CBSE Board Exams: Top Tips From Toppers

In a ParentCircle special for the #KeepCalmExamOn series – we reached out to previous year toppers to find out their winning formulae! Read on…

By Ashwin Dewan and Monali Bordoloi  • 19 min read

CBSE Board Exams: Top Tips From Toppers
“Every child is unique; therefore, their education should be also.” - Jeannie Fulbright, best-selling American author and life coach

Students put their heart, soul and sweat into their board exam preparation. In a bid to score to the best that they can, aspirants often look to previous toppers to draw inspiration from them. Of course, it is not necessary that the ‘winning formula’ that worked for the toppers work for every child – for each child is different. However, there is no harm in finding out how they went about it!

We talked to a few toppers of previous years – Raksha Gopal, Hansika Shukla and Karishma Arora. So, what makes them special? Did they study for 24 hours a day? Did they burn the midnight oil days before the exam? Or even lock themselves up inside a room to avoid distractions? No, they did none of these things. You will be surprised to know when we tell you that one of them went for a trip right before the exam and another regularly went to the movies with her friends!

Who is Raksha Gopal?

A huge fan of actor Shahrukh Khan, Raksha Gopal is currently pursuing her Political Science Honours from Lady Sriram College, New Delhi. She learnt French and used to play the piano while preparing for the board exams. Her hobbies include reading books, listening to and playing music, and writing for leisure. She topped the CBSE Class 12 board exams in 2017. 

Who is Hansika Shukla?

Hansika Shukla went on a family trip to the Andamans on a family vacation just a few months before exam and used to check Instagram occasionally while preparing for the exams. She happens to top the CBSE Class 12, 2019. What made her achievement special was the fact that she scored an impressive 499 out of 500 marks. 

Who is Karishma Arora?

Passionate about her Kathak dance, Karishma is an all-rounder in the true sense. She believes in living life to the fullest and advises students appearing for the CBSE board exams 2020 to take things easy and not to miss sleep over studies. She topped the CBSE Class 12 exams in 2019.

So, take heed. Exam season does not mean putting an end to the things your child loves to do. Further, scroll down and find out whether these toppers opted for self-study over group study, do they recommend mock papers and tuition classes, how did they manage their time days before the exam and during the exam, how did they approach the question paper and manage their answer sheet – all this and much more in this ParentCircle exclusive!

Top Tips: Exam Preparation

1. How many hours a day did you put in for studies, during the days leading up to the exam?

Raksha: It depends on each student. Personally, I never studied for more than two hours at a stretch.

Hansika: In my personal experience, there should be fixed goals rather than fixed timings. For instance, students should try to finish certain study materials within a fixed time. I study for two to three hours in a day.

Karishma: It depends on the student. Since I used to be regular with my studies throughout the year, all I had to do was add a few more hours of study during exam preparation time.

2. How important is it to practise with sample/mock papers?

Raksha: It is one of the most effective ways to prepare for the board exams. Attempting the sample papers of previous years especially the last five to six years would be enough to prepare a student to face the board exams with confidence. Also, completing a mock paper in the stipulated three hours does a world of good to boost your confidence.

Hansika: Sample papers are very important. I believe it plays an important role in facilitating two things. First, when you solve sample papers, you feel confident. Second, it helps students to gauge their performance and find ways to better it.

Karishma: Practice with sample papers is a must. It will help you face the exam more confidently.

3. Do you think going for tuition classes help in preparation for the boards?

Raksha: If a student is not clear in his concepts, he can opt for extra classes. But I would suggest that the student aims for self-study in the last few weeks or months before the exam.

Hansika: Students should opt for tuitions only as a last resort – particularly if they feel less confident about a subject. One should not necessarily attend tuitions out of peer pressure or simply because others are going for it.

Karishma: I did not attend any tuition classes. It saved me a lot of time that I utilised to pursue my hobby and focus on studies.

4. How should a student manage his time while preparing for the exams?

Raksha: Try to keep a to-do list for the day. Keep one or two subjects at the most for the day and plan to finish two to three chapters every day. Do not overwhelm yourself by keeping several subjects to study in a day. Further, you can break down your routine to morning time and evening time. Keep a few chapters for revision in the morning and another few for the evening. Before you call it a day, you can attempt one sample paper on the subject.

Hansika: Make a check list of what you need to focus on. Plan to finish a few important chapters of a subject within a fixed period. Take breaks in between. Time yourself on each chapter of each subject.

Karishma: For some, sticking to a daily timetable which covers the important chapters work. Also, a concrete plan for the day ahead helps in saving time.

5. Does keeping notes help during exam preparation?

Raksha: Writing notes chapter wise helps a lot. 

Hansika: Many students fail to make proper notes at school and try to memorise straight from the textbook. This is not good in the long run. So, keeping notes helps a lot. 

Karishma: Yes, keeping notes help when you are revising those chapters. 

6. Does referring the answer sheets of CBSE toppers online help?

Raksha: As far as checking out a topper’s answer sheets is concerned, I have never done that. But if some students find it helpful, they can check them out. However, keep in mind that everyone has a unique style of writing and examiners will reward an original style over an inspired one.

Hansika: As far as checking the answer sheets of CBSE toppers, I used to check out some papers and found a similar pattern - the toppers were very concise and clear with their answers. Similarly, I found out other useful factors like proper usage of vocabulary and neat writing.

Karishma: Yes, you can check out previous year’s toppers answer sheets to see how they present their answers.

7. Group study or individual study? Your take.

Raksha: Group study is helpful when you have a couple of months to prepare for your exam. But in the weeks or days leading to the exam, I believe self-study is more effective.

Hansika: I believe that in a group setting, it is not always possible to complete your tasks and meet goals, as there is constant distraction. However, group study is helpful when you have completed the entire syllabus and are thorough. So, for me, individual study works.

Karishma: It depends on the students. But, personally, I believe in individual study before as well as during exam time. However, during school days and one to two months before the exam, group study may be beneficial. When you are part of a group study, there are advantages as well as drawbacks. Advantage is that if you have any doubts, you can get it cleared immediately by your friends. But the major drawback of group study is that everyone is subjective in their own way and each student follows a different strategy. So, sometimes group study becomes annoying and does not fulfil your purpose. 

8. How often did you take a break from your studies? What did you do when you took a break? 

Raksha: I used to take frequent breaks between studies – say every two hours or so. It improved my concentration and even now I follow that. If a student has a hobby, she should continue to pursue it. If possible, during your break time from studies, pursue your hobby. Preparing for the exams does not mean you should remain cut off from the world. I used to listen to music, watch TV or go for a walk when I was preparing for the exams. I was also learning a new language and the piano back then.

Hansika: I realised that studying too much just before the exams is not helpful. I would not recommend late night studies. I would take a walk and eat some nuts to refresh myself in between my studies. My limit for studying was for one and a half hours after which I would take a break and then again resume.

Karishma: One cannot fully concentrate on studies for more than two to three hours at a stretch. I used to go for my dance class or go out with friends for a movie. Sometimes, I used to listen to music or go for a walk in between studies.

9. Did you limit screen-time and social media? How do you think students should manage this, as these can definitely serve as a distraction from studies?

Raksha: I agree that social media is a huge distraction. I made it a point to switch off my phone when I was studying for the exams.

Hansika: I was constantly on Instagram searching for posts and surfing for information. During the exams, my mother took away my phone and I would get irritated but later, I realised how much time I saved after limiting my social media usage. It’s okay to use social media if it is done is a judicious way.

Karishma: It is important to set a limit on your screen time before exams. I used to keep my phone switched off while studying.

Top Tips: During exams

1. How did you handle the exam pressure?

Raksha: Every student will experience a little bit of nervousness before an exam. This is normal. The best way to handle pressure is to not overthink. Treat the board exams as a stepping stone in your life and do not let it define your entire life. It is helpful to keep a calm mind and if you can meditate for some time, nothing like it. But most students appearing for Class 10 exams find meditation difficult to do.

Hansika: A month or two before the boards, I started getting anxious regarding the marks. These thoughts are detrimental to you. Here, the role of parents is important. One should have a healthy conversation with parents in this situation and reach out for help. I reached out to my mother when I felt anxious. She became my personal therapist and diverted my mind from troubling thoughts.

So yes, students should try to take breaks. Studying excessively won’t help and it will blur your mind. Also, talk to parents – it is advisable to loosen up in front of your parents. 

Karishma: Dance was my stress buster. It is important to keep aside some time for relaxation. Pursuing your hobby even while preparing for the exams act as a stress reliever.

2. What are the top time management skills you would recommend to students when they write exams?

Raksha: Writing mock papers is a must to assess your writing speed. Also, try to answer the questions according to the marks allocated to them. Do not spend too much time in one question neglecting other questions. And always keep some buffer time to review your answers.

Hansika: Time management is important, especially for language papers, as one cannot predict how lengthy a paper will be. Students need to practise on previous year’s papers and time themselves. For instance, students can always divide the papers into different sections such as section A, section B and so on. They must aim to finish a section within a certain time limit. I, for one, practised a lot to finish a sample paper, section by section, within a specified time limit.

Karishma: While writing the exam, keep in mind that the length of your answers should be according to the weightage of marks allotted for it.

3. How should students approach the exams – attempt the easy and known answers first and then try to solve the difficult ones or take on each question chronologically?

Raksha: When I was preparing for my boards, my teachers advised me to attempt the questions chronologically as it is easier for the examiner to check.

Hansika: It depends on the student. Solving the questions chronologically helped me. However, a preferred method would be tackling the easy answers first before moving to the difficult ones.

Karishma: Usually, I try to answer the questions in the chronological order.

4. Neat and clean answer sheets have more chances of getting good marks than untidy ones. Is this true?

Raksha: Yes, of course! An examiner should be able to read your answers easily. Good handwriting or not, you should present your answers in a neat manner.

Hansika: To begin, one can never know the examiner’s point of view. Whether neat and clean papers would get more marks depends on the examiner. In most cases, having a neat and clear handwriting does help.

Karishma: This is absolutely true. It is a human psychology. When the examiner checks an answer sheet and it has a good handwriting and neat and clean work, he or she will assume that the student is well-prepared. Often there is a chance that the examiner might even miss your careless mistakes if your answer sheet is neat!

5. At the end of each exam, a student should review the paper again to check if any mistakes have been committed. Agree or disagree?

Raksha: Agree. You should keep the last 5-10 minutes to review your answers again and check for any mistakes. But once you are out of the exam hall, no point going through the paper again to check for mistakes. It will only add to your stress. Once you have submitted your paper, forget about the paper.

Hansika: Agree. I firmly believe that one should review the paper thoroughly after the exam. This way, any errors committed during the exam can be rectified.

Karishma: Agree. Revising the answers before submitting your sheet is important to check for any last-minute mistakes.

6. Any other exam writing tips you would like to share that worked for you?

Raksha: Always underline the important points of your answer. It helps in scoring. And try to mark your answers neatly.

Hansika: I would suggest students to remain calm and tackle one question at a time. In case they come across a question which they find difficult, they should try to write what would be the most relevant and appropriate answer.

Karishma: Make sure that you know the distribution of marks for all the topics in that subject. This way you can plan the length of your answers accordingly.

7. Do you agree that students must follow a healthy and nutritious diet to perform better in exams?

Raksha: Not just during the exams – you need a healthy and nutritious diet throughout the duration of the exams. I do not believe that brain food or health drinks before the exams help a student. I followed a balanced food diet with lots of water to hydrate. 

Hansika: I believe eating too much of junk and processed food, especially during the exams, is not good. My mother made sure I incorporated more of fruits and veggies in my diet. Overeating should be avoided as it can make you lethargic. Finally, I would like to say that if you are physically healthy, you become mentally healthy.

Karishma: It is better to avoid outside food during exam, time, this way you reduce the chances of tummy infection. I used to have regular home-cooked food during exam season.

8. Do share some tips for students to keep their mind calm during this grueling exam season.

Raksha: Meditation keeps your mind calm and relax. Talking to parents and friends help too.

Hansika: I have always ensured that I study whenever I was required to. However, it should not like your life is only about studies. You should also have fun. For instance, a few months before the board exams, I went on a trip to the Andamans. One cannot be a bookworm and ignore the fun things in life. I believe stress often is the result of excess worrying about good marks. In order to reduce anxiety and stress, you should be clear in all your concepts.

Karishma: Do not worry too much about marks. If you prepare well, you will be confident, and it would help you to keep a calm head. If you have any concern or doubts, talk to your parents and teachers.

9. Describe your success mantra!

Raksha: There is no success mantra as such. With the right effort, anyone can be a topper. When the last phase of preparation approaches before the exams start, I believe that putting in extra effort matters a lot.

Hansika: Do not focus only on the marks. Study hard, clear all doubts that you have and be confident in your preparations. Always compete with yourself. Sooner or later – success will be yours.

Karishma: I believe that being organised in my studies and maintaining a study routine helped me perform well.

Also read: How To Have An Effective Study Plan For The Board Exams

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About the author:

Written by Team ParentCircle on 04 February 2020.

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