Out of the over 1.6 million candidates that took the 2018 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, 17-year-old Galadima Israel scored the highest, with 364 out of the 400 total score. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, the elated pupil, who hails from Borno State, talks about how he prepared for the exam and what he would ascribe the feat
Did it come to you as a surprise that you had the highest score in UTME?
It did, actually, but I would also say I prepared and prayed towards it. I knew I would get a very good score but I didn’t know it would be the overall best in the country. I made a decision never to take any exam twice, so I give my best always. With the way I read, I knew I would get above 300, but I was expecting between 300 and 315. When the result came out, it was released in batches, and some of my colleagues already checked theirs, but I couldn’t access mine on time. The system showed that my own had not come out. I became tensed, because the results of the people I shared same centre with had come out and I was wondering why mine was being delayed. Eventually, I was able to log in. When I entered my details and my result was displayed on the screen, I was very happy. I was jumping, and everyone there congratulated me. Actually, I knew I would do well, but I didn’t expect that kind of score.
What was your reading schedule like?
I studied really hard. I finished New System Physics textbook and the Chemistry textbook by Osei Yaw Ababio. I read both of them from the beginning to the end. I only used the New School Physics for reference, but I didn’t finish it. The New System Physics textbook was very explanatory and when I was reading, it was for full understanding. I didn’t cram anything. If there was anything I didn’t understand, I would stay on it until I had full understanding of it, and sometimes, I met with my friends to explain to me because no one is an island of knowledge. Then, my mother had a hand in this.
What kind of help did she render?
She always prayed for me and my siblings. We are three and we all grew up in Lagos. I have an elder brother and a younger sister. Anytime I was home, I always heard her praying for us in the night. She prays a lot and she’s my role model; very prayerful and hardworking. I’m glad I made her proud. When I was receiving awards at our graduation ceremony, she actually cried; tears of joy, and I assured her it was just the beginning.
What of your dad?
He died in 2004; that was when I was three years old. So, I never really knew him. I wish he was alive to see this great feat his son had accomplishment. (Sobs..) I really wish he was here to see this for himself, but I know he would be proud of me in heaven.
Despite the distractions here and there, how did you manage your time?
The school I attended, Faith Academy, Ota, Ogun State, helped in that regard. They taught us to manage our time. Being a faith-based school, they preached to us on different topics every morning and lateness was not permitted in any of our gatherings. So, being timely has become a part of me. So, unconsciously, I do things per time. As regards my studies, I prepared a timetable and I kept to it. The truth is that I actually planned for this success.
Have you always been ahead in your studies?
I had good performance in my JSS1 and JSS2. I was the overall best in those two sessions. But in JSS3, I was second. In SS1, I was fourth, and that became my worst moment in school. It was a trying period for me. But funnily, when I received prizes from JSS1 to JSS3, my mum didn’t attend the programmes. It was in SS1 that I was the fourth that she came (laughs). Of course, she was sad. In fact, the kind of look she gave me was enough to make the difference the coming session. A lot of teachers came to me to ask what was wrong and that I wasn’t always like that. The way the words came made me feel very bad. Of course, their intention was not to make me feel bad, but I also knew what my performance used to be. So, in SS2, I worked harder and I went back to second position. When we were about resuming for SS3, a week to our resumption date, my mum called me and reminded me that ‘I hope you know you didn’t read throughout this holiday’. I told her yes. So, she asked how I intended to pass my exam. I simply told her not to worry. I remember she nodded in anticipation. When I went back to school, anytime I saw people playing, I would want to join them, but I would then remember what I promised my mum. I must add that my mum has really tried for me and I never wanted to betray her expectation. That kept me going. My elder brother is in Covenant University, so anytime I remember how much she pays as his tuition fee, it reminds never to relent. There were times I would sleep off while reading and on and off like that. I studied really hard, because I never want to retake any exam in my life. We took UTME before WASSCE, so I planned that once I read for UTME, that would also cover for my WASSCE, and that was what I did. If I had crammed for UTME, I would have forgotten everything and would need to start again. So, I read to understand and didn’t focus on past questions.
Apart from following your timetable, what else helped?
I knew the subjects I was good at, like Mathematics and maybe Chemistry and others, so I devoted more time to Physics that I wasn’t really good at. English actually messed me up. I got seven ‘A’s in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and B in English and another B in My Trade (mine was Electrical Installation and Maintenance). I had the best result in English Language when I was in SS2. So, to an extent, I was sure of it, but I still practised sounds because our English pronunciation in Nigeria is not the right way, so you really need to understand it to pass it. I made sure I read anytime we had free time and at some point, reading became a hobby. I read for knowledge, not to pass exam and it became a part of me, such that anytime I was free, by default, I would pick the New System Physics to read. I took it along anywhere I went and because of the way I used it, it tore several times and I would use Sellotape to hold it together. Knowing that I’m not a nocturnal person, I made good use of my day.
Were you involved in other school activities?
I was an active member of the Technical Unit at the chapel and I was an active member of Sanctuary Keeping, where I was the assistant male head. So, I had time for other things.
What course do you plan to study?
Electrical Electronic Engineering. I’m a member of the technical unit in the chapel and I love it. Anytime anything got spoilt, I volunteered to fix it and nobody taught me. But, when I was much younger, I wanted to be a pilot. I had a rich uncle who was a pilot. He used to take me out and I loved it. He had models of small airplanes in his house, so anytime I went there, I stayed around those things and admired them. But as I grew older, I became clearer about my talent and what I was very good at. I realised it’s not just about money, but satisfaction.
What schools are you looking at?
I’m going to CU and I thank the Governor of Borno State, Mr. Kassim Shettima, who has paid for my tuition. It would be a huge relief for my mum who would have carried the burden all alone. Hardwork pays.
What would you tie this feat to?
God is number one, always in my life, and I can’t take His grace for granted. Also, hard work is important, because the Bible says faith without work is dead. But, given the way I read, it would have been unfair if I didn’t do well (laughs). And I feel it’s always better to write down our goals. Bible says put it on paper so that you would see it. Inside my locker, I wrote my to-do list, which served as a guide. And according to that Chinese proverb, the palest ink is better than the best memory. So, I believe in writing down our goals.
From what you saw around you, why do you think students fail?
I feel some don’t read, but there are some that read but still fail. Students need to read to understand. When you read to pass and a question is twisted, that person could be stranded. Another factor is distraction and peer pressure. It’s not that students should not play, but they should prioritise. I know a student who would study hard and come out to play with others. In other words, leaving the things that matter to feel among could be a shortcut to failure. Overall, I thank God for direction. Ours in my house is a story of grace.
After your degree programme, where would you like to work?
I like to work in Intel, Microsoft or any of the leading technology companies in the world.
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