Oral Exam Adventure

Oral Exam Adventure

This would be a light post, akin to what I used to write when I was younger (and to be honest, had missed writing them here) but I like to bring home funny stories of the things that happened to entertain my mother and my adventures, experiences where I go out with high hopes and no expectations, are often the best stories to tell. This is not an in depth writing on my experience but simply a break for myself and I hope for you as well.

Recently my sisters and I sat for our SPM Malay oral test (ULKCP BM or Ujian Lisan Khusus Calon Persendirian Bahasa Melayu) at a public secondary school. The only oral tests I remember sitting was for hafazan (memorising Quran and du’as) and qiraat (reading Quran) exams back at primary school so I have no idea of what was to come. I tumbled into cycles of panic and equanimity. The research I conducted was of little help as there was not much help available on the internet for someone who homeschool as I do and don’t even know the basic format of what to do.

And as always, this adventure is no less rich with unexpected experiences and lessons learned.

Mangga-steen/ Buoh smete


I walked into the exam room expecting to find myself getting into trouble with some of the more specific words in my less developed Malay lexicon – and I did. I have gotten used to having a wide range of words to choose from when speaking in our mixed brew of Malay and English at home (with a sprinkle of random foreign words just for the fun of it), restricting myself to one language can leave me at lost for words from time to time and it is much more apparent in Malay than in English. And during the oral exam, I was restricted to a high register, Melayu Baku, and although I tried to think in Melayu Baku, I also had to filter everything that comes out of my brain, just in case.

But to our greatest surprise (and my mother’s mirth), the word that both my sister, Aeshah, and I got stuck with was mangosteen or ‘manggis’ as we call it in Malay. Never did I imagine that I would remember ‘buoh smete’ (mangosteen in the Terengganu dialect) over ‘manggis’. And we were taking the tests simultaneously in different rooms so there was a chance that we got stuck at the same time. However since we both have experiences with interviews and speaking on stage, we both discarded our attempts and looked for a different word instead.



So here’s a funny story: I spent my ten minutes of preparation constructing the backbone of my response, developing each of their content and sculpting my opening paragraph. The instruction was for me to describe the education I received. I was going to bring up how my education began informally the moment I was born, making a point on how education is not simply restricted to what is generally described as schooling.

I thought that my opening line would bring a good first impression but instead, I forgot to introduce myself and that was definitely the most difficult part of the exam for me. Being asked to introduce myself feels like being told to say something in a different language, there’s just so much that could be said and yet nothing feels relevant or appropriate. It is the one thing I really should have prepared before going in and it really threw me off. I left the entire informal education angle up until the end of my discussion as if it was a minor sub-topic.

Coffee Jitters

Coffee… my dearest friend and companion. Coffee was my wingman when I was nervous for the late night radio interview “When The Night Falls” several years back with DJ Nizal Mohamed. I was just there, in the moment, having this conversation with my father’s friend. It didn’t matter that there are people listening in or that we have bulky equipment all around us. I was an open book; I voiced out opinions, which were so close to my heart, even my parents had never heard of them.

I couldn’t sleep the night before my oral exam and when I did, I had nightmares of receiving odd questions which simply have no right or wrong answer. I woke up sleepy with my mind wandering in and out of my head and wondered if coffee would help wake me up a little. I was only worried about coffee making me say things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable otherwise – which was exactly the problem I had, just not in the way I expected.

My mother trained me for public speaking since my primary school days and she had drilled into my head that I should limit my fillers like the ‘err’s and ‘uhm’s. I am not perfect but I believe that I could limit them most of the time or use them in a way that doesn’t seem too off-putting.

However, with the introduction mishap and my constant worry of how formal my language was, I was pausing a lot and I peppered my ‘err’s all throughout the session. Even as I said them, I told myself not to… which distracted me from thinking of my response and made me pause with another ‘err’. In the end, I simply threw the whole effort out of the window so I could focus on saying things that actually mean something.

But despite all of these fun stuff, I think I did alright. I would have liked to do better and had I known what I was walking into, I would perhaps have done a little better.

I enjoyed our group test as well as all four of us have our own unique ideas and approaches to most of the questions given and it was just fun to pretend like we’re making a pitch of some sort. A lot of my nervousness seeped out of me as I listened to others’ views. Our planning wasn’t as in-depth as I would have liked it to be but we were only given ten minutes and I think all of us winged it pretty well. My sister, Anisah, was assigned to the same group as I was and when we gave our initial presentation, everyone had accidentally presented all of the points we discussed before Anisah had a chance to say. Without missing a beat, she summed up all that we had discussed into a neat conclusion with a note on what we should do moving forward and I was really impressed by that.

Whatever the results (though I dearly hope that all three of us passed), it was an experience I would treasure and the events that took place would probably stay with me for a long time. And I probably would never be able to eat a mangosteen in peace ever again.


A Level Tips and Advices


Being a homeschooling private candidate whose last schooling experience took place twelve years prior to taking the CIE A levels, I believe that I approach the exam from a different perspective compared to most. I had little assumptions and almost no expectations of what the examiner wants me to show in my response and how I should best prepare for the exam.

As part of my exam preparations, I took private online tuition classes two months before the date of my first paper so I could have an idea of what an examiner would expect of me. But whether it is because of my age, my personality and interests or my unique experience, I see the exam as more than just another rung on the ladder I have to climb past to get into my tertiary education. Being mostly a self-taught student, I tried to look at the exam from an educator’s point of view and observe how does an A level exam prepare someone for their undergraduate programmes, which skills would student gain from their A level preparations and how the examiner identify one’s mastery of those skills from the exam responses.

Listed below are what I believe to be some of the most important advices I would have given to my past self. Some of these were given to me from others and I had been lucky enough to be able to apply them for myself. Others are lessons learned from my failures which hopefully would help guide my steps in the future and perhaps help some of you from making the same mistakes I did.

1) Your response is a one-way communication in which you only get one chance

The person who would be marking your answer sheet is a total stranger. They do not know you, they could not assume your level of knowledge and understanding and they could only mark what you actually write on your paper. It is a brilliant way of removing biases but it also means that they could not judge you based on any other cues or a history of past work. They don’t know if you’re a literature geek who’ve read twenty different interpretations of the same poem just because you could quote an obscure reference to a non-academic writing, especially if what you wrote is ultimately irrelevant to the question.

In my first English Language tuition class, my tutor explained to me that even if I make a very detailed dissection with accurate terminology, I must also include the most basic but crucial details in my analysis to demonstrate that I have a thorough understanding of the text. For example, just by explaining how Speaker A hesitates and repairs her language does not prove that I understand from the conversation, and the context given, that she is confessing and that there is an imbalance of status relationship within the conversation. The examiner should not assume that I do unless I state that specifically in my response.

2) Your breadth of knowledge is just as important as your depth of knowledge

Prior to my A levels preparations, I focused a lot on the Science subjects in my studies. As a child, my father taught my sister and me what causes an eclipse by demonstrating with several balls and a flashlight in a darkened room and I absorbed the mechanics of it almost instantly. And so whenever I learn a new concept, I would look for references online or in our library to help me understand them on a deeper level. Similarly when I study Mathematics, it was important for me to understand the logic behind the laws and notations and not simply accept them at face value.

A level examiners would also be looking at how deeply you understand the topic and how adept you are at applying them. It is not enough for me to sense intuitively what makes for a good writing. Like a movie critic who would analyse the angle of a single shot and how that influences our sentiments, I have to be able to understand the language tools a writer has at their expense, inside and out, be able to point them out in a given text and then utilise them myself by either adapting them to their style and purpose (in Paper 1) or design my own in my text reconstruction (in Paper 3).

However equally as important is being familiar with as many different forms and examples of whatever it is that you are learning. This applies to all three of the subjects I took. With Geography, I had to understand not just how all of the processes take place but also how they interact with each other and the many ways humans have interfered with them. With Mathematics, this means doing lots of practice and really train that brain of yours into applying what you have learned into many different situations. With English Language, I had to familiarise myself with many different forms of texts in both written and spoken language, learn their different formats and understand theories inside out.

Which leads to…

3) Always back up your arguments with case studies or theories (and actually use case studies or theories to back up your words)

Every site I refer to for A level Geography emphasises the importance of knowing a ton of case studies to prove that you could apply what you have learned in real life situations but the A Level English Language resources I found don’t stress on them as much. While this is generally true, you still need to refer to other academic works or past events when stating your argument (and I assume this is also true in other similar subjects).

This does not mean that you could just drop case studies wherever the topic seems to be relevant. Only use your case studies deliberately for the purpose of making a point. Similarly, only give out relevant information that would help to strengthen your statement.

If you are explaining how the development of English in countries where English is used as a second language causes a conflict between Standard English and the local variation, it is a good idea for you to mention briefly on how English first spread. However, it would not help if you go on to give a detailed account on the differences between the first and the second diaspora of English. It makes much more sense for you to focus on a single country where a conflict actually takes place and explain why that happened instead.

It is always a good idea to include some data in your case studies as it is a great way to emphasise a point (and to prove that you’re not making things up) but again, unnecessary data would only make your response less succinct. However if a case is relevant to the situation and would definitely help in proving your point, include it even if you don’t have the data. This may apply if you have a case in mind that is part of your wider reading and you did not prepare it for your exams specifically.

4) Do your research and pick the right subjects (and topic) for your situation, your aim and your capabilities

One of my biggest frustrations with my A level result is that it is so polarised. I am definitely more than pleased that I got an A in Geography and an A* in English Language but because of my e grade (at AS Level) in Mathematics, ultimately, I only have two A level and one AS level passes and that limits my options somewhat as I intend to study for a Law degree. I chose to take Mathematics because it was the requirement for one of the universities I was eyeing for but had I taken a different subject (or perhaps prepared better for Maths), I might have gotten another A level pass and have a better prospect than what I do now.

On the other hand, English Language turns out to be the perfect paper for me. I am genuinely fascinated by the study of linguistics and the human psychology and I have an easy time understanding the many language techniques I needed to know for the exam from the research I have done for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge since back in 2014. I have also been interested in understanding and interpreting group conversations since my teenage years. Although I did not learn either of them formally, the basis of my understanding was priceless when it comes to A level preparations and because of my genuine interest in them, I find the English Language classes I had with my tutor and the exam itself a lot of fun and indeed I was awarded with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award for this paper.

In a subject like Geography, my textbook covers a wide range of different topics and for two of the papers, I could choose to learn two out of four of the topics given. For Advanced Physical Geography, I chose to learn ‘Tropical Environments’ and ‘Coastal Environments’ as both apply to Malaysia where I am most familiar with. Similarly with Advanced Human Geography, I chose to learn ‘Production, Location and Change’ and ‘Environmental Management’ as they both relate to my interest and I have a pre-existing knowledge base on these topics, especially with the latter. In fact a lot of the case studies I used for my ‘Environmental Management’ essay question actually came from my casual reading (and educational YouTube videos I stumbled upon) on top of the ones I found in my text and reference books.

So that’s all four of them. If you’re sitting for an A Level exam or another exam where you would need similar skills, I do hope that these suggestions could help you. If you have any more of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Weren’t They The Ones Who Oppose But Now Begging For PTPTN?

Higher education minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin confirmed in a press statement that The National Higher Education Corporate Fund (PTPTN) had frozen its loans to students studying in Universiti Selangor (Unisel). So it seems that the protesters of ‘Occupy Dataran’, who asked for the abolishment of PTPTN, had won, even if it’s in a small scale as a start.

One would think that the students and the opposition leaders who support their protest would now be on cloud nine, rejoicing on the fruits of their labour. But instead, PKR’s director of strategy, Rafizi Ramli, made a press statement saying that “Khaled (Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin) should resign from his post if he had instructed the PTPTN freeze on Unisel’s students”.  Pretty baffling indeed, since for the opposition leaders especially PKR,  PTPTN is nothing but a burden that caused students to be in debt even before getting their first salary.

Students from the ‘Occupy Dataran’ protest.

Unisel is a Selangor-owned university which is under the opposition’s rule. Since PKR is openly criticising the government for implementing PTPTN as a tool to help students financing their studies, so why are they complaining when PTPTN is not offered to PKR’s Selangor-owned university? Isn’t it what they had been fighting for? The opposition should carry on with their plans to offer free tertiary education in Unisel. After all, they are promising free tertiary education to all Malaysians if they win the 13th General Election (PRU 13) as they do not believe in troubling the students to pay back their loan as the current government does today. Indeed only just a few days ago the opposition leader Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim told his audiences in Permatang Pauh not to pay their PTPTN loan,

“No need to pay, let them sue if they want! However, you must pay other loans, no need for PTPTN.”

Of course in slamming PTPTN as something like a ‘loan shark’, they simply do not mention the fact that if a student obtains good grades throughout her or his studies, she or he can apply for the loan to be turned into a scholarship thus there is no need to pay the PTPTN.

That leaves us with the question, are the oppositions really serious with their promise of a free tertiary education? If so, why are they so furious when PTPTN had frozen its loans to students studying in Unisel? If they are at lost as of how to finance Unisel without the fees paid by their students then how are going to finance all the (very much) bigger universities in the country if free tertiary education becomes a reality? Or is free tertiary education is just another not to be fulfilled promise as lots of other promises given to the people of Selangor before they win the state in the 12th General Election in 2008? After all they can just easily blame the Barisan Nasional leaders for draining all money and putting Malaysia in a bankrupt state.