Perfect score for Mumbai teen


“However hard you work, at the end of the day, you need someone, like a teacher, to go back to for guidance,” says Maya Bhagat, attributing her success in the Cambridge board exams, to her teachers.

Maya was declared as one of the worldwide toppers in Maths on October 17, with a perfect score of 100 out of 100, as well as an India topper in history, in which she scored 93 out of 100. She took the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) board exams in March this year, the results for which were announced in May, and the top scores earlier this week.

“I’m really happy that I did as well as I did,” says the 16-year-old student of Billabong High International School Thane.

Having moved to India from the US about five years ago, Maya quickly adapted to the new environment, new friends and teachers despite feeling homesick initially. “I credit a lot of my success to my teachers, especially my Maths teacher, Aditi Bhasin. She left the school post her pregnancy but continued to guide me and answered all my queries over email,” says Maya.

Fears, challenges, success

Having aced all the nine subjects — Maya scored ‘A’ stars in all nine papers — it’s hard to imagine that this young achiever struggled with learning. “Physics was challenging for me. I had to put in twice as much effort as I did in the other paper,” she says, a tad sheepish.

Economics was yet another challenge, partly because Maya’s class teacher, Nilka Gandhi, pushed the class to aim for perfection. “She would cut our marks for the slightest mistake, but she’d also inspire us to aim higher and work harder. I guess that helped as I ended up scoring 98 out of 100 in Economics, which is surprising as I think of myself as a science person,” smiles Maya.

For History, Maya had a study-at-home approach, including researching the internet to glean as much additional information as she could manage. “There are so many podcasts and websites that one can go through for extra information,” she says. “I like History. It’s like a story with so many different angles to it.”

Hard work aside, Maya goes through stress and anxiety much like any other student does. “My dad would accompany me during exams,” says the daughter of a scientist father and a journalist mother. “He would give me tips like ‘Finishing the paper is more important; if you’re stuck, skip the question and return to it later’. As students, we already know this, but it helps when someone reminds you at the right time,” she says.

From the desk

“I’m extremely happy for the child and the school,” says Ranjini Krishnaswami, director-principal, Billabong International Thane. “It’s a justification for all the hard work put in by Maya and the teachers.” Two years ago, Rishabh Mani from the same school, earned the title of being a world-level topper in Maths.

Apart from her teachers, Maya also acknowledges the role her friend played. “My best friend (and peer) Nandini and I motivate each other to do better. We would also approach the teachers together to get our queries answered,” she says.

Career curve

Ask about her career aspirations and she responds with a resounding “environmental science”. “Environmental degradation is a real problem today. People seldom think about the implications their actions have on others,” says Maya, who enjoys reading novels in her spare time. “Pollution is so high in India, and even abroad. Every family has a car even when they may not necessarily need one,” she points out.

About CIE

The Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) provide international qualifications through their exams to 10,000 schools in more than 160 countries.

The programmes are flexible enough so that teachers can use examples that are relevant to students’ local context and culture.

A Cambridge qualification is accepted and valued by the world’s best universities, including MIT and Harvard.

Maya’s tips to prepare for CIE

1. Make sure you understand concepts clearly.

2. Practice textbook questions. Go through the past papers when 70-80 per cent of the portion is done with.

3. Address the areas that you know you are weakest in, early on so that you have time to perfect them.

4. Make sure you learn from your mistakes when practicing. You could make a notebook, in which you write down the particularly hard problems, work out their answers, note down why you got it wrong, how you are going to improve, and not repeat that mistake.

5. Make sure you take breaks and do things you like.