By NIKI CHEONG and YAM PHUI YEE
In recent years, more and more students have been taking additional subjects and scoring a fistful of As in the SPM. But what difference does a string of As – or the lack of it – really make? StarEducation speaks to several young adults to find out.
HENG King Wey was ecstatic when she received her SPM results last year – she got 10 1As – but did not make a big deal of it in front of her friends, most of whom did not fare as well.
And instead of looking ahead to a university degree, she decided to go full steam ahead with her plans of opening a restaurant in Bukit Tambun, Penang, using the money her parents had saved for her to study overseas.
She opened her Weysern Cafe in September and now hires 36 of her friends to work for her.
King Wey in front of her restaurant in Bukit Tambun, Penang.
Many people would consider King Wey's decision a waste, after all, the 18-year-old was known for her academic excellence, having received straights As in her PMR as well.
“Even my pengetua (principal) asked me to do more subjects (for SPM),” she says, adding that he would have wanted her to do as many subjects as she would have been allowed to.
However, King Wey decided to stick with 10 subjects – she got another 1A from the English 1119 paper.
“I did consider taking one extra subject but I figured I could do a lot more other things if I didn't.”
“I thought I shouldn't be so academically based,” she explains.
Instead, she ensured that she had time for golf, in which she represented the state. She also plays the violin.
With reports of students taking as many as 21 subjects in the SPM, King Wey's story shows that there are those out there who are not preoccupied with grades.
Tang went into IT and made his first million at 23.
The journey that others have take also illustrates that to be successful, courage, perseverance and street smarts are essential.
Millionaire at 23
Jack Tang only started to take the SPM seriously one month before the exam.
“I used to carry electronics reference books in the canteen and did small electronic projects on my own, like a two-feet long electronic scoreboard and a portable multiple-choice question answer device just to make education entertaining,” says the 28-year-old, who confessed that he was not academically inclined.
Tang took nine subjects in the SPM and scored fewer As than he had expected. He had four As – in Mathematic, English, Chemistry and his favourite subject, Physics.
As his family had financial difficulties, his plan to study electronic engineering was put on hold.
Instead, he worked in a cybercafe for 10 months, studied information technology (IT) and networking on his own and started I Venture Circulation (IVC), a web-hosting company that has grown into a large business with offices in the United States, Singapore and China.
Tang became a millionaire at 23.
The SPM results one receives, he says, are only important if one wants to pursue higher education.
“However, subjects like History are important to open your eyes and give you better understanding and appreciation of our country,” adds the Selangor-based entrepreneur, who also runs a restaurant.
Oo takes great pride in the BMW she bought recently with money earned from financial advising.
“People who have a string of As may still be successful, but they will enter the job market later. Others may have had a headstart in work by then.”
Top financial adviser
Her SPM result slip showed seven As out of nine subjects, yet Oo Huei Ying was upset.
Upper secondary was tough for Oo, who realised that she was not cut out for the Science stream. She decided to take tuition.
“I used to come home after 10pm every day, still in my uniform. ,” says the Penangite.
After her SPM, Oo, 24, studied finance and accounting in Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman and Portsmouth University, Britain.
She started her career in financial advising in September 2004, and finally bought a BMW recently.
“If I had straight As, I would have pursued medicine,” she says.
Oo is a “Top of the Table” financial award holder, a recognition she received last year for being in the top 1% of financial planners in the world.
These days, she meets a lot of parents in her job and does more than just advise them on what to do with their money – she also tells them not to send their kids for too much tuition.
She had also convinced her sister, who wanted to take an extra subject in the SPM, not to do it.
Aida Nurlin Hanif's friend wanted to do Science in Form Four and so she did the same.
“I don't think it had any effect on me whether I took Science or Arts subjects. If you were in Science stream, you were 'paling (very) terror' and in the elite group. Of course I wanted the recognition,” says Aida, 26, bursting into laughter.
She had always been an above-average student. She played the flute and in Form Five, took part in the National School Band Competition and only did revision during the scheduled prep time in her boarding school. Aida scored seven As out of nine subjects in the SPM.
Aida went on to study actuarial science in Universiti Teknologi Mara and was inspired by her sister Nor Akmar to get involved in business.
Waking up early to meet clients before class started, Aida was committed back then to closing five-digit transactions of unit trusts every day.
Today, the sisters are both millionaires.
More students are taking up additional subjects and Aida does not see this as a bad thing. She, too, had a friend who took 12 subjects during their time.
“We knew her potential and she knew she could do it. So why not?”
Top of the world
Squash queen Nicol David was pleasantly surprised that she scored seven As in the SPM. She had put squash on hold for two months leading up to the exam and was thankful that her family members supported her decision.
“My parents didn’t put pressure on us because they knew we would give 100% in everything we do,” says Nicol, who took 10 subjects in SPM.
“I took Arts because I want to do something in design later when I'm not in squash anymore, maybe own a design company or have my own line.”
Nicol, the first Asian woman to win the World Championship, laments that sports has often been sidelined to give way to more study hours.
“Sports helped me in my studies. You can channel the qualities you gain in sports into studies, like time management, discipline, focus and dedication.
“It's more stimulating because you have two things going on at the same time and that makes studying more effective.”
Nicol, however, can relate to students who take 15 or 16 subjects but suggests that they focus on their favourite subjects .
GILL: You need to have social aptitude.
“Get involved in societies and sports,” she advises.
Making the right move
Aaron Gill did well for his SPM – seven As – although he had contemplated dropping out of secondary school at the age of 16.
“I wasn't very interested in studies,” the 26-year-old entrepreneur says.
“But my relatives and friends set me straight.”
However, Gill still feels that the SPM is only a ticket to get into university.
“I think the only reason someone would go and do so many subjects would be to get a scholarship,” he reasons when asked how he feels about students taking so many subjects in the SPM.
After SPM, the web applications programmer studied engineering in Multimedia University.
He worked freelance for a few months after graduating and then worked in retail, selling computer speakers.
“It was boring and I decided that it was not how I wanted to live my life.”
With a little bit of courage, and RM1,000, Gill and some friends decided to start up their own company in 2003 with “no exposure and no contacts”.
“We just went ahead and did it.”
Now, they have three people working for the company, Hulk Solutions Sdn Bhd, developing web applications, and are in the process of hiring more.
“It's not only about your results. You need to have social aptitude, learn about teamwork and be an active person.”