My ULKCP (Malay) Experience

As I have mentioned in the first post in this series, I sat for my own ULKCP oral exam last year, in 2019, for my SPM as a private candidate. In preparation for the exam, I tried in vain to look up for help on how the exam is conducted and how to best prepare for them. Apart from a few blog posts from previous candidates, there was really not much to be found so here I hope to share both, my experiences during both the Malay and English ULKCP as well as what I think would be the things I wish I knew going into it.

So let’s get on to it, shall we?

Getting to the exam room

Again, just getting to the exam room is already a journey in of itself. We reached the school early as the other students are making their way in for the morning session. I asked a teacher where the ULKCP would be held. They pointed into the distance and said “Bangunan kat belakang ni” and I assumed that they meant the building behind the nearest building but we couldn’t find anything that would suggest that an exam would be taking place there.

After roaming around for a short while, we stopped a prefect, hoping that she would know and she pointed us to the furthest building where there indeed, was a sign at the staircase. Thankfully, unlike the huge circular building we had to navigate through for our English exam, this one was a traditional school building and once we’ve got the floor right, getting to the room itself was just a matter of spotting the sign.

Individual Component – Preparation

In the days leading up to the ULKCP exam, I tried to prepare myself as much as I could but there really is very little information out there and even my tutor, who was an examiner for SPM, had no idea. The resources I could find are for the ULBS (which is what the school candidates would sit for) and they have forums and dramas and sometimes they read aloud with stimulus material (bahan rangsangan). After rounds of general freaking out, the only real practice I did was reading the Jaket Kulit Kijang Anthology aloud to improve my enunciation.

The moment after we registered, we were separated into two groups of four. Unlike the English exam where I was simply grouped off with my sisters, they were very meticulous about who goes into which group and we believed that they purposely split initial groups (my sisters and I were separated) and balanced out the mix of ethnicity within each group (both groups had three Malay and one Indian/ Chinese)..

Before we get our tasks, I noticed some people were already having quiet and light conversations with their groupmates. I think this would ease the preparation for the group test later, as you have already broken the ice.

We were called to the front table in twos, one from each group, to be tested in different rooms with a different pair of evaluators. Upon reaching the desk, we were given 5 themes to choose from. For us, those are:

  • Perayaan
  • Pendidikan
  • Disiplin
  • Alam Sekitar
  • ICT

Immediately upon glancing at the list of choices, I crossed off alam sekitar and ICT even though I am very familiar with both, as my vocabulary around these subjects are mostly in English and I really don’t think it’s a good idea to think in English and translate my thoughts into Malay on the fly. It would definitely mess up my sentence structure and my fluency and I might not even get the words accurate. With the assumption that the discussion would be a general one, I decided not to take perayaan, just in case it would approach a festival or a concept that I am not familiar with.

The last two were harder for me to consider as I have a lot of thoughts on both disiplin and pendidikan but in the end, I decided that my opinions on disiplin are rather technical, in a way, and I don’t want to mess up with the technical terms. Pendidikan, on the other hand is something that I’ve talked about a lot in both Malay (albeit in the colloquial bahasa pasar) and English, especially with the rather unconventional education I’ve received.

After choosing your theme, you would be given an instruction. Like I said before, I was expecting a general question so “Ceritakan tentang Pendidikan yang telah anda terima” completely threw me off guard since it was rather personal.

We were each given ten minutes to prepare. We were allowed to write notes if we wish to but we could not use any reading material, and we are not allowed to use our phones. Any notes written could not be brought into the evaluation room. I saw a lot of people writing out notes but I wasn’t confident that I could write fast enough to make it worthwhile, especially since we couldn’t bring them into the room with us anyway. So I only brainstormed in my head.

I started with the backbone of my presentation. Having just done Bab 7 of Sejarah, the idea of formal and informal schooling was still strong in my head so I decided to discuss that concept. I also planned to talk about the history of my schooling: how I studied at two private schools before starting homeschooling and how I found the two to be different.

I later found out that my sister Aeshah also took Pendidikan and had received the same instructions as I did, but being in a different group, she was evaluated in a different room. Anisah chose Perayaan and her instruction was “Ceritakan tentang perayaan yang pernah anda sambut”, thus I am concluding that the questions simply evolve around you personally rather than a general discussion on the concept itself.

Individual Component – Test

As I’ve written in a more lighthearted post here (with some fun comics thrown in) the start of my presentation was a mess. Not knowing what to expect or what I was supposed to do, I walked into the room and met my rather discouraging evaluators who simply stared at me with a blank face. If they were meant to intimidate, they did a very fine job at it. For me, it added to my cluelessness as having absolutely no clue on the format, I was hoping I would be given a basic guide.

So instead, I sat at the table and announced the theme that I took and the instructions I was given. The evaluators nodded and I launched into my script but was cut off immediately and was told that I should first introduce myself. Feeling sheepish now, I gave them my name and my age. After receiving no response and feeling completely lost, I asked them what else should I tell them. The reply was “cerita apa-apa je”.

The thing about being told to introduce yourself is that it as vague as being told to say something in a certain language. Everything seems like a potential topic and nothing feels relevant. “Apa-apa je” is so vast that it is unlikely they would let me talk about simply anything. I tried to think of those ice breaking sessions I did back in primary school, nearly two decades ago when I first join a new class so I talked about my family, my hobby and where I was from.

Again, silence.

“Ada apa-apa lagi?”

“Kalau tak ada apa-apa lagi nak tambah, okey”

I took a, what I hoped to be a subtle deep breath, and started again but unfortunately, that little hiccup had messed up my mindset a little. I was planning to give a good first impression by making a strong opening by stating that my informal education began the moment I was born and making a point that education is not simply about school but I felt like I lost a bit of my cool, the sense of structure in my head and forgot a few points I would have liked to mention. I didn’t even talk about the whole informal education aspect until the very end.

For my formal education, I briefly explained my experiences in primary school but mostly focus on homeschooling and how it differs from conventional schooling, especially with the fluidity between academic studies and what would have been considered co-curricular activities that isn’t too apparent in general schools. I mentioned my interest in other languages, creative writing and brief stints into subjects like nutrition and visual art and how these subjects often don’t even feel like studying for me as I saw it as a casual or creative pursuit.

I also talked about the other general houseworking skills. I don’t remember the specific details but what I had in mind before I went in were cooking, baking, knitting and crochet and simple sewing or even odd jobs like very basic carpentry or fixing broken locks. I talked about how all of these encompasses this very fluid and ever changing nature of the education I received.

Only at the end did I talk about how my informal schooling took place in the interactions between my parents and me since my birth and how it encompasses cognitive skills, moral and religious teachings. I talked about how my father did science experiments with me, how my mother taught me to read and how they gave me games and TV shows that introduced me to various skills and interests.

Throughout this whole time, I paused several times just to see if I had spoken enough or if time was up but they never broke from their emotionless stare so I kept going back and adding more and more details that I hoped would help. Eventually, I ran out of ideas and decided to take the initiative and just say something outright.

“Rasanya, itu sahaja.” And I pulled my shoulders back, giving the signal that I am done.

Finally, they nodded and one of them asked me several questions regarding the topic. I believe the first questions are about my plans and ambitions (which also threw me off a little as that didn’t seem to me in the moment to be part of the education I received). I mentioned briefly about my study plans and what area of study I hope to pursue for my tertiary education.

The next question was a trickier one, as they asked me about my opinions on education.

I am not strictly all for homeschooling or am I completely against schools in general. I think they’re both unique in what they offer as well and they have their own separate challenges. I personally believe that there’s a situation for both and that one could not completely imitate the other, nor should they. However, I also understand that these teachers are from public schooling system and I have probably decorated my experience a little too dazzlingly despite having never been to a public school all my life.

So my answer here focused my opinions on the pros and cons of the different education and mentioned the things I missed about going to school (such as team sports or just huge team events in general. I was a huge fan of them) with a stronger focus on the benefits of general school (including having a syllabus and structure arranged by a wide range of experts after lots of research).

I had tried to speak very formal Malay, just in case, and in my attempt to be as clear in my enunciation, I felt as stiff as an overstarched shirt by the end of it. As I made my way out of the door, I heard one of the evaluators casually suggesting to the other “Budak BI”.

Until now, I still don’t know if they were simply referring to my possibly inappropriately formal register or if I blew my individual test completely.

Group Component – Preparation

As I have mentioned earlier, we were already separated into two groups and after all of the members of both groups had completed their individual tests, they placed the individual tests on hold (there had been people who had been arriving since the first two group started) and they began giving the instruction to the second part of the exam, the group component.

For this part, we weren’t given a choice but we were given the theme of ‘Pertanian’. I don’t remember what the actual instruction was but I think it was around the lines of ‘bagaimana cara kerajaan boleh memajukan sektor pertanian negara’. And as I don’t remember the exact thoughts that I had regarding this and unfortunately, I don’t think I kept any record on our specific discussions (most of what I wrote and kept are more on the technicalities of how the exam was conducted and how I think we did) but I’ll try to extract what memory I have on it.

We were given 10 minutes to prepare. As soon as we received the instructions, the four of us sat around a table. One of our teammates, pulled out a piece of paper and started asking for points and suggestions. We gave various specific suggestions and separated them into crude categories. At one point there was an argument over what encompasses pertanian and after a minute of debate, we still weren’t sure so just to be on the safe side, we didn’t include livestock.

Having an organiser who leads the direction of the presentation helped immensely. Personally, I would have structured my organization in a different manner, with focuses on turn taking as well as structuring but I was still recovering from the intense individual test and I was just happy to have someone else take the lead and didn’t think much about it.

However, by the end of it, seeing that we ended up with four general categories, we did mention briefly that each of us would take a part but whether of not it was miscommunication (as we didn’t properly discussed it) or if it was a mistake in the heat of the moment, it did not exactly go as according to plan.

Group Component – Test

For the group component, we switched evaluators. Meaning, if you were evaluated in the first room, you would now be evaluated in the second room by a different pair of evaluators. I was most relieved when our second evaluators smiled as we walked in. It gave me a healthy dose of confident boost now that I know that I could get some body language clues. Indeed, they were encouraging, helpful and they nod a lot so we had an indicator that could tell us that we’ve hit the mark.

Unlike for the English group test where we were arranged in a circle, our tables were simply arranged in a line, facing the evaluators table on the other side. We introduced ourselves briefly by simply giving our names so they could assign us to their forms. They asked us if we had a ‘pengurusi majlis’, to which we said no and explained that we didn’t know that we had to, but they told us that it was fine.

Since I was third in the initial round, I noticed that some of the others spoke Malay bordering on bahasa pasar so I cast off my Melayu baku for a more natural everyday but gramatically correct Malay. We each took turns presenting our points in the order in which we were seated. If I remember correctly, mine was focused on the tourism aspect, making a mention on the agritourism. However, due to the lack of proper planning, by the time it got my sister, Anisah, who was last, we had accidentally talked about all of the four points. As the introverted Anisah took her turn, I was getting very worried especially since she was very quiet during the planning phase

Anisah, however, impressed us all by wrapping our presentation up with a smooth and very well written conclusion, readdressing all that we said and adding one of those ‘this is why’ statements that teachers love so much in conclusions. I honestly don’t know if I could do a better job myself, especially when placed on the spot.

For the questions and answer section, the evaluators asked questions either openly or directed to a specific person within the group. For some of the questions, they wanted to hear the opinions from all four of us and, as the others take their turns, I’m wracking my brains, trying to find a unique answer that doesn’t simply echo the people before me and wouldn’t take the chance of those who would be speaking after me.

Indeed, answering first would give you the advantage of saying anything since nothing has yet been said so if you have problems with trying to find ideas, I’d suggest taking the initiative. I wasn’t too worried about looking for ideas or re-elaborating ideas from a different point of view (I was more worried about my tatabahasa and messing up a format, whatever that my be) so I let others take their turn first most of the time.

There is also that funny moment where Aeshah and I both, in separate rooms, forgot what a mangosteen is in Malay (she was considering manggasteen and I had buoh smete in my head, which is from the Terengganu dialect) but that is neither here nor there.

Group Component – Discussion

My group finished before Aeshah’s group did so we waited in the waiting room for a while before they joined us. In the following discussion, we did confirm that the other evaluator was rather discouraging and there seems to be a flexibility when it comes to the format.

For example, in our group, we simply spoke when our turn came while in Aeshah’s group, they each stood up when it’s their turn to speak (Aeshah did suggested that it may be because was first and she stood up so the others followed her lead). Aeshah’s group were also asked less questions than we were, perhaps because they talked more about each of their points.

Another major difference is in the presentation style and this may reflect the difference in planning and possibly makes a difference in score (though I have no way to verify this). In my group, we tend to each present our points separately. I remember re-elaborating one or two points that others had made but it was still presented as if it was a separate point. In Aeshah’s group, there was a lot more build up on each other’s responses which for me, suggested better planning and a better understanding of the topics discussed. And she did say that in their planning, they did assign clear roles to each other which I thought was wise.

Final takes

If you’ve read my post on my English ULKCP experience, you can tell that there is a bit of a difference between the two and if you’ve read posts from various other candidates in the past, you can tell there there is a huge range of difference in the particulars (like whether you could use your phone or how you work with your group, etc). It is unlikely that my experience would be exactly the same as yours but I hope that my experiences could help you a little with your own preparations and that you wouldn’t be too at lost.

As I mentioned in my English experience, what is important for you is that you should try to show your best based on your level of proficiency.

However, with Malay being our mother tongue, there is that added complication of bahasa pasar. Please, please, please try to speak in grammatically correct Malay, the kind of Malay that you would use for your karangan. It would be such a waste if you have great ideas and coherent answers but you get your marks redacted because of your messy sentence structure, your casual and inappropriate imbuhans or words that don’t exist in proper Malay.

From my understanding of it, there will be marks for grammar, for fluency and for vocabulary and the correct use of words (on top of other things) so try to keep this at the back of your head when planning out your answer.

And again, if you mess up one component, don’t think too much about it. Each components are judged separately and your highest score would be taken as your final oral score so you basically have two chance at scoring it.

I would try to write a third part to this series before the start of September, Insya Allah, where I list out tips or things that I wished I knew and had in mind when I went in for my ULKCP. I know that the 2020 session has already started for some of you so you might already have some ideas in mind but I hope that this mess of words would help you feel a little more assured than you were before. Good luck in your exams!

My ULKCP (English) Experience

Back in June, 2019, my sisters and I sat for our ULKCP together for our SPM exams. Ujian Lisan Khusus Calon Persendirian or ULKCP, is the oral test all private SPM candidates have to sit for as part of the SPM exam and the marks you receive in these tests would count towards your final exam score, and thus, your final SPM grades.

Since the new ULKCP session would be starting in a few weeks (my own brother, Ali, would be sitting for his in September), I thought it would be a good idea to share a bit of what I went through in hopes that it could help some of you. These posts would be quite lengthy (and possibly a bit more rambling) than my usual posts and if I have the time (I am preparing for my A-Level exam at the moment), I might also write it all again in Malay.

I intend to divide this into three, or four, posts, depending on the how my words flow. As someone who has been on the other side of the evaluator’s table, I know how frustratingly little information there is when it comes to preparing for the exam so I’ll try to give you all that I can offer and you could take what you wish from them.

My first two posts would be describing my experiences of both, the English and Malay, oral exams so you could have a bit of context and a peep into what the day could be like. I will try to also share why I did them (if I could remember my thought process) so you could take that into account. After that, in a separate post, I would write a bit on what I would suggest you to do before and after the exam session itself. My experiences and my tips may not be the perfect ones for you but I hope you could find some guidance and solace in them.

Note: My Malay ULKCP experience post is now up!

So without further ado, here’s how my English ULKCP went for me.

Getting to the exam room

The adventure began the moment we arrived at the school. We arrived a little early and walked through the student’s gate together with the other students as they all made their way to the courtyard for the assembly. I walked up to one of the teachers, who were greeting the students, and asked them where would the exam be taking place. He gave me a basic instruction on the directions and so we left and tried to follow it as best we could.

Unfortunately, the instructions that I was given was not clear and the three of us got lost for a while before a kind prefect showed us where to go. There was some signage placed up but since we use the student’s entrance, which was closer to a different flight of stairs, we didn’t see any of it until we reached the waiting room itself.

Since the waiting room was empty, we weren’t sure if we were allowed to enter. We decided to just walk in and I used the time to work on my Sejarah revision but we didn’t get to stay long before a teacher walked past and told us that we were not allowed to enter yet. So we packed our things and waited in the corridor for the teacher to arrive.

It wasn’t too long before the teacher did come and we were allowed to wait inside as we took turns to register our names at the teacher’s desk.

Individual component – Preparation

Unlike the Malay oral exam where we were only given our topic 10 minutes before we were called in, for the English exam, we were given our topic the moment we registered our names, so we had ample more time to prepare. I am guessing that this level of strictness depends on the people who manage your exam sessions and isn’t necessarily linked to the subject itself.

Having sat for my Malay oral test, I was expecting that I would be given a few different topics to choose from. I also thought that I would get a bit of a guide on what to say (as for the Malay papers, we were given a question after we chose our topic).

However, we get no such privileges this time. We were each assigned a topic and nothing else. Mine was ‘Favourite actor/ actress’ and it took me a few minutes to decide that they probably want me to talk about my own favourite actor and not a philosophical dissection of how one chooses thier favourites would say about them as a person (well, perhaps not that extreme, but I was genuinely confused for a while).

The problem was, I have no favourite actor/ actress. I don’t remember ever singling one out as someone I dearly look up to. Sure, there are a number of actors whose names I am familiar with, and seeing them on a movie poster would attract my attention, as I have enjoyed the movies they acted in, but I would consider none of them to be someone I genuinely follow. And I haven’t watched the current TV shows or films in a while so I’m not up-to-date on the up-and-coming actors. I was jealous when I heard that my sisters were given ‘Picnic’ and ‘Helping a handicap’ as their topics.

So what I decided to do was to choose someone I know well enough to talk about. Being aware that I would probably be stuck in the examination room for some time, I also had to make sure that I have a lot of things to discuss on for the whole length of time. I decided to bring the discussion to something that I am familiar with, martial arts, and chose Jackie Chan.

During the preparation period, you are allowed to write notes to help you brainstorm for ideas and make a plan on what you are going to talk about but you are not allowed to bring them in with you into the examination room. It is up to you to prepare how you see best. The girl sitting next to me wrote a complete script on ‘Buy Malaysian Product’. I saw people pulling their phones out to do some quick Google searches but that was not allowed during the Malay exam and I didn’t want to risk any penalty so I kept my phone on silent in my bag.

Initially, I did not want to write my notes out because I didn’t write any notes for my Malay test due to the time limit (I didn’t want to waste time writing). However, after realising that there is still plenty of time to spare, I wrote it out anyway because it would make things neater in my head. However instead of a script, I opt for writing a backbone of my presentation with a list of things that I want to talk about, including a general structure and specific words and examples of events that I would like to use.

My notes from the individual test preparation

The reason why I didn’t go for a script was, being someone who did a bit of public speaking back at primary school, I know how hard it is for me to remember my script. However, I still wanted to give my presentation a good flow. The mention of specific events and a simple idea of what to say first would help me show to the evaluator that I know how to present my ideas and support my arguments.

At the same time, I also want to showcase my fluency and my range of vocabulary to the evaluator so I chose specific words related to the industry such as ‘blockbuster’, ‘choreograph’, ‘tenacious’ and ‘craft’ (as in, the craft of acting’).

The reason why I was going into such detail was that I had a pretty intimidating experience with the Malay test so I was trying really hard to prepare myself for any potential problem. However, the English evaluators were very friendly and easy to talk to, and it helped me immensely with keeping to my plan and recalling the details I have prepared beforehand.

Individual component – Test

My turn came, after my sister, Aeshah’s. When I walked into the room, the evaluators smiled and asked me to introduce myself. I told them the topic I was given and started on my presentation. After that, they asked me some questions regarding the topic discussed.

I introduced the topic by sharing how I first knew about Jackie Chan from his comedy movies like ‘The Medallion’ and ‘Shanghai Noon’ as a kid and how my respect for him grew as I began learning martial arts, when I truly began to appreciate, not just his acting skills but his creativity in looking for new ways to present them and his precision in depicting them. I discussed on how passionate and determined he is in perfecting his shots and his stunts, to the point of injuring himself in several occasions. I concluded the presentation by sharing the values I admire in him, and why they do, as well as how I relate them to in my own life.

The evaluators were very engaging throughout the presentation and gave feedback with their facial expressions and by nodding at several different points. They seemed interested in what I have to say and it was very helpful and encouraging as, even though it is technically a presentation, which is a one-way thing, conversations in general requires participation and I believe we simply react better when the listener actually seems like they’re listening.

After I finished my presentation, the first question they asked was, “What about his personal life? What do you think about Jackie Chan as a person?”

I admit, for a split second, I had sirens wailing in my head. For all of my preparations, I thought I had done enough to steer the conversation into areas where I was confident in. However, I quickly regained my senses and admitted frankly that I didn’t know much about his personal life other than the fact that he has done some charity work but I insisted that I pick my favourite actor based on their acting capabilities and how well-versed they are in their craft.

The next question was about my plans for the future and my ambition. Having sat for the Malay exam, this subtopic had also came up so I wasn’t caught by surprise. I briefly talked about what I hope to do, the subject I hope to pursue in university, etc. Then she asked me if there is anything else I’d like to talk about since we still had time so I decided that a discussion on my own martial art lessons wouldn’t be too much of a leap from the earlier topic and it would perhaps give more context and show more coherency.

Before I left, she asked me, “What martial arts are you learning?”

“I’m learning silat, specifically Silat Seni Gayong.”

She laughed, “When you said martial arts, I was thinking Judo or Taekwondo.”

It’s these kinds of exchange that makes the whole process feels like a natural conversation; it was smooth and encouraging and puts me, the examinee, at ease. Being a fluent English speaker, I wasn’t extremely worried about my English test but I still honestly appreciate having her as an evaluator with all of my heart.

Group component – Preparation

For the group component, we were separated into groups of three. Each group was given a setting with a list of choices. Each candidate has to argue for a different choice but we have to conclude on just one. By a stroke of luck, my sisters and I were placed into one group. We had a lot of fun working on the plan and were just generally excited about the prospect of having a somewhat important discussion with just the three of us.

Due to the more open structure of how the exam seemed to be done in the English exam, we discussed on the possibility of presenting our topics in a different way than how we did it in Malay (which was similar to the individual component where we presented our ideas and the evaluator guided our conversation further). After considering a few options, we decided to present it as a conversation where we would act as if we really were trying to decide on where to go for the holidays.

The topic that we were given was ‘Holiday destination’ and we were given four different places to choose from. We threw around various ideas on how to conduct it and decided that we should all give our arguments on why we wanted to go to our chosen destinations. At the end, the last presenter would give a persuasive argument that convinces the other two to change their minds.

We also decided that the best way for us to present our topic was, each of us talk about something that we can relate to, much like how I decided on Jackie Chan because I could talk about martial arts. Anisah, the animal lover, decided to talk about Rantau Abang with its turtles and how important it is to return to nature. Aeshah, our resident historian, chose Malacca and took a historical approach. Based on these two arguments, I picked Cameron Highlands as my argument, and the final choice, as it is somewhat far from the city and it has an interesting history with the British colonials. I also added a few other things that was aimed at convincing them on why Cameron Highlands is the best destination.

Once we have decided on what to do, each of us develop our own notes on what we are going to say. My writing for the group presentation was a lot more ‘script-focused’ mostly because I wanted to use a lot of imagery (when you try to paint a picture with words) with a mix of metaphors to add more conviction and make it sound more exciting. One of my favourite lines was something close to this:

“Imagine, you are walking up a hill with a basket full of freshly picked strawberries. The cool breeze is tugging at your skirts and tickling your ears. All around you, the trees show you nothing but nature. And at night, you could look up into a dark, starlit sky and watch a meteor shower, each of them falling like fire raining in the sky.”

Obviously, it’s still tricky to remember everything word for word within the time allocated so I was focusing on memorising the order of how I would be saying them (e.g., Daytime: big picture, zooming into senses. Nighttime: country sky, meteor shower, metaphor) and arrange the actual words as I go. I also kept in mind several specific words that I wanted to use so I can show my level of proficiency (but I ended up forgetting half of them and finding different ones as I was speaking).

After we each had with our separate arguments, we tested them out and wrote the final dialogue where my sisters expressed their agreement and what is it about Cameron Highlands that appeals to them. I believe Aeshah talked about how lovely the ambience would be for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Finally, we tested it out one last time and after that, each of us retreated back into our separate places to absorb our lines.

Group component – Test

By this time, the evaluators had already figured out that we were all sisters so they were amused when we came in as a group. The table was arranged so that we would all sit in a circle with the evaluators sitting on one side and the three of us having one side each, which made our conversation style plan seem more natural. I asked the evaluator if we could simply talk as if we were really discussing it in real life. She said that as long as we’re talking and keeping the ball rolling, anything goes.

We kept our script away from grammatically incorrect English (this includes the use of slang) but we do keep the conversation relaxed and casual so it could have been something you watch on a TV show (albeit, a rather verbose one) or something you may hear if you walk upon the three of us talking. There was lots of turn taking and passing of dialogue but it could basically be divided into two sections; the first being the presentation of ideas and the second being everyone basically going “Oh, that actually does sound lovely!”.

After we were done, we turned to the evaluators and nodded, indicating that we were done and that was it. We weren’t given any questions after that and I’m not sure if it was because we were already taking too much time with our little sketch, or if it was because we were having a conversation and questions would feel a bit out of place, or if it was simply due to the format of the English group test, compared to the individual test or even the Malay group test (which I would talk about in a different post).

Final takes

Of course, this is simply my own personal experience and it may not be the same everywhere but I hope that this would give you a little idea on what would be going on for you when your turn comes. For the 2020 exam, I’m guessing group exams may be a bit different (it is unlikely that you would be sitting in a small circle with social distancing being part of the SOP) but I don’t think it would change that much.

If you think all these crazy things about metaphors and imageries and words you haven’t heard of, don’t be. I have already sat for the A Level English Language exam prior to taking my SPM (it’s a long story) and my proficiency (my ability to use the language) in English is very good and so are my sisters’ as we are brought up bilingual. I understand that it isn’t the case for everyone and I don’t think ULKCP goes that hard on people.

However, what is important for you is that you should try to show your best based on your level of proficiency.

From my understanding of it, there will be marks for grammar, for fluency and for vocabulary and the correct use of words (on top of other things) so whichever it is that you’re strongest at, try to go for that while keeping in mind these other aspects so you wouldn’t lose marks on those.

With all of that in mind:

  • If you don’t know any fancy words, then it’s better to make sure that words that you already know are accurate.
  • Practice your conversational grammar so you don’t just know them when you write.
  • Try to lead the conversation towards an area that you are strong at.
  • Be prepared for questions that may try to address your weakness and see if you can lead it back to somewhere you feel safe. For example, if you always make a mistake when it comes to he or she, try to talk more about yourself in relation to the person so you would use a lot more ‘I’.

And if you mess up on one of the components, don’t worry about it! The two components are basically two unconnected test sessions and they would take your best score from the two. So if you scored 18 on your individual test and 24 on your group test (because you work better when you have a dialogue rather than talking by yourself), the score that would be counted for your SPM is 24.

I’ll be writing on the Malay ULKCP experience next (which, for me, was a lot scarier). If you have your own experience that you wish to share in the comment section down below, feel free to do so. If you have any question regarding my experience and how that may relate to your test, you could also ask me that and I would try to help you if I can as well.

I hope this lengthy string of words would help you and good luck in your oral exams!

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

Mangosteen

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.

Introduction

Introduction

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.

First Time On Air

From left: Ahmad Ali, Anisah, Aeshah and me.

I sighed as I pressed the hot iron over my dress for the second time but the crease marks would not disappear. During other days, I would have ignored them. I had worn clothes in worse shapes (before being called back inside by my mom and be made to change, of course). I may even argue about the ‘wastage of electricity’. But today, I simply sprayed my already damp dress with more water. I was determined to get it straight and besides, it took my mind of the radio show.

I have been invited along with my family to a late night talk show, When the Night Falls (Bila Larut Malam) on eWana.fm for a two hours long interview. And I was terrified. It was only less than a year ago when I finally could talk to people without getting goose bumps and sweaty palms and now I have to talk live in a radio show.

Of course, I often have little interviews in my head where I interviewed myself on- well, whatever idea that I have in my head. Sometimes I did them out of amusement or boredom but I have also noticed that it was a good way to get my raw thoughts into words. But this was no imaginary thing… this was the real deal.

Surprisingly, it took me a while to get nervous about it. Right until the moment when I had to get myself dressed, I felt indifferent and emotionless. Then all of a sudden, my stomach detected a million butterflies settling in.

And that was why I spent half an hour trying to straighten my dress – to distract myself.

We didn’t make any real preparation for the show, except for the singing because my siblings and I were going to sing the song together and we had to make sure we could cooperate harmoniously. We had no idea at all of what questions were going to be asked except that they would probably touch the topic of blogging. After all, Uncle Nizal, the DJ and a good friend of my dad’s, told my father that it would be a very relaxed interview. My mom had told me earlier in the morning (when I was still feeling emotionless) that it was perfectly okay for me to tell Uncle Nizal if I was uncomfortable with certain topics.

“No, I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to stay away from,” I had replied.
“Are you sure? Because he may ask you a question you don’t like and may upset you,” my mom cautioned.
“Well, I don’t know what I am and what I am not comfortable with until I have been questioned,” I said.
“If you say so,” mum said with a shrug.

Now minutes before we leave for the radio station, I felt panic sinking in and kicked myself for not even bothering to practice. Gulping down a mug of coffee, just in case the excitement wasn’t enough to keep me awake until one a.m. (I wasn’t taking any chances), I tried to find ways of how to calm myself down. I could think of only two ways of defeating the panic: one is to follow exactly what it was telling me to do and that was to prepare myself while the other was to switch to play pretend mode.

I didn’t think preparing makes much sense by then so I chose the alternative. To act exactly as how I would have when I was having those little interviews inside my head. I took a deep breath and altered my thoughts. I pulled out every strand of nervousness and fear from myself and became the ‘other me’ which I have often reserved from the outside world. The alter ego that had conducted so many discourse and conversations within the various hidden nooks and cranny of my mind. And surprisingly, I managed to lull the butterflies back to sleep.

The drive to the radio station didn’t take long but it didn’t go too well either. We practiced singing Alhamdulillah by Dawud Wharnsby Ali (a beautiful and insightful song which could give goosebumps even to my usually impassive mother) and Ali suddenly got his tempo all wrong and couldn’t see his fault. I could not believe it – he sang so well just a few hours before when we had our last practice. The butterflies threatened to reclaim my stomach but I wasn’t going to let them win. I clenched my teeth and strained to keep myself back in control. I have gone through this before, I told myself, and I would do it again.

Uncle Nizal greeted us at the door with his fascinatingly large smile (I have always noticed that he has such a large and amusing smile) and I suddenly found myself tongue-tied. I couldn’t say anything but put on a ‘hopefully-not-too-nervous’ grin. Somehow once I stepped into the office and saw the recording studio straight ahead, I could barely manage to hear Uncle Nizal asking us to leave our shoes outside. I guessed it was the anxiety that froze me but I could not detect it to know for sure. My body was more or less calm but my mind was blank.

Uncle Nizal introduced us to the producer who led us into the recording studio to record the song ‘Alhamdulillah’. After the recording, Uncle Nizal asked us about a bit of ourselves and our interests and so on. Somehow during the conversation, my tongue became loose and soon I was talking with ease. Even when the show began, I had felt much less nervous than I had anticipated.

And I have to admit that I actually enjoyed myself. After all, Uncle Nizal’s amiable and lively manners made the whole interview a lot more fun. I did feel the anxiety pushing on me as I glanced at the clock every now and then but I felt immensely gleeful and rather high. As if everything that happened was still a part of my imagination. My mind ran faster than my senses could catch up with. I felt as if I had no time to think before I open my mouth but to simply shoot off my answers straight away.

The next day, my mom, Aeshah and I sat around the dining table, laughing as we remembered what happened the night before.

“Only when we headed for the car, I realised that I had a rather banging headache,” I said. “At first I thought it was just the excitement but then I found out that I was actually very hungry but I was too nervous to notice it. It was probably the coffee effect as well. Wait!” I cried and clapped my hands. “Of course! It was the coffee that made me feel high.”

Aeshah rolled her eyes and laughed, “Oh I knew that. When I saw you drinking coffee yesterday, I was thinking to myself: I wonder what would happen now?” Turning to my bewildered mother, she said, “Whenever kakak drinks coffee when she feels sleepy especially late at night, she would become extremely happy and excited. With the anxiety of being interviewed on radio, I knew that something interesting would happen.”

“Well then,” my mom started with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe you should drink coffee every time you were about to be interviewed until you get the hang of it.”

I grimaced. “Actually, had I remembered the effect coffee could have on me, I would have definitely left it out.”

Note: A big thank you to Uncle Nizal for inviting us to the show. 😀

From left: Uncle Nizal, Anisah, Aeshah, Ahmad Ali and me.

*Kakak: The Malay word for big sister and it is a nickname Aeshah uses when referring to me.