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In our conversation with Arjun, he emphasises the importance of dedication and intrinsic motivation during the preparation of CA exams, or any exams for that matter. He talks about the things that helped him the most to stay consistent and keep going. Moreover, he beautifully highlighted the importance of Mental Health over everyone else.

Here is the detailed interview of Arjun with CAclubIndia

Heartiest Congratulations to you Arjun on securing AIR-1 from the entire team of CAclubIndia

Thank you so much!

So Arjun, why don't you tell us something about yourself?

So my name is Arjun Mehra. I study B.Com Hons. at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. I'm in my third year and I secured Rank 1 in the CA Intermediate July 2021 exams. I secured all India rank 29 in my CA Foundation Exams in November 2019.

That's all about myself if academics are concerned. Otherwise, in college, I'm part of the English Dramatic Society. I started my own CA Club with a couple of other friends from Venky. So that's about it.

That's really great. Arjun how did you come to know that you secured All India Rank 1 and how did it feel when you got to know about it?

The day when the result came, obviously I hadn't slept for two nights because the announcement had come. So, I decided to sleep through the entire day. I told mom to just keep my phone and let me know whenever the results come and obviously I was expecting the results to be out at 03:00 p.m. because that's generally when the results are out and all of a sudden mom was like, the results are out and I was like, what? Okay, that's a little earlier than I expected.

So anyway, mom gave me my phone, so basically, very quickly I checked my result. Hands were shaking, obviously. I think every person who checks the result would have that feeling. So I just checked my result and I saw a "Pass" and that was all that I wanted to see because I was anyway getting too anxious, you know, with the thoughts that what if I have to re-prepare eight subjects again. I couldn't go through all of that again, ao I told mom that I cleared my exam.

She started celebrating, she started crying and you know, the entire celebratory mood that happens. Then I saw my total score. I had not even seen the total score I just saw like a 600 something. So they were like, okay, 600 something seems to be good. I can expect a rank here. So I checked the merit list, then I saw rank one and from that point to right now, I haven't really been able to come to terms with it because it is something you always, you know, aspire to be, but you never really become one.

So the feeling is great. I can't put it into words but it's certainly worth all the effort and all the hard work.

Did you also receive a call from the President of ICAI?

I did not receive a call from the President, but I did receive a call from CCM.


Okay so Arjun, as you may agree, that while preparing for any exam, especially in this exam, a support system, a good support system in the form of maybe parents, family, relatives or friends, is extremely important. Who was your support system during the examinations?

My mom. So I mean, I give myself the credit of clearing inter exams, but the fact that I got a rank and that too AIR 1, that entire thing goes to mom. If I did not have that support, I would have probably still cleared the exams but anything over and above that is totally her because she was the one who picked up the teachers that I wanted to take. She was the one who was standing like a rock throughout the process because I used to wake up at three in the morning and I used to get all these anxiety strikes and I used to go and talk to her at 04:00 and never, like even once, and this happened a lot towards the end but not once did she say anything about it and she was always there. And I also basically cut myself off the world because that's what you've got to do for your CA exams. But she was the one person I was constantly in contact with because, you know, venting out is also a very important part of preparations. And since I wasn't in contact with anyone, she was the one person I went to all day, so that one person, be it in the form of your parents, as you said, or that one friend for you is very important.

Right. Talking about, of course, like we all have our favorite subjects and subjects that we don't like. So which subject did you struggle with the most? And how did you manage to overcome it?

So the thing that happened to me was that I enjoyed all subjects. It wasn't as if I did not like studying a particular subject. But I am one person who generally struggles with theory. I would have to put five times more effort in theory than practical. So generally I had a lot of problems with law in the beginning because they were all new subjects. Audit was my favorite subject overall, but also for some reason, it was the subject which frightened me the most. I know the two things don't correlate but for some reason it was like that.

And in practicals FM was one subject which I used to be a little dicey about. So there is no one answer to this. It's very simple, you've got to work hard. You've got to face it. If you have problems in theory, you've got to study it. You have to give it more time. You've got to learn it. If you're having problems with the sections, you've got to learn the sections. If you're having problems with FM, you've got to practice FM. There's no shortcut.

Yeah, there are different strategies which you can use. So for example, if I had problems in theory, I used mnemonics, I made charts, I used sticky notes next to every topic. So there are different strategies which you can go for, but there's no shortcut to doing it. I give a lot of mock papers. I gave around 40 full syllabus papers before attempting for my final exams in totality. So that is one thing which really, really helps for both your strong as well as your weak subjects.

So there is a theory that the thing you like the most or maybe the subject you struggle with the most, you should study towards the start of the day. Was this your mantra during the preparation?

So I totally agree with this, because there are different phases of preparation. You can't do one thing throughout. But again, because I used to wake up at three in the morning I used to start my studies by four, which is basically the golden hour. So I would do these subjects. It is always preferable to do the subject you are having problems with in the beginning because you're fresh and your mind is ready to take in more information. But more than that, for me, it is basically when you have started your studying, you should concentrate on your concepts when you start and then you can go with practicing after that.

I basically attended two different subject classes at once. So I used to do the classes in the morning and then I used to prepare for the rest of the day. As I told you, I have a lot of problem where theory is concerned, so whenever I was learning, I used to do theory in the beginning and then I used to move on to practical because as your efficiency starts to board over, you would still do those subjects which you enjoy doing rather than those subjects that you don't and then it would never happen.

You mentioned that you used to wake up at 03:00 a.m. in the morning and you used to start with your studies by 04:00 a.m. So what did your overall schedule look like? Maybe if we talk one month prior to the exams and then like six months prior to the exam, how did you manage your time?

So I have been asked many times how many hours I put into studies and stuff like this. So again, there is no exact answer to this. It was very simple, I used to start at four and end at eight at night, but I never studied from four to eight, right? I also took an hour break in the afternoon. I had my lunch, I took an hour nap there. I basically had, like, 40-50 alarms on my phone every day. So I basically divided my days into slots. I would study for two and a half hours, then there would be an alarm. Then I would take a break, for example 20 minutes, and then there would be another alarm after two and a half hours.

I would do something like that during the entire day. So it's not as if you should have fixed slots, but those slots are dynamic. As you get closer to the exam, for example, my two and a half slots reduced to one and a half hours because the pressure starts to get to you. So you've got to be very consistent, but you've got to be dynamic with the entire schedule, too.

Also you should be well timed. So for me, when I was taking my breaks, I was just listening to songs on full volume, but then my break was like three songs or four songs. The break shouldn't increase to 1 hour or 2 hours. So that is why I really like this idea of listening to just songs, because then you can count the number of songs you have listened to and then you can move on to your next slot. So study the whole day, don't put in anything else in those particular hours.

 

You can take breaks as rest, but don't do something which you know would divide your mental attention into two different things.

So my next question was going to be what made it easier for you to follow your study routine? Since you've mentioned music, was it only music, or was there something else also that made it, you know, slightly easier for you to follow your study routine?

Of course music did, but it's actually the dedication, it's what you feel about the course from within. I mean, it's not even about the rank. It's basically about giving the course that respect, you know, because you're getting into a very respected profession. Everyone knows that the first part of getting into CA is acceptance that it is a difficult course. So if you know that the course is difficult, you know that the pass percentage never exceeds 10%.

I don't believe in external motivation. Everything comes from within. So the fact that your exams are coming up, and you know, that promise, which you've made to yourself that if you're doing a subject, let everything else be, you've got to be honest to yourself, you've got to be honest with that subject. So that thing comes from within.

So yeah, apart from that fact songs really helped, I used to go for an hour's walk, it really, really helped. I would really urge everyone not to leave exercising, although I did. I'm a hypocrite for saying that, but I did towards the end. But generally, I did go for a walk for at least one hour every day. So that's very important. So have that little time in the day for yourself, maybe after your studies slot.

Arjun like you mentioned that it is not about the rank. But if we think about it on a macro level, should one focus on getting a rank while preparing for the exam? Or should one just go on with the flow and just go with full determination and see what's gonna happen for them. What was it in your case?

You'll never get a full determination until and unless you have a target. You've got to have a target for you. It's basically as if you're driving a car. Full speed is a very lucid term. But if you have to drive 120 kms, you know which particular speed you have got to reach. So that is what a rank does to you. For me, it wasn't even ever about the rank. I mean, of course, I wanted an AIR, of course, I wanted AIR 1. But it was much bigger than that.

I've always felt that you've got to dream big. I wanted to not just get a rank, I wanted to get the highest marks ever in the history of ICAI, I wanted to score a perfect 800, 100 in each subject, because if there are questions in an exam, there are answers to them. So it is possible, at least even if it does depend a lot on the examiner, but at least you should give that kind of a paper that once you're done with that paper you are satisfied that okay, there is nothing in this world you could have done more to give more to that particular paper.

I did have that feeling after my exams, I felt satisfied with myself, after that pass and failure is not really in my hands. So my mom says this thing, which really inspires me, "Karma karo phal ki chinta mat karo". But you've got to have that one target.

 

So if you think you're going to think of the skies, you're going to reach the mountain, if you're going to think about passing you might not pass, but if you think about getting an 800, you might as well get much more than, you know, just passing marks, think about exemptions as your passing ; 60 be the passing line. So increase your own stakes. That really helps.

I'm sure when you increase those stakes and you dreamt of securing a complete 100 you must have referred to a lot of study material. So was it only limited to ICAI study material or did you refer to some other books as well?

I just referred to the books which were given by my faculties, which are under the study material. That's it. Believe me, nothing else in this world is required for getting marks and people who don't do ICAI study material, they take a very big risk.

For example, in this attempt, everyone was saying that the audit paper especially was very difficult. After my audit paper I went home to mom and I was showing her how each and every question was straight from the study material copy paste had come in the exam.

So the thing is, if you're giving an institute's paper, and you're not referring to the question bank provided by that institute, then it does not really add up right. So I did refer to ICAI material i.e. study material, RDP, MTP, question papers, all of that I did, of course I did. But other than faculty material and ICAI material I did not refer to any third party material.

Also, of course, one of the very key aspects of securing good marks is how you present your answer. You may know everything, but if you don't know the right technique to, you know, express yourself in terms of writing, then it's very tough to secure marks. So what do you think are the key points to present your answer during the exam? Both theory and practical.

If I were to give a couple of tips about practical subjects, I would say, start every answer in a fresh page. In the middle, or the top middle, you should write answer three, part A, sub part one, and you should do every sub part, every part on a separate page, according to me.

I remember for my Audit's true and false, I did every true and false on a separate page. So this way, it looks clean, it looks presentable, then the examiner will not, you know, not check a particular point or not assign marks to a particular point.

Again for practical, please, please, please use a pencil and a scale to make tables. Don't go and just use a pen to make lines because that looks very not right. I mean, because, again, as you said, presentation is very important, nobody's going to look at just one and a half years you worked for it, it's just three hours, right? That is all the image that you're giving to the examiner. So don't be untidy. And it's not difficult to make lines with pencil and scale.

Again, for preparation, the best technique is giving mock papers and not just one, multiple mock papers, because you can really play a lot with presentation there, use different techniques, how to go about it, whether to attempt MCQs first or later, you can try both of them. So you can play a lot with your mock papers.

In practical, there is nothing very particular, just make sure to use pencils to make tables.

For theory, I would say every single paper has a different way of presentation, you can't go for a blanket rule for theory. For example, in law, you have to start with a section, you go with the analysis or you go with the legal position, facts of the case, analysis, and conclusion.

For audit on the other hand, you just start with the relevant reference and then you write the entire answer. In EIS SM, I filled the paper with charts and diagrams and stuff.

So every paper has its own technique. There are a lot of videos on YouTube to refer to different presentation techniques. And again, mock papers really help in improving it.

Also Arjun, of course preparation and everything is on one side, but the situation that you people faced in July, you know with the PIL, with the second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic, the constant extension and whether the exam would take place or not, all of that was going on. How did you stay motivated during that time of the exam, like even two days before the exam, it wasn't sure whether the exam was going to happen or not.

It's very simple. Keep yourself away from YouTube. Don't look at the PIL. I mean, the thing is, whether the exams will happen or not, that is for the institute to decide, that is not for the students to decide. So why is it that the exam may get cancelled? Of course, it's understandable if you have the tension that I've worked so hard and after that the exam will get cancelled. That happens to everyone, but the fact that you are making your preparation contingent on the fact whether ICAI will cancel the exams. That is just another way of saying that you're not prepared enough and you're just looking for ways to get out.

If you are prepared at that point, these things should not really matter. And I mean, the PIL, the cases we're going down, it was very evident that ICAI also had exams in November. It was on the face that exams would be held.

Even if there's a 1% chance that exams will take place, why are you still wasting time on this? You can still prepare right and even if it happens after 2 months or 6 months, studies never go to waste, you might as well still spend that time studying.

It's not as if the Supreme Court's decision will be influenced on whether you're watching YouTube or not. So might as well not, you will eventually get to know what the thing is. So just stay away from all of this.

Right. Also, Arjun was there anything apart from exercising and music that really helped your mental health? Because it's very easy to get exhausted by studying, especially for CA exams.

It is very, very difficult to keep that, you know, thing going for very, very long because it's been a constant pressure cooker. I basically just concentrated on walking and I used to listen to a lot of music because I am really fond of music.

I had this one phone. So basically, I'd given up my phone for the past three-four months before the exam. Then I had a small phone which only had Spotify in it. So songs really helped me, but I feel you know, free communication with that one person, like mom in my case really helps.

Constant venting is something which really keeps you going. I never watched any motivational videos because I just, I used to get that feeling that I can rather study instead of spending my time watching this video. So it was just, you know, music, it was walking, it was constantly talking to my mother, which I really feel that one person you should always have.

But, you know, that is the difficulty of this course. You don't have a lot of windows, but you've got to push through. So it's just again, the internal motivation, which you have to, like convince yourself that you can do this. Keep yourself busy, is what I'll say. Whenever I get anxious, I just surround myself with work. It's not the healthiest coping mechanism, but it helps.

Of course Arjun, we can't let you off this interview without discussing your future plans and your plans for articleship. So will you go for big fours, midsize firm, and what are your plans ahead in general?

So, I can't start my articleship immediately because I'm doing regular college. So I'm going to start in May next year. So basically a gap in a way, but I have a lot planned in college. Again, as I told you, I have my Dramatics Aociety, I have the CA Club, which has started. So, a lot of work is happening there. Probably I will just like to take up a couple of skill courses, because why not? I have the time.

But about articleship, I have always wanted to get into the Big Four because I believe very strongly in specialisation. So I do want to get into the Big Four, but that is contingent on many factors. So not really thinking about that right now.

I'm just like, chilling with the fact that I am CA Finalist. Finally, I don't have to re-prepare the entire syllabus. So I'm keeping my options open. I'm gonna do a little bit of research about the various fields in which I can get into. So just keeping myself a little light right now and things are good, so let's see. I'll go with the flow.

Also, Arjun as an ending note, if there is any one or two, three pieces of advice that you would like to give for all the students who are going to write their exam in the future whether CA Foundation or Inter?

So where academics are concerned, I've already stated you can't go for the exams without doing your study material, that goes without saying irrespective of whichever faculty you are taking, you have got to do that.

There is no limit to the number of mock papers you can give. But take those which are evaluated, not the ones that you evaluate, because I did that and it did not work and it just gave me a lot of anxiety. So do ICAI's study material and by study material, I mean everything and the mock papers are extremely important.

Find your hours where you can study. For example, I'm a morning person. I can wake up very, very early so I did that. But you've got to increase the number of hours. So for example, AIR 2, AIR 4 and I were from the same class, we're very close friends. So AIR 2, she studies at night. Again, it's a very personal thing. So you've got to find those hours.

But other than that on a general note, something which I did not do, which I really regret, is taking care of your mental health. I did not. But I personally feel that there is nothing in this world which is more important than your mental health. Any rank for that matter, even passing or not passing. They are secondary to your mental health and your health in general, but CA students do put their mental health on a secondary level.

If you need a break, take a break, because taking a smaller break is better than getting a proper meltdown, a proper break down and then skipping days at a go. But that is about the study preparation but otherwise also mental health should come first before anything so do make that a priority.

Alright thank you so much, Arjun for this insightful conversation. I am sure that your advice is going to help a lot of CA aspirants in the future. And once again, heartiest congratulations to you and all the best for your future.

This interview was taken by Aishna Kukreja, Assistant Editor- CAclubindia

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