JUNE 3 — First, congrats on your SPM results if you did well. Your parents and teachers are surely proud of you. Well done.

However, if you failed or performed below expectations? That’s great too ─ because then it’s likely you will not be relying on your academic results to push you forward in life.

Whilst it’s no doubt good news to do well in your exams, it’s also important to not be overly dependent on your academic achievements (and, by extension, to be overly upset when you don’t do as well as you may have hoped).

Schooling obviously can impart skills but it can also destroy curiosity; it can “train” students to not be street-smart, to not appreciate innate learning and gut-feeling. It can deceive people into associating learning with its own institutions and to link “successful learning” with scoring high in exams.

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Excellence in academia also, unfortunately, tends to promote what’s called domain dependence i.e. the inability to transfer a set of skills from one sphere of life to another.

This is why it’s very difficult for many academics to become managers, or for corporate people to effectively plan and conduct a class (or for some politicians to make sense): They’re all “trapped” within their own domains.

Hence, we see the tragedy of good students (like those who got straight As, etc.) often finding it difficult to transcend the domain of the classroom.

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The skill of passing exams is not only irrelevant but is even detrimental towards excelling on a work project (whether corporate or personal).

This is also why, again, if you’ve achieved stellar results last week, congrats (!) but don’t be overly obsessed with that list of As. It’s a great start but there’s going to be so much more in life to challenge you.

Students celebrate after receiving their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results at Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah May 27,2024. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Students celebrate after receiving their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results at Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah May 27,2024. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Conversely, if you’ve spent Standard 1 to Form 5 struggling with your studies, maybe that’s a clue that academia is NOT your preferred domain. Hence, you’ll never make the foolish mistake of drawing strength from it.

Do “crazy” stuff beyond studying?

What is the “remedy” for both over-confidence and quasi-depression over academic results? Regardless of how you scored for the SPM, what’s the best move forward?

I would argue it’s to live life to the fullest in a manner which helps you “break away” from institutional expectations (which include expectations about “what to study next”). Do or try something substantially different before you start college or whilst you are doing your diploma or degree (see note 1).

Consider the following options:

  • Attend half a dozen seminars (especially some overseas ones)
  • Meet 30 new friends (including overseas ones) and maybe make a VIP acquaintance
  • Conquer a mountain or two
  • Finish four marathons (or cyclathons or walkathons — as long as it’s not the typical Malaysian thing, the eat-athon)
  • Make a movie (or a short film); Chad Stahelski (director of the John Wick movies) says any aspiring film-maker should be making movies on their i-Phones for fun. I agree with him and wouldn’t limit this hobby to only film-makers
  • Write movie reviews or book reviews or be a part-time alternative journalist
  • Learn a new skill or a new language
  • Start (and monetise) a website, or maybe join a start-up or do come collab projects, etc.
  • Visit half a dozen countries and ensure you “do something” there (e.g. run a class, learn a dance, work with the locals on some project, paint, solve a crime, etc; the point is to not be merely a tourist)

Get the picture?

Do something new and daring and fun, as long as it doesn’t bore the crap out of you.

I pity you if your only passion is excelling in your studies (or feeling upset over your results).

Every year, in Malaysia at least, there are about two hundred thousand undergraduates dressed like Harry Potter and shaking some Vice-Chancellor’s hands on a stage. Essentially, a dude who obsesses about completing his Bachelor degree (and nothing else) is really obsessed about being a drop in a pond.

Be more. Much much more.

And all the best.

* Note 1: I apologise if you read the title and thought this would be some kind of “career or college counselling” article — it’s the furthest thing from that.

** This is the opinion of the columnist.