Saturday, June 28, 2008

Exams and Self Examination

It wasn’t too long ago that 150 medical students graduated with Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from University Malaya by feigning surprise in their practical examinations...

Exams and the futility of it all.

Allow me to let you all in on an open secret: examinations are a farce in Malaysia.

From pre-university to undergraduate to postgraduate, Malaysian examinations are a mockery of knowledge and academic pursuit.

The questions for my STPM Biology paper were partially leaked just a week before I sat for the examination. The similarity between the questions I practiced on and the ones in the real examination was beyond the logical explanation of logic and coincidence. So you see, I may not deserve the ‘A’ I scored after all. In fact, many who passed Biology in the STPM examination of that year could do so merely because of leaked official national secrets.

It is not something unique. It has been going on for years and probably will forevermore until the Lord Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.

It is not limited to the STPM either. The privileged and brilliant students studying in their exclusive full hostel schools (sekolah asrama penuh) have been enjoying immeasurable assistance in exams for generations. When we the non-privileged folks needed some clues as to what might be forthcoming in the Fifth Form examinations, we would seek out our privileged friends in these elite institutions. The trial examinations in the Maktab Rendah Sains MARA (MRSM) colleges are usually uncannily similar to the real thing.

For this very reason, I am personally not impressed by the 100% excellence passes obtained by the all-Malay MRSM colleges and full hostel institutions. It is but a grand charade produced and directed by a political party saddled with inferiority complex but is also narcissistic and kiasu.

The practice of ‘assisted examinations’ extends all the way to tertiary educations.

It wasn’t too long ago that 150 medical students graduated with Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from University Malaya by feigning surprise in their practical examinations. The MBBS finals were approaching faster than we could prepare ourselves for. We had two weeks to revise what we had learnt in five years. There were theory papers, clinical assessments and practical skills examination.

The relatively high passing rates of previous years were no consolation. When one is faced with a daunting task ahead, no hopeful hindsight is helpful.

It was Sunday, a day before the examinations were due to begin in the week ahead. There was a sudden mad stampede of medical students to the general clinic. Seemingly, we were to be tested on the techniques of using asthma inhalers and obtaining consent for a major surgery. The rumors surfaced after a prayer session in the college surau.

It was to be kept a secret – restricted to within a certain community. Our Muslim colleagues were of course not as selfish and racist as their lecturers who leaked the questions. We ended up discussing about asthma inhalers and pap smears and the important points in breaking bad news and obtaining consent for clinical procedures. It was a demonstration of racial unity and interfaith goodwill, albeit in an exercise of deceit and fraud.

On the day of the examination, we laughed to ourselves quietly within but feigned surprise and astonishment when faced before the examiners. The external examiners from Hong Kong and United Kingdom must have been so impressed with our apparent familiarity and smooth handling of an asthma metered dose inhaler. We handled most questions that were thrown at us coolly and calmly, an evidence that we were well-trained and diligent by nature.

We knew better, of course.

There is a third party in the midst of our stageshow. Along with the 160 of us then medical students were eight medical students from unrecognized universities. They too were sitting for the final MBBS examinations with us but without the aid and help that we received. They failed miserably, needless to say – all eight of them. Frankly speaking, there little possibility they could have passed the examination on sheer hard work alone.

So you see, perhaps I am not in a position to write about meritocracy and injustice. After all, I was an unintended beneficiary of the university’s biased lecturers.

In my previous articles on the sham academic program termed Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera (SLAB), an infuriated UM academic who christened himself Tengku Cougar remarked that the SLAB candidates have achieved impressive passing rates in their final postgraduate examinations. Such arguments are essentially witless, to say the least. If questions were leaked and candidates were given a leg-up, passing rates are then meaningless and of no relevance.

Now before anyone accuses me of degrading local graduates, allow me to clarify that whatever I wrote today and revealed in this article is based on my brief Malaysian experience.

This article is focused solely on the isolated topic of examinations and not on the final products of local universities, most of whom are comparable to foreign institutions regardless of ethnicity.


darren said...

UH can either sue you, or fire its lecturers.

Other than that, I don't think anything will ever happen/change.

Kong said...

So I think there is something to what the public has always suspected:

1. Granted there are good doctor from local universities, it may be wise to steer clear of them until prove.

2. Until proven, it may be wise to seek medical doctors trained in UK or Australia instead.

So all those conception about oversea trained doctors being better may have basis after all.

Product of the System said...

Totally disagree with you.
Overseas graduates are none the better, regardless whether they entered university on meritocracy or mere monetary strength.
The syllabus of our local universities are in fact very much wider and with a greater focus on details compared to the UK institutions, as told to me by a medical student from Cardiff.
Perhaps the overseas graduates appear brigther and more reliable because they have been trained in an environment where they need to express their thoughts constantly, compared to our local universities with so much emphasis on theory and hands-on training.
My honest opinion, if two house officers - one from a local uni and another from overseas were to compete in setting iv lines, the local graduate would beat his overseas counterpart in no time.

Just my honest thoughts.

Kong said...

Let's imagine being in the shoe of a layperson. He is facing 2 doctors, one from local university and one from Australia. And also lets assume he do not know either doctors, either professionally or through words of mouth.

He now knows that many local universities students can easily pass the the medical examination by using dubious means as written in your blog.

He also knows that it's more difficult (not impossible) to use similar dubious means to pass the Australian medical examination.

Now tell me, which doctor would he rather trust?

So unless he know the local doctor well either professionally or through friends, it's natural he would choose the one from Australia. I am saying that because you can get good and lousy doctor from Australia as well. Just like you can get either from local universities.

I am not trying to hurt anyone's pride but just look at it rationally as to how ordinary people would think.

Kong said...

POTS, I would very much like to hear your views on the various local private university offering medicine. Anything. I am particularly interested in Monash & Penang Medical College.

And also any further elaboration on that Cardiff vs local program you briefly mentioned earlier.

Thank you.

Product of the System said...


Yours is the first comment i have to reject in this blog.

Of course there wasn't a station on MDI Salbutamol in our finals OSCE.

If I were to reveal every single minute detail in my articles, i might as well paste a photo of myself grinning from ear to ear with a "CALL ME: 019-*******" so that the Home Ministry, Special Branch and Bukit Aman can all call on me at the same time.

Food for thought?

Anonymous said...

I'm very pleased to read your blogs even though you had expressed your intention to stop writing. Please continue to blog but you may reduce your frequency. It doesn't matter you blog less frequently so long as you maintain the quality of your blogs. I would like you to blog on the quality of private medical education in Malaysia if time permits as this is the booming industry now. You may have limited material to blog on as most of these medical schools have not churned out any graduate yet. I agree with you on the quality of locally trained doctors as compared to those that were trained overseas. I cannot see the logic of Special Branch running after you as everyone agrees with the objective views of yours.

Anonymous said...

oh... ... ok, ok. Get it. Get it. Sorry. Never thought its so complicated.

Please reject this as well.



fsl said...


you must now learn that this country is very complicated. what you see might not even be what you see.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nicely written Article. I was in UM in the 90's. Everyone knows that the examiners leak the questions to the Bumiputera students. It is really sad because the majority would have passed even without the leaked questions. This has indeed robbed them of something precious called integrity and they would forever remember that their results are tainted. Yes some of them did tell their non Bumi friends. There were some who still avoided listening to any of the leaked questions.....


CK said...

so, you must be wondering, with all this crutches procedures/practices, what the hell happen to those who failed in their local uni? tak boleh faham kan?

i am a local graduate.

Anonymous said...

You are lucky your classmate willing to share in the spirit of "bangsa Malaysia".

In other part of UM where they normally have "special revision class and only reserve for "Earth" only", everyone knows what is going on, but those attended the class normally keep mum on what is going on in the class.

This is definitely creating sense of "imbalances feelings" amongst the race.

When I enquire on the feelings of "non-earth" on racial relations the general reply is "The greatest feelings of race differences was during Local University days - NOT primary school where they still naively believe everyone is Malaysians and everyone is same."

Anonymous said...

Express from layman point of view,(I am not a doctor nor student doctor)
I would go for Non-Malay doctors if given a choice. And many of my friends also express the same view including some Malays. I dont like to be racist but this is a natural choice. I truly know there are bight bumi-doctor but the existing system simply cannot allow layman to differentiate it, so better play safe than sorry.

The lesson is:
1.You got something easily(by having mass production of doctors of particular race), lose something (the dignity of the race in the profession as a whole).
This is theory of equilibrium...

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt I will beat you hands down in setting an iv line and I am foreign-trained