City, Phase II, Gurugram – 122002 www.harpercollins.co.in 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Copyright © Soum Paul 2015, 2017 P-ISBN: 978-93-5177-050-3 E-ISBN: 978-93-5177-051-0 The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts are as reported by him, and the publishers are not in any way liable for the same. Soum Paul asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Typeset in 11/15 Requiem Roman at SÜRYA Printed and bound at Thomson Press (India) Ltd

To my mother and father, who taught me how to learn

‘I want them to always live with courage and with great hope. I want them to never lose their passion. If they persist, a day will come when they will be successful.’ —Anand Kumar, Mathematician /Founder of Super 30 Programme

‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’ —Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince




1. en route to an iit The Three Phases of One’s Career On the Day of the Main Exam The Brand IIT When I Decided to Take Up Engineering My First Brush with IIT My First Technological Innovation Speed Mathematics JEE Coaching Commences Two Gruelling Years—and the Final Result Eighteen Years Since The British Started It All The Illustrious History of IIT Dreaming IIT

2. the students and the teachers The Story of Bijoy An Interview with Vipul The Coaching Industry at Kota

1 1 7 10 14 18 19 21 23 25 31 32 35 38

40 40 44 53


Contents How Did the Kota Phenomenon Begin? The Legendary Mr Bansal Career Point, Kota The Super 30 Story Anand Kumar Speaks Luv and Kush When the Floods Hit Bihar The Coaching Industry at Hyderabad Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy: The JEE Bootcamp The Prestigious Ramaiah Institute The Narayana IIT Academy The Power of a Mosquito

3. cracking the exam The Engineering Aptitude Why Follow Only the Syllabus? Challenging Your Brain Accuracy and Speed Good Memory Versus Bad How to Take Notes The Sentence Method The Outlining Method The Cornell Note-Taking System Flash Cards Mindmaps It Is Easy to Get Distracted Flow State How to Deal with Stress Time Management The Journey of Life

56 60 71 85 90 103 108 117 119 127 130 138

142 142 146 150 153 158 163 165 166 167 170 171 173 179 184 188 191


4. choosing a path A New World of Multiple Opportunities The Generational Shift The Battle of a Million Brains



192 192 196 200



In the summer of the year 1993 I decided to take the IIT JEE. A small town boy from Jamshedpur, I had no idea then that this one decision would be the beginning of a life-long journey, a journey that would take me around the world, through many careers, through experiences profound and indelible. In the years that have passed since then, life has pulled me in many different directions. I have lived and worked in several countries, travelled through many parts of the world, tried my hand at a diverse set of jobs. I have played the role of a programmer in Silicon Valley, been a film-maker in India, wandered aimlessly through mountains and deserts, and now I am a writer attempting to capture reality through the prism of my pen. Life continues to unfold in unexpected ways. Yet, when I look back at my days as a teenager in the small town I grew up in, I realize that it all began with that one decision I had taken on that day. xiii



In the year 2013, I was on an extended trip through India. I had recently returned from London, where I had been working with a technology startup for several years, and I wanted a break before I jumped on to the next project. During that trip, no matter where I went, I found myself staring at giant banners and hoardings put up by coaching institutes, with young faces of toppers from JEE. I wondered if it was the dream of every young student in India to have their names and faces up on a similar banner. At the time when I had appeared for the JEE, there was hardly any organized coaching system. Yet, within two decades, the entire landscape had transformed, especially with the growth of India as one of the IT hubs of the world. Engineering had become the hot field to pursue with the one hurdle being the Joint Entrance Examination or the JEE. The JEE exam itself had grown in magnitude, scope and size, and those who managed to pass it turned into mini-celebrities for their friends, classmates and neighbours. If we think about it, it all pivots around this one exam, the beginning of the quest for an engineering career. The exam where 1.4 million students eventually compete for about 10,000 seats in the most reputed institutes of the nation. It is perhaps the most competitive exam in the world. I found myself pondering over the journey of those students who decide to take the JEE. How has the landscape changed in the last twenty years? What are the new aspirations? Has the pressure to perform increased with time? Has the exam managed to retain the level of excellence it started out with? Most importantly, what does cracking this exam entail? With a test where the stakes are so high, how do the students battle their insecurities?



For me, too, the JEE had been as much of an internal battle as it was external. Going through the preparatory years required patience, courage, motivation, hard work and, most of all, an inner strength to continue improving in the face of hurdles and challenges. The exam was a tricky one, not just because of its level of difficulty, but also due to the sheer scale of the competition. Across the planet, very few examinations are of this size and scope. And that challenge has only increased with the turn of the century. The days of preparation for the JEE can often seem lonely. I vividly remember the times when I would lie in bed, staring at the whirring ceiling fan, wondering what the future held for me. What if I didn’t make it into one of the IITs? What if I did? Was I smart enough to outscore most of my peers? What would my parents and relatives say if I failed? What would my friends think? During those times, I wished I had someone to speak to who had been through the same experience, who could offer me wisdom about how they dealt with similar dreams and anxieties. After I cracked the JEE, and ever since then, I have had many students come up to me curious about how I made it, curious about what opportunities life would hold for them afterwards. There is no dearth of text books, or question banks, or tips for cracking the JEE. But there is a complete lack of narratives on the life experiences of those who have trodden this path, stories that would address the imagination and spirit of students, and provide them with examples they can relate to. If students could get access to stories of others who have gone through the same journey, read about what they faced and how they tackled the obstacles that came their


the water rose in his village during the floods in Bihar, forcing him and his family to live in tents, Chiranjeev dreamt of a future working in a plush office in a city. Hundreds of kilometres away in Chhattisgarh, Sudoku whizkid Vipul focused on the International Physics Olympiad and winning a top rank in the All-India Joint Entrance Examination. Success would mean a coveted seat in one of the Indian Institutes of Technology—not to mention celebrity status amongst peers and in the family. With an acceptance ratio far lower than that of Harvard or MIT, the IIT JEE (or JEE Advanced) is one of the most competitive exams in the world. So how do the toppers succeed? Are there smart ways to prepare for the exam? How does the students’ quest transform the lives of their families?

‘The key to success is confidence, which in turn comes through hard work.’ —Maram Venkat Ramreddy (MVR), Narayana IIT Academy ‘The only thing that a child has after class X, for two years, is non-replenishable time, which is 6000 hours of personal study.’ –V.K. Bansal, Bansal Classes

Through extensive interviews with JEE top rankers, pioneering teachers and the many students who had to fight extraordinary odds to get into an IIT, Soum Paul, entrepreneur and IIT Kanpur alumnus, puts together stories of fierce competition, incredible hard work and sacrifice. A fascinating account of the battle of a million brains. SOUM PAUL Manu Bahuguna

ISBN: 978-93-5177-050-3

Cover design Saurabh Garge www.harpercollins.co.in HarperCollinsIN


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