Hi! My name is Daniel Lim Jhao Jian. Here is where I share my experience, knowledge and ideas. You are welcome to leave comments and follow my blog. You are free to copy anything from this blog. Please recommend this blog to your friends.

Thursday 9 June 2016

My Lost Glory in Academics

In the past before I entered university, I used to get excellent results in examinations. I obtained 9A+ 1A in SPM and 4A* in A Level. I also achieved straight A's in every single school and college examinations from October 2009 until August 2014, a 5 year record. In September 2014, I started studying MBBS at NUMed Malaysia. At that time, I was hoping that I could continue my academic excellence in university.

On 22 September 2014 which was my first day at NUMed, there was an English language proficiency test. During the test, we had to write an essay on "The advantages and disadvantages of shopping on the Internet". I felt that I did not write the essay well and therefore I thought I would not pass the test. When the results of the English language proficiency test was released, I was so surprised to find out that I passed it. Only 18 out 120 students in my cohort passed the test and any student who failed had to attend English language classes throughout the first semester. This was obviously a good start for me in the MBBS course.

For Stage 1 and 2 of the MBBS course, there are 3 forms of assessment which are Progress examinations, OSCE and in-course assignments. In order pass a Stage, we need to pass all forms of assessments. A good performance in one form of assessment cannot compensate for a poor performance in another. I was aiming for a score of 80% or above in every assessment because it felt like getting grade A, even though in NUMed there is actually no special grade for that.

It all went well at first. Many of the topics in the beginning of Stage 1 were quite similar to those I learnt in A Level. Thanks to my previous knowledge, I was able to understand those topics quite easily. On 3 November 2014, it was the Stage 1 Progress 1 examination which was the first assessment in the course. I felt that this examination was more difficult compared to A Level as many of the questions required a lot of thinking. There were also a few questions on anatomy which I found very difficult. Despite that, I successfully scored 84.5% in the examination and I was ranked the 9th in the whole cohort. It was really an excellent result and I was very happy about that. It also greatly boosted my confidence in studying MBBS. Many students began to know me as an excellent student. I definitely hoped to maintain the same results in the next examination.

However, things started going downhill from that point onwards. Immediately after the Progress 1 examination, I had to do the Assignment 1 and the submission deadline was just 3 days later. Due to the fact that I previously studied A Level which was fully examination based, I had no experience in doing assignments. As a result, I faced great difficulty in doing the assignment and I felt really stressed. Although I was able to complete the assignment in time, I had no idea whether or not I did it correctly. I was just hoping that I could pass the Assignment 1. After submitting the assignment, I decided to fully relax myself for a few weeks. During the few weeks, we started learning more topics on anatomy and there were several anatomy practical sessions. We were required to do some preparation before attending those sessions, but I never did so because I did not see a need for that. As a result, during the anatomy practical sessions I was often quite confused and could not contribute my ideas to the discussions. In fact, most of the time I could not understand anything. This also affected my personal image as an excellent student.

In early December 2014, the results of the Assignment 1 was released and my score was a borderline pass. This was the first time where I did not score well in an assessment. I was still quite satisfied with my results, considering that I didn't even know how to do the assignment correctly. I told myself that my strong point was the Progress examinations and I should just focus on getting excellent results for that. Around that time, I started my revision for the Stage 1 Progress 2 examination. While revising, I did not put in any effort to improve my knowledge on anatomy which I had identified as my weak point, because I had the impression that anatomy was not important since only a few questions on it appeared in the previous examination. Instead, I simply skipped a few of the more difficult anatomy topics. Later, there was 4 weeks of winter break. During the break, I did not do my revision wholeheartedly because I was in holiday mood.

Unlike the Progress 1, the Progress 2 examination had 2 papers. On 12 January 2015, I sat for Paper 1 and I felt that it was about as difficult as the Progress 1 examination. Once again, there were a few anatomy questions and I could not answer most of them. After Paper 1 ended, I went back to the university accommodation together with a few friends. During the journey, I discussed with them about the examination questions. They said that they did not find the anatomy questions difficult. Besides, there were a few questions which I was already very confident that I answered correctly, but my friends had different answers and they were also very sure that they were correct. That affected my confidence in Paper 1, and I felt I did not answer it as well as I did in the Progress 1. I was hoping that I could do better in Paper 2 to compensate for that. The really annoying thing was that one of my housemate kept saying that the anatomy questions were easy and that his "love on anatomy is beginning to grow".

However, it turned out that Paper 2 on the next day was much more difficult than Paper 1. Paper 2 had many questions on anatomy, most of which I could not answer. After answering Paper 2, I knew I could no longer score 80% or above in the Progress 2 examination. Worst of all, when my housemate (who said the anatomy questions were easy) knew about that, he mocked me by saying "How are you going to be a doctor when you don't know anatomy?" I was quite angry with him over that. Coincidentally, on that day I accidentally dropped my iPad on the floor which permanently damaged its SIM card reader, so 13 January 2015 was really an unlucky day for me. Eventually, I scored 72.9% in the Progress 2 examination. I was quite disappointed that my score had dropped a lot compared to the Progress 1 examination. This was also the first time where I did not get excellent results in Progress examinations which I always thought was my strong point.

I had to start doing the Assignment 2 immediately after the examination because 2 weeks later it would be the deadline for the submissionJust like the previous assignment, I found the Assignment 2 very difficult. In fact, this assignment was really tedious which caused me to be extremely stressed. I felt that even the Progress 2 examination was definitely easier than the assignment. Luckily, I was able to get a sample of the assignment from one of my seniors. With that as a guide, I could at least know how to complete the assignment. Once again, I scored a borderline pass for this assignment, but there was a slight improvement in my score compared to the previous assignment. Soon after completing the Assignment 2, I had to begin on the Assignment 3. Out of my expectation, this assignment was easier compared to the previous assignments. At that point, I also had quite some experience in doing assignments. Therefore, I was able to complete the Assignment 3 without much difficulty. This was the last assignment in Stage 1. After completing all the assignments, I decided to relax for one whole month.

In mid April 2015, I started revising for the Stage 1 Progress 3 examination. Initially, I aimed to regain a score of 80% or above in this examination. However, I soon realised that I had started my revision too late. There were a lot to revise for the examination since it would test on everything learnt in both semesters of Stage 1, and time was limited. The 2nd semester had quite many topics on anatomy but I did not have time to try to improve my anatomy knowledge. I felt very stressed and as a result, I had to give up on my target of getting 80%. The Progress 3 examination was on 26 and 27 May 2015. Paper 1 had many anatomy questions and I could not answer many of them. Paper 2 also had many questions on anatomy, but I was able to answer some of them. On 4 June 2015, the final results for Stage 1 was released. I scored 68.3% for the Progress 3 examination and 85.5% for the Assignment 3. I passed Stage 1 overall. Although I was a bit disappointed about my Progress 3 results, I was really happy with my excellent score in the Assignment 3, especially that it was a huge improvement compared to the Assignment 2. Since I had passed Stage 1, I decided not to think about my results anymore. Instead, I enjoyed myself throughout the summer break at that time.

On 29 September 2015, I began Stage 2 of MBBS. At that time, I felt that the 4 month summer break seemed to pass so quickly. I was still in holiday mood and I could not immediately get myself back to study. One day in October 2015, I looked back at Stage 1. I realised that in the beginning of Stage 1, I was an excellent student just like before I entered NUMed, but later on, my examination results had declined by a lot and thus I had lost my excellence in academics. The Stage 1 Progress 1 examination was the last time ever where I obtained excellent results. Although I scored very well in the Stage 1 Assignment 3, this wasn't the case for the Progress examinations which was supposed to be my strong point. Thinking about that made me feel sad. Then, I told myself that I must make a comeback by regaining my academic excellence. I set myself the target of scoring 80% or above in my next examination which would be the Stage 2 Progress 1 examination. That got me out of my holiday mood and back to study. I started my revision quite early, in late October 2015 which was more than 2 months before the Progress 1 examination.

It turned out that achieving the target was easier said than done, as vast majority of the topics in the 1st semester of Stage 2 were about anatomy which was my weak point. To address my weak point, I tried putting in my efforts to revise anatomy in more detail. I also made sure to do preparation before attending every anatomy practical session, not wanting to repeat the same mistake I made in Stage 1. However, the problem was that I found anatomy very boring. Anatomy largely had to be studied by memorising rather than understanding, but I really hated memorising things. I could not study anatomy for long hours, because I would get so bored that I had to stop and do something else. I kept trying to remind myself of my target in the examination, but this did not help. As a result, I was not consistent in my studies. Despite the early start in my revision, I was not well prepared for the Progress 1 examination, but I was still hoping that somehow I would be able to score 80%.

The Stage 2 Progress 1 examination was on 11 and 12 January 2016. To make matters worse, this examination was very difficult as it tested on a lot of fine details, much of which I did not cover during my revision. As such, I definitely could not answer well in this examination. On 18 January 2016, the results of the examination was released and my score was 71.9%. I did not reach my target of 80% and this meant I failed to regain my academic excellence. I felt quite sad and disappointed about my failed efforts. However, later on the same day, I heard of the news that the JPA scholarship had been suspended for Bursary students who would be entering university from January 2016 onwards. Although it did not affect me and other students who were already offered the scholarship, I felt sad for those students affected. Then, thinking of my own situation, I tried to make myself feel better by telling myself that my disappointment of not getting 80% in the examination was nothing if compared to the disappointment of those students who might be unable to further their studies due to the suspension of the JPA scholarship. I decided to be grateful of the fact that I still passed the Progress 1 examination and thus could continue the MBBS course under the JPA scholarship.

After the examination, I started doing the Assignment 1 for Stage 2. This assignment was not difficult as it was quite similar to the Assignment 3 in Stage 1. Thanks to my previous experience, I did not have much problems completing this assignment. However, compared to the previous assignment, the examiners expected us to demonstrate more knowledge and skills in this assignment. Therefore in this assignment, I did not score as well as I did in the Stage 1 Assignment 3, getting only 75%. Then, I began doing the Stage 2 Assignment 2. It was quite similar to the Assignment 2 in Stage 1, but I did not find this assignment too difficult due to the fact that I had quite a lot of experience in doing assignments. Eventually, I scored 75% in this assignment which was the same score as the previous assignment. This was the last assignment in Stage 2. Although I did not score 80% or above, I was still quite satisfied with my results considering that assignments used to be my weak point previously.

I initially planned to start revising for the Stage 2 Progress 2 examination early because I did not want to repeat the same mistake I previously made for the Stage 1 Progress 3 examination. However, I just could not get myself to revise for the examination while doing the assignments at the same time. It was only after I completed the Assignment 2 in late April 2016 that I could start my revision for the Progress 2 examination. At that point, there was only 5 weeks remaining until the examination. Worse still, this examination was considered by many to be the second most difficult examination in the entire MBBS course. Compared to the 1st semester, I felt that the topics in the 2nd semester of Stage 2 were easier because there was no anatomy. However, the problem was that the Progress 2 examination would test on topics from both semesters of Stage 2. In such a short time frame of 5 weeks, I had to revise so many topics including those tedious anatomy topics of the 1st semester.

Consequently, I felt extremely stressed throughout my revision and I was worried that I could not finish the revision in time. Amid the stress, I was definitely just hoping to pass Stage 2 and nothing more than that. I dared not even think about scoring 80% as I knew that would be impossible. The Stage 2 OSCE was on 24 May 2016. Due to stress, my performance in the OSCE was adversely affected. I was really worried that I might fail the OSCE. On 31 May and 1 June 2016, it was the Stage 2 Progress 2 examination. Luckily, after all the hard work I was able to answer reasonably well in the examination. The final results for Stage 2 was released on 8 June 2016. I scored 64.7% in the Progress 2 examination and got a borderline pass for the OSCE. I passed Stage 2 overall and I was so relieved to know that. Even though my Progress 2 results was worse compared to the previous examinations, I did not feel disappointed this time and I chose to be grateful of the fact that I passed.

I lost my excellence in academics during Stage 1 and my attempt to regain it during Stage 2 was a failure. However, I have since come to the realisation that whether I scored a borderline pass or 100% or anywhere in between, I will still be graduating with the same MBBS degree as my examination results will not be stated on the degree certificate, so academic excellence serves no real purpose. In addition, it is the clinical years from Stage 3 onwards. Unlike Stage 1 and 2, in the clinical years most of the learning is done at clinical sites and there is greater emphasis on critical thinking and self-directed learning, so the clinical years are more difficult. If I continue to aim for 80% or above in the examinations, that would just add to my stress unnecessarily and I definitely won't be enjoying the course very much if I feel too stressed. Enjoying the course is definitely much more important than academic excellence. Therefore, I will just aim for a pass in every assessment since then. I most probably will never regain my academic excellence, but that doesn't matter to me anymore now.

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  1. Personally, I still think you're an excellent student. Passing med school isnt easy but the important thing is you are doing the best you can.

    And yep its sad bout the jpa scholarship being suspended. i achieved straight a's (9a+, 2a) but i wont get the scholarship. nevertheless, im luckier than most since my parents can afford to send me to med school.

    1. Actually, the JPA scholarship for Bursary students was later reintroduced in February 2016. But unlike the past, it will only sponsor for local universities, not overseas universities. I did not mention about this in the post above since it is not the main focus of the post.