Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Exam results and intelligence

And so the examination came and went. It was Sonshine's (and mine as a parent) first taste of a full blown examination. I ended these two years of testing journey with a conclusion that the results don't necessarily point to one's intelligence.
Like most parents, I once deemed that examination is a measurement of one's intelligence. The higher marks you score on paper, the more intelligent you are. I was sucked right into it. During these two years I was obsessively chasing after that one or half mark, tabulating his scores making sure he well pass that (self imposed) 'intelligent' rating . 

But I am starting to see otherwise. I think our examination is testing the child's resilience more than anything. From my observation, in order to do well, the 'good' student needs to have these traits:

1) Good memory. Since it is all about being able to recall what was taught, students with greater memory capacity will straight away have an advantage here. The child who is able to regurgitate all that he has learn in that one year within that one hour and half testing will be the 'better' performer.

2) Be Meticulous- I have heard many, many parents say that their children understands the concepts but fail to do well because of careless mistakes. My child is no exception. Many times he would be able to score that full marks if not for that careless mistakes. So it makes me think that all our kids need, is not to be more intelligent but to be more meticulous.

3) Maturity- I find kids being kids they are not aware of the consequences of not studying hard and have no concept of reaping from hard work. But that said, there are some mature ones who fully understand this and hence work very hard toward this goal.

4) Motivation- Some kids just want to win. They want to grab that first spot. Some are simply self-motivated and driven, period. This trait alone is enough to spur them to work hard to do well.

5) Conscientiousness - Sometimes all it takes is for a child to spend that extra time to study to do well for the paper. I find that it is the hardworking students who usually perform.

6) Parental input- Like it or not, most students who do better have parents who helped them behind the scenes. Some students have parents who sits down with them everyday and revised their work with them. Or other parents who fork out more cash to pay for extra classes. Unfortunately, those who have less parental input generally do poorer and it is not because they are any lesser than their peers. Yes, it is that unfair.

7) Works well under pressure- Sometimes it is not that the child doesn't know he's work. Sometimes, it is because of the stress of completing the paper in a limited time that made  his mind shut down in that one and half hour. The child who can manage the pressure better will do well on paper.

8) Intelligence- But of course. Some level of intelligence is required to be able to grasp and apply the concepts right? But hey! Unless the child has some learning disability, I think all children are intelligent in their own right. Just have a conversation with them and you will be blown away by what they tell you.

I think, however, being intelligent alone will not get a student very far. He needs to posses all or most of the above to be able to perform well. Because an intelligent but lazy or careless student, can still be easily surpassed by another with average intelligence but more motivated, conscientious and meticulous.

What am I saying? I am saying that the exam results say nothing more than the child's personality traits and his state of being. It does not necessarily mean that your child is more or less intelligent than his peers. It could mostly mean that the child is not or is meticulous or need strategies to cope with pressure etc.  The exam results are but a very poor indication of he's intelligence. Because as I said, it is not  always the intelligent students who do well in the exams, it is the students who have a good combination of the above traits.   Let's not get too hung up by their grades and deem that they are less intelligent than that kid next door.


I try to use the exams to hone desirable traits. I try to not tie it to his intelligence.  I tell Sonshine that it is not about him being intelligent or not, it is about whether he is willing to work hard or not. I want to him understand the principles of hard work, about reaping what he sow. Rightly or not, I tie his grades to his willingness to work hard. When he doesn't do well, I tell him it is because he didn't work hard enough or vice versa. I hope he can see that the harder he work, the better the results not just in academics but also in every aspect of his life.

I may sound like some expert or that I have it altogether. The truth is, I don't. I totally go berserk when he loses a mark here and there. I am too ashamed to reveal the number of times I took out on him over that one mark, or the harsh words I said to him. I think I totally lost myself these two years. But thank God for His grace; I am washed by His blood and I can start anew. I wrote all the above not to show that I have it better than everyone. It is but a reflection on how I can change my perspectives in this paper chasing system. Hopefully, it can help someone else but more importantly, hopefully it can help me and the future me. :D

The exams are done, the results are out. There is nothing we can do to undo the mistakes, we can only move forward. For now, let's look forward to the long holidays and just enjoy our children! Yahoo!  


  1. Intelligence alone will not get the child far in our local education system, but without intelligence the journey will be tougher. Also, many parents overemphasized grades at the expense of other more critical skills. Especially at lower primary levels, way too many parents neglect the development of critical thinking and analytical and writing skills, as these are not widely tested before Primary 4. Yet, they are the most important skills to distinguish the A* from the As students at Primary 6 and PSLE.

  2. I agree. Some level of intelligence is required but depending it alone won't get the child very far as evident in my GEP niece's recent results. You raised an important point- the need to develop those skills you mentioned. I wil bear that in mind! Thank you! :)