Notes from the Underground: Coping with Promo Results (Part 1)

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‘The measure of someone successful is how you manage to overcome disappointments.’

by Adelyn Tan (16A01E) and Esther Gao Yan Xin (16S03N)

The process of getting back the much dreaded Promotional Examination results can trigger a wide range of emotions and reactions from different people: relieved affirmation for some, and disappointed disbelief for others. Raffles Press went down to the Raffles Guidance Center to garner some advice on confronting your results, and coping with the subsequent feelings that inevitably arise.

Press (P): How do I break it to my parents if my results are below their expectations?

Mei Hui (MH): First do some self-reflection – figure out what you should do, should have done, could have done better and what areas to improve on; if you’ve made mistakes, then what are those mistakes, and whether you need further help. Be prepared to go to your parents with a list of concrete steps – like, “I didn’t do this, this and this”, “I think next year I will be doing this, this and this,” and “I need help in this, could you support me in this”. At least when you go to them, I think your parents would feel that you have self-reflected and accepted responsibility for your grades, and that you have thought about what you ought to be doing next. That will help diffuse a lot of the tension in the situation. The other thing would also be to be honest.

I think the other thing that parents would not like is if you try to conceal your results from them or be dishonest about things or to make excuses for why you did badly. Just be prepared to take responsibility and admit your mistakes. Think of it as a more discussive exercise – how can your parents help you, what they can support you with. If you need tuition or if you need them to take away your laptop, phone, lock it away, if they need to check on you every day and make sure you’re doing your work – this is the time to say it, say “these are some of the things you can help me with”.

Press: What is a healthy mentality that we can adopt when we receive grades that are below our expectations?

MH: The best mentality to adopt would be a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. If you google this, it’s actually based on Dr Carol Dweck’s research. She’s based at Stanford University. Basically it’s whether you think that this defines who you are and this labels who you are. Like, “I’m a failure, I cannot change”, and therefore you are not going to do anything about it. Versus a growth mindset, where you accept that this is just a data point. A blip on your data point, and you can improve. All this result tells you is that where you are at the moment in your learning journey.

There is a difference in how you approach things. If you have a fixed mindset, you’re just going to say, “well, there’s nothing I can do to change my situation, I’m just stupid at this subject and I will abandon it and I will not do anything about it”. Things will definitely not improve and you’re not going to get better, and you’ve basically given up hope. There’s always something you can do to make a difference to your grades, and to be open to getting help from whatever sources or avenues there are. Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not let your grades define who you are.

Press: What are the different kinds of support that we can depend on and look for if we need help with managing our expectations?

MH: Basically, it’s your support network. Your friends, your teachers, your seniors. Especially people who have gone through difficult times in their life, or your seniors who have not done so well. How did they manage to get over this bump? Of course you can also speak to one of the counsellors at RGC. Basically, everyone has had instances of failure in their life, or disappointment.

The measure of someone successful is how you manage to overcome disappointments. A successful person isn’t someone who has never experienced failure in their life. If you look at Silicon Valley, the venture capitalists who are willing to invest money with companies – one of the first questions they ask is “how many times have you failed? How many startups have you started and failed at?” Because you learn so much from each mistake that you make, and that’s something that you cannot buy. If you’ve had two or three failed startups, then basically they’re thinking that you’ve made most of the mistakes that a new person could make, and therefore they don’t have to go through the whole training cycle with you and your next startup is more likely to succeed.

I think it’s the same with life. There’s no such thing as a smooth sailing life where you don’t experience any disappointments. It’s like with little children when they’re learning to walk. Can you imagine, if they fell down and then decided, “walking is not for me. I shall crawl for the rest of my life.” I mean, that’s just not the way to live life to its fullest.

Press: When we talk to our friends, especially those who do better us, then there’s that feeling of, oh man, they did better than me… how do we avoid comparing our grades to our friends’ grades?

MH: First and foremost, if you feel you have a tendency to compare, then adopt the policy of don’t ask don’t tell. Just tell them “I don’t want you to tell me your grades, and I don’t want to compare, I think it’s unhealthy, I’m not going to ask you, you’re not going to tell me, and that’s fine”. Secondly, focus on the process and not the grades. It’s a far more interesting question. A far more useful question to ask would be “you did very well at this subject! Tell me what strategies you used to get a good grade. Is there something I can learn from, is there something I can take away, that I can do? Is it because you did all the Ten Year Series questions? What is your method? Can I borrow your notes?” That’s something you can actually take away and use.

Press: How should we moderate our expectations for future tests, after we’ve overcome the most immediate emotions – how do we move on and look at the next test?

MH: I’m not sure if moderating expectations is really the right thing to do. I firmly believe that you should have high expectations of yourself, because if you don’t even expect yourself to achieve certain targets and goals, then you’re definitely not going to achieve anything.

What is necessary is perhaps to think through your process and your approach, as to whether you are actually using the best learning strategies, if you need to change how you’re managing your time. Rather you should relook your processes. If we see Promos as a step, a data point, in a journey that leads to the A Levels, then what you want to be seeing is that are you moving in the right direction. Are your grades slowly improving? Are you actually slowly making small steps or large steps towards hitting the eventual grades that you want?

Press: But sometimes people are disappointed because they don’t meet their unrealistic expectations…

MH: One other thing that I advise students to do is to not compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself. Look at whether you’re achieving your personal best. Throughout your whole academic history, what have you been capable of achieving? You ought to know whether you are hitting roughly within the same range. You should always be attempting to improve upon your personal best, but at least it gives you some kind of margin of whereabouts you should be expecting to achieve. That’s a far more useful frame of reference than trying to compare to someone else totally different from you who has different strengths and weaknesses and interests. Compare yourself to your best possible self. That ensures that you’re being realistic. If you have achieved certain things in the past then you should expect to achieve certain things in the future as well.

Look out for Part 2 of Dealing with Promos, which will focus on how to progress beyond your promotional results and tangible steps you can take to make the best of the post-Promo period.

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