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.


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