‘A’ Is For Attitude

There is so much more to the world out there than just As. Go out and learn. Experience. Have the right attitude. The world is much bigger than that slip of paper with your results on it.

– Me, ‘A’ Is For Attitude, The Star (Malaysia), February 26th 2006

My First Person article has finally been published in today’s Sunday Star. It was originally a Letter to the Editor, but the Education department thought it’d work best as a standalone article with pictures, so after some coordination (and a one-week delay) it’s in the press.

I wrote that article mainly because I was completely ticked off at many of the letters coming in for the past month about As and results. Many were filled with misconceptions, melodrama, and stereotyping of people who do not place grades in such a top priority. Amongst the statements that really bothered me:

The only people who don’t care about As are rich.

Why? Because their families can buy them out of the education system? Because all rich people are inherently lazy? Having a lot of wealth also does not guarantee you of anything; you’ll still need to know how to manage your assets wisely. It’s like the As really; having it isn’t a golden ticket.

Admittedly many of the “cool” experiences do cost quite a substantial amount of money, but there are often scholarships and funding opportunities available, and if you’re willing and determined enough, you could find creative ways to support your dreams. There are alo many, many opportunities out there that aren’t extremely costly; I just returned from AWAM’s Writers for Women’s Rights workshop, 4 days of learning about the media and women’s issues with a group of interesting, lovely, energetic, passionate women – for free.

You need straight As to qualify for scholarships.

I mentioned this in the article: this isn’t necessarily true. Granted, many Malaysian scholarships do have this “grade factor”. However, that isn’t their only criteria. There’s also your own financial needs, your extra-curricular activities, whether you’re bonded to another scholarship (I always found this requirement a bit weird; Malaysia seems to be the only country I’ve seen with scholarships that prohibit you from any other forms of support…), what field you’d like to go in…and some others. In many other countries – USA especially – there is a higher emphasis placed on your personal accomplishments and skills – a mixed-grade student with a variety of experiences can, and does, win out over a straight-A student who does nothing else.

In the article, it sounded like I didn’t qualify for any scholarships because of my five As. That isn’t completely accurate; for me, it won’t have mattered how many As I’d get since I’d be automatically disqualified anyway – I’m merely a Permanent Resident, not a citizen; my parents aren’t in the poverty level; and there was absolutely nothing for arts or the media at the time. My sister was a straight-A student, top of the school (a premier school at that – that’s another argument for another day though), and wanted to go into the Sciences, but even that didn’t help her get Malaysian scholarships due to factors she couldn’t control.

The only people who don’t care about As are underachievers.

This really annoyed and offended me. Way to call me an “underachiever” after all the million things I did! Way to devalue the achievements of many other people in the country who may not have been straight-A scorers! I bet you’d think Albert Einstein was an underachiever too; after all, he didn’t do that well in school…

Look at all the people who get straight As in school – and then disapear into obscurity. The people who can’t get themselves into the school/job/scholarship of their dreams no matter how many As they get. The people who go through expensive college degrees – and can’t get a job. The people who think that because they have a clear transcript or a degree, everything will be presented to them on a golden platter – and then are surprised because, no, life doesn’t actually work that way. Who’s the underachiever here?

If I don’t get straight As, I have failed in life.

If missing out on one A could cause you to consider your life a “failure”, how will you cope with the bigger challenges in life? How would you cope with a retrenchment, a divorce, your house on fire, a loved one’s death? If just the lack of one A can scare you off, how would you fare with the rest of the scary, unknown life?

It’s this mentality that leads many students into mental trauma – or even suicide. So much importance and stress is placed on how many As one can get, and anything less is “undesirable”, a “failing”. Students end up thinking that this is the most important thing in their life, and when it doesn’t go their way, they panic. Absolutely no crisis management skills at all. Priorities are highly misplaced – and can have dangerous consequences.

Even if it doesn’t result in death or ill mental health, this over-emphasis on grades can negatively affect a person’s sense of confidence and resilience. Their entire life’s worth hinges on that elusive grade; not making the cut brings down their confidence level, which ends up in them being frozen and not sure of what else to do with their life. I’m seeing this now with my juniors: SPM results aren’t even out yet, and already they’re doubting themselves – what if I don’t do well? Can I actually pursue my dreams? What are my dreams? If there was a bigger emphasis on making it despite whatever life throws at you, they’d have no reason to doubt themselves; they’d be able to succeed no matter what.

I’ve had a few responses to this article from fellow bloggers. Phil writes about how the teachers, parents, government, and the media should be held responsible for the A craziness:

A child’s is not suppose to revolve around books, exams, tuitions and more homework – there are so much more out there for the child to experience that can never be fully explained or taught in books. Alas, many parents failed to realise this – to them, playtime is a waste of time which can be put into better use – studying.

Naoko argues that As are important for professional courses and that she’d rather her future child be graded on kindness rather than test papers:

So I made myself promise that if I had kids, I’d rather her/him (yes, I’ll be selfish and admit I want a daughter) I’d make her get A for being a kind person. I’d rather give her a treat for helping an elderly person cross the road than for a perfect test paper (On a side note, I once nearly got a perfect test paper in Std. 4). I would rather my daughter know right from wrong than for her to recite the values to me without understanding.

I disagree that As are super important for professional careers such as accountancy and medicine; they may help you get in, but they don’t guarantee that it would be a job done well – there’s still so much more, such as people skills, empathy, honesty, and others that never get graded and evaluated. However, the approach in rewarding human kindness is a good idea; perhaps one that can be further implemented by current and future parents, or even those who interact with kids very often.

The current system, with its super-emphasis on As in expense of all else, is highly myopic. Getting an A is not necessarily a reflection of intelligence or ingenuiety; rather, it’s more a reflection of memorization, rote learning, and playing by the restrictive rules. The system doesn’t adequately prepare one for real life, for creating your own opportunities, for being resillient and innovative and open to experiences. Insteads, it breeds a culture of entitlement – “oh, I got all As therefore I should get EVERYTHING” – and eventually disables people because they don’t know what else to do with themselves if the As aren’t there. It creates such a bubble, with students thinking that exams are a be-all and end-all of life, without considering what is going on with the rest of the world. (At least they can take an exam! So many people around the world can’t even go to school or get an education! They can’t even live long enough!)

Why so much pressure on As? Why highlight only the top scorers, and not “students with interesting achievements during the past year”? Why the myopia?

The world is so much bigger than just the tree where the paper of the results slip came from.

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28 Responses

  1. “The world is so much bigger than just the tree where the paper of the results slip came from.”


    Perhaps that’s true. But certainly not over here though. Forget all the stupid A’s in your SPM/STPM – they don’t really mean a thing. But results DO matter though – they’re practically the be all and end all when you get through tertiary education and start job-hunting.

    And basically, employers (maybe because they have been brainwashed by the system) choose succesful fresh grad applicants based on their (a) their results and (b) which University they come from.

    So yes, results and A’s do matter a heck of a lot. Don’t do well in your A Levels/STPM? You won’t get a chance to go to a good Uni, and end up in whatsitsname Uni where you get a second class education. Barely pass out of Uni? No problem, you’ll end up with a 3rd class degree and apply for hundreds of jobs, getting turned down by 2/3 of companies who “only hire firsts”. I know this from experience.

    Sure, you can talk about extra-curricular activities, but IMHO they mean very little to Malaysian employers/HR divisions – even in Multinationals (or actually, ESPECIALLY in multinationals which are amongst the most guilty in only hiring grads who have firsts). They might overlook average results if you have a brilliant extra-curricular resume – like winning a debate competition, representing the country in a sport or things like that, but how many people actually have that kind of talent (and if I did I probably wouldn’t want to be a pencil pusher anyway).

    So yes – while you are right in that As do not necessarily make one “better” they are still extremely important in landing a job.

  2. Tell that to my current employer – I’ve never been asked for grades. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have

    Employers choose their employees based on many factors, not just “where you studied”. Look at all the supposed straight-A students that can’t even answer interview questions properly. Getting a job is more about selling yourself and your skills – just having a “big name” university won’t save you.

    What makes a “good uni” is highly subjective. The Ivies are only Ivies because they play sports together. Are Harvard and Oxford the best places for something like, say, arts? Not necessarily. What if you’re aiming for a more flexible, alternative, self-directed mode of study? Even the “good unis” won’t help you!

    There seems to be this major entitlement complex where people expect to be given good jobs just by virtue of their grades or degrees, and then bitch and moan when they don’t get the job. There’s a lot more to a career then that! It’s all about how creative, ingenious, self-directed, dedicated, and resourceful you are. If you only have good grades, and nothing else, it makes you seem one-dimensional.

    Heck, in many jobs – creative industries especially – you could have a gazillion As from the best university in the world and still have to start from the bottom, because you need to work your way up. Everyone needs to start somewhere. The working life is so much different from the schooling life; you really do need to start from the beginning.

    There are loads of people with enough talent to excel in any extracurricular activities, but are blinded by this “only As matter” mindset or are just not aware of the opportunities out there. The companies who ignore this are at major risk of losing out on massive talent available. Many good companies out there make a point to look for people holistically, not just in terms of exam grades.

  3. “Tell that to my current employer – I’ve never been asked for grades. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have.”

    Good on you.

    The fact of the matter though, is that your current employer is Channel [V]. They are very different for two reasons: (A) being a TV station, they aren’t representative of the typical employer (and they don’t employ your typical Malaysian graduate, usually with a business or professional qualification) and (B) they were already well-acquainted with you, since you knew the VJs and some of the staff from when you started your fansite.

    Thus your case is an oddity – surely you must realize that.

    I don’t want to patronize you, but I’ve been in the corporate world for long enough (I’m 28) plus I’m a professional (electrical engineering degree, although its been awhile since I actually did any engineering =D) so I do know what I’m talking about.

    “There seems to be this major entitlement complex where people expect to be given good jobs just by virtue of their grades or degrees, and then bitch and moan when they don’t get the job. There’s a lot more to a career then that!”

    You are actually spot on about there being more to a career than good grades – but then that is irrelevant. Students with good grades just find that there are far more doors open to them than students with average grades, period. This is a fact. Ask any fresh graduate who’s going for job interviews.

    Sure, what gets you ahead in your career will be how you PERFORM in your job rather than what you got in Uni, however, if your marks in uni weren’t good enough I think you’ll find you might not even get the chance to perform in a job of your choice. Or you might have to settle for a far lower starting salary in a smaller company.

    “Heck, in many jobs – creative industries especially – you could have a gazillion As from the best university in the world and still have to start from the bottom, because you need to work your way up.”

    I agree – getting jobs in the creative industries rely less on great results or degrees from prestigious Universities – and YET you still need good qualifications. Why the hell else do people shell out thousands of hard-earned ringgit to go study at the Parson’s School of Design in NY? Or the Julliard? Or the Royal College of Art?

    Good qualifications are doubly important in the professional world. As an engineer, I know all about this. There is a large clique of foreign grads from prestigious/renowned Unis that look down on those who obtained their degrees from “lesser” Universities. And don’t even get me started on doctors and medicine.

    And that is the harsh reality of life in an exams results-oriented society. I’m terribly sorry to burst your bubble but for kids in Malaysia, it’s true that not ONLY As matter – however As matter the most. To tell them otherwise is simply wrong – they’ll end up getting more disillusioned when they realize just how important results and where you get a degree from is in the working world.

    Just look at all the Chinese aunties who yell at their son whos thinking of taking up a music career as “you can’t make a living playing a guitar”.

  4. Btw, if I could just hasten to add:

    “Many good companies out there make a point to look for people holistically, not just in terms of exam grades.”

    I know a number of people working in the HR departments of large multinationals, and from what they say, this is false.

    Supposedly the resumes received (for fresh grads) are sorted into two piles – local grads and non-local grads. Any local grad with results worse than a 2:1 – his/her resume goes in the dustbin. For foreign grads the cut-off point is 2:2. Anything else, you get a fancy rejection letter.

  5. Ever seen the reports of the high unemployment rates of fresh graduates? And these are people who are all “STRAIGHT AS YAY” – and then they get nowhere.

    I don’t have a bubble to be burst because I’m living proof that As are irrelevant. And I am not the only one. I can show you a friend of mine who’s a budding doctor who got 5As in her SPM and is doing quite well. I can show you the heads of Microsoft and Apple. I can show you Einstein and Newton. Rosa Parks didn’t need As to be the symbol of the civil rights movement.

    There’s a statistic that show that 80% of all millionaires didn’t complete school. DIDN’T COMPLETE. Why? Because they knew that not having grades does not hinder you from success.

    I got a job offer from HAKAM last year just for speaking up at a conference – that had nothing to do with my grades. I write for The Star; nothing to do with my grades. My stint with Hitz had nothing to do with my grades.

    I agree – getting jobs in the creative industries rely less on great results or degrees from prestigious Universities – and YET you still need good qualifications. Why the hell else do people shell out thousands of hard-earned ringgit to go study at the Parson’s School of Design in NY? Or the Julliard? Or the Royal College of Art?

    Fallacy. People shell out lots of money to enter those schools because of the actual training, not because of job prospects. Look at all the big names in music right now – you think all of them did a music course? Directors in Hollywood tend to frown on people who have a film degree and expect a job because they feel they know “too much” – after all, they do have to start entry-level as a production assistant (which involves a lot more randomness than a TV PA – peeling oranges, for example) and the ONLY way up is experience so why be cocky about it?

    Your last paragraph about resumes being sorted, besides being “supposedly”, isn’t true for every organization. Resumes only get you an interview, not a job. It’s how you sell yourself at the interview that matters.

    Heck, I’d argue that experience is more important than education – your grades may be so-so, but if you have tons of internships or volunteering experience, you’d get looked at better. Same goes for college; you get straight As but only that – one-dimensional. Maybe not so perfect score sheet but very active elsewhere – well-rounded.

    This also differs from country to country; what one country values in a potential country can be irrelevant in another. America likes job experience; Europe likes life experience. And so on.

    According to Monster.Com’s advice for resumes for people without a degree:

    If you see a job opening that requires a certain level of education and feel you can do the job based on your experience or skills, send your resume anyway. The hiring manager might prefer to hire someone with the stated level of education, but your resume could stand out because of your other qualifications.

    See? EXPERIENCE EXPERIENCE EXPERIENCE. And experience, despite what people think, isn’t that hard to get.

    This is of course ignoring the main point of the whole thing – should education be only for getting a job? Whatever happened to just learning what you want to learn for interests’ sake? Why does everything have to tie back into “getting a job”? Are schools and universities nothing more than employee factories?

    There are so many people out there who have abhorred the rat race and gone off to live – travel, volunteering, social work, exploring. Their lives are so much more enriched by the experience. They are having it SO MUCH BETTER than anyone stuck in a typical job they don’t quite enjoy.

    Why should the focus of life be on grades or careers? Why can’t it be on living?

  6. This conversation is kind of patronising. However, I will say that there is a dearth of motivated grads and that smart employers are readily trading off academic success for motivation in their interviews. Friends who are currently hiring are interviewing in lots of 50-100 people and often finding no one or hardly anyone with baseline self-motivation.

    One of the top film colourists in the Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore region is not a straight-A grad from one of our multimedia departments, he used to tap rubber before he came to the city to work at a post-production firm and became curious about the work people were doing around him.

    The idea that academic success matters most is old-fashioned thinking and that’s harming the performance of companies here. Academic success matters most after motivation. Sometimes motivation has academic success as its product, but sometimes it has many other things as well.

  7. It can be a bit frustrating when people go “It’s a fact that only straight A people get this and that” and I’m pretty much a contradiction of that – and I’m hardly alone.

    The idea that academic success matters most is old-fashioned thinking and that’s harming the performance of companies here.

    This is a VERY GOOD point. When companies only superficially look at As at the expense of everything else, they’re missing out on brilliant talent that just don’t fit into the traditional system but would be a major asset for them.

    And people here wonder why there’s such a big brain drain!

  8. I would like to point out something to Not An A Student:

    Results DO NOT MATTER. I’ve been to at least 5-6 different interviews, three of them were with two different Singaporean companies, one multinational, etc, and NONE asked for my results. They only wanted me to show that I’m a graduate. They didn’t care about my results, or how many As I got, only whether I had done what I told them that I had.

    Contrary to your statements too, there are only a handful of companies in Malaysia who do that, and they are the minority. I’ve even talked to one of the companies I interned at, and they told me that they were more comfortable hiring someone who did their internship because she was good at her job rather than looking at her grades.

    Sometimes the grade doesn’t even matter, but your working experience. I’ve had more questions about my working experience rather than my grades.

    (tiara’s note: just corrected the name of the person she’s referring to)

  9. I’m not an A student too. From the early stage of my tertiary eduction, I determine that good grade is not the big matter for me and my future career since I saw a lot of people who graduated with very good transcript but can’t find a suitable job or even a good job. And I do know some others who did not so good with their exam but easily find their desired job.
    My case could be an example. I learned a lot from my extra- curricular activities and these experience helped me in life better than some of my classmates who just stucking in lesson and trying to get the high marks.
    The time I’ve spent out there was not some kind of wasting time since It helps improve my competitiveness a great deal.
    Thank you Tiara for speaking up the new- fashion mindset about A mark and these thing like that.

  10. Thank you Hoa. It’s great to hear more perspectives like these – shows that we’re not alone!

  11. i agree the majority of your views. ive personally never placed emphasis on getting A’s but more about pursuing what im truly interested in… and then applying the lessons learned outside of the classroom in the real world so i could test my hypotheses. perhaps this is because i was in a 2-year alternative education in 7th and 8th grade (the secondary school years in the US when you’re about 12-13 years old). in the end, by the time i graduated high school and university, my attitude did land me many A’s but not all the time. and i dont regret spending time things outside of books and the classroom at all-

    however, i do think that A’s ARE something worth celebrating when it’s earned the right way. for example, my roomate who is in graduate school for international education just got a perfect mark on a paper, which is really rare at her school. the A+ came about not because she regurgitated what other people have placed into her brain but because she truly came up with a remarkable and unique response to the readings in class. that short paper, a couple of pages, has the potential to turn into a major piece of work that can make a great contribution to her field. this paper idea came about not because she was doing an assignment for a class but because she was truly passionate about the subject and she pushed herself to her mental limits and stood at the edge of the field. we had many many long conversations dissecting her ideas for days on end. she also read lots and lots of books (which she didnt have to do) so that she could make an educated and well-thought out response to what the top experts in that field (the people who’s books she is reading). for that, i feel that she did deserve the A+ and that that A+ actually means something rather than just getting a high mark because she said what the teacher wanted her to say.

    this is how i tried to do my assignments at university, too- and often i got higher marks than my classmates who had really solid essays because the professor appreciated that i was taking a risk putting forth an original idea, even when they were just half-baked!

    i guess this is the ideal situation and it doesnt happen many times, but that’s the way things should be, shouldn’t it?

    thanks for your thoughtful article-

  12. Hey Heddy,

    Congratulations for you and your friend! You two represent what education should be about – being engaged and being truly passionate about something that interests you. I completely agree that As are worth celebrating if it’s truly earned, and you two are great examples of that.

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is very much appreciated.

  13. Tiara,

    I understand where you’re coming from. Though scoring A’s is not a fundamental criterion for success, it nevertheless, does help. This is especially so for certain fields such as medicine and the theoretical sciences. Your example of Einstein and co is a worthy one, but percentage-wise, there aren’t many like them with such backgrounds and subsequent successes.

    For certain technical jobs, education is important, and the quality of education one graduate from is *the only* statistical way to gauge a potential employee. This be it the Honours attained or the institution they graduated from. Take this scenario for example; there are hundreds of job applicants, a pile of resumes awaiting you to sift through. First things first, education. Followed by work experience, then extra-curriculars. For potential job hunters, if his/her education isn’t “sufficient” enough, say a 2nd Upper, he can pretty much count his lucky stars goodbye. Although I hate to admit it, it is the sad fact of Malaysian employers. Some employers even explicitly require CGPA 3.0 and above in their ads. And mind you, the culprits are usually the MNCs. I have seen Maxis requiring this (Only First Class apply), Intel Malaysia, and CIMB.

    I can’t blame employers for this “minimum requirement” either. Fact: Thousands graduate from private colleges and private/public universities. Only 5-10% are worthy for jobs at large corporations. Why? Because the standard of education in Malaysia is so bloody poor. It is so common to hear even First Class graduates applying for jobs and be rejected. But what about those who graduated with a slightly lower grade but are undoubtedly brighter than First Class graduands? Employers, unfortunately, have to overlook them due to the sheer number of applicants. They simply can’t call all and interview. Besides, there just aren’t that many hidden nuggets for HR managers to justify them to thouroughly investigate applicants’ backgrounds. Such people are indeed very rare, and eventually will be successful on their own later on in life.

    As you have said, most important is attitude. This humanistic property is the key difference between successful people and the average folk. It is often these properties (passion, interest, etc.) which are immeasureable, that make employers shortsighted.

    Though I agree with you on most of your points, I have to disagree regarding the insignifance of grades to one’s success. A balance should be struck between getting a reasonably good education and having a fulfilling life experience. What you’re trying to advocate is more on one’s life experience, which is fine, but only for certain professions.

  14. Anon:

    Education is important, undoubtedly. However, education != schooling, and education != grades, and it can be argued that grades, especially in the Malaysian system, are not actually a very good indicator of intelligence, but more a mark of memorization and rote learning. You don’t learn critical thinking skills in schools here – yet that’s one of the skills you need most to survive. And how the grades are given are very subjective.

    An example of the discreptancy: in school, I wasn’t exactly the “best” Islamic Studies student. I had an unorthodox way of thinking, and the teachers didn’t like that, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t that good in verses (there were questions where you had to put the correct “punctuation” on the verses, for crying out loud). So I’d often get Cs – Bs if I was lucky. For the PMR (my god what a useless exam) and SPM, I just wrote my mind on whatever I felt was right, not really thinking about whether it’s considered “Islamic” or what. I got As both times.

    And look at the English paper…that’s child’s play! So many people get As on that paper but can’t communicate effectively in English to save their lives.

    There are people, that you mentioned, who are very bright but may not score all the As. So that’s another way to show that your grades aren’t necessarily a reflection of who you are. And the examples you gave are for university results, which are a completely different ballgame than things like the SPM paper.

    My point is, there are other ways to get an education, and it’s not worth stressing over As; they don’t dictate your life. If you don’t get a job at any of those companies, so be it – carve your own life. Life is more than just As or your employer.

  15. Hello! While I agree with most of the things you said Tiara, there’s one thing I cannot agree. Professionals like doctors must have excellent theoretical and practical skills. These skills are gauged during exams, and the degree you get at the end of your medical course is a reflection of how much you know about treating patients. While you mentioned that you have a friend who’s only got 5As in SPM (and btw, I assume he/she is rich? Otherwise studying medicine is impossible w/o some kind of funding), I hope he/she did not eventually graduate with a 2.2 in medicine. To be absolutely honest, I would rather have a doctor who has no personal skills whatsover but good grades cause my life is in his hands! And yes, results may not be important in the arts, but in technical stuff, there’s nothing more important than them!

  16. Ah Beng:

    As far as I know, my friend isn’t rich. She is intelligent – far more so than many doctors I’ve seen! So you see, SPM grades aren’t a reliable indicator of ability sometimes! Indeed, exams like the SPM really only measure how well you can take a test; not much otherwise.

    Should the SPM be the ONLY indicator of ability? Of intelligence? Of the ability to learn?

    Heck, I got 5As for my SPM and I’m heaps more capable and smarter than many of my straight A friends – because I truly understand what I learn, not just how to take a test.

    Also, people skills are CRUCIAL for doctorhood. It’s not just about treating the disease; it’s about treating the person. If the doctor has no people skills, they won’t really care about you, and that would mean losing out any important details or clues that could result in a proper diagnosis.

  17. ‘Ello,

    Stumbled across this site while looking for information about US scholarships and found it to be a good and interesting read.

    In regards to Ah Beng’s insinuation that Tiara’s mate might’ve bought their way to a medicine degree, I find that to be highly insulting as I did not do all that well in my SPM but yet I managed to graduate with a law degree from a fairly decent university. I only managed to scrape by with a meagre 5As in my SPM and I got into Sunway College’s MUFY program before studying my ass off that year. Maybe Tiara’s friend did the same thing. Getting an average score in SPM does not mean one is doomed to mediocrity for the rest of one’s life. There’s many debates going on today about how the number of As you get in your SPM is not that relevant when you enter university.

    In today’s Star, I came across a letter from a frustrated mother whose daughter got a whopping 10 As for her SPM but she was brushed aside while applying for a Petronas scholarship. Why? Because of the typical Malaysia (or even Asian if I might be so bold) mindset that more = better. So what if her daughter only took 10 subjects and got all As in them? She should be punished for not being kiasu and taking ALL the subjects offered in the SPM curriculum. In case there’s any confusion, I’m being sarcastic.

    When I was doing the SPM, I was advised to only take the subjects that will help me to gain a better understanding of my choice in careers e.g. Biology, Chemistry and Physics if I want to be a doctor or engineer or make a nice vat of homebrewed whiskey in my room. You’re not supposed to take every single subject you can lay your hands on! Where are you going to find time to enjoy the last years of a (relatively) carefree life?

    BTW, after spending the last 6 months job-hunting I have noticed that employers prefer applicants who have good personal skills as it makes them less of a automaton. Any Tom, Dick and Harry (or should I say Ali, Muthu and Ah Beng?) can get good grades if they study hard enough. Good people skills are the rare quality which makes one applicant stand out over the rest. Why hire someone with the best possible score but just blinks at you when you say something, when I can get someone with average results but will make a lasting impression on your clients (and thus cementing in their minds that this is a good company and therefore they must come back!)?

    I might’ve waffled on a little there….

  18. Hello Sohmer, I didn’t exactly say that Tiara’s friend bought her way to a medical degree. What I was implying is that if you are rich, you have more options to do the course of your wanting. This is especially true for medicine. Students who are not rich MUST get perfect results in SPM (blame it on the Malaysian mindset that more is better, but unless this is changed, this statement stands) to either 1) get a RM 1 million scholarship from JPA or 2) to get into local universities.

    I have a friend with 7As in SPM. He is now doing medicine in IMU. The degree amounts to at least RM 250k for a 5 year local programme. If I was poor, can I afford to get 7 As? If I did, I would neither get a scholarship nor enter into a local university. I could opt to do a law degree at some private colleges, but that’s not my real ambition. SO there, I wouldn’t say that rich people ‘buy’ their degree, but what I’m certain is that they could afford NOT to score straight As if a private medical college will realise their dreams anyway. Poor students can’t! Straight As is truly a prerequisite is he/she wants to be a doctor.

    Btw, I notice there is a general misconception that straight A students are only good academically. I don’t think this is true. Academics and extracurricular activities/personal communication skills are not mutually exclusive. It is these well balanced students that will win the rat race.

  19. Oh I forgot to say that I would rather have a 1st class doctor who blinks all the time, but impecabbly know his stuff so well to reach a correct diagnosis. A 3rd class doctor with all the personal skills with him (and buy you kopi) is worthless if he could not treat.

    The bottomline is…in courses requiring a serious amount of tecnhical know-how, results really matter, over and above anything else. If there was ever a ruling for doctors to display their results outside their clinics, even the friendliest and most empathetic doctors would not get many patients if he graduated with poor results. Nobody wants to die!

  20. Ah Beng – you’re missing the point that “not all straight As” DOES NOT MEAN “not a first class doctor”.

    Do you ask your family doctor how many As they got in their exams?

    Also, despite what you think, money doesn’t guarantee you entry into any college you want. There are many other factors.

  21. Excellent results do offer you a wider variety of choices. But excellent SPM results does not ensure you will do just as well for the rest of your life. If you’re poor and did not achieve 10As in your SPM, you can opt to go to a local community college and work yourself silly to get the results you desire in order to get yourself a scholarship for the course you want.

    My point in that very long winded (and possibly off-topic) comment is that straight As in SPM does not guarantee a top-notch professional. Your comment “While you mentioned that you have a friend who’s only got 5As in SPM (and btw, I assume he/she is rich? Otherwise studying medicine is impossible w/o some kind of funding), I hope he/she did not eventually graduate with a 2.2 in medicine.” is rather shallow if I might call it that.

    You don’t know if Tiara’s friend went on to pre-u and proceeded to get much better results thus, enabling them to study medicine. There are factors which we are not privy to. Maybe her mate did end up slacking through pre-u and buying their way to a medical degree. We don’t know that but to assume that they did is just silly.

    I have mates who are in Monash (arguably one of the most money-minded universities around) and they have been slacking in their studies. Regardless of how much the university wants their money, they have a reputation to uphold. Their credibility will be under attack if they allow a large number of sub-par students graduate. So even if someone did manage to get a place in a university based on how much monetary contribution their parents gave, their grades must still be above a certain level or they’ll get the boot.

    As you have said, it is the well-balanced folks that will come up on top. People with excellent results but poor people skills and vice versa may not fare as well as those with average but well rounded abilities.

  22. I’m the ‘friend with 5As’ that Tiara’s referring to.

    For the clinical subjects, one of the components that we’re graded on is attitude. It’s a subjective assessment, depending on the examiner’s impression of the student. But I suppose it’s simple, in a way, because you can tell whether a student has the proper attitude or not. Being professionally dressed, punctual, caring and attentive to the patient’s needs, eager to learn, some of those little things that enhances a doctor’s medical skills. The other components include knowledge and clinical skills, which are rather easy to pick up compared to attitude. It’s got to come from inside, that spark and passion for wanting to be a good doctor.

    In defense of Tiara’s views, the grades achieved during high school don’t reflect the attitude required for being a good doctor. Attitude may be reflected by, for example, your co-curricular activities e.g. a testimonial from your scouts leader regarding your leadership skills and team spirit, or voluntary work, or your commitment in research projects, etc.

    I agree with Ah Beng that private medical universities aren’t exactly cheap. However, it’s a common misconception that money’s the sole entry requirement, and for maintaining studentship. Of course, grades matter as well (because obviously no matter how compassionate a doctor is, they’ve got to possess the correct knowledge to diagnose and manage the patient’s condition properly). I’d like to point out that it’s not the only thing they look at, though, because personal skills are also very important! Let’s say someone has the money and the grades for entry requirements – they’ll be struggling during the course if they don’t have the right attitude. When they pass and become housemen, it’s even harder – at least practical knowledge and skills can be picked up by just hanging around the hospital.

    Just to clarify, I didn’t merit my entry into med school simply by having money. My pre-u grades got me in, and despite not scoring straight As in SPM, that didn’t hinder me from doing well in pre-u and subsequently getting distinctions in my first and second year subjects of basic sciences. When I did get in, I can assure you that I’m giving it my all because I’m earnest and passionate – and I hope that’ll make me a good doctor in the future.

    Adding on to that: Unfortunately, since the government seems to be fonder of spending money on landscaping rather than making more improvements in healthcare provision, there are just too few places in medical courses at public universities. I agree it’s unfair that a poor person who has the ambition and passion to be a good doctor has to struggle so much to get into med school just because it’s so bloody competitive. There should be more places available, much more. More scholarships and more flexible loan arrangements, too.

    As for a doctor displaying his uni grades… I don’t think there’s an option of graduating with “poor results”. Those who passed, they’ve grasped the adequate knowledge in the exams to be a safe doctor. If not, they repeat the exams til they do. Therefore, between two doctors with the same amount of knowledge, would you prefer the one that goes through things coldly and robotically, or the one that really listens to you and makes you feel at ease?

    Thanks, Tiara, for enabling this discussion in the first place!

  23. If u all can’t get straight A’s..can u stop bullshitting around??
    Straight A’s students can withstand pressures..
    Can u???
    Well,straight A’s student are not nerds..
    It is not necessary that..
    Of course they must have their own tactic of study in order to achieve straight A’s..
    It is very obvious..

    I’m not saying im completely true..
    There are some real ‘nerds’ like Amalina who study like freak until got 17A’s however got kicked out from UK..
    Well..i feel suspicious about her results..
    How can a person with such a lame english score straight A’s??
    Well..as we know..Malaysia is full of discrimination..
    of course ‘Things’ like that happens…
    Chinese got 16A’s..they want a Malay to beat it..
    They have to do something!!
    Half right half false..
    I m commenting to some people who criticise straight A students..
    If u are so clever,U have your tactics and your ways of studying..U got your ideas..You are so intelligent..
    WHY CANT U SCORE STRAIGHT A’s????????????????????????????
    Thats the problem with those lamers..

    pooR them..
    READ IT!!
    KNOW IT!!

  24. Anon:

    The article isn’t criticizing straight A people. It’s criticizing those who think As are the Holy Grail, those who think that you are only worthy if you get As, and those who look down upon those who do not make As their entire life goal.

    Like your comment so succinctly demonstrates.

  25. Anonymous, you missed the point completely. This was about being adventurous,and that there are other avenues of learning besides the strict rule of As and blind academic achievement.

    This was not condemnation of straight A people, I must reiterate. Nor was it on racial lines. So, please, before commenting, do get your facts straight.

    Thank you.

  26. I thinks many have got the perspectives wrong about straight A’s. It sounds weird that getting straight A’s have almost become a sin deserving a weird look; that is unhealthy mentality.
    In order to look at it differently, we need to go back to basics. What does grade A mean in the first place. Well, all education, as the root word “educate” means, is to impart knowledge, skills and hopefully attitudes, confidence and personal & social responsibilities and values to a young growing mind.So the educators need standardisation and targets to evaluate a mass of students. So getting grade is the measure of learning and assimilation results of the students, FOR THE PERUSAL OF THE EDUCATORS. Getting A means you have measured up to the standards required.
    So that bring us to 2 further basic points:

    1. Do all these education systems measure everything in a person?
    Answer : Absolutely not. No education system in the world can measure fully a person’s inner full potentials. Education systems measure specific areas of gifts/abilities. So when we evaluate the importance of the grades we get or our children get, we need to ask, what has this education system evaluated in us or taught us which general / specific areas of ourselves.
    Different systems cover different scope and depths of life, so don’t despair, if it teaches you something great and useful, hurray, it is money worth it. If not explore other education systems, which will lead you faster to your career of interest. It is so easy to do this nowadays, unlike my times, with thousand so options anyway in this globalised world.
    Those who get straight As, don’t think you have achieved THE thing in life. You are just being prepared for the future, how you are going to achieve anything depends on whether you have been prepared well in you personality, attitudes, social abilities as well as your academies. I congratulate those A students if they all well rounded, but I feel sorry for those whose non-academic aspects are not nurtured well because life can be very difficult for them.

    2. Can one get along with poor grades in this world?
    Answer : Yes and no.
    “No” first. From the years of employing youngsters for jobs in my company, I increasingly despair over the deplorable state of abilities of nowadays youths. Can’t speak well, communicate in sms language, handphone ringing all the time while working, can’t add up (mind u, spm students”, poor courtesy, and proscrastinations. If the grades are poor, these academic disabilities will show up. What a shame, because Malaysia can’t afford such low grade work force if we a opening up in globalisation; the foreigners will have no respect for Malaysians.
    “Yes”. Good grades, but must be well nurtured in other nonacademic areas of life. Then we will have a responsible workforce who has the knowledge, the systematic mind, the progressive mind, who has the confidence to take on the challenges. This is also a basic requirement for merit based scholarship, which can be really substantial.

    That is the reason why in order for us to have a meaningful straight A’s student force, we need
    1. a more wholesome education system.
    2. meritocratic system.

    But this is idealised thinking. Nothing is ideal in this real world. So the idea is, you may not get straight A’s in say SPM, or STPM, but some found their niches and go on to get straight A’s in their own field of studies, say in “Designs”? Find an education system which can fullfield your max potential. The saddest part of life for a person is not to know what you want in life when you reach young adulthood of age about 18 years.

    Alex .

  27. Perhaps this comes somewhat too long after the original article…but, despite Tiara’s comment, and despite the later explanations, I must say that I understand where the last Anon is coming from. After perusing everything said here I could not help feeling extremely indignant on behalf of straight-A scorers. Even if the commenters here do not mean it that way, it comes across in a strongly derogatory manner.

    I am an STPM school leaver, so I don’t know anything about the job market, HR secrets and the like. Entering tertiary education is the foremost issue on my mind. Before I got my STPM results on March 11th, it mattered hugely, terribly to me that I should get straight As. Why? Because I see those As as a Holy Grail? Because I am a nerd who must grasp at petty As to make up for my lack of capabilities in other fields? My reason is relatively simple: I needed those As to secure my admissions offer and full scholarship to a university in the UK.

    This is my life’s dream. Never mind that it might be condemned for being based on prestige, etc. This is what I want, and it happens to depend almost wholly on my being academically excellent. Is that wrong? A lot, a whole lot of effort went into realising this dream, and here I am told that my As ‘don’t mean a thing’.

    Besides, one thing about this whole conversation eludes me: why is everyone so focused on SPM grades? I have all the respect in the world for doctors and all the race of professionals, but this is a day and age in which nobody gets into medical school with SPM results. ‘Tiara’s friend’ the ‘Med Student’ said it herself – she got 5As in SPM, but proceeded to work herself silly in PRE-U to get the REQUIRED GRADES. Doesn’t that count, I wonder? Pre-u is just the same as STPM, but somehow escapes fire. No matter how you look at it, you need those grades, at whatever level. It is no use saying that you will be a great caring doctor with wonderful people skills and all the required knowledge and techniques, if you couldn’t ‘make the grade’ for medical school in the first place.

    That said, I agree that not all mixed-grade students are ill-equipped to handle tertiary education, or a high-flying career. Similarly not all A students are the sort you’d want operating on you. I was an ‘almost’ straight A student in my SPM (11A1s and a B3 for Chinese) but I am not proud of it. I barely paid attention in class and studied very little, to say nothing of understanding the lessons; I seemed to pass on pure luck alone. Not too reliable, if I may say so myself. At that stage I would concur my grades did not mean much, but that is not to say that it holds true for all the top-scorers in the country.

    And then there is the issue of taking extra subjects in SPM. I say why not, if the student can handle it. In spite of everything, the Lembaga Peperiksaan still doesn’t just give away the As – or there wouldn’t be anyone ‘underachieving’. I took one extra subject in both my SPM and STPM, both completely unrelated to my main field of study: Prinsip Perakaunan alongside SPM Science, and later English Literature for STPM. I can’t say that it hasn’t benefitted me in any way. Nor will I say that I took them just for the sake of that extra A. If, as one comment above so passionately states, ‘knowledge is its own reward’, then why limit students to subjects that will ‘help them’ in their chosen field? Isn’t it a good sign that these students are interested in a wide variety of subjects, if we’re looking for all-rounders? Even if the students eventually give up those subjects, like how I was completely repulsed by Accounts, it will still be an experience, which will definitely help them make decisions in later life.

    As someone rightly said before me, the ability to function well under pressure, the ability to process and retain information, and the ability to handle numerous channels of input and output are just as much part of the almighty ‘attitude’ we’ve heard so much about. Even regurgitating for exams (not that I’m encouraging it) requires time management skills, perseverance, and a decent level of intelligence. Can you blame people for prefering a safe, stable life ahead – which can most probably be obtained through good grades – just because you prefer to ‘Strike out! Experience! Live!’?

    Of course it is undeniable that extra-curricular factors matter, quite significantly. Unfortunately there are cases in which a student has to choose one to excel in, or risk losing everything. If he/she wants to become an architect he/she has good reason to doubt whether the university admissions officers will care that he/she was president of three clubs and captain of another two squads. In any case, when you are only intellectually average, when you are no corporate or tech whiz, you can have little use for examples like Albert Einstein or Bill Gates.

    Just one last thought: to some species of people, weird as it might be, getting As is actually gratifying. Those people do sometimes go for the As just FOR the As, but only because it symbolises recognition for their work. Funny, isn’t it?

  28. […] me down at the last minute (feh). Interestingly, an article I wrote two years ago, which led to one of the most-commented posts on EducateDeviate until now, has now become an email/blog forward thanks to it being posted on one of the Malaysian […]

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