Form Six is a good option for students seeking an affordable and reputable pre-university course. Pix by Aswadi Alias

WHILE the end of school in Malaysia may not be quite as ceremonious as it is abroad, the feeling is essentially the same: being a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) candidate marks the close of one chapter in your life and the start of another.

With your results in hand, you find yourself at a major crossroads in life, having to decide which bridge to cross and which path to walk as your future looms before you.

For many Malaysian parents, a university education for their children is of utmost importance and their children’s failure to get a degree may cause embarrassment to both parties.

Education has become increasingly competitive. Students are putting in so much effort in their studies from an early age, and the average number of As per year seems to be increasing so much so that getting straight As for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) is no big feat.

The reputation gained by STPM as being one of the toughest pre-university examinations to ace is not without merit. It is tough. Still, there are many students who decide to undergo the STPM route.

They consider STPM more affordable than other pre-university programmes. There are no fees for the sixth form, except for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) examination, which amounts to RM101. And, if you do well in STPM, you are likely to get a place in a public university.

STPM gives students time to think carefully and decide which career path they intend to take. The Form Six years are also a time for youth to grow and mature. It is here that you make the most important decision in your life — the university course options.

Although they remain within the school system, sixth formers realise that taking STPM requires a different approach to learning.

They are no longer spoon-fed, and have to learn to manage a heavier workload. One reason it is harder to score distinctions in STPM is that the syllabus requires students to be analytical.

As one student said: “We learn to do research and development, how to carry out data and translate data into graphs and charts.”

A senior economics teacher currently teaching sixth formers stressed that the STPM is not for the slacker. It involves a gruelling study regime and scoring As is extremely tough.

The economics teacher said: “On top of lessons, students meet for study groups in the afternoons for several hours, and then they go home to revise what they’ve learnt.”

Above all, because STPM is so tough, it teaches students what studying really means. Furthermore, the teacher added, if you attend Form Six, the first year of university will be easier because you’re used to studying hard.

Today, the Education Ministry has introduced centralised Form Six classes based on a few things, including pooling together teaching resources so that teachers and students alike can concentrate on their studies and not be distracted by other school matters.

A number of students find the recent changes to the STPM format appealing. The new assessment system revolves around continuous school-based assessments and centralised examinations which can be retaken to improve grades.

Even though the ratio between school-based assessments and examination is between 20 and 40 per cent  and 60 and 80 per cent, it is seen as a welcome change.

One sixth former said the changes helped ease students’ stress.

The assignments and projects under the school-based assessments will help them develop much-needed soft skills through presentations and group discussions.

Hence, the new format will help students with their communication and interpersonal skills, which are essential in the working world.

The Education Ministry has also relaxed the requirements for Form Six students to wear uniforms, allowing them to form student councils to discuss student welfare and co-curricular activities, and introduced modules that require students to undertake research and work in groups and projects.

Every year, some 70,000 students take the STPM examination which is recognised by universities the world over.

The STPM route clears the pathway to your chosen profession.

Research suggests that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students’ lives, interest and experiences.

Vincent D’Silva, NIE trainer and English Language lecturer