Introduction

Welcome! 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, 4 May 2017

My dream about a movie

One night in March 2017, I had a dream that I was watching a movie. I have no idea why I had this dream. In reality, I have never watched any similar movie, neither did I read any similar story. The plot of the movie I watched in my dream is like this:


The main character of the movie is a man who works in an electronics factory. One day, he was walking on the 2nd floor corridor of the factory, carrying an electric meter in his hand. The electric meter had definitely been disconnected from the electricity. The man saw his co-worker on the other end of the corridor. He threw the electric meter towards his co-worker and told him to catch it. However, as soon as his co-worker caught the electric meter, the co-worker had a severe electric shock. It was surprising that the co-worker got the shock from the electric meter even though it was not connected to the electricity.

Some time later, the man was walking on the same 2nd floor corridor in the factory. Outside the corridor there was a safety net. He felt that the net was a bit messy, so he reached out his hand to adjust the net. When he touched the net, it started vibrating violently, as if something was bouncing on the net. Strangely, he could see nothing on the net, neither could anyone else. Nobody could explain why the net vibrated. This incident, in addition to the previous incident, caused many workers to believe that the factory is haunted.

The boss of the factory decided to have a talk with the man regarding the incidents. The boss told him about something that happened in the past. Previously, the factory used to be a sports complex, and the was a tennis court below the 2nd floor corridor. One day, a boy who was a newbie in tennis joined his friends to play tennis at that court. When he was playing, due to lack of skills he hit the ball straight upwards. Surprisingly, the tennis ball didn't fall back down, instead it was bouncing in mid-air, even though there was nothing for the ball to bounce on to. The boy and his friends were really frightened by that and the sports complex was thought to be haunted.

Because of that incident, the management of the sports complex sold the place at a low price, and the place was transformed into the electronics factory. The boss of the factory kept the whole thing secret because he didn't want the workers to know about it. For quite a long time nothing happened at the factory, until the two incidents which just happened. Since both incidents involved the same man, the boss felt that it might have something to do with him so that's why the boss told him everything. After knowing all these, the man felt helpless and he went to consult a doctor.

Through some investigations, the doctor found out that the man is actually a mutant species, like an X-Men. He has the mutant ability to manipulate an object across time and space. This explains the weird incidents that happened at the factory. For the first incident, when he threw the electric meter towards his co-worker, he brought the electric meter from the past to the present. Since the electric meter was connected to the electricity in the past, when it was brought to the present it gave the co-worker an electric shock.

For the second incident, when the man touched the safety net, he brought it to the past, or more precisely, to the moment when the boy hit the tennis ball vertically upwards, and at the same time, the tennis ball was brought to the present. As a result, the tennis ball of the past was bouncing on the safety net of the present. This explains why in the past incident the tennis ball seemed to bounce in the mid-air while in the second incident the safety net seemed to vibrate violently on its own.

However, the man never knew previously that he is a mutant species and he never consciously activated his mutant ability, in fact he didn't even know how to activate it. Through some questioning by the doctor, it was found out that the man once made a mistake in the past which caused his wife to leave him. He regretted the mistake very much and he kept thinking about it until now. The fact is that, whenever he dwells himself too deeply in his past mistake, he inadvertently activated his mutant ability, which led to the incidents at the factory.

Now that the man understood everything, he chooses to live the life of a normal human rather than a mutant. However, he doesn't know how to prevent himself from activating his mutant ability. The doctor decided to refer him for some counselling sessions to help him move on from his past mistake. With that, he no longer thinks about his past mistake, so he no longer inadvertently activates his mutant ability. No more weird incidents happen at the factory, and he is definitely happier than before.


So, that's the movie I watched in my dream. This movie is definitely quite weird, and I doubt there is a real movie with a plot like this. However, I feel that this movie gives a good life lesson: Instead of keep regretting over our past mistakes, we should move on from it and embrace it as part of our life experience.

If you liked this story, you may want to read this too:
http://daniellimjj.blogspot.com/2016/03/my-3-remarkable-dreams-in-1-night.html

Monday, 3 April 2017

My learning of English language

English is one of the most commonly used international languages in the world. Therefore, it is important to learn English. In Malaysia, English is the second language for many people. Many Malaysians have either Malay, Chinese or Tamil as their first language. However, it is a bit different for my case.

At home, I speak English to almost every one in my family, whether it is my parents, my grandfather, my uncle and aunt or my cousins, except for my grandmother. Many of my family members were English educated. I only speak Mandarin Chinese to my grandmother, because she does not know English. Since when I was still a child, my family had taught me English. Due to the fact that I spoke English with my family a lot, I was quite fluent in English at a young age.

In 2002, I started primary school. My family decided to send me to a Chinese school. My batch was the last batch of students before the Ministry of Education implemented the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science subjects in English. Throughout the 6 years of primary school, I learnt all subjects in Chinese. In the beginning, I actually preferred to be taught in English because I was not so good in Chinese.

For my batch, English was not officially taught in Chinese schools until Year 3. However, my school decided to still provide some English classes for Year 1 and 2. In Year 1, I had just one English class every week. At that time, my English was better compared to many of my classmates. However, for some reason I could not score very well for English in the examinations. My examination results for English was often worse compared to the other subjects, although I still always scored grade A.

In Year 2, I started having several English classes in school every week. My English examination results improved at that time. I was able to score full marks for English in 3 out of 4 of the school examinations. I can still remember that I did not score full marks in one of the examinations because I got confused between 'dress' and 'skirt'. In Year 3, English became an official subject at my school. I continued to score very well for English in examinations, although I was not able to maintain my record of getting full marks.

During primary school, I mostly spoke in Mandarin Chinese to my classmates and teachers. Many of them were not very good at speaking English. When I sometimes spoke a few sentences in English, this was often frowned upon by some of them. I hardly read English books or watched English movies, because I preferred Chinese books and movies, partly due to the influence of my classmates. My family had advised me to read English books and watch English movies because that could help improve my English skills, but I refused to listen to them.

From Year 4 to Year 6, all subjects in the school examinations including English were set according to the UPSR examination format. At that time, I continued scoring excellent results for English in examinations. I was one of the top students for the English subject in my class. My target was to get straight A's in the UPSR, and I considered English along with Mathematics to be the easiest subjects which I was 100% sure of getting grade A.

However, there was a slight problem. For Section C of Paper 2 of the English subject, we had to write 3 paragraphs, each consisting of a few sentences, based on the pictures and keywords given. My teacher had always advised us to write compound and complex sentences instead of simple sentences in that section. However, I never listened to my teacher's advice and I kept writing simple sentences most of the time.

There were a few occasions where my teacher did not give me full marks for Section C even though I did not make any grammatical errors, because I wrote only simple sentences. That was an indication that I needed to improve on my English skills. However, it did not have any impact on my ability to score grade A, so I did not do anything about that. Eventually, I scored grade A for English in the UPSR examination.

In 2008, I entered secondary school. Throughout secondary school, I learnt Mathematics and Science subjects in English and other subjects in Malay. However, many of my teachers explained Mathematics and Science in Malay. I mostly spoke either in Malay or Chinese to my friends and teachers in secondary school, because many of them were not good at speaking English. Sometimes, my friends attempted to speak to me in English, but I found it difficult to speak to them because they were poor in English, so I would often switch the conversation back to Malay or Chinese.

From Form 1 to Form 3, the school examinations for all subjects were set according to the PMR examination format. For English, there were essay writing, summary and literature sections which I had not encountered during primary school previously. At that time, English became one of the subjects that I consider as difficult, along with Chinese and Malay. This was in contrast to during primary school where I considered English as the easiest subject.

I found language subjects including English difficult because unlike subjects such as Mathematics, Science, History or Geography, it is not possible to actually study for the examination, except for the literature section. I aimed to get straight A's in the PMR examination, and I was a bit worried about not being able to score A for English. I was still able to get A for English in every school examination, although my score was not very good sometimes. Eventually, I obtained grade A for English in the PMR examination.

During secondary school, there was not much improvement in my English skills, because I hardly spoke English in school and I still did not like to read English books or watch English movies. I started having internet access in 2009, but I hardly read news or articles online. My family had several times pointed out that my English vocabulary was poor and that I often made grammatical errors when speaking English. I too realised my weakness in English, but I did not feel the need to improve on it. Once, my father bought me a few English novels. I completed one of the novels, but I did not bother reading the rest.

At the beginning of Form 4 in 2011, I felt that the English subject in SPM examination had a low standard because its format seemed so easy, especially for Paper 2. In Paper 2, Section A just consisted of some multiple-choice questions, Section B and C were just about copying the answers from the materials given, while Section D was the literature section which I could study for it. As for Paper 1, we had to write essays which was not something new. In fact, I felt that SPM English seemed to be even easier compared to PMR.

However, I later realised that English wasn't as easy as it seemed to be. The time allocated for Paper 1 was just 1 hour 45 minutes. Having to write 2 long essays within 1 hour 45 minutes was very challenging and I often had to rush a lot during the examinations to finish it on time. Therefore, I started considering English Paper 1 to be quite difficult, but I still felt that Paper 2 was easy. During Form 4, I was still able to score excellent results for English in school examinations. In 3 out of 4 of the examinations, I obtained grade A+.

In Form 5, the English subject became even more difficult. Unlike Form 4, we had to study a novel for the literature section instead of just short stories. The novel was very long and there were a lot of things that I need to study about it, so I found it quite tedious. Somewhere during Form 5, my school changed the English teacher for my class. My previous teacher was not good at teaching, but she was very nice. I preferred to continue to be taught by her, but my school insisted on the change. In the beginning, my new teacher seemed to teach quite well.

The new teacher told us that for Section B and C in Paper 2, our answers had to be very precise and we were not allowed to write more than what was required by the question. This was something I did not know previously because my previous teacher did not tell us about it. I always had the habit of writing very long answers, so this was a new challenge for me. Worst of all, as time went on, it became clear that the new teacher was actually even worse at teaching than the previous teacher. She taught us absolutely nothing about the novel and as a result I had no idea how to answer the literature section.

I started considering English to be one of the most difficult subject in SPM. This was in sharp contrast to what I felt about English when I first started Form 4. My family advised me to attend tuition classes for English, but I refused because that would cause me to have less time to do revision for other subjects. I was aiming for straight A+ in the SPM examination so I was very stressed with my studies during Form 5. In the 1st school examination, I obtained A+ for English but my score was not very good. In the 2nd examination, the essay I wrote went out of topic because I rushed too much in Paper 1, and English ended up being the only subject I did not get A+.

Later, I heard of a rumour from my friend that for the one-word topic in the Continuous Writing section of Paper 1, we were allowed to make that word as a person's name and then write a story about the person. Therefore, it would be possible for us to prepare a well-written story about a person before hand, memorise it and then use it in any examination. I asked my teacher about that and she confirmed that it was true. I was very happy and decided to go ahead with that because it would instantly solve the problem of not having enough time for Paper 1 and also guarantee that I would score well in Paper 1.

I spent some time to come up with a good story about a person and I used it for the first time during the SPM Trial examination in August 2012. However, it turned out that the story I wrote had some grammatical errors so I did not get a good score for that. Besides, I scored poorly in the literature section because I did not add in my personal response. I did not know that a personal response was required since my teacher never taught about that. I also lost a few marks in Section B of Paper 2 for writing too long answers. I ended up getting only 88 marks for English, but I managed to convince my teacher to give me 2 bonus marks so that I could get grade A+.

After that, I showed my grandfather the story. He corrected the grammatical errors in it and also modified some parts of the story to make it more realistic. However, shortly before my SPM examination, my teacher told us the latest update that we were no longer allowed to use the one-word topic as a person's name, which put to an end the practice of memorising a story before hand. As a result, I could no longer use the story I prepared for the SPM and once again I had to actually write the essay during the examination. I was quite disappointed and worried about that.

During the SPM English examination in November 2012, I wrote the first half of the Continuous Writing very well. However, I again ran into the problem of not having enough time. I had to rush the second half so I could not write it very well. I also had problems with the literature section. I knew that I had to add in my personal response, but I was not sure how I should write it. I was still quite confident of getting A+ for English in SPM, although I was not 100% sure. Instead, I was more worried of other subjects such as Biology, ICT and Malay.

When my SPM results was released, it turned out that my results was 9A+ 1A and the only subject I did not score A+ was English. I was really surprised by that and I just couldn't understand why this happened. However, I was very happy that I obtained 9A+ in SPM. Along with my SPM results, I also received GCE O Level grade 2A for English which was awarded by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). I requested a recheck for SPM English subject. Later, the results for the recheck was released and there was no change in my grade.

In January 2013, I started studying A Level at Taylor's College Subang Jaya. All A Level subjects were taught fully in English. My teachers also explained everything and spoke to us fully in English, unlike during secondary school. English was widely spoken in Taylor's College. All my friends could speak English well, due to the fact that they were mostly from Subang Jaya. In the beginning, I only spoke in English with my friends. Later, as I became closer to them, we started speaking a mixture of English and Chinese. I definitely spoke English much more compared to during secondary school.

I also started reading English news and articles on the internet quite often. My first few months of A Level were quite relaxing and I had a lot of free time, so I wrote several posts on this blog, all in English. I was used to having to write long essays with correct grammar during Form 4 and 5. Because of that influence, the blog posts I wrote at that time were much longer compared to my previous posts on this blog and I also made sure that my grammar was correct when writing the posts, which sometimes required me to search on Google. 

Due to the fact that I spoke and had exposure to a lot of English during A Level and that I wrote a lot on this blog, my English skills improved significantly during 2013 compared to previously. In November 2013, I took the Bio Medical Admissions Test (BMAT) as part of my application to UK universities. There was a writing task in Section 3 of the BMAT and I was able to write the essay reasonably well. My results for Section 3 was 4/5 for content and grade B for language. My results was sufficiently good to meet the requirements of the universities that I applied to.

In December 2013, I took the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The IELTS had 4 components, Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. I felt that Reading and Listening were very easy, while Speaking and Writing were quite difficult. Eventually, I obtained a band score of 6.5 for Speaking, 8.5 for Listening, 9.0 for Reading and 7.0 for Writing, while my overall band score was 8.0. This was a great improvement over my results for SPM English one year ago. Although my overall IELTS results was very good, getting 6.5 in Speaking put me at a disadvantage because some universities require a band score of 7.0 in every single component.

When I applied to Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, I had to write a personal statement. I had previously written a personal statement for my UCAS application and I thought of just reusing it. I asked one of my friend who had a lot of experience in writing personal statements for advice. However, she said that my previous personal statement was written very poorly so I should rewrite it completely, and she gave me some tips for that. Later, I put in my effort to rewrite a new personal statement. My friend said that it was a great improvement over the previous one, but there were still some weaknesses. Under her guidance, I modified the personal statement and it was satisfactorily good for the university application.

From March to August 2014, I attended several interviews for my application to medical schools which include University of Hong Kong, Perdana University, International Medical University, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia and SEGi University. The interviews were all held fully in English. It was important for me to be able to speak good English during the interviews. I made preparation for each interview by searching on the internet for tips and practising with my friends. My experience in those interviews helped improve my English skills.

In September 2014, I started studying Medicine at Newcastle University Medicine (NUMed) Malaysia. On the first day, there was an English language proficiency test. The lecturer explained that the purpose of the test was to assess our ability to write in academic writing style which is different from IELTS style and that students who fail the test had to attend English classes throughout the 1st semester. During the test, I had to write an essay and I felt that I did not write it well so I thought I would fail it. Out of my expectation, I passed the test successfully and only 18 out of 120 students in my batch passed it.

Since NUMed is a UK university, English is definitely widely spoken in NUMed. The Medicine course at NUMed is taught entirely in English, so is all the assessments. The lecturers also speak to us fully in English. All students in NUMed can speak English well, since they were assessed on their English skills before they were accepted into the course. I speak to most of my friends in English. I seldom speak in Chinese or Malay because I find it awkward to change to another language after getting used to speaking to them in English.

There are several assignments that I had to do in Medicine course as part of the assessment. Quality of English language is one of the skills assessed in every assignment. In the beginning, I was quite poor at assignments because I had no experience in doing them since I never had any assignments in A Level previously. However, I was still able to get a good score for quality of English which partly helped me in passing the assignment. Later, as I gain more experience, I improved greatly in the assignments.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Thoughts on Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award

For the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) AS and A Level, there are Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards which are awarded by CIE to students who achieved top in the world or top in each country for each subject. Students with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award will receive a special certificate through a ceremony that is held by their school or college. Many schools or colleges and even CIE often publicly announce about the students who get the award.

As you probably have expected, quite a significant percentage of CIE AS and A Level students aim for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award. In order to be top in the world or top in their country, they have to work very hard to score as high as possible in the assessments, hoping to be better than all other students. However, this was not the case for me. I never aimed for the award when I was studying A Level. In my opinion, no student should aim for the award. Here, I want to jot down some of my thoughts on the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award so that you may better understand why aiming for the award is a very bad idea. Let me explain.

First, success isn't defined by getting the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award.

The definition of success is the accomplishment of an aim. Our main aim of studying A Level is so that we can get into the university and degree course of our choice. In order to achieve that, our A Level grades just need to meet the entry requirements. So technically, meeting the entry requirements is already considered success. Of course, getting just the minimum grades required won't make us feel very good, so we probably want more than that. It is definitely good for us to aim for reasonably better grades than the minimum required.

But whatever our aim is, it should all be about our own performance and not about performing better than other people. It is what we ourselves do that determines success, not what others do. If we aim for Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, we will need every other student to perform less well than us in order to achieve the aim. Whether or not we get the award is determined by other students' performance which we have no control on, so it is wrong to define success as getting the award. Also, by defining the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award as success we are essentially saying that almost all students taking A Level will be failure no matter what, since only the top student can get the award even if every one aims for it. This is definitely not right.

Second, Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award doesn't mean better student in university.

The study style in university is quite different from that of A Level. Unlike in A Level, lecturers in university may not teach us everything that we need to know so we may have to do our own readings. We also have to use several different reference books in university because there is not a single book that can be used throughout the entire course. There are also assignments which involve doing research, unlike A Level which is fully examination based. It is important for us to be able to adapt to the university study style as soon as possible after starting university.

The Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award only indicates that the recipients have excellent knowledge in the particular subject, but not anything else. There are some students with the award who end up failing in university, because of their inability to adapt to the study style despite having a lot of knowledge. On the other hand, many students who never obtained the award are able to adapt well and pass their course in university. Also, the award indicates nothing about the students' aptitude or attitude, which are very important. Therefore, getting the award or not does not determine whether one will be a good student in university.

Third, aiming for Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award causes negative attitudes.

We should always be willing to share our knowledge with our friends. This is part of team working which is especially important when we study in university. When we share our knowledge, apart from our friends benefiting from the additional knowledge they gain, we too benefit because we often understand something better when we explain it to and discuss it with others. Indirectly, the society will benefit as well because there will be more people with more knowledge to contribute to the society in the future.

Unfortunately, when we aim for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, we become less willing to share our knowledge with others. Since the award requires us to be in the top of all students, we have to make sure that we are better than others. We are worried that if we share our knowledge, others may become better than us causing us to not get the award. This kind of attitude is known as 'kiasu', a term which originates from the Chinese word 怕输 that means 'scared of losing'. 'Kiasu' is a very negative attitude associated with selfishness, we definitely should not have this attitude. In contrast, the world would be a better place if every one is willing to share knowledge with others.

Fourth, aiming for Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award makes life harder for other students.

The grade thresholds for each subject in CIE AS and A Level is not fixed, it changes from one session to another. CIE determines the grade thresholds based on the difficulty of the questions and the performance of students in the examination. The grade threshold will be set higher if the questions are easier or if the students performed better. Every student must get a score higher than or equal to the threshold for a particular grade in order to get that grade. Ideally, the threshold should be around 80% for grade A* and 70% for grade A.

However, for certain subjects particularly Mathematics and Further Mathematics, the grade thresholds are usually very high, sometimes exceeding 93% for grade A*. One of the reasons this happens is because of the students who aim for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award for these subjects. To get the award, they try to score as high as possible in the examination. Due to their high scores, the grade thresholds are being shifted higher. Because of the high thresholds, some students fail to get the grade required by their university and have to either give up on their aim or resit the A Level. To prevent excessively high grade thresholds, we should not aim for the award.

Fifth, aiming for Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award brings unnecessary stress.

Studying A Level can be quite stressful for some students. Sometimes, even if we are just aiming for the minimum grades required by our university, we still feel stressed because we are worried that we can't even achieve that. When we are very stressed, we probably won't find A Level as interesting as it actually is. Too much stress can also negatively affect our health and social life. So, we should always try to relieve our stress. Apart from studying, we should have reasonable amounts of free time for leisure activities such as video games, sports, movies, hanging out with friends etc. This is a very good way of relieving stress.

If we are aiming for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, since we need to be better than all other students, we can never be certain whether or not we can achieve our aim until the results is released. We may have revised very long hours daily, but there may still be someone better than us. The uncertainty will increase our stress. In addition, after revising long hours every day, we will only have little time left for leisure activities. The lack of leisure activities will definitely make our stress worse. Why should we let ourselves face additional stress when we could have avoided it simply by not aiming for the award?

Sixth, there is no good reason to aim for Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award.

There are a few common reasons given by students on why they aim for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, but I think none of them are good reasons. Some students aim for the award because they want to be more famous, since the public will know if they get the award. I have to say, we study A Level because we want to get into the university and degree course of our choice, not because of fame. If we are looking to be famous, then we probably shouldn't be studying A Level.

There are also students who think that getting the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award will improve their chances when applying to universities. This is not true. Universities assess the applicants' academic abilities only based on the A Level grades. Some universities also require applicants to attend an interview, write a personal statement or take an admissions test to further assess their suitability on the course. Getting the award or not will have no effect on the application.

Conclusions.

As you can see, aiming for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award has many negative effects and it gives no advantage at all. This is why I never aimed for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award and why I think nobody should aim for the award. Since its existence does nobody any good, I believe that CIE should abolish the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award completely. If you have not been aiming for the award, that's great and hope you don't change. If you have been aiming for it, I hope you will reconsider that aim after reading this.

Of course, even if nobody aims for the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, it will still be awarded to the top student in the world and in each country, unless it is abolished. In the case where we are awarded Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award without aiming for it, this doesn't matter actually. As long as we don't aim for the award, there won't be any negative effects. Lastly, I would like to apologise if you feel offended by this article. I do not intend to offend any one, I just want to give my opinion about the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award.

If you liked this article, you may want to read this too:
http://daniellimjj.blogspot.com/2017/02/thoughts-on-mbbs-merit-award.html

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Thoughts on MBBS Merit Award

For the MBBS course at Newcastle University Medicine (NUMed) Malaysia and Newcastle University UK, there is a Merit award which is awarded every year to students who are in the top 10% of a particular batch based on the assessment scores. Students who are awarded Merit will receive a 10% refund of the study fees for that year, and their Merit status will be stated on the pass list which is accessible by all students. Apart from Newcastle University, some other universities also have similar awards, though it may or may not be called Merit.

As you probably have expected, quite a significant percentage of medical students in Newcastle University aim for the Merit award. In order to be in the top 10%, they have to work very hard to score as high as possible in the assessments, hoping to be better than 90% of the students. However, this is not the case for me. I have never aimed for the Merit award since my first day of MBBS, and I will never aim for it. In my opinion, no medical student should aim for Merit in Newcastle University or similar awards in other universities. Here, I want to jot down some of my thoughts on the Merit award so that you may better understand why aiming for Merit is a very bad idea. Let me explain.

First, success isn't defined by getting Merit.

The definition of success is the accomplishment of an aim. Our main aim of studying MBBS is so that we can become a doctor. In order to achieve our ambition of becoming a doctor, we need to pass all assessments in the course and that's all required. So technically, passing is already considered success. Of course, getting just a minimum pass won't make us feel very good and it may indicate that we are at risk of failing our next assessments if we don't work harder, so we probably want more than a minimum pass. It is definitely good for us to aim for a reasonable higher score than pass.

But whatever our aim is, it should all be about our own performance and not about performing better than other people. It is what we ourselves do that determines success, not what others do. If we aim for Merit, we will need 90% of the other students to perform less well than us in order to achieve the aim. Whether or not we get Merit is determined by other students' performance which we have no control on, so it is wrong to define success as getting Merit. Also, by defining Merit as success we are essentially saying that 90% of medical students in the university will be failure no matter what, since only 10% of the students can get Merit even if every one aims for Merit. This is definitely not right.

Second, Merit doesn't mean better doctor.

All medical students should aspire to become good doctors. There are certain qualities that good doctors have. While having good knowledge and clinical skills is important, what's more important is to have good attitude towards patients and have a genuine intent to help the patients. This kind of good doctors is what the society needs now. Just having good knowledge without good attitude is useless. For example, a doctor who knows a lot about Medicine but is money-minded and never respects the patients is definitely not a good doctor.

When determining the students who get Merit, Newcastle University takes into consideration the written examinations and the OSCE. The Merit award only indicates the recipients' excellent knowledge and clinical skills, it doesn't indicate anything about their attitude. The OSCE can't actually assess the students' attitude because it is just a snapshot of the clinical encounters and any student can just act with good attitude in the OSCE. Also, if we are awarded Merit, we probably spent a lot of time studying for the examinations. If we only study all the time, we probably won't have good communication skills. Therefore, getting Merit has nothing to do with being a good doctor.

Third, aiming for Merit causes negative attitudes.

As doctors, we should always be willing to share our knowledge with our colleagues. This is part of team working which is an important quality every doctors should have. When we share our knowledge, apart from our colleagues benefiting from the additional knowledge they gain, we too benefit because we often understand something better when we explain it to and discuss it with others. Indirectly, the patients benefit as well because there are more doctors with more knowledge to treat them better.

Unfortunately, when we aim for the Merit award, we become less willing to share our knowledge with others. Since Merit requires us to be in the top 10% of students, we have to make sure that we are better than others. We are worried that if we share our knowledge, others may become better than us causing us to not get Merit. This kind of attitude is known as 'kiasu', a term which originates from the Chinese word 怕输 that means 'scared of losing'. 'Kiasu' is a very negative attitude associated with selfishness, we definitely should not have this attitude. In contrast, the world would be a better place if every one is willing to share knowledge with others.

Fourth, aiming for Merit makes life harder for other students.

The pass threshold for the written examinations in Newcastle University is not fixed, it changes from year to year. The examiners determine the pass threshold for each examination based on the difficulty of the questions and the performance of students in the examination. The pass threshold will be set higher if the questions are easier or if the students performed better. Every student must get a score higher than or equal to the pass threshold in order to pass the examination, otherwise they will fail. Ideally, the pass threshold should be around 50%. However, the pass thresholds for the past few years have gone very high, sometimes exceeding 60%.

This happens mainly because of the students who aim for the Merit award. To get Merit, they try to score as high as possible in the examination. Due to their high scores, the grade thresholds are being shifted higher. In my opinion, a pass threshold of 60% or higher is definitely way too high. For the 2015/2016 batch of Stage 3, the pass threshold for the written examination was as high as 65%, and many students failed just because of that and have to repeat the entire year as the final attempt. Many of them scored between 60 and 65% and they are quite knowledgeable from what I see. It is unfair to not let them pass. To prevent an excessively high pass threshold, we should not aim for Merit. As doctors, we should think of others as well instead of just ourselves.

Fifth, aiming for Merit brings unnecessary stress.

The difficulty of MBBS course means that it can be quite stressful. Sometimes, even if we are just aiming for a minimum pass, we still feel stressed because we are worried of failing. When we are very stressed, we probably won't enjoy the course as much as we should. Since we have decided to study MBBS, it is important for us to ensure that we really enjoy the course. Too much stress can also negatively affect our health and social life. So, we should always try to relieve our stress. Apart from studying, we should have reasonable amounts of free time for leisure activities such as video games, sports, movies, hanging out with friends etc. This is a very good way of relieving stress.

If we are aiming for the Merit award, since we need to be better than 90% of the students, we can never be certain whether or not we can achieve our aim until the results is released. We may have revised very long hours daily, but others may still be better than us. The uncertainty will increase our stress. In addition, after revising long hours every day, we will only have little time left for leisure activities. The lack of leisure activities will definitely make our stress worse. The course is already stressful, so why should we let ourselves face additional stress when we could have avoided it simply by not aiming for Merit?

Sixth, there is no good reason to aim for Merit.

There are a few common reasons given by students on why they aim for the Merit award, but I think none of them are good reasons. Some students aim for Merit because of the money, they want to get the 10% refund of the study fees. Some aim for Merit because they want to appear on the pass list with Merit status, which will probably make them more famous among students. I have to say, we study MBBS because we want to help the patients with genuine intent, not because of money or fame. If we are looking to be rich or famous, then we probably shouldn't be studying MBBS.

There are also students who think that getting Merit will improve their chances when applying for specialist studies in the future. This is not true. As I have stated in my second reason above, Merit doesn't mean good doctor. In specialist studies applications, the admission team is looking for qualities of good doctor, and interviews often play a major role in assessing this. Getting Merit or not will have no effect on the application.

Conclusions.

As you can see, aiming for the Merit award has many negative effects and it gives no advantage at all. This is why I don't aim for Merit and why I think nobody should aim for Merit or similar awards. Since its existence does nobody any good, I believe that the Merit award should be abolished completely. If you have not been aiming for Merit, that's great and hope you don't change. If you have been aiming for Merit, I hope you will reconsider that aim after reading this.

Of course, even if nobody aims for Merit, it will still be awarded to students in the top 10%, unless it is abolished. In the case where we are awarded Merit without aiming for it, this doesn't matter actually. As long as we don't aim for Merit, there won't be any negative effects. Lastly, I would like to apologise if you feel offended by this article. I do not intend to offend any one, I just want to give my opinion about the Merit award.

If you liked this article, you may want to read this too:
http://daniellimjj.blogspot.com/2017/02/thoughts-on-outstanding-cambridge.html

Thursday, 5 January 2017

800,000 pageviews for this blog

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