Normal Academic Student Graduates With Honors at NUS & Shares His Journey Here

In Singapore, PSLE year can be a very trying period for both the students and the parents. A lot of emphasis is placed on getting good grades and into a good secondary school. While a lot of pressure may be placed upon the student, it is good to keep in mind that it is but one phase in a student’s academic journey.

Hanlin has had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Mr Nicholas Howe, a former N(A)(Normal Academic) student who went to a neighbourhood school and went on to beat the odds to graduate with 2nd Upper Honors in NUS with a degree in Statistics Specialising in Business and Financial Statistics. Prior to that, he was in Elias Park Primary School followed by Siglap Secondary School and then Meridian Junior College in Pasir Ris. Here he shares his ups and downs through the different schools and finally finding himself where he is at now.

Here is how the conversation went.

Hanlin : How were you as a kid in primary school?

Nicholas : Those days when there were no smart phones or the internet, you would hang out with your friends, play catching, catch spiders, play at the fitness corner and so on. I spent my primary school days mainly interacting with friends and playing a lot. I was a really playful and noisy kid who could never sit still or be quiet in class. I knew that I annoyed my teachers greatly and upon reflection, if I could meet them again, I would totally treat them to a good meal to make up for all the pain I have caused.

Nicholas : At this point I would like to appeal to all students not to make life difficult for your teachers. Seriously, teaching in itself can be difficult and stressful so give them a break 😀 Even better, show them that you appreciate them for putting up will all the nonsense and still doing their best to make sure you learn your content.

Nicholas : When it came to PSLE year, all I remember was that I had to sit for a really important exam at the end of the year. I did my best and never looked back. After the exams were over, I just went about my regular life without caring how I did at all.

Hanlin : How did you feel when the results were out?

Nicholas : I didn’t do very well for PSLE. And I know my parents were disappointed in me. Looking back, I do understand where my parents were coming from and how disappointing it must have been when their child did not put in the effort to reach his full potential. I knew I could have done better. But if I had to relive my life, I probably wouldn’t change that part of it.

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Hanlin : What were some factors that determined your choice of secondary school?

Nicholas : The only factor that mattered to me was the distance that my secondary school was from my house. I simply chose the closest school to my home.

Hanlin : How was your secondary journey like?

Nicholas : Secondary school was a rough time. I was kind of slow in adapting to the new atmosphere so I was picked on for my height and scrawny build. It took me a while to get the hang of things.

Nicholas : I guess growing up in a neighborhood school forces you to quickly develop EQ to fit in. I would say that it was less of a “sheltered” environment and you would grow up pretty quickly when exposed to the real world. I was really rebellious at that stage of my life and I lived with no rules or restrictions. I simply did whatever I wanted and did not care about the consequences. I think I must have caused my parents and teachers the most pain during that period of my life and I am eternally grateful that my parents and teachers never gave up on me.

Hanlin : At what stage did you know what you wanted to do?

Nicholas : I would say that I “woke up” from being that irresponsible kid I was back then during Secondary 3. Well at that point, I wouldn’t really say that I knew what I wanted to do with my life in the long run but all I wanted at that point was to get into the science stream in a junior college.

Hanlin : At what point did your academic performance peak in secondary school?

Nicholas : That would be Secondary 3 as well. I stopped my bad behavior, hung out with a new crowd and started studying hard.

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Hanlin : What was the motivation for the academic performance in secondary school?

Nicholas : During that time, I met a close friend. She was in the express stream, triple science, and I wanted to go to a JC like her after O’levels. This was a good enough reason for me to want to go to a JC too.

Nicholas : Just to digress a little, in order to get into the science stream in JC, you needed A-Math (Additional Mathematics) during my time. When I realized that, I was already in the beginning of Secondary 4 or 5 so I had to study A-math on my own without the school’s help because it was too late to join classes. With the grace and patience of my tutor, I was able to net an A2 in my O’levels.

Hanlin : How did you do for N and O’levels?

Nicholas : I think I did well. I don’t remember what I got for my N levels but it was decent enough for me to continue to Secondary 5. For my O levels, I believe I got 11 points for L1R5.
EDIT : Nicholas was the top student for ‘N’ Levels in Siglap Secondary School and his name remains on a plaque in the school hall of fame.

Hanlin : What about your JC experience. What was that like?

Nicholas : Coming from a rough and tough secondary school environment, JC was yet another culture shock.I had to shed my rough demeanor in favor for a more “civilized” one. JC was overall a pleasant experience. I made many good friends whom I am still in contact with. Orientations were by far the best thing in JC. I finally found a sport that I love. Air rifle! I have to say, hanging out with friends and studying with them was really fun. But when times get tough, they really get tough.

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Hanlin: What was the motivation behind doing well for JC?

Nicholas : Honestly speaking, it’s the discipline. The content will definitely be more challenging and at a faster pace.You would have to attend lectures, revise after lectures to check your learning and then prepare the tutorials. Ask a lot of questions. Reach out to friends or teachers when you need help.

Nicholas : Study consistently. Last minute cramming doesn’t work at JC level. Revise often, make sure you know your stuff. Make friends, learn from them as well as teach them if you can. That helps a lot with the learning. By the time I was in JC I was pretty much self-motivated. I simply wanted to be the best I could be. Math turned out to be one of my strengths so I worked hard at it and did the best I could.

Hanlin : How did you feel when your results for A’s were out and when you got into NUS Science?

Nicholas : I was kind of disappointed in my results. I had 2 As and a B. A for Math, A for Further Math and B for Physics. Yes, back then you could offer only 3 ‘H2’ subjects if you wanted to. I was disappointed because I knew that during my A’levels I missed a page in my physics exam paper and it was a really easy topic! I was angry at myself that that careless mistake cost me a whole grade. Lesson to learn: do your due diligence. Check through your paper thoroughly at least 30mins before submission. The disappointment was further enhanced because straight A students got some award from the principal!

Hanlin : What was the journey in NUS Science for you like?

Nicholas : Again, Orientations were simply the best! I can’t remember how many I signed up for.. maybe 5 or 6? It was really fun playing the games and getting to know lots of people! I would say that the NUS journey is very similar to the JC journey. In a sense that you have to work very hard from Day 1. Work consistently and no last minute stuff!

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Nicholas : Make many friends, stay in a hall, go on exchange and go for an internship. Overall, my NUS journey was very fulfilling, I was able to meet fun and interesting people as well as to grow in what I’m interested in (Statistics). I’ve had many wonderful experiences during orientations so I would say, don’t be afraid, just go for it!

Hanlin: What are you doing now?

Nicholas : Currently, I’m working in a market research company as a data scientist.

Hanlin : Is there anything you would like to say and share with students sitting for their PSLE?

Nicholas : Work hard, work consistently and never give up. When the exam comes, give it your best shot and regret nothing because you know that you have given it your all.

Hanlin : Is there anything else you wish to share?

Nicholas : One last thing, STOP BEING GLUED TO YOUR SMARTPHONES! Interact more with others instead of gaming at home! Trust this oldie when he says: “Life is much more interesting with less technology!”

Disclaimer : This is merely an article about an individual’s journey through the academic track in Singapore. Hanlin thanks Mr Nicholas Howe for sharing his experiences so far.

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