(13.01.2017) This article was originally published on 20th January 2014, reprinted on 10th January 2016, and has since been edited for updates in context and content.
I find it a little ridiculous that people expect you to do extremely well for your big Os just because you were from a reputable school or attained relatively stellar grades during your PSLE. Throughout my four years in Secondary School, I didn’t really make an extra effort to focus on my results. As long as they were something decent, I wouldn’t push myself all the way to achieve that perfect grade.
Sure, an A1 feels great either way, but to me, most of my subjects, save for one or two, are just, subjects. To me, these subjects are merely just concepts and theories that I have absolutely no interest in. The only reason why I am, in any slightest way possible, motivated, to do well in them, is because they’ll contribute to a collective grade (L1R5, ELR2B2 etc.), which will determine if I am ‘good’ enough to enter my desired course.
Once I hit the bare minimum of what is required, that is it. Time to move on. I choose to focus more on my non-academic pursuits, like pursuing my hobbies and interests while working on my passions and strengths. As I had said earlier, the only reason I study for tests is because my grades would take me to the school I want, which is then going to groom me into who I want to be in the future. It is a pure necessity rather than a desire. I’d rather be doing the things I know I’ll be doing in the future, instead of helping lovesick Math find his x, without knowing y.
I know what I want to do in life, and have it planned out meticulously, so it’s only logical that I focus on what needs to be done. I know I didn’t do well- okay let’s rephrase that – I know I did well for my O levels, just not well enough to match other people’s titanic expectations, which ironically, are rising as we grow older. My results look the way they are because I chose not to mug and studied like my life depended on it (because it really doesn’t, unless you’re a China scholar) for all eight of my subjects.
A few months before the exam, I told myself to focus on only the five subs, which coincidentally are my strongest subjects, needed for me to enrol in the course I wanted. Some people reading this might wonder, “It is your final obstacle, so why don’t you just push yourself all the way, have some discipline, and try to force yourself to be at least decently good in all of your subjects?” My teacher once told me (quite a couple of times actually) that “If you have a few subjects with really good grades, and a few subjects with really bad ones (i.e. both ends of a spectrum), your employers will probably hire someone who is more consistent. It shows that you do not display interest in the stuff that you dislike, which is going to be detrimental to a company’s work environment.” Well, I’m not sorry that common sense got the better of me, told me to aim solely for that five subs, and strive to do the best I can in them instead of hopelessly rescuing the other three subjects and run an unnecessarily high risk of flunking the whole exams altogether. Maybe my teacher is right, companies wouldn’t hire someone whose results slips doesn’t reflect consistency, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t hire someone that consistently suck would they?
I hope people understand that statistics do lie. Do not judge someone based on a soon-to-be-obsolete number if you don’t know their story. I understand the rationale behind studying all eight of my subjects, but I prefer to spend my time on the things I am good and passionate in.
I explored my strengths like graphic design, for example. I did not have a diploma (not even now), nor have I studied the topic before, but I still tried my luck and after a few small assignments, more and more companies started to engage my help in designing their presentation decks. And it all began with a severely underrated software called Keynote (the ’09 version… the latest version is just terrible), which I explored during the time I was “supposed to be studying”.
And I had other things going as well. I ran a psychology blog called Twisted Psychology in Sec 2, and vlogged and ranted (which are retrospectively cringeworthy) every week when I was in Sec 3. While the latter wasn’t exactly the type of thing you want your legacy to be remembered by, it opened up a lot of doors, and I had the opportunity to interact and work with all kinds of people. And because of the former, I realised I enjoyed the process and observing and writing, and this led to the creation of this blog, which I use as a platform to practice my writing (and has since transformed into something totally unexpected).
Also, because of my love for Media Studies (a subject I heavily focused on), I got exposed to various forms of media such as photography, videography, editing, directing, producing etc. I soon knew what I wanted to be in the future, and I had my life (kinda) sorted out by the end of February 2013.
My works have come a long way – numerous viral articles and videos, chances to travel for a living, notching a trip to the top of the Spotify charts, getting awarded an Apple Certified Professional certification, holding my first solo photo exhibition, and opportunities to work with over 100 companies in 20+ different countries. You can read more about them over here.
So no, a bad grade isn’t the be-all and end-all of someone, nor should they be treated accordingly to some meaningless digits. After all, the O-Levels, I feel, isn’t an exam that objectively decides who’s the smartest, but rather, who can memorise the best.
If I had listened to my teachers and studied like what every other conforming kid would do, I wouldn’t be able to live my life (almost) the way I want to right now, having the freedom and resources to work towards my remaining goals and aspirations. I guess I’m trying to say two things here. One, the person who didn’t achieve a ‘good grade’ might be more successful than you in every other aspect, and two, it is not worth it to plunge your efforts beyond the bare minimum of what is required from you. I didn’t really heed any advice from my teachers in Secondary School, but the one advice that I am so bloody grateful I did not listen to was “you should study more”. Studying isn’t the only thing you should be doing, because it is not worth it and life isn’t meant to be lived like that.
Behind their grades that are deemed unacceptable only by a hypocritical society baying for blood, some people have made choices that gave them many opportunities for achievements your narrow mind haven’t gotten a chance to see yet. We all decide our own future, make our own decisions and dictate how our lives are going to go. If you fail to comprehend people’s choices, look at things from their perspective, or simply don’t bother to do either, then the most stupid thing to do really is to compare yourself with others and bring them down.
You may have won me in my aggregate, but what about in life? Because the things I’m f***ing good at isn’t in my L1R5.
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