Eighteen-year-old Caleb Tay was born with low central vision and colour blindness. And he loathed Maths.
“I couldn’t understand anything that the [Math] lecturers were saying and I was very discouraged,” said the Catholic Junior College alumnus on March 2.
“I actually thought of dropping from H2 [Higher Level 2] to H1 [Higher Level 1],” he added.
Thus, Tay was pleasantly surprised when he scored an A for his H2 Math.
For his other H2 subjects, he scored Bs for Chemistry and Biology, whereas for his H1 subjects, he scored As for his General Paper and Project Work, and a B for Economics.
“I have my Math teacher [Mr Kuang Kim Chun] to thank,” said Tay. “He helped alleviate a lot of stress” by explaining Math concepts.
Prior to the A-levels, Tay relied a lot on help from his mother and his teachers, and an iPad.
“I studied for my A-levels mainly through audio,” said Tay. “My mum would read to me a lot, especially all the materials that the school gave.”
Due to his condition, Tay sacrificed time during free periods and recess to have “one-on-one sessions” with his teachers.
“My teachers would sometimes draw stuff on the paper really big so that I could see the diagrams. They would also explain to me slowly so that I could catch up,” said Tay. “They would constantly check on me to see if I could keep up with what was being taught in class.”
Tay also shared that his Biology teacher, Mr Eugene Yeow, constantly “checked [to see] if I was doing well in my other subjects”.
Apart from the occasional staying back after school to revise, Tay said that he would “slowly try and read” from an iPad the soft copy versions of school notes, answer schemes and worksheets provided by his teachers.
For the A-levels, Tay completed his papers with the help of two people, a scribe and someone who would read out the questions to him.
Tay, a Christian, said that he had God and his teachers at CJC to thank. “Everything I achieved was all by God’s grace ... It’s important to keep hope and remember that God is with you to see you through everything.”
Tay is in the midst of deciding which course he would like to apply for at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Setting ‘priorities right’
Between January and May 2014, former CJC student Louis Teo faced “difficulties juggling various leadership roles and studies”.
He was a school house captain, an orientation group leader and a member of the school’s swimming/ biathlon team taking part in competitions every month.
But after May 2014, he decided to drop “a few events and set my priorities
That decision paid off as Teo scored straight Bs for all his A-level H2 subjects – Chemistry, Economics, Geography and Maths. He also scored a B for his H1 General Paper.
However, the hard work also involved sacrifice. “On weekdays during my one-hour breaks, I would have my lunch in about 10 minutes, then I would rush as much as I could to study,” said Teo.
“On weekends, I would wake up and the first thing I do would be to study. I would utilise my whole weekends to study.”
With regard to his non-academic leadership duties, Teo said, “There were meetings everyday and right after school, I had training. After training, I sometimes had to come back to school. By the time I reached home, it was 10 plus” at night.
Teo, a Malaysian, added that before the A-levels, he “didn’t go back to visit [his parents] in Johor Bahru for two months. My parents knew that I had to study so they didn’t mind,” he said.
When asked whom he would like to thank for his good results, he mentioned former CJC teacher, Mr Issac Lim.
“He was the best teacher in my whole life,” said Teo. He taught me so many lessons like responsibility and perseverance. It’s because of him that’s why I managed to achieve so much.”
Teo, who said he will apply for a scholarship at NUS, gave this piece of advice: “Sports and studies complement each other very well, so find the time to excel in both”.
He hopes to be an entrepreneur in the future.
From poly to JC
His wasn’t the usual academic route.
“My case was a little weird as usually, JC [junior college] students drop out of JC to go to poly,” said Wayne Wee, 21.
Wee, however, dropped out of polytechnic after two years and joined CJC in 2013, as he felt that the course he was in was “very hands-on but not really brain stimulating”.
“I liked theories and what I was doing [in poly] was the total opposite,” he said.
Wee who is CJC’s 2014 valedictorian and former rugby captain, scored straight As for four of his H2 subjects – Economics, Maths, English Literature and Knowledge Inquiry; and a B for H1 Physics. He also scored a Merit for H3 [Higher Level 3] English Literature.
The transition from polytechnic to junior college life was “a breeze” for Wee.
This despite one of his polytechnic lecturers telling him that he “wouldn’t make it”.
In the end, said Wee, he decided to stick “with my gut”.
“I’m not here to prove anything to anyone. I am learning for my own learning sake,” said Wee.
As for his secret to doing well for the A-levels, “the key is not to ‘mug’ but to understand,” he said.
“There’s no point wasting your time memorising and vomiting things out. You’re only going to forget.”
Wee said he hopes “to be a lecturer, writing academic papers for all the world to see”.
By Lorna O’Hara