Jurong Pioneer Junior College student Ng Jia Yi used to struggle with English and Maths in secondary school, till an option to slow down at N Level actually put him on the fast track. He shares how he overcame the greatest hurdle in his academic challenge – his mindset about learning.
By Sabrina Lee
Looking the part of a self-assured, ambitious teenager now, who would have thought that Ng Jia Yi was once hooked on mobile games and struggled to complete his homework?
Back then, just waking up to get to school felt like a major hurdle for Jia Yi, who lived across the Causeway.
After completing his primary school education in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, he applied for the Admissions Exercise for international students and secured a place in the Normal (Academic) stream at Boon Lay Secondary School.
Every morning, he would wake at 4.30am to make the long journey to school. With his father behind the wheel, Jia Yi recalls that he would catch up on sleep in the car to be alert in class. That motivation did not last long when he realised what challenges lay ahead.
From being hooked on mobile games to acing Maths
In school, Jia Yi struggled to keep up with certain academic subjects, such as English and Maths, and had some difficulty making friends, mainly because most of his schoolmates were fluent in English.
Although he knew that he had to brush up on his English, he stuck to his comfort zone of speaking in Mandarin. Seeking familiarity in school mates who were also from Malaysia, he formed fast friendships with them, then fell prey to the lure of mobile games.
“I would sneak off to the school library to build virtual armies,” he recalls sheepishly of how his preoccupation came at the expense of his studies.
In Secondary 3, he was among the Normal (Academic) students offered to take Additional Maths at the Express Level but could not keep up. Jia Yi eventually received a wake-up call after scoring 28 out of 80 for the subject during his end-of-year exam.
“I’d been holding myself back by copying others’ work,” shares Jia Yi, as he came to the realisation that for learning to take place, he could not just coast; he had to understand concepts and practise the questions on his own.
Taking a step back to move forwardA lifeline came when his Maths teacher presented an alternative route, which was to take the N-Level Additional Maths paper in Secondary 4 as a mid-step before trying out for O-Level Additional Maths.
He took up the option. With fewer topics to handle and a more manageable subject load, he slowly rebuilt his confidence, working through practice papers with guidance from his teacher to eventually clinch an A2 grade.
With newfound confidence, determination and hard work, he went on to score an A1 for his O-Level Additional Maths in Secondary 5.
“I didn’t lose hope and made the most of my time,” says Jia Yi as he looks back at the struggle that made him a stronger student. “Hard work can make up for lost time.”
Finding his strength and understanding his weakness
When it comes to failure, Jia Yi describes it as “an alarm that sounds before danger”, alerting him to his mistakes.
Improving his Maths results gave Jia Yi the opportunity and confidence to enrol in junior college after he completed his O-Level exam in Secondary 5.
In Jurong Pioneer Junior College (JPJC), Jia Yi chose to enter the Science stream as he felt that it served as a stepping stone for him to explore a wide variety of job options such as in engineering, chemistry and business.
But his experience with volunteer work at JPJC sparked an interest in the legal profession and a desire to “help vulnerable groups in society fight for justice”.
"During a Values in Action (VIA) Programme at JPJC, I organised events for migrant workers to help them better integrate into society. The experience made me realise that I want to make an impact on individuals and communities, and that I can do this through the legal profession,” Jia Yi says.
He also signed up for JPJC’s Work Shadowing Programme to be attached to seasoned lawyers.
As he heard about their past experiences with failure, he realised that success wasn’t about acing every exam but bouncing back from failure. He was particularly inspired by the dedication and commitment of lawyers who do pro-bono work, offering legal aid to those unable to afford representation. Inspired by what he saw, he made a resolution to pursue a career in law.
Jia Yi understands that language proficiency is needed for lawyers, and continues to brush up on his conversation skills and reading.
Work shadowing in JC pays off
With newfound resolve, Jia Yi returned to the study habits he cultivated in secondary school to prepare for his A-Level exam. For example, he reached out to teachers for additional help and formed study groups with his peers.
Though the learning pace in JC is much faster and there is more content to cover for each subject, he has managed to stay on track with his studies.
He is inspired by the words of his form teacher, Ms Alexis Yeoh, that "it’s never the end of the world until you give up", to persevere whenever self-doubt creeps in.
Jia Yi is currently waiting for his A-Level results. Whatever his next educational path may be, the tenacious teenager knows that even a small step forward is a step towards realising his dream of becoming a lawyer.
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