The Real Test behind the Common Tests


by Kee Ga Jing

Considering the distressful trends of the Common Tests results, most of us probably remember our teachers’ disappointed faces or the depressing echo of the vowel U. As a child, I always pondered about the necessity of examinations, especially since I didn’t aspire to be another Albert Einstein or Lee Kuan Yew. Growing up has made me realize that not everything has a tangible purpose, especially in the case of education. Beyond the absolute numbers results depict, a greater picture highlights the difference between the A- and U- graders – that grades lie not in talent but how much responsibility you choose to bear.

While reviewing our papers, some of us probably realised that the Greek words and unfamiliar diagrams on the paper magically morphed into recognizable sentences and concepts.

Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, explains that talent is something acquired along the way, and success comes not from how much you know but whether you intend to learn in the first place.

In his book, Mindset, Dweck drew a crucial distinction between two groups of people – people with the ‘fixed’ mindset and people with the ‘growth’ mindset.The former believes that intelligence is static – everyone has limited potential and “they are the way they are”. This does not necessarily mean a loss of desire to do well, but when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, they would rather avoid going beyond their limits than risk failing and negatively impacting their self-image. This mindset greatly restricts their willingness to work hard, resulting in a further regression in their performance. On the other hand, people with the ‘growth’ mindset embrace challenges because their self-image is not tied to their academic achievements. These people believe in the proverb “you reap what you sow”, and as a result, the positive attitude towards learning leads to corresponding success.

It is not difficult to differentiate between the two. Those who are cognizant of their lack of effort yet attribute their failures to it, and those who deem their results as a stroke of bad luck belong to the first group; whereas those who redo their papers and acknowledge their mistakes belong to the second.

Unlike Dweck, I am not here to criticize the people with fixed mindsets. Different people have different priorities, some may value time spent with family and friends more; others may prioritise studying first. In fact, despite the fact that I knew I could have done better for my Common Tests, I didn’t regret how I spent my time during the holidays. Sometimes it’s not a matter of how well you did, but of whether you left the examination hall with any regrets.

That’s what I think, but that doesn’t mean that complacency is tolerated. I wouldn’t regret failing a test, but it would be a sin to me if this failure were to reflect my lack of accountability to myself. Perhaps 20 years later, the grade on that A level certificate may just be a letter (hopefully the first); it may not even come in handy for a job application, but it would be a stark/heartwarming reminder of the hard work and responsibility towards my own learning.

Whether we like it or not, the Common Test is a phase that we all have to go through. Contrary to popular belief, the CTs are not weapons of mass destruction devised by the teachers to sieve out the strongest survivors. From another angle, CTs give us a second chance – a chance to demonstrate that our mental tenacity is capable of handling challenges and bearing responsibilities.


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