The boy so set on getting to Cambridge he got 22 A-levels

February 3, 2009

This has nothing to do with music but this is so great that i had to share it.


By Paul Harris and Laura Clark

One ambition was fixed in Ali Moeen Nawazish’s mind as he made his way through school in Pakistan. He wanted to win a place at Cambridge.

Sitting seven A-levels might easily have done the trick, even though he had started to study some of the subjects only three days before the exam.

But he was determined to get some good grades. So he sat another three, and three more. Then another nine. Just in case, he took a couple of AS levels along the way.


The result? The remarkable young student, who modestly explains he has ‘quite a thirst for knowledge’, secured 22 A grades, one B and a C.

When he filled out his university application forms at home in Rawalpindi there was barely enough space to list his qualifications.

His Cambridge dream came true four months ago when he embarked on a computer science degree course at Trinity Hall. Now he is due to win another place  –  in the Guinness Book of Records.

Yesterday Ali, 18, explained, perhaps superfluously, that he rather enjoys hard work. He’s got even more qualifications in his sights to fulfil another ambition.

‘I’m doing my current degree because I love it,’ he said. ‘But what I want to do for the rest of my life is to be a doctor, so I hope to go on to study medicine.’

Ali, who speaks Urdu, English and Punjabi, sat all the exams within 12 months at Rawalpindi’s Roots College International. His entry was organised through accredited boards Ed-Excel and Cambridge International Examinations.

Ali also achieved a top score in the U.S. admissions test and was accepted by most Ivy League institutions, including Harvard and Yale. Apart from core science subjects he is almost entirely self taught. He studied for up to 12 hours a day, using energy drinks to help concentrate.

The 18 year-old boy genius took the long list of exams within 12-months netting himself 22 A grades, one B and one C

The 18 year-old boy genius took the long list of exams within 12-months netting himself 22 A grades, one B and one C

He still managed to keep up his leisure pursuits, however, playing the guitar, cricket and table tennis, and editing his school newspaper. He even found time for a trip to America to attend a Harvard leadership course.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Ali’s incredible talent began to emerge only at the age of 15. He was a chubby boy and rather solitary and many of his early results were mediocre.

He said: ‘Then one day it all clicked. I needed to prove to myself, and to others, that I could do it.’ At O-level  –  still an internationally recognised qualification  –  he got nine A grades.

Then came the A-levels. His mother Nisar Malik, 48, father Zaka Ullah, 51, both doctors, though worried about his workload, were very supportive. ‘They always said that if I was happy, they were happy,’ he said. ‘Now they love the fact that I’ve done so well.’

So just how does he manage to achieve so much? One teacher described him as having ‘a mind like a scanner’ but Ali says he does not have a photographic memory.

He simply enjoys learning. ‘The way I work is by spending ten minutes on one subject, then switching to another, then another. It’s a bit haphazard but it works.’

He retained the knowledge by linking facts to funny anecdotes he invented, and by reading around the subjects.

Hardest part was the exams, which he described as ‘a mental endurance battle’. For two weeks he had a minimum of four every day, sometimes from 8am to midnight to avoid timetable clashes.

Dr Nick Bampos, senior tutor at Trinity Hall, said the first time he and his colleagues saw Ali’s application they found it hard to believe.

Dr Bampos said: ‘But not only is he really bright, he is really charming. He might be a computer scientist but he shatters all the stereotypes. We’re delighted to have him.’