Saturday, February 12, 2011

My thoughts after the O levels in 2009

Hi again!

About a year back I completed my O level examinations and I did pretty well in them. I was asked by my school to answer a few questions regarding my thoughts and lifestyle and I just wanted to share my answers here because they resemble my life philosophy and state of mind at that point in time. I share this post out of humility and not out of arrogance. So here it is:

1) What is your philosophy in life? What drives you to do well?

Some of the people I know feel that freedom is about losing control. However, I do not want to be a slave to anything external. I want to be a master of myself. So, my philosophy in life is to have self-control and self-mastery. This is freedom for me.
There is no mystic force driving me to do well. It is just plain and simple curiosity. I developed this curiosity in my secondary 3 days. I try to understand all the mechanics and details, however minute, of the world I live in. This curiosity and thirst for knowledge are my drivers.

2) What are the good memories you have of the time you spent in MFS?

I have many good memories of my days in MFS.

During the first few days of my secondary school life, our class had been given an English assignment by Ms. Yee. Both Yu Xuan, my good friend, and I did not do it. Ms Yee was furious and ordered both of us to take off both our shoes and to collect them at the end of the day. I remember the embarrassment of being shoe-less the entire day. I never missed another assignment after that!

Another memorable incident happened in secondary 2. Ms. Patricia Goh was teaching us Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”. She is a great teacher and her explanations were very vivid. She was explaining the concept of reading in between the lines to help the class in understanding the story. I was feeling very bored because of my inability to read in between the lines. At that point, my friend dared me to point my first three fingers to Ms. Goh and then to ask her to read in between the lines. Out of sheer bravado and much to the shock of my friend, I did exactly what he said. I expected a strong scolding and was getting prepared to be thrown out of the class, but Ms. Goh, the good sport that she is, laughed at my witty (though naughty) gesture and let it pass.

I also look back with nostalgia at the scouts mountaineering activities, such as Gunung Tahan and Gunung Ledang. They really tested my endurance to the limits and taught me the valuable lessons that humans have tremendous strength, provided we do not give up halfway. I have fond memories of the secondary 2 and 3 camps as well.

Morning assemblies bring back good memories to me. The talks and presentations were often meaningful. I especially remember grumbling quietly against Mr. Prem when he made the entire school sit and stand repeatedly!

Now on to the not so pleasant memories. On the scouts’ Founders Day in 2009, I was asked to read the chief commissioner’s message and recite the scout promise. The problem was that I had never bothered remembering this promise like other scouts did. I memorized it hurriedly in the morning of the speech day. On the stage, everything was alright until I raised my hand to say the scout promise. I went absolutely blank! I began stuttering “Um, Umm” while trying to remember the words. My legs were trembling with stage fright. What a sight it must have been! Fortunately, my friend Amos Lee prompted the correct words to me and I think I got it right then. After the mess-up, I had a good laugh at my “performance”!

Later on in mid 2009, my friend Bryan Lie and I adopted the habit of cycling to school instead of taking a public bus. One day, we arrived at the school 10 minutes late. We knew we would be caught and punished. We noticed that the side gate of the school, which was meant for cars, was open. We quickly cycled through it and locked our cycles around a tree. We then escaped the sight of the student councilors and the OM by bolting through the empty canteen! I had an enjoyable adrenaline rush and am proud to admit I escaped being caught.

3) Who is your figure of inspiration in life? How does this person inspire you?
My figure of inspiration is my mother Puja.

She has been a single parent since I was seven. However, when I look back, I only remember an enjoyable and happy childhood. She was never the kind to force me to study. She did occasionally help me with my studies and I remember being smacked once in a while for not doing long division properly! But other than that, she gave me utmost freedom to make mistakes.

She taught me several skills she uses in her work, which have proved useful to me. For example, she taught how to plan a task and execute it. For the last 2 years, I used that idea to make detailed study plans, day-wise and subject-wise. She also showed me the importance of enjoying what you are doing, rather than doing it as a chore or complaining about it. Because of that, I decided to enjoy my studies (except SS!). She also taught me to constantly challenge myself by aiming very high and yet to be always prepared for whatever may happen.

So how does she inspire me? Ten years ago, she was facing innumerable problems. She could have easily broken down and given up. Instead, she faced her problems head-on with fortitude. How she overcame her struggles and continues to transform our lives inspires me to be a better person.

4) What is your favourite subject/teacher? Why?

My favourite subject is Physics and my favourite teacher is Mr Yeo Zhong Wei, my Physics teacher.

What I like about Physics is that it governs the mechanics of the world. Everything is a subset of physics. I am fascinated by how numbers and symbols can illustrate all phenomena. I recently discovered that the theoretical foundations of Physics can be derived with simple algebra and logic without any need for complex machinery. This made understanding Physics a lot easier for me and demystified it. I don’t find it intimidating anymore.

Mr. Yeo was my Physics teacher for the last two years in school. He always found time to answer the questions that my class and I asked. He sometimes sacrificed his free time to answer these questions. On the day of the secondary 4 graduation, Mr Yeo gave every student in 4A an envelope. It contained a very meaningful letter written specifically to each student and pictures from class outings. I found that very thoughtful.

5) What have you learnt from your 4/5 years in MFS?

I learned many valuable lessons while in MFS.

The most important lesson was that there is a right time for everything. Among students, a popular trend is to have a relationship with someone of the opposite sex and some start as early as Secondary 2. I was one of them. From experience I learned that it was too early to indulge in it and it didn’t add any value to either of us. The golden years of adolescence, when the brain is growing exponentially, are better used for learning and challenging oneself.

I also learned the importance of doing tasks genuinely. It is more important to enjoy the learning process than to get the right answer quickly.

Finally, I learned that even though obedience is considered a great virtue in our society, there is merit in some defiance. It helps one develop opinions, which is what defines you.

6) What advice do you have for your fellow Mayflowerians to encourage them to excel?

Firstly, I want to make it clear that everything I say here is out of humility and not arrogance. I hope this will help my juniors excel in their studies.

I know some people who are geniuses. I am not a genius. I am a very ordinary person who scored 230 in my PSLE. The only change that happened in me in Secondary school was that I challenged myself to do independent learning. I achieved my result only with the help of my teachers, friends, family, books and a lot of regular hard work. In fact it was so regular that my mother used to call me “Boring” because I never wanted to change my routine. The honest fact is that I was never bored. I also derive a great sense of pride from the fact that I did not take any tuition in my entire secondary education, though I was often tempted.

There are five factors that helped me achieve my goal.

1.     The first and most important factor is having a goal. The goal could be anything from mastering a subject to achieving a certain overall grade. Anything as long as it’s challenging and one is committed to it. My goal was concrete- to achieve 7A1s for my O’ levels. Having this goal decided how I studied, how much time I spent on each subject and how I managed my time.

2.     The second factor is working with a monthly plan. A major lesson I learnt was to make a plan on paper and keep it updated all the time. For my plan, I made 8 columns for my 8 subjects on a paper. I arranged them in order of difficulty and priority. For each day of the month, I decided how to allocate my time so that I could achieve my objective for the month. I updated this plan every month based on my workload and the previous month’s performance.

3.     The third factor is regular hard work. By regular I mean every day. It may sound intimidating, but once it becomes a habit, it becomes practical.

4.     The fourth factor is studying for enjoyment. As students, our lives are based on studies. So why not enjoy what we are supposed to be doing day in and out? So where does enjoyment come from? It comes from curiosity to know and understand everything you read, instead of memorizing and looking for quick solutions.

5.     The last factor is having a balanced life. Reading the text above, you may think I’m a nerd. However, I’m not always studying. I do other things in life. For example, to keep myself fit, I cycle and run regularly. I have completed a 128km cycle marathon in 2008. I run 10km in McRitchie Park weekly. I play the guitar and drums in my free time (my neighbours are not exactly thrilled about that though!). I watch movies with my mother frequently and I love to play pool with my friends. If I were not doing all this to balance my life, I would not have achieved my goal.

Finally, let me explain how the five factors work together. Say there’s an upcoming test and I want to score an A. Well, that’s my goal. I know it’s challenging and I commit to it. Then, I make a concrete plan, which gives me the big picture of my workload and clarity. With clarity, I can focus on what needs to be done. I also enjoy my studies because I am curious to know and discover more. This enjoyment makes it easy for me to work hard. I then notice that if I strictly adhere to my plan, I have time left each day for other activities. Doing other activities reduces any stress I have from my studies.

With these five factors in action, I do not need tuition. I can simply use my curiosity and hard work to research a subject deeper and look at it from several perspectives, clearing all misconceptions. These five factors ultimately encourage independent learning and I am sure anybody who utilizes them well will attain personal success.


  1. Your post really motivated me! Thank you from posting it. I'm currently taking my O levels this year and I want to get 7A1s as well but I don't know how to do it. Every time, I find myself buckling from the stress and when I get home, I just laze around all day. Actually, there's a girl who I used to sit next to last year and I think she may be the genius you mentioned. She studies the day before for tests and exams and always manages to get mostly A1s. I felt so unmotivated sitting next to her and I may sound petty saying this, but I want to win her in terms of grades because I want to prove to myself that I can do better than her but I lack motivation. I am not proud of my actions and thinking in the past. I don't want regrets but I am slowly inching towards having them as I am not doing anything to help myself. I really detest myself for having no motivation or zest for my studies. I'm clueless as to what to do. Thank you for taking the time to read this, if you even visit your post anymore. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

  2. Hi. Thank you for writing here. My apologies for this late reply, I just got out from my army camp.

    I'm really glad to know this post motivated you. I know it's difficult to remain enthusiastic about studies. And I know it's pretty easy to get through your education with concern for grades solely. I too struggle in keeping my interest in studies alive. But all in all, it's definitely better to love your studies, or at least love something worthwhile, than to hate everything you are doing and to drag yourself through life. It's better to live your life with a deep purpose than to live for something material and superficial.

    I really hope that you'll be able to find that something for yourself. It's my belief that everyone has a hidden love for something, we just have to find it. If you seek actively, you'll find it.

    If there's anything I can do to help, please tell me... I'd be glad to.

    Take care