On May 26, 2018, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) released the class 12 board exams results. The internet has been flooded with pictures, articles, memes of Meghna Srivastava, the student from Step By Step in Noida who scored a 499 on 500.
I caught up with Meghna over the telephone and we chatted for 20 minutes about what she likes to study, her Netflix habits, what led her to choose humanities in class 11, and more.
Rajkanya Mahapatra: The last 24 hours must have been very busy. Everyone in the country knows your name – thanks to the media and the internet. What are the most bizarre questions you’ve been asked so far?
Meghna Srivastava: They asked me, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ And I was like, are you expecting a 17-year-old to know what she wants to do in life?
‘How many hours did you study?’ has got to be one of the weirdest questions I’ve been asked. Even after saying that I didn’t count, the same question was asked to me again and again.
They also asked me, ‘where did you lose that one mark? Are you feeling bad that you lost that one mark?’ I felt really weird. I said, ‘listen, I don’t think I can complain when I got a 499!’
RM: How did you come to choose humanities in Class 11 over science and commerce?
MS: In class 10, I got 10 CGPA, and it was a little confusing for me. My school never said that I couldn’t take up a particular stream but I knew I could do well in all streams. It was really tough for me to make that decision. You might’ve read it in the newspapers, that I liked reading Malcolm Gladwell. I read a book of his called ‘The Outliers’ and I really liked it. Somehow I really found it inspiring and it helped me make a decision. Humanities had the subjects that I wanted to study. It was as simple as that.
This whole conversation about science and commerce never happened in my house. I was lucky to have parents who were cool and trusted me. I’ve been pretty independent for most of my school life. So I was given that freedom and space to make these decisions.
RM: What were the subjects you studied?
MS: I had History, Geography, Psychology and Economics. When I finalised on the subject combination in class 11, I was told it was a very strange one. I wanted to study psychology because my mom had done it and I got interested. I would look into the work she was doing, the books she read, etc.
Also, my school put psychology and math in the same band, so I could only choose one. That was a big decision for me. There was a lot of pressure. People were like, ‘Maths nahi logi?’, ‘How will you manage in the future?’, ‘Psych toh tum UG mein bhi padh sakti ho lekin maths achcha backup hoga’ and that was the time when I got really flaky.
Then I realised, that’s the jump I have to take and I am glad I took it because now I am very sure I want to study psychology in the future.
RM: Were there any specific bits that you enjoyed studying more than the others?
MS: CBSE books aren’t the best because it’s very theoretical but 12th-grade psychology is great. I liked the chapter on personality a lot. I liked social cognition and group processes. I found it very relatable. You can see these things around you and that’s probably what got me really curious about it. I also found Freud really interesting.
History in class 11 is very messy because it’s world history and there isn’t a proper timeline. But history in class 12 was amazing, especially modern history. I was lucky enough to have a history teacher who had the ability to suddenly make you love the subject. She never stuck to just the books.
RM: So, where are you headed next? Have you started shortlisting colleges?
MS: So, no DU for me. Delhi University was never the plan. I had applied to colleges in the US, Canada, and in India, I had applied to Ashoka University. Because if I decided to stay here, I wanted to go to Ashoka. Now I am headed to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
RM: Have you come to terms with the fact that you’re the all India CBSE Topper?
MS: For me, it has not sunk in yet. My parents, friends and relatives are really happy, really proud. I feel really normal. I still don’t know what’s happening.
RM: Let’s get to the board exams. In the bytes to several media houses, you mentioned studying through the year and being a consistent student, could you take me through that journey ?
MS: By the time I got to the study leave, which was in February, I had already done every chapter in every subject at least four times. We have class tests, half yearly exams, and pre-board exams. It’s because of the number of tests you take that you get really comfortable with the content. The last month before the board exams is when you go over everything once more. CBSE is all about repetition. You need to know your content because anything can become a question.
I was asked what my hobbies were. I think you expect the CBSE topper to be really studious, right? Academics were my priority but I made sure I had other stuff to do, and that’s where Netflix came in. I never counted the number of hours I studied. If someday I decided to do Micro, it didn’t matter how long it took. It could take an hour or 12 hours but I’d finish it and then chill. It was as simple as that.
Some of my friends would get up at seven in the morning to study, some would get up at 5 am to revise before the exam. But I wanted a good night’s sleep and I wanted to get up and go give the exam. I decided not to open the books in the morning. That was my approach to it. Different things work out for different people. People just need to trust their process. It’s as simple as that.
RM: You mentioned watching Netflix during breaks. What are you watching on Netflix these days?
MS: I am a hardcore Netflix binge-watcher. I watch everything. I finished watching The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and now I am watching Gilmore Girls.
RM: Did you have a strategy to score well?
MS: Being a consistent student, I had high achievement needs. I knew I want to do well in the boards and that was the aim. I don’t think anybody studies with the mindset of topping a town or the country. That just happened.
I wanted to score the most in Psychology because I wanted my college to know that I have a flair for it (psychology), and this is the subject I wanted to study. I just wanted to give it my best. Of course, I wanted to score well, and I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t.
RM: Apart from the umpteen number of news articles and images, there are also memes on you on the internet. What do you have to say about that?
MS: The memes have lent the results some humour. I like it. I want AIB to make memes on me. I want Buzzfeed articles. I love the memes. I think it’s every kid’s dream to be a meme and I became one! I have no complaints.
However, I don’t like the fake accounts that are being made on social media. I didn’t enjoy yesterday at all because there was way too much media and they were all in my face, and I didn’t like it. I don’t enjoy the limelight.
RM: What does scoring 499 mean to you?
MS: The marks don’t matter so much. How I prepared, and my method is what matters to me. Since I applied to colleges in other countries, the application season began in October and November and deadlines went up till January. Pre-boards happen in January. So time management was key. At the beginning of class 12, I knew I had to manage time well. There was no other option.
My cousins who study abroad and mentored me through the process had advised me to get done with my SATs in class 11, take the TOEFL exam during the summer break. So, I did all of that. That process is what led to the 499.
RM: What do you have to say about the stigma that’s around choosing humanities in our country?
MS: With the results this year, I think, we’ve shown how it works. I understand the importance of science and commerce, but humanities is the need of the hour, isn’t it? You want people to think, you want people to form their opinions, and all of that happens when you’re studying humanities because you’re questioning everything. I’d definitely encourage students to take humanities.
RM: What advise would you give those taking their boards exams next year?
MS: It’s really not that big a deal. I understand that it’s an important exam especially for those who’re aiming at universities like DU. I understand it’s extremely competitive. However, don’t let it get to you because it won’t do you any good.