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Tuesday 19 September 2017

4 September 2017 incident

On 4 September 2017, something completely unexpected happened that had a huge impact on me and many others. What was it actually?

Stage 3 of my MBBS course at NUMed had not been smooth for me. During Stage 3, there were 6 MOSLER assessments where we had to pass at least 4 in order to be eligible to take the final written examination. I found the MOSLER's really difficult and I feared them a lot. In fact, I failed 2 of the MOSLER's quite badly. With a lot of hard work, I was eventually able to pass the other 4 MOSLER's and proceed to the written examination.

The written examination for Stage 3 was held on 17 and 18 July 2017. The examination was rather difficult. Although there were some easy questions, many of the questions were quite tricky. I estimated that I would be able to score at least 58% in the examination. The problem was that the pass threshold of the examination is often higher than 60%. In the previous year, many good students failed the written examination just because of the high pass threshold.

Therefore, I was quite worried about my written examination results. If I failed, I would have to repeat the entire Stage 3 as my final attempt. On 31 July 2017, the results was released. I was so happy to know that I passed the written examination. My score in the examination was 67% which was Amber (borderline pass), while the pass threshold was 64.3%. With that, I was able to continue on to Stage 4 of MBBS. This was a huge relief for me after overcoming all the challenges to pass Stage 3.

There were only 8 students who failed, which was a remarkable improvement over the previous year. Stage 4 was supposed to begin on 4 September 2017. Between 19 July and 3 September 2017, I had 6.5 weeks of summer break. During the break, I didn't study anything at all, because I strongly believe that we should fully relax ourselves during breaks. On 28 August 2017, the students who failed the July examination began their repeat year of Stage 3. On that day, NUMed also uploaded the Stage 4 timetable and study guides to the learning support website and sent us a welcome email.

However, there were some unusual things. The welcome email was somehow much shorter compared to that of the previous years and all it said was that we had to register for Stage 4 on 4 September 2017. In addition, the timetable incorrectly stated the Stage 4 Semester 1 start date as 18 September 2017, but it correctly stated the end date as 30 November 2017. The student group list was also not released. I didn't give much thoughts about these things.

Due to Malaysia's victory in the 2017 SEA Games, the government declared 4 September 2017 as a public holiday. However, NUMed informed us that there would be no holiday in NUMed on that day as it was too late to alter the timetables. On 3 September 2017, I returned to Bukit Indah and moved into the university accommodation. Unlike the previous years, I didn't actually feel sad that the summer break was ending, even though I really enjoyed the break. Instead, for some reason I was actually looking forward to Stage 4.

On 4 September 2017, there was supposed to be a Stage 4 introductory lecture at 9AM. I overslept on that morning and it was already 8:30AM when I woke up. I had to rush and I managed to arrive NUMed a few minutes before 9AM. At that time, I met one of my friend who failed the July examination and had to repeat Stage 3. He told me that for unknown reason, NUMed asked him to attend the Stage 4 introductory lecture on that day with us.

I didn't think much about that and I just walked into the lecture theatre. The atmosphere in the lecture theatre was just like usual and many students were talking to each other about the summer break. A few minutes later, a few lecturers walked into the lecture theatre, while one of them prepared to begin the lecture. Their facial expressions looked a bit unusual. Then, the lecturer said that he had a bad news to share with us.

At that moment, my immediate thought was that NUMed was going to announce a change to the curriculum for Stage 4. I had known for quite some time that they were planning to introduce a new curriculum in a few years. In the new curriculum, Stage 3 will be easier than it used to be, but Stage 4 will be more difficult. I had always hoped that the new curriculum would not be implemented in my year. However, it turned out that the bad news had nothing to do with the curriculum.

Instead, the lecturer said that it was about our Stage 3 written examination in July. According to him, a few days after the examination results was released, they received information that there was a security breach where some of the examination questions along with the answers were leaked out before the examination. When they later performed a statistical analysis of the students' answers, they concluded that there was indeed a security breach beyond reasonable doubt.

As a result, NUMed declared that the results of the July examination was invalid and all students had to resit the written examination on 14 and 15 September 2017. The students who failed the July examination previously would be resitting it as well. Only the students who pass the resit examination would be able to proceed to Stage 4 which would begin on 18 September 2017, while the students who fail it would have to repeat the entire Stage 3 as the final attempt. This was the reason for the 18 September start date in the timetable.

The announcement immediately struck everyone in the lecture theatre. Many students started complaining that it was unfair to require those who didn't receive any of the leaked questions to resit. The lecturer's response was that as a result of the security breach, they could not be confident that we passed the written examination legitimately and met the required standards. Since there was no way to determine exactly which students received the leaked questions, every student had to resit it.

Then, we asked why NUMed didn't inform us earlier even though they had known about the security breach for quite some time. The lecturer stated that to ensure fairness, every student had to be informed at the same time so that all of us would have the same amount of time to prepare for the resit examination. During the summer break, the only way to inform us was through e-mail, but many students were known to not check their e-mails regularly. Therefore, they decided that the best solution was to not let us know anything until we were back at NUMed on that day.

We requested that NUMed postpone the resit examination because we couldn't revise the entire Stage 3 curriculum in just 10 days. The lecturer said that he understood our concerns, but they couldn't delay the examination any further because there wouldn't be enough time to complete the teaching for Semester 1 of Stage 4 in that case. Delaying the Stage 4 start date to 18 September 2017 had already resulted in a very tight timetable. He also stressed that as medical students, we shouldn't just forget everything after the previous examination.

The lecturers said that the only other alternative for us was to repeat the entire Stage 3, and if we chose to do so it would not be considered to be our final attempt. They told us they had already spent a lot of time trying to think of a better solution, but there were none. They added that this was the first time where such security breach occurred, and they would take extra steps to ensure that it would never happen again in the future. In the end, nothing could be done to change the fact that we had to resit the examination on 14 and 15 September 2017.

This incident definitely put me in a very difficult situation. Just as I was looking forward to start Stage 4 after all my efforts in passing the 4 MOSLER assessments and eventually getting a borderline pass in the written examination, now it was back to the uncertainty of whether or not I would get to enter Stage 4. I had been relaxing throughout the summer break, and now I had to immediately go back to hard core studying. I felt very angry, sad and stressed.

My immediate thought was that I would rather choose to repeat Stage 3 instead of resitting the examination because it seemed impossible for me to revise the whole Stage 3 curriculum within 10 days and I didn't want to waste an attempt by failing. However, repeating Stage 3 would mean that I had to once again go through the MOSLER assessments which I struggled so much to pass, and I also had to separate with most of my friends who wouldn't be repeating Stage 3.

After some analysis, I concluded that although very challenging, it was feasible for me to complete one round of full revision for the entire Stage 3 curriculum in 10 days. For the July examination previously, I finished one round of revision in 13 days without much stress. This could be shortened to 10 days by studying longer hours every day. However, this would mean that the next 10 days would be extremely busy and stressful. I decided to go ahead with resitting the examination.

In the afternoon of 4 September 2017, I began revising for the the resit examination. Luckily, I still had significant memory of my Stage 3 knowledge, which made this revision easier and faster. I started my revision with General Medicine (FoCP/LTC/ID/PC) which was the most important. On 7 September 2017, I finished revising General Medicine and started revising Psychiatry (MH). Being relatively short, I was able to finish revision for Psychiatry on that day itself. Then, I revised Paediatrics (CH).

I finished revision for Paediatrics on 9 September 2017 and continued with Obstetrics and Gynaecology (WH). On 11 September 2017, I finished revising Obstetrics and Gynaecology and proceeded with Emergency Medicine (FoCP). On that night, I had completed my first round of revision for the whole Stage 3 syllabus. Over the next two days, I did a quick second round of revision for General Medicine. Throughout the 10 days, to avoid wasting time, I stopped playing the video game Clash of Clans completely.

Although I was fairly well prepared for the resit examination, I was still quite worried that the questions would be difficult. On 14 September 2017, it was Paper 1 of the examination. This paper was slightly easier than the examination in July and this made me feel more confident. Paper 2 of the examination was on 15 September 2017. This paper was a bit more difficult compared to Paper 1 as well as the July examination.

Just like the July examination, I estimated that I could score at least 58% in this examination. Once again, I was worried about the pass threshold which is usually higher than 60%. NUMed had stated that the pass threshold for this examination would be determined in the usual way. After studying so hard for 10 days, I fully relaxed myself for the few days after the examination while trying not to think about the results.

The results of the resit examination was released at 8AM on 18 September 2017. Just before the results was released, I was feeling extremely nervous and my body was trembling. Then, I was so happy and surprised to know that I scored 75.1% in the resit examination which was Green (safe pass). This was also a huge improvement compared to my score in the July examination. The pass threshold for this examination was 63.9%. I officially began Stage 4 at 9AM on that day.

With the exception of one student, all students passed the resit examination, including the 8 students who failed the July examination previously. This is no doubt the highest pass rate ever in the history of NUMed. Even though we passed in the end, this doesn't change the fact that we had to endure two weeks of extreme stress. We are definitely angry about the whole incident. Luckily, this incident happened to the Stage 3 examination. The examinations for the other Stages are much more difficult and it wouldn't be possible to finish revision in 10 days.

Looking back at the whole incident, while I think the way NUMed handled the situation was definitely not perfect, I agree with them that there is no better solution. If they informed us about the security breach earlier, I would have to do revision during the summer break and that would ruin my break. If they delayed the resit examination, that would just prolong the duration of extreme stress that we had to face and also adversely affect our studies in Semester 1 of Stage 4.

This incident was actually a blessing in disguise for me since my examination results improved from Amber to Green. I am glad that I chose to take the resit examination instead of repeating Stage 3. Obviously, the 8 students who failed the July examination benefited the most from this incident as they passed the resit examination and could enter Stage 4. Under normal circumstances, there is no resit for the Stage 3 written examination and any student who failed it has to repeat the entire Stage 3.

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