If you ask any student who has taken both the SPM and A Level examinations this question "Between SPM and A Level, which one is more stressful?", it is highly likely that they will say that A Level is more stressful than SPM. I have also taken both SPM and A Level, but if you ask me the same question, I will say that SPM is definitely much more stressful than A Level. I am not joking about this, this is really what I think. Why is this the case?
I took 10 subjects for SPM, which are Bahasa Melayu, English Language, Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Information And Communication Technology, Sejarah and Pendidikan Moral, while I took 4 subjects for A Level, which are Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Biology.
First, consider the 5 subjects that I took in SPM but not in A Level. One of them is Sejarah. I consider Sejarah to be the most difficult subject to study in SPM, because I did not have an effective way to study Sejarah. I had to memorise every single sentence for every topic in the reference book, and I also had to memorise the same thing again many times to ensure that I would not forget them. This was extremely tedious and time-consuming, which was the main reason why I had to study long hours every day. In fact, I spent more than half of my study time during Form 5 just to study Sejarah. Therefore, Sejarah is the most stressful subject in SPM.
The next one is Pendidikan Moral. I did not have any problem memorising the 36 Nilai and their definition and answer the Nilai questions, but I felt that the KBKK questions were difficult. Usually, about 60% of the examination questions are KBKK questions, while the remaining 40% are Nilai questions. Often, the KBKK questions look easy and we feel that we have given a good answer, but the examiner may think otherwise and therefore not give us marks. So, there is a lot of uncertainty in this subject because we cannot be sure whether our answers would be accepted by the examiner or not. To help answer the KBKK questions, I had to go through and memorise everything in my teacher's notes, which was tedious.
Bahasa Melayu and English Language are the next two subjects. Compared to other subjects, language subjects are difficult because it is not possible to actually study and prepare for them. The only part of these 2 subjects that we can actually prepare for is literature. However, these is a lot to study for literature, and I feel that studying literature is very boring. Essay is the most important part of these 2 subjects because it carries a lot of marks, but it is difficult because we can't predict what essay title will appear. We can only hope that we will have the idea to write on the essay title that appears. Also, before the examination, the thought having to write a long essay definitely causes stress.
Another subject that I took only in SPM is Information And Communication Technology (ICT). The workload for ICT is quite low compared to other subjects, because there is not much to study and the examination questions are easy to answer. But despite this, very few students obtained A+ for ICT in SPM every year, probably because the minimum mark to obtain A+ is very high. The difficulty to obtain A+ for this subject caused me to feel stressed.
I took these 5 subjects in SPM but not in A Level, so the stress of these subjects are only experienced in SPM. The combined stress for these subjects is already very high, and there is still 5 other SPM subjects.
Now, consider the subjects that I took in both SPM and A Level, which are Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. These subjects are more difficult in A Level compared to SPM because in A Level, we learn these subjects in greater depth, and many of the examination questions require application of what we understand. However, we have access to the actual mark schemes and grade thresholds for A Level, unlike SPM where these are made secret. Therefore in A Level, we can certainly know the requirements of each question. It is also possible to learn the mark scheme for certain questions that appear commonly. Besides, we can just aim for the marks that is required for grade that we want to achieve.
But in SPM, since the actual mark schemes are not available to the public, we can only refer to the mark schemes for the SPM trial examination. However, these may not necessarily be the same as as the actual mark scheme, and the mark scheme for the same type of question may differ depending on the state where the SPM trial examination is held. Therefore, we can't know for sure what are the requirements of each question. There is a lot of speculation about the grade thresholds for each SPM subject, but it is impossible to find out whether they are true or not. So, to be safe, we have to aim for as high marks as possible. As a result, even though A Level is more difficult for these subjects, SPM is still more stressful.
When I was in Form 5, during school days, I would study 7 hours, from 5PM to 6PM, from 7PM to 8PM, then from 9PM to 2AM; during holidays, I would study 10 hours, from 1PM to 3PM, from 4PM to 6PM, from 7PM to 8PM, then from 9PM to 2AM. During my study hours, I hardly took any break, even if I did, each break lasted for a few minutes only. I studied seriously throughout the year, except that I relaxed for one week after every school examination. However, when I was in A Level, during school days, I would study 5 hours from 9PM and 2AM; during holidays, I would study 7 hours, from 4PM to 6PM, then from 9PM to 2AM. During my study hours, I often took breaks whenever I finish revising each chapter. Depending on the situation, each break may be as short as 5 minutes, or as long as 1 hour or more. I studied seriously only one month before each examination.
During my SPM examination, I felt very stressful and did not answer very well for many of the papers, and I was only confident of getting 7A+ 3A. Although it turned out that I obtained 9A+ 1A, that was partly by luck. However, during my A Level examination, except for a few papers, I mostly had little stress and could answer quite well. I was confident of getting 3A* 1A, but it turned out that I obtained 4A*. Therefore, even though the amount of effort I put in studying for A Level was much lower compared to SPM, I still got better results for A Level.
Besides studies, there are some other factors which causes SPM to be more stressful than A Level. One of them is that the rules at my secondary school was much stricter compared to that at my college. For example, all students in my secondary school must attend the assembly on time every day, while there is no such rule at my college. Strict rules restrict freedom, so it also contributes to stress.
In addition, during secondary school, I almost never had any outings or interesting activities with my friends. This is mainly because my upper secondary class was very inactive and I was too focused on my studies. But during A Level, every day I had lunch with my friends at the restaurants near my college, and we had outings occasionally. Having activities with friends can help reduce stress.
With all these reasons, I can very surely say that SPM is much more stressful than A Level, and this is an undeniable fact. However, I also understand that different people have different opinion, study method and lifestyle, which is probably why many do not think the same way. So, I will just agree to disagree when others say that A Level is more stressful than SPM.