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When and why did you decide to take the law entrances?
Well, Law really wasn’t a vocation or life-long interest for me. I do not come from a family of legal godfathers, and law was never even discussed as a career option in my family. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, and so I took up Science in my +2. It took me a year and half to realize that Science was really not my cup of tea. That’s when I was looking at alternate career options, and Law struck me. Especially after giving a few CLAT mocks, I found it doable. Law was more of a backup option for me. But well, I am glad now that I selected it.
What were the topics that troubled you? How did you go about tackling them?
Mathematics and Logic were topics which scared me. As for Maths, I must agree that it was more of a traditional maths phobia (ingrained in most students). I used to see the entire Mathematics section as an impregnable fort, and I was scared of even trying Maths questions during mocks. What I did (and I would suggest CLAT aspirants to do too) was to look at Maths as a collection of small but easy topics. Frankly, CLAT Maths is elementary. There are some tough parts such as clocks and calenders, but there are many easy topics like mensuration, time and distance etc. which are actually very easy and fun to solve.
How did you analyze your strengths and weaknesses? How did you decide which areas you should focus on at any given point of your preparation?
Identifying ones strengths and weaknesses is one of the most important phases of CLAT preparation. You see, in CLAT one has to answer 200 questions in 120 minutes. So one gets only about 30 seconds to answer a question (and judge whether to attempt it at all), if you leave out some buffer time. So its most important to attack the areas in which one is strong, and be cautious in the areas one has a weakness. If this strategy is in place, half the race is won.
Now about how exactly we can go about doing it. The one and only way to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses is practicing mocks. There is no alternative to practice. The more one practices, the more would he be able to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses. I have known my students who have cracked CLAT only by solving some 30 odd papers. I am not suggesting everyone to do the same, but it shows how crucial practice is.
How should one go about building a great general knowledge like you have done?
Haha, frankly I really can’t say I built a great general knowledge. Actually, the world of general knowledge is so varied and vast, that one never knows enough. Well, what I can say I have (and all CLAT aspirants should) is a desire to know, a will to get exposed to new facts and interesting nuggets, both current and static. This inquisitive spirit has to be inculcated, sometimes by family, sometimes by school or both. If you do have such an atmosphere, you are very lucky. It makes it so much easier for you.
But if you don’t, there are many things you can do to inculcate it yourself. The web is great repository of knowledge, so are books and movies. There have been times when I have spent hours just searching matter on Wikipedia, and trust me it can be really fascinating. Let me give you an example, as to where a knowledge train can lead you.
THE BEATLES - MARK CHAPMAN – J.D. SALINGER – HINDUISM – RAMAKRISHNA MISSION – MINORITY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION CRISIS, INDIA.
Well, what connects all these seemingly disconnected names? Incase you do research on the web, you will find out that each of these is connected to the next in an incredible collection of factoids.
The Beatles (I am sure I do not need to introduce them to you) had John Lennon as one of their foremost members Mark Chapman, one of Lennon’s fans assassinated him. It is believed that Chapman did so inspired by the cult fiction ‘ Catcher in the Rye’ by Salinger. Now Salinger, a famous life-long recluse was infact an American Hindu and an ardent follower of the Ramakrishna Movement and a member of the Mission. The Mission, in an interesting move a few years ago had filed a petition in several Indian High Courts, to claim that they are infact a different religion, ‘Ramakrishnaism’ and that they are not Hindus. They did so in order to get benefits assured to religious minorities under the Indian Constitution. Well now you see, a single session in front of the computer yielded all this. A legendary band from England leads to an American recluse and he leads to Ramakrishna Mission and their fight to find loopholes in the Constitution of India. Fascinating? I guess. The world of General Knowledge can be even more fascinating than the example I gave you just now. One just needs to have the will to know.
How did you go about your CLAT preparation for G.K.? What materials did you find useful?
Preparing for CLAT GK can be a strenuous task indeed. More or less, one can divide GK into two parts:- Current and Static. Not that they are water-tight compartments, but Static is more about established facts and Current is more about facts that are happening right now. As far as Static is concerned, you have to follow the steps mentioned above. There is no easy way out. Its too vast for shortcuts.
Current is something we can afford to be smart about. For starters, you simply have to read your newspaper daily. Any will do, but one needs to be read. Even if you miss out on reading the news for a month, you will find the amount of material too huge to manage later on. Its better to take the newspaper-capsule every day.
Secondly, always try and reduce current facts you get to lists and tables. Lists aid the brain to keep facts in mind. Never try and memorize facts. Just make lists and read through them often. They will automatically get embedded in your brain.
Would you say having a background of quizzing helped? What would your advice be to someone who wouldn’t have this advantage? How can one possibly bridge this gap?
Well, a background of quizzing did help. It helped a lot, not because I knew a lot (trust me, for GK nothing is a lot), but because, as I stated above, I had inculcated in me the desire to know. This spirit of inquiry helps, and a quizzer generally has it.
But, as I said, you do not need to have an atmosphere of knowledge to build that temperament. The atmosphere aids, but one can start himself. I would like to suggest to all CLAT aspirants to start today with the knowledge exercise. By the end of the year, you will find yourself not only ready for CLAT, but generally a more aware person.
What is your opinion on the role of reading the newspaper in building up one’s G.K.? How do you think it (the newspaper) should be used to derive the maximum benefit out of it?
It may sound clichéd, but there is no alternative to reading newspapers. Many today suggest the Hindu, but I feel that any English daily does just fine. Actually, reading a newspaper has a three-pronged advantage. (1) It helps your English by increasing your vocabulary, (2) It increases your reading speed, which helps in vocabulary, and ofcourse (3) It gives you your daily dose of current affairs.
Many aspirants are scared of GK and often end up spending too much time preparing for it at the expense of other subjects. What is your advice for them?
Yes, that is a genuine problem among many. I also did the mistake of devoting too much time on GK when I started studying. But aspirants must know that GK is unlike other subjects. In GK, you have to feed your brain with facts and matter. Now, there is only a certain daily intake capacity of the brain. You will not be able to study pages after pages of facts and still remember them. It is best that you do just that much that you can take in each day. As of now, the daily scrutiny of the newspaper will do.
There is no end to preparing for GK. When should one say that this is enough, and then move on to focus more on other subjects?
It is true that there is no end to studying GK. And that is precisely the reason why you can never say it is ‘enough’. Your preparation for GK would go on till your day before the CLAT examination. But as I said just above, never study more than your brain can take in. You can never study GK for the whole day. You have to take it in regular small dozes.
Could you please elaborate on how you went on preparing for the other subjects? What materials did you use?
I have already told about Maths above. As far as English, Logic and Legal are concerned, it is mostly English and nothing else. If one is strong in English, he/she will sail through these sections. If not, I will suggest them to spend the year cultivating their English. Read newspapers, books and build your vocabulary. And ofcourse, practice!
What were your favourite books for CLAT?
I found Universal’s Guide to LL.B. very helpful. It has a lot of wrong answers, so the aspirants need to be careful. But it encapsulates the entire CLAT preparation in between two covers.
How much time should one spend on one GK question during the CLAT exam?
The entire section of 50 GK questions should not take more than 10 minutes. You need a lot of time in other sections. GK is just know it or leave it.
Do you think one should try to guess answers in the exam? When is it reasonable to guess an answer in CLAT given that there is negative marking?
I don’t think I would be qualified to comment on the negative marking aspect, because I did not face it when I gave CLAT in 2012. But, what I tell my students is that we have to depend on our guts while deciding which question to answer and which to leave out. But again, I think this question would be answered best by someone who cracked CLAT in 2013 and 2014.
Does having a strong base of GK help when one joins a law school? How so?
Yes, ofcourse! I would actually say a strong base in GK is far more important once one is in law school, than in CLAT. Law is a study of contemporary social, politics and legal developments in India and the world. Especially subjects like Constitutional Law, Law of Torts and Family Law will get far more interesting if one knows his facts.
Despite all efforts, a majority of CLAT aspirants will not make it to a good NLU. What is your advice for them?
I would like to tell them that CLAT is not an examination to test how much one knows, but to test how effectively one can apply his knowledge. SO, not being successful in CLAT is not an indicator to show that you are unfit for it. It is possible that your strategy was not right, or you were just unlucky. I have known many who have cracked CLAT in their second or even third try. Please don’t lose hope. And incase you do get some NLU, even if its not one of your liking, I would suggest you to take admission nevertheless. If you are bent on law, the NLUs are the best. One can always give the exams again while studying in law school. Its possible and not difficult at all.
You have been teaching CLAT aspirants. Tell us about your experience. Any useful tips for our readers?
Teaching CLAT has been an awesome experience, Cracking CLAT myself has not been more satisfying than seeing my students sitting for them and cracking them. I would like to tell aspirants that a common problem that I have found among many of my students is the general low opinion students have about their own potentials. Please know, that for exams like CLAT which are more analytical than knowledge-based, there is no limit to what one can achieve with practice. Strategy and Practice are the two pillars of CLAT. One can ignore neither.
Your final message for CLAT aspirants.
Make the CLAT preparation phase a time worthwhile. It is not only about cracking CLAT or getting into the top 3. It is about coming out of the entire phase, a better person, a better informed person. The subject of law teaches us to think differently about commonplace events and occurrences. The preparation phase of CLAT should also yield a similar result. Just don’t make it only about cracking CLAT. Trust me, there is much more at stake! All the best!