A post to those slugging through the exams, since A-Levels and high school exams are running now.

A2 was running last October, so I rushed towards the finishing line against the exam dates in completing my past years. I monitored my own progress, feeling the nerves when the score hovered around 70+/100, yet kept on dreaming that I should score 90+ in the end. I looked through the mark scheme, both the official ones and the alternatives suggested by my teacher, looking through every single key word that I didn’t write in my script. I made a table that recorded every past year paper that I wrote, and the corresponding (estimated) score obtained. Any blank cell just made me feel left behind when some others already claimed doing pas papers of 15 years.

Since when I really treated my academic work so seriously? After I moved into Sunway, perhaps. I was then surrounded by peers who discussed about their dreams and what tests were they going to take, and these could easily stoke fear of inadequacy in me. Gone were the days when I could immerse myself into math Olympiad and care nothing else. Gone were the spoilt cradles of SPM that allowed us to ace with an A+ with a mere 70 marks. Welcome to A-Levels, a real battle with the Cambridge International Examinations, our exam board. (And the presence of percentage uniform marks accompanying our grades signified that aiming for just an A isn’t enough).

Why did we devote our energy to marks? Simple: it is the easiest quantitative parameter of excellence. From Day One our teachers already made clear that our predicted grades will be given based on a motley of factors, so slacking all the way until the actual exam period just wouldn’t help. Furthermore, not only would these integers impact our profile when viewed by institutions we applied to, at the most fundamental level we took it as a sign of superiority whereby we just wanted to beat our peers to feel good.

In short, grades are important for people to judge how well will you go, academically.

But working hard only for grades doesn’t return as much as we think, since the excellence we hold in hand is qualified with the word “academic”. In other words, straight A* scorers are named “bright students”, not “accomplished individuals”. Here comes the blind spot that engulfed us from looking the big picture clearly: result is just one factor to determine academic success, and academic qualification is just one factor to determine life and career success.

To exemplify this, having good result is a sign that we know our material well, and that’s definitely encouraging. However, do remember that we have several ways to achieve that, whether through learning by heart and investing you passion for it, or just performing rote learning and memorizing the passage from A to Z (like how I did for Bio and History in SPM). How far could you go when you loathe the subject in front of you, yet force yourself to maintain the standards that you have already set? Apart from lack of interest, what else could explain students’ unwillingness to touch on these topics, only to cram these material last-minute? The only way to escape is by turning that into passion, which is easier said than done.

Turning academic strength into career success comes with the statement of “being knowledgeable helps, but we still need other abilities like interpersonal, social and workforce skills, coupled with the good attitude of willing to learn from others and to stay committed to your company”. Sounds cliched, but true. I came across an article stating why dropout students may be more successful than academically excellent student. Apart from having amassed more work experience and that higher proportion of them do startups, they have qualities peculiar to those who weren’t too well in their studies: willing to defy norms and think out of box, dare to accept failures, and willing to accept awful working deals (i.e. low pay for long working hours). These attributes help them to get a head start! As I concur with the statement, I started contemplating whether my results have pushed me far beyond being accepted into elite universities and securing awesome scholarships.

To sum these up, exam to a student is like GDP to a country: we have to take it seriously, but not to the extent of disregarding everything else.

Happy 1st AS anniversary, by the way.

3 thoughts on “Exams

  1. Results should not be taken lightly, yes, maybe. However , meritocracy has led to the surplus of scholars with incredible results and this immersed me in thoughts of whether good results matter anymore, whether good results make an individual distinctive.

    1. Well that’s why I’m confused in the dichotomy of thoughts: realizing that results isn’t a life-success substance but when exams are near, it’s hardly possible for students not to give a damn at all.

      Perhaps we should advocate the philosophy of “don’t study for exams, or rather, don’t study just for exams.”

      And btw, the surplus of scholars is caused by the generosity of graphs that gives out lots of As. Look at US system where 80+ is actually a B.

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