Al Ain: During her school years in Al Ain, Indian girl Diya Zainab was an all-rounder, participating in as many extra-curricular activities as possible, winning academic awards and cracking quizzes and competitions including a television contest for which she made a “Locust Zapper” sustainability project with her friends.
Today, she is basking in her latest achievement — acing India’s NEET medical exam among the UAE aspirants who took the highly competitive test last month.
A former student of Our Own English High School in Al Ain, Zainab cleared NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) 2023 with flying colours with a score of 695 out of 720. She holds an All India Rank of 552 and Kerala State Rank 23 in the exam for medical entrance attended by more than 2 million students.
Hard work, never-give-up attitude
With an impressive percentile of 99.97, which means she beat as many per cent of candidates who appeared in the cut-throat competition, Zainab shared her journey of hard work, sacrifices and the never give-up attitude with Gulf News.
“I worked so hard for it…so it feels so great,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that it was not her first attempt.
“When I was doing my 12th, I had not made up my mind about what to pursue after school. I was busy doing everything that I loved and I did not prepare enough for NEET as I took that decision very late. I only studied for a month for my first NEET. But, when I was able to score 461 in that attempt, I realised I could do better if I worked harder,” said Zainab, who had scored 95.4 per cent in her grade 12 CBSE board exams.
A recipient of the prestigious Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Award for Excellence in 2022, Zainab was not ready to give up and decided to take a gap year. She then joined a NEET coaching institute started by doctors in her hometown Kozhikode in the south Indian state of Kerala.
“I dedicate eight months for NEET preparation, staying at a hostel run by the institute. There was no distraction allowed and that meant no phone. NCERT became my whole life,” she said, chuckling.
“I made sure to study thoroughly. Whatever I learned had to be clear in my head. Then I focused on repeated revision especially through short notes.”
Another important tip from the high achiever is to practise solving MCQs (multiple choice questions) as much as possible.
However, Zainab said she ensured that she took frequent breaks to avoid any potential burnout.
“I followed the Pomodoro Technique, studying for 30 minutes and taking a break for the next five minutes.”
Her accomplishments during schooling include winning the Shastra Pratibha award, a science talent search, and leading her team to develop the “Locust Zapper,” a solution for locust swarm attacks, which secured first prize on the Emirati Sustainability TV show “Rawadh Al Isthidama” which was aired on Abu Dhabi TV.
The avid basketball player had won the Abu Dhabi Schools Champions basketball tournament with her team and received an opportunity to train in Madrid, Spain under the renowned athletics coach Vicente Calvo.
She has showcased her linguistic skills as a finalist in the Spelling Bee Championship UAE and attended an Astronaut Training workshop at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, US.
Zainab has also shone through her victories in quizzes, debates, and Model United Nations competitions. She also actively participated in literature and cultural events organised by community organisations such as the Indian Social Centre, Thaarattu, and the Al Ain Malayali Samajam, where she served as the president of the children’s wing.
Zainab credits her parents Shajith AT, project manager at Al Ain Zoo and Jamseela NV, systems engineer at SIBCA electronics, for her well-rounded achievements which make her an exemplary role model for aspiring students.
“My parents and my younger siblings are always there to support me. They are all over the moon [about my NEET success],” said Zainab who wishes to enroll for MBBS at the prestigious Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry, India.
She also thanked her parents, teachers in the school and instructors at her NEET coaching centre, some of whom she said were inspirational doctors, for supporting her in her journey. “I feel if you need something great, you need to make some sacrifices. So, I want to tell the future NEET aspirants to be ready for that,” she added.