'Consistency is the key to cracking any goal.'
'If you can't put in 10 hours a day, make it 6 hours or 8 hours, but stick to it.'
'Don't lose momentum.'
The ICAI exam, also known as the Chartered Accountancy exam, is a competitive exam conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
This year approximately 17,000 students appeared for Group I and 63,000 for Group II of the CA final exam held in May of which 14,643 and 13,877 candidates cleared the exams (Group I and II) respectively. Only 3,695 of the 29,348 candidates who appeared for both groups passed.
Mumbai's Meet Shah topped the exam, scoring 642 marks out of 800 marks (80.25 percent) at his first attempt.
"It was an unbelievable moment," Meet, who is pursuing the final year of his three-year articleship at KNAV, a global accounting and consulting firm in Mumbai, tells Divya Nair/Rediff.com.
"This year's exam was exhaustive and elaborative, but certainly not impossible to crack. We had questions on changes in taxes, GST, so it was pretty up-to-date. I was confident I had prepared and performed well, but I never expected to be the national topper," says Meet who lives with his mother Usha Shah in Mahalaxmi, south central Mumbai.
Congratulations! Were you expecting to top the exam?
Usually, ICAI announces the results in the afternoon. This time it was declared at 7.30 am. So I was least expecting it.
My friends said the results were out and I was about to switch on my computer when I got a call from Priti Sawla of ICAI.
She said I had secured All India Rank 1. I couldn't believe it.
Then she congratulated me and shared my marks.
Soon, I started getting calls from other ICAI members including the (ICAI) president. Before the feeling could even sink in, I got busy with calls through the day.
Only late at night when I sat down with my mom could I reflect on it what had happened.
Is your mom happy?
I lost my father in 2002 when I was very young. So I was bought up by my mom. She is a homemaker.
My elder sister and I live with her in Mahalaxmi. Last year my sister got married and shifted to Chicago.
When the results were announced, my mom had the typical reaction.
She was happy, thrilled and there were khushi ke aansu (tears of happiness).
Like me, she also started getting calls from family members and well-wishers.
My mom and I have barely had the time to sit down and celebrate. But it really feels like all those years of hard work has finally paid off.
Why did you want to be a CA?
I have always had my way around numbers, be it statistics or accountancy.
At the same time, I was a little sceptical about my options after graduation. I realised that if I pursued a regular 3-year degree and lost interest, it would be difficult to switch careers.
But if I pursued CA, I could also get knowledge about tax, audit and law.
After evaluating all options, after Class 12, I considered CA as my option.
Were you anxious about the exam at any point?
If you look at any professional course, they all share the same rigour as CA. Just because it seemed difficult, I didn't want to change my options.
In fact, the difficulty level and pass percentage never influenced my decision.
Since you are the first CA aspirant in the family, who did you look up to for inspiration and guidance?
From the academic perspective, I would always look up to some professor. But for moral support and motivation, if I faced setbacks, I'd turn to my mom and my sister.
They'd talk to me and help me get over any setbacks. I am really grateful to both of them.
How did you prepare for the exam?
I started sometime in August 2019 after clearing the intermediate exam. Soon, I got through the articleship. But I didn't want to lose touch with studies post Class 12.
Usually, before the exam we get 4-5 months leave from articleship to prepare for the exam. But I'd started my preparation way earlier.
In fact, during the entire three years (2019 to 2022), I ensured I was always in touch with my studies.
For the first two years, I would squeeze two hours before my articleship to either study or revise concepts that were taught earlier.
Six months before the exam, I stopped tracking the time/hours I spent. I was busy tracking and updating my schedule as to how much syllabus I had covered.
According to my mom, in the last few weeks I was studying approximately 12 to 15 hours a day.
Did the pandemic affect your preparation in any way?
The pandemic presented opportunities as well as setbacks. Since I was working from home, I could save the time of commute and spend it either to prepare or to relax, which wouldn't have been possible in a normal situation.
At the same time, I am someone who likes to interact face to face in a classroom. So it took me a while to adapt to online classes.
I always felt that in a real classroom set up when you study with peers, there is a better scope that someone else will ask a question or doubt and you can learn something out of it.
In a competitive exam, peer learning and group study opens up a lot of possibilities to learn. I certainly missed some of that.
According to you, what are some of the common mistakes aspirants make that they should avoid?
Inconsistency in preparation is a common mistake. A lot of aspirants start their preparation full of energy.
They will put in 8 to 10 hours in the first few days of the week ,but are somehow not able to maintain it through the week. By the 4th or 5th day of the week, they begin to slack.
According to me, consistency is the key to cracking any goal.
If you cannot put in 10 hours a day, make it 6 hours or 8 hours, but stick to it. Don't lose momentum.
Another mistake is not sticking to one source or study material.
When exam time approaches, many a times the best of students tend to get carried away.
If a friend or someone in the study circle is referring to an alternate study material for preparation with easy reference notes, they tend to get swayed and change their strategy hoping to benefit.
This often leads to confusion and lack of connectivity in what you have learned, prepared and perfected for months vis-à-vis the notes you are revising for the exam.
Remember what works for them may not necessarily work for you.
At the beginning of your preparation itself you pick a study material and stick to it.
In my opinion, the ICAI's study and refence material, advisories and mocks/revision tests are sufficient enough to cover all the concepts.
How important is private coaching for CA?
One can safely say that ICAI's study material is elaborate enough. In fact, it also offers live coaching and need-based scholarships on merit for the deserving.
Like I mentioned, I wanted to experience a classroom environment which is why I signed up with JK Shah classes at their Mumbai branch. But it's really up to each one to decide what works best for them.
What are some of the strategies that helped you?
It's important to have a clear goal and study strategy in place. And you have to keep updating it from time to time. For example, I'd set weekly, monthly goals and track them.
Whenever I realised I wasn't close to my goals, I'd revise and update my schedule every week.
Apart from class notes, maintaining handwritten notes also helped me.
What are your future plans?
There are a lot of options for me, but I am taking it slow. I have received some calls and offers. I have also scheduled some appointments and interviews.
I want to evaluate all the options and take the best decision that will also help me in my future.
You recently met Kirit Somaiya who is also a CA.
I was pleasantly surprised that he came home to visit me. He even took a selfie with me.
Since he is also a CA, he gave me some good advice. He told me not to take any decision in haste.
Before leaving, he also shared his personal number with me. So if I need any advice or reference of an expert to consult or seek help, he has promised to support me.
Any tips you'd like to share with CA aspirants?
Simply studying and revising concepts won't suffice. You must have adequate writing practice as well.
You must be able to know how much to write for each question to score enough. It also helps you manage your time and improve your writing speed ahead of the exam.
Is there a success mantra you believe in?
I'd say planning is the first step to achieve any goal. It gives you a sense of direction to evaluate where you are going and if you are headed in the right direction.
I won't say you'd always get 100 per cent. But if you have a plan, you can at least achieve 50 per cent of your goals with 80% accuracy.