The competitive nature of entrance exams forces students to push themselves to do their very best. Shrikant Ayyangar writes about Ashwini Nene, the young prodigy who became the first Indian to get a perfect score in the GRE under the test’s revised format.
In India, we often value tests, exams, and in fact any evaluation quite seriously. Our hardwired competitive nature often drives us to push boundaries and be ahead of the game. This competitive nature particularly applies to students who wish to study abroad. Clearing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) can be a daunting task for some students, and there are some who pass the test with a 100 % score. A lot has been spoken about Ashwini Nene, the first Indian who topped her GRE after the revisions that were made to the test format in 2011.
I caught up with her to understand how she got here, and some of the challenges that she faced along the way.
Of origins and beginnings
Ashwini, who hails from Mumbai, admits that she was quite a studious pupil who enjoyed studying and reading. She set on this path early on. As both her parents are from the technical field and bibliophiles, she imbibed the habit of reading due to their influence. Ashwini particularly enjoyed decoding mathematical calculations and exploring history and science. Gradually, she started getting interested in computer science, and this was the turning point that made her select computer engineering.
Keep Calm and Study
Speaking about her study schedule, Ashwini explains that it was not too rigid or strict, but still quite organized. She credits her success and discipline to her teachers who helped her streamline her time and ensure she had enough time for studies, and some free time for herself as well.
She further elaborates, “I’d revise some concepts that I had learned before, and then focus on some really hard problems. I didn’t have a set number of hours to study, and would rather have a set of concepts that I needed to learn. I tried not to procrastinate too much, so I was prepared reasonably well in advance.”
Aim of achievement
While Ashwini had clear understanding in terms of her desired career path, she still had her share of demons to deal with. Scoring a complete 340/340 has been a tough path for her, and she admits that she found the verbal section to be a lot harder than the math section. Her advice to students is to read the test paper carefully and calmly. As per Ashwini, the test timing is also quite lengthy and tedious, so she strongly recommends mock tests so that you are well-prepared for what to expect on the actual date.
Ashwini also shared some secret tips on getting a good score in the GRE, “A lot of sites offer a ‘GRE question of the day’ or ‘word of the day’ feature. I subscribed to a couple of these sites, and everyday I would get a short test in my mailbox. It kept me on track, and at the same time, was much faster than sitting down for an entire mock exam.”
Right fit university
After clearing her first pit-stop of the GRE, Ashwini was then faced with the dilemma of selecting the right college/university. To select the right university, Ashwini feels that students need to evaluate the research conducted, go through publications, and know more about the faculty.
She explains, “The best place to learn more about a particular college/university is through their alumni. Set up a call, or send an email with a detailed list of questions. It would be best if the other factors are also looked into, especially cost of living, tuition, internship opportunities, etc.”
The future forward
Ashwini, who graduated last year from UCLA with a Masters degree in CS, is presently working as a software engineer in San Francisco. Though she may be employed, her learning process hasn’t stopped. Ashwini is learning Mandarin, and this is something she has wanted to do for a long time.
On the same note, when she recollects her younger days as a student, she cannot forget the support she received from KIC and Ganesh Kohli. She is appreciative of the support that went beyond GRE and selecting the right universities and settling in the U.S. Her wise words for all students are, “There will be a moment when we all hit a plateau. But we must keep going and pursue what we started aiming for in the first place.”
She stressed on the point that students need to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and select a career path that will keep them happy for at least the next 12-14 years.
Just like the old adage “Practice makes perfect”, Ashwini feels that in order to excel in academics or tests, one needs to keep practicing and keep aiming for things that keep one happy and content. On that positive note, she signs off proudly by saying 谢谢 (Thank you) and 祝你一切顺利 (all the best).