Saturday, January 13, 2018

How I coped with my shitty O level results

[ The original title of this article would have been tasteless in light of the latest news on social media about the teen who committed suicide over his O level results. I have amended the title as soon as I could after hearing the news and corroborating it from different sources ]

Sec 4A from the 1987 intake of Swiss Cottage Secondary was the only Pure Science class in the school. The administration felt that their students would not have what it took to enter medical school so Pure Science meant taking only pure Physics and Chemistry. In spite of this, entry into the class was relatively competitive because, for some arcane reason, it was just cooler to be in Pure Science in the 1980s.

The other distinguishing feature of Sec 4A was that it was arrogant. Possibly the most arrogant class ever produced in the history of the secondary school.

We were the rare forty or so Pure Science students, we thought we were like the Aryans, the Master Race, of the school.  We never had a formal classroom, the school ran out of space and gave us science lab which was crazy by today's standards.

We were indignant and we overcompensated.

We won the Drama competition and when Sec 4D challenged us to soccer match to curb our arrogance, we thrashed them as well.  We formally complained to the school administration when we felt that the Pure Physics questions were too easy and did not reflect the level difficulty in other schools. We banded together to complain again when the Physics preliminary exams were riddled with errors.

We did all this on our own without parental support, I remember going to the National library to research on A level texts to prove why the teacher's answers were wrong. And we were so terrifying, there was a period of time where we never even had a Physics teacher because teachers expressed reluctance to teach us because we self-studied so aggressively.

But Sec 4A had one weakness which blindsided us and made us fall.

We were mostly Chinese helicopters. The Ang Mo Tua Kees went into 4B because 4B offered English Literature. Sec 4A were basically kids with mathematical aptitude that came from Chinese speaking families. We thought we could do EL1, but we were woefully inadequate for the actual exam.

For the O levels, the mightily arrogant Sec 4A was given the biggest thrashing it ever had experienced as a class. 4 out of 5 top O level students eventually went to Sec 4B. The English Literature teacher, who actually refused to give the class our drama trophies because we were such arrogant fuckers, was jubilant.

Naturally, my O level showing was the most humiliating showing in my entire my life.

I got B4 for English, B3 for Geography. My total score was 11 and scraped through NJC likely because I took a rare combination involving Computing and Further Maths. The idea of leaving a JC after 3 months of bonding with your classmates is a terrifying one, some of my classmates were crying when their appeals to stay in NJC failed. One, who is a Phd in Engineering today, even contemplated monk-hood.

Many years later, Sec 4A alumni had a gathering. On the whole, we had done rather well in tertiary education.

One of things we spoke, and had great memories of, is how much we hated  doing so badly for our O levels and losing to Sec 4B and why the bulk of us who became professionals really did not want the experience of humiliation to repeat itself.

We drive ourselves hard.

I think this humiliation continues to drive me until today.

At the back of my mind, I think that perhaps Sec 4A of 1987 cohort would be able to produce a lawyer trained for the Singapore Bar in 2018.

But looking back, I think being scarred by my O level showing turned out be quite ok for me on hindsight.

So to the folks who had a shit O level showing....

Not letting that failure define you is a lost opportunity.

Let the anger and humiliation consume you.

Take it personally if a teacher laughs at you or puts your down.

For subsequent rounds, it will be payback time !


  1. Thanks for sharing.

    My O levels showing was crap too. Glad I used that episode as a lesson to bounce back.

  2. A boy wearing Westwood Secondary School uniform jumped off a Jurong flat yesterday. The day GCE O results were released.

  3. The original title of this article was in bad taste in light of this sad news of suicide, so I amended it.

    Look after yourselves, people.

    In 10 years time, your O level grades would only matter as teachable moment.