Uni semester 2 starts!… but it’s NOT what we imagined it to be.

Hey guys, semester two of university (October trimester) has begun! It is Saturday today, the weekend of week 3 of my second semester. We are welcoming week 4 in. Based on our course plan arranged by our lecturers, the pace will really pick up only by week 4.

So for now there is not much coursework related things to tell you yet, because believe it or not, coursework and assignments are to me what make the semester super interesting. But here’s a breakdown of the 4 courses I am taking this semester.

The courses are arranged in ascending order of my interest, which means the last course is my favourite and the absolute most interesting.

Math:

The topics are very statistical, very dry. Fortunately, we had some basics in these topics such as probability during our high school years (SPM & form 4 / form 5), but it is still supremely dry and most of us dislike this course. However, we are all still in our foundation year and cannot choose courses as we like yet. These are compulsory courses to get into the science degree of our choice (I am from the science stream). It’s full of numbers, and the questions are an entire paragraph of word-dance.

English (Communication Skills):

This course is not so much English as a class on basic communication. It teaches basic public speaking skills, how to overcome apprehension of speaking in front of a large crowd, how to organize the content of your speech, etc.

Much like the English course I took in my first semester, I always find English fun because of the ample research opportunities. My teammates and I researched and presented on the topic of Medical Errors for my first semester, and I learnt so much about the topic I could almost recite an array of medical mishaps to you off the top of my head, and the stories behind each error made, and the impacts those errors had on patients, their immediate relatives, and the medical community. We also greatly improved on our software skills, such as converting files from word or html to pdf, vice versa.

It is one of the most enriching courses I have ever taken. For this semester (2nd sem), our first assignment is an individual presentation unlike the first semester. I have chosen the topic “Covid-19: How has the pandemic benefited us?” to touch on a positive outlook on the advantages reaped from this global crisis. A topic like that I think is interesting, since it provokes thought with its unconventional point of view. I will be presenting on the topic in about two weeks time.

Chemistry (Inorganic Chem):

Inorganic Chemistry’s first chapter – the basics – was slightly difficult to wrap my head around at first. The other chapters follow a very specific pattern: for this whole semester, we are basically learning the Periodic table, its elements, and the properties of those elements. In fact, the chapters are literally named:

  • Group 1 metals.
  • s-block elements.
  • Aluminium.
  • Oxygen, Sulphur and Their Compounds.

“Don’t stress yourself for this semester, ” said my lecturer. “It’s a stress-free topic for Inorganic Chemistry this sem.”

Indeed, but that’s because she’s (probably) comparing it to Organic Chemistry, which we must take in Semester 3, which is way more difficult, will long compound names to memorize.

So, with such a typical pattern to follow, the topics for inorganic chem are not too difficult. This is all except for the first chapter, which was the basics of electronic configurations, and the various components of electron orbitals, which I had some difficulty distinguishing between at first.

But I managed to understand it in the end. So I hope the rest of Inorg Chem will be smooth sailing.

Biology (Modern Biology):

And finally – MODERN BIOLOGY! My absolute favourite! It’s a stark difference compared to the Biology course we took in first semester, which was about Cell Biology. We had had a lot of basics in Cell Biology already since high school. Modern Biology takes DNA, a genetic molecule we only touched upon lightly in high school, and expanding it into a SIX topic long conversation. Mod Bio is basically about Biotechnology and Genetics, the absolute basics in a contemporary topic very closely related to the Covid-19 virus. Knowing that DNA codes for all life on the planet, my interest in this topic is elevated by tenfold. Biology inevitably involves a ton of memorization, though, and sometimes I procrastinate the time away just thinking of the effort required to make my flashcards (I use an online flashcard app to study Biology, but that also means I would need to set aside time to make the cards).

I keep trying to remind myself not to waste all the time away, though. More time would mean I could browse the Internet, checking out even more interesting information on the topic and expanding my knowledge beyond my lecture syllabus. I’ve been watching NASA’s Youtube live streaming of the latest update on a sea altimeter monitoring satellite – Sentinel 6, that would be able to view internal waves and measure them by the centimeter, and plot a World map of the entire ocean that covers our planet. It’s launch is due on But I’m always rather lazy, when I see the pile of work to get done. I always try to remind myself of just what more I can do if I were just to focus and get work out of the way.

But I also don’t want to see studies as a chore to get rid of so that I can do other things. My goal is to make studies a fun thing too, and it’s important, because my studies will be what my career would partly be about. For now, I’m still struggling with that a bit, since my love for certain courses doesn’t quite seem to top my occasional laziness to carry out long-haul efforts.

The next few weeks are going to get busy already, with mini exams, my presentation, lab reports (there’s one due in 3 days time!), and other coursework. That’s all for now! I’ll definitely fill you in with updates halfway through the semester perhaps, to give you a quick glimpse in the midst of the fun chaos of learning, because you blink an eye and I’m gone again until the end of the semester. 😉

Final Assessment: Semester 1 Results!

Guess what – I managed to do well for the first semester! 😀

Those too simple, too brief alphabets you see under “Grades” is all there is to summarize all the hard work I put in for not just my exams, but all my other coursework throughout the semester.

My Final Assessment Grades
My Grade Point Average for the 1st semester of Foundation at university

The coursework I’m referring to includes two formal presentations, which took many nights of toiling and video-chat discussion with my assignment coursemates (which I have promised you I would blog about soon), all the full lab reports, one biological drawing which took a whole day just to draw (I’ll attach a photo of the drawing below!), a research essay and a cited chemistry poster.

Alongside that of course, we had to handle the 1st round of tests, then the 2nd round of tests, then our final assessment. We took 5 courses in our first semester, which adds up to around 15 theory-based test papers, based on the breakdown I did for you.

On top of that, all the exam papers this round has been deliberately made far more challenging, due to the fact that exams are open-book (with information from our lecture notes and the internet at our fingertips) during the Covid-19 crisis.

The biology experimental design video presentation we worked on for days was converted to a total of only 5 effective marks. The biological drawing which took hours of concentration, which I will now attach below, is only 6 effective marks.

NO shading allowed. Dense regions can only be indicated with furious, agitated dotting 😛

My wrist hurt a lot after drawing this. Haha! But it’s still my masterpiece.

As you can see from the 2nd photo I attached at the top of the post, I got a overall Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.8511. That is well above the requirement to get into a medical degree, which is a CGPA of 3.50. However, if you notice from the first photo, I obtained below average marks for Chemistry, a GPA of 3.33. This is because my better marks in the other courses pulled my overall grade up.

Now, for the 2nd semester (which has just begun!), I am resolved to work hard and smart to obtain a 4 flat (GPA of 4.0). Admittedly, I had my father’s help in the first semester as he guided me using the printed lecture notes. His insight and intelligent input are priceless and highly appreciated, however, I had only half the burden to carry back then, and perhaps the training for stamina was much alleviated. This semester, he has helped me get a head start as well, but only in Mathematics.

The truth will prevail now, if I truly can manage to take on the responsibility myself and be competent enough to study, and learn, intelligently.

This is because to do well in exams these days, diligence is not enough. You need brains, you need to be able to think out of the box, and not take too long to figure out the concepts. It is an undeniable fact that to be a doctor you cannot just be hardworking, you have to be able to think intelligently as well. Dumbness and slowness is not welcomed in the healthcare industry, especially during your medical training. Both of which, unfortunately, I have a bit of in my nature. It is difficult for me to rush things, or else I will not be able to reap information properly.

Now, I must get back to studying for Biology! This semester, our biology course is known as Modern Biology (as opposed to Fundamentals of Cell Biology in our first semester). I find Modern Biology quite exciting, as it dabbles in the absolute basics of molecular genetics and biotechnology, which is particularly relevant to the COVID-19 virus mutation, and a very contemporary topic.

I am struggling to understand it for now, but with my determination I will do my best to overcome it, and make learning it fun.

You won’t believe the types of questions that came out in exam.

I submitted one of the exam papers only one minute before the cut-off time. Nearly got a heart attack! Just one more minute, and I would have had to resit the paper. That would mean my foundation would be prolonged with the addition of an extra semester just to resit one paper. That, I tell you, is no small joke.

Click here to read part 1 of my final exam rush if you haven’t! 😛

Math and Physical Chemistry were a bit more challenging. As I completed the questions, I could see that my preparations were great, and helpful, but certainly not enough to meet the standards. Math and Chemistry both had seriously challenging questions. I needed more practice and more acquaintance with various question permutations. I was lacking in practice, and that is because I tend to cram for exams and not study consistently throughout the semester. However, it truly is not easy to keep studying consistently over a long period of time, not when your lectures also drain you of a significant amount of energy.

It would be good to build some stamina.

As for Biology, Physics and English, they were not easy, but relatively easy when compared to the previous two I mentioned. Biology is fun when it is an open book exam. This is because Biology cannot trick you all that much, and the concepts / ideas can be easily obtainable from the internet. When this is how it is, you are learning and discovering even as you sit for your exam. However, a strong understanding of the basics is required. I can only describe this arrangement as magical. It is simply magical to be able to search for the answers to your exam questions, using your understanding of what the question is looking for, and learning new, out-of-textbook scientific information in the same breath.

For Physics, I spent a day compiling and condensing a powerful 15 page summary of 12 lecture topics. In Physics, the ability to differentiate between the topics, and identify which topics can be applied to any random question in your exam paper is crucial. For example, knowledge from Lecture 2, Lecture 5 and Lecture 9 may be required to answer a specific question. In Physics One, the Physics course I took in my first semester, each topic has lots of overlapping concepts, and it can be difficult to answer a question when there is so much merging of topics being tested in one single question. Studying Physics is a bizarre experience, and the way the topics overlap are both a pain and a wonder.

When I told my Physics teacher about the cool overlapping, he said: “That’s not Physics. That’s science. Studying science is all about applying each science to each other; everything is correlated.”

My English paper, my final paper of the week, was a heart stopping one, and I am still worried. There were questions about the critical thinking skills and fallacies, and a comprehension piece, and finally an argumentative essay to write.

The problem lies in the essay. We had just two titles to choose from: one was about your stand on whether there was antibiotics available to treat Covid 19, and another was about your opinion on whether people should continue to work from home.

I chose the first one.

I saw the first essay title, the one about antibiotics, as a perfect opportunity for scientific learning. I wanted the same sense of fulfillment I got with Biology; I may never have many open book tests again, especially as a medical student. I saw this as a chance to learn WHILE sitting for my exam. So I did on-the-spot research, had about 10 tabs open, and devoured them at high speed, clinching on ideas that caught my attention and coming up with my own views (known as your “voice” in argumentative essay lingo) and backed them up by evidence I gleaned from various creditable sources.

By the end of it I was shaking and exhausted, but soon was struck by a major issue: our essays would be checked for plagiarism. I took elements from my research, from the internet. Was it considered plagiarizing or not? I should have been more mindful while writing the essay. I worried over it for a long time, even though my father came bounding down the stairs, expecting to see a smile on my face after the whole semester was done and my two week semester break commenced. But for a while after the exam, I worried greatly. The consequences of plagiarizing are not to be played with; we could be suspended if caught doing so. We were taught about plagiarism in our English course, but we were all still new to the topic and may not yet fully understand the boundaries of what is considered plagiarism and what isn’t. Perhaps I should have not been too reckless, in case I would accidently take too much from a particular source.

Anyway, after a while I decided it doesn’t help to worry, and I would know when the results were out. My essay, regardless, was still one of high quality, and I was delighted that I could synthesize an essay from various sources and arrange my ideas alongside other people’s so neatly like this. Plus, I learnt a bit about the controversy about whether antibiotics can treat Covid 19. Here’s a summary: scientifically, antibiotics is used to treat bacteria, not viruses, so it shouldn’t work. But some researchers have proven four antibiotics have the ability to inhibit SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid 19. What do you think?

So, I went to play some piano to calm myself down. Until my exams were over, I had not touched the piano in ages. Now I’m learning a new song, though, so I’m practicing a few hours a day. With a new song, you’ve got to commit a lot of hours in the beginning. With an average of 3 hours a day, I’ve been perfecting my craft. I’m still nowhere near perfect yet, especially a part where there are lots of octave chords and my small hands can’t quite reach for the notes. It’s quite a strain to your wrist!

And now I will end this blog post on a happy note, and with more to come!

There are A TON of interesting small turning points in my life coming up! Hang on tight. Here they are:

  1. Blogpost #1: My English and Biology presentation (trust me, these are not boring at all.)
  2. Blogpost #2: My final exam results (OF COURSE! IT’S COMING SOON! Maybe in a few days. I am just — so — nervous for this.)
  3. Blogpost #3: Commencement of semester 2 and returning to campus for “mixed learning” (mixture of online learning + physical classes)

UPDATE: Blogpost #3 is CANCELLED due to announcement by the highest education ministry that all university lessons will continue online until further notice. 😦 Hopefully the COVID-19 situation improves soon!!

Yep, we call it returning to campus, but due to Covid 19 I haven’t even studied on campus before. Besides, I don’t even know where my classrooms are.

Exciting times are coming! 😀

Final Assessment + Semester 1 OVER!

Yippee!! My big final exam of the first semester is over!

I’m so sorry guys. It’s taken me over a week AFTER my exam actually ended to finally get back to you all. Even then, I prefer to binge watch medical documentaries on Youtube now, but it’s been one week since my final assessment actually ended and I do owe it you to all to update you on my current situation. I also owe it to myself – the completion of my very first semester of university foundation.

It’s a cool milestone.

So, this was basically how my first semester went: firstly, we tried to adapt to online learning and had fun with all the perks of e-learning. We also improved greatly on our software and technological skills, which online learning inevitably requires. Then it soon became a routine. Lecturers would teach quickly, with the constant excuse of “you can replay this video later, so I’ll move on first!” much to my frustration. Certain study resources were online, most were printable and so I printed them.

Then, in chronological order: Test 1 for all the courses I took in semester 1, which earned me great results; then comes Test 2, which got me a little stressed out due to the increasing level of difficulty, but which I still did well in. Scattered throughout the semester were tons of little different types of projects and coursework for each course we are taking, each of which contributes to our eventual Grade Point Average (GPA) for the semester.

In the last few weeks leading up to our big exams, we STIILL had to deal with two formal presentations, English and Biology formal GROUP presentations, which put our nerves under fire. Both the English and Biology presentations took a lot of hard work, and so much commitment was required and so much learnt that I think I shall write another blog post specifically to talk about them! For the English presentation, my group members and I had chosen a medical topic, and the research I did on it was supremely interesting, and the Biology presentation involved designing your very own experiment, which was pretty fun, too. Click here to read all about the two presentations! I had scored high marks for both and am happy with the results.

After the two presentations were done, I threw it behind my back and began studying full force. Our exam would be an open book exam, since we are studying from home due to the Covid crisis, but a big deal of studying is still required. Hours of reviewing lectures, curating comprehensive notes and summaries using colourful pens, and doing or reading the answers to past year papers that our lecturers gave us. I also did my tutorial questions, or any other practice or revision questions that were available through our online learning platform. I rearranged my course files to make old notes easily accessible. I made To-Do Lists that aimed really high, and tried my best to do tick off most of the boxes.

It was one heck of a ride.

Throughout the week before the exam and the exam week itself, I would constantly check the time, the one at the bottom right hand corner of my computer. I looked and looked and looked, whether it be to see if I have been taking too much time understanding a particular question, or if I have been daydreaming / taking a break for too long, or if I was going to submit my freaking exam papers in time. If I don’t manage to hand it in, I would have to resit the ENTIRE course, which means taking an extra semester. And did I manage to submit the exam papers?

Click here to find out….!!

Survival Comes First: This is how Malaysia’s education system should be improved.

Survival comes first.

This phrase above is one many of you have heard of. I believe Malaysia’s education system should be improved based on these three defining words.

Lately, our government has been coming up with many changes in the KSSM syllabus, which, although fortunately has nothing to do with me as I have just started university, is having a great impact on my younger brother. He is quite unluckily studying Form 4 this year – the year subject to much excited experimentation ever since he was in his primary school years. This batch were always freshmen when it came to their studies; they would struggle to familiarize themselves with the new implementations, and whoops, new changes to your syllabus again, sorry about that. You’ve just got to deal with it.

For my SPM last year, the second last year of the old syllabus KBSM (I am two years older than my brother), already had had a few unnecessary subjects. I took 10 subjects, which includes Mandarin in my case. But there were a few subjects such as Moral, Sejarah (history), and certain elements in the Malay and Chinese subjects such as KOMSAS and “ancient Chinese” (Malay and Chinese literature) that… when I have ascended to university and look back at, now, I find it difficult to understand why we ever had to study those subjects. Now, there is apparently a new addition to the KSSM syllabus, which is the translation of classical Malay to modern Malay.

Sure, it’s important to learn good morals and values. Indeed, education about the body is imperative. Yes, learning languages and its evolution is always useful, may even be interesting. True, if history is not taught and remembered, how will we learn from past mistakes? How can we effectively culture in our children curiosity about the future if we have zero knowledge of the past?

However, as I do more reading and exploration in this unique time of Covid-19, I see less and less purpose in keeping ourselves learned scholars of ancient text and reading textbook graphics on how to do gymnastics with balls and ribbons. Is it more important that we memorize our riddled past until we can recite it off the tops of our heads, or that we learn what will help us survive now?

What are our priorities now, right NOW?

~~~

You are taking a walk with your child and they are going to step into a hole that might twist their ankle badly. It’s happening now! Any moment now! One more inch! Will you warn your child of the hole and how to avoid it in the future, or begin telling the story of when their great-grandfather stepped into a similar hole many decades ago?

Your child steps into the hole and sprains their ankle. You chastise them furiously. Next time, read more stories about your great-grandfather! You demand, and thrust a great book into their hands filled with his ancestor’s mishaps. A heavy book, too big for the child to see where they are going.

“And of course,” you go on, ignoring your exhausted young son or daughter, weighed down by the enormous book, “it will also be highly useful if you could learn ancient Greek, the language your great-grandfather happened to be using when calling for a lady nearby, when he cried for her help, to get him out of the hole he fell into – “

Your child steps into another hole and breaks their leg.

~~~

This is why, chase the future first before you pursue the past. It’s difficult to live without past memories, but impossible to survive without future plans.

It is now the hype of our era, with Covid-19 impeding life activities, the worst global warming in the last five years, and far too many of the trouble human beings bring upon themselves are due to not knowing or not realizing basic things. Yet our politicians now bite and snap at each other while the children of our future cramp their tired minds with our ancestors glories and mistakes.

Instead, teach our new generation how to avoid the online and phone call scams that are so easy to fall for. Teach them how to fight for their own entitlements, and the rights of others. Educate them on the importance of personal and medical insurance. Allow them ample opportunity for observations of anything and everything (of good nature), and let them take away the lessons. Teach them the perils of the “real life out there”. If the situation leaves us no choice but be “quanranteens” in primary and secondary school education until our syllabus finally becomes what really matters at university, by which time most of our youth is lost, then show us what real life is, in the confines of your home. Instead of implying that “real life” is a curtain that only opens when we leave high school or even beyond university, tear down the drapes and guide us in imagining real life. It is, in fact, the very age of global digitalization.

Answer our questions on why things happen. When your child, teenage son / daughter, or young student asks questions, don’t brush them aside. Understanding why is the key to improving tolerance of strange environments, tolerance of people who look and sound different, tolerance of complex issues that are difficult to solve. It is also the key to setting curiosity and motivation on fire.

Most of all, teach our new generation how to make their own choices. The right choices. And they will be able to do that, based on their understanding of why it is the right or wrong thing to do.

We will then automatically culture good moral values, exercise more for our own health and learn from past mistakes based on critical judgment.

Humans need not and should not be constantly only told what to do – it may very well have the opposite effect. They need to be taught how to know what to do.

Although this write up is also an object of my frustration with the education system, but here is the real message I want you to take away: learning anything of good nature is beneficial, to some extent. However, it is not about which are the correct subjects to learn, but about which subjects are more important.

Especially in this very moment, we don’t have time for marginally useful things. We need the cure, now.

Survival comes first.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 11 September 2020.