Tee off on the T-score

Taking a major examination is not unlike being a golfer about to tee off on the course. Your child sits at his or her desk, pens poised to dive into the answer booklet, which is a little bit like a golfer standing at the ball, club poised for tee off. In both cases, you can’t change what’s been written after passing up the answers, the same way you can’t change where the ball flies after hitting it.

Sometimes, answers are delivered magnificently and junior emerges feeling validated and triumphant. Other times, the brain goes blank, answers are just beyond reach of mental grasp, and junior comes home feeling demoralized. Good or bad, the course of PSLE must go on, and then – joy! ; at least until the night before result release.

At least five people will have butterflies in their stomachs all night in each PSLE-blessed household. These three people are mom, dad, and tween. Mom is nervous because she desperately wants her child to outperform the competition. Dad is edgy because mom’s mouth won’t zip shut. Tween is nervous because he or she can see that the folks will get funky – in the worst possible way – should anything go awry. The form teacher will be sweating, wondering what the principal will say if something goes south with the results. Unbeknownst to her, the principal is having a minor epileptic fit every time she glances at the clock, where the hands tick away mercilessly, bringing the day of reckoning ever closer. Thoughts of the form teacher are far from her mind that night. Whatever the reasons, everyone is praying for the best and hoping, in some cases, for the hand of God to deliver a miraculous act of divine intervention.

Everyone has also forgotten something, namely the fact that in a year’s time the t-score gotten won’t be that stark in their memories any longer, and this is even if the figure is less than ideal. This fact will not be much appreciated by the more kiasu breed of aggressive Singaporean parent, but it is true, nonetheless.

Yes, a great t-score can kick off a spectacular academic career, but for the lackluster scorers, success in life is definitely still within reach. It may be desirable to nab a revered spot in the top few, one of those who score above 250 upon 300, but the truth is, the real average t-score, some say, will hover more modestly around the range of 200. Quelle horreur, as the French will gasp.

This is partly because the t-score is based on the bell curve. The equation is pretty simple but just as inflammatory to many furious mothers: 50 + 10 x (your child’s score – the average score)/a standard deviation of raw scores. Why is it so bloody complicated?

The answer lies deep within the exclusive reaches of the education system, which isn’t all that bad, given that we produce some of the world’s finest intellectual crop. The real issue though is how we should be handling the results.

It’s easy enough to guess how top scorers will be celebrating – in style, obviously, and depending on size of budget, this may or may not include a limousine ride with non-alcoholic champagne followed by a private screening of MegaMind, not in boring old 2D but 3D. The champion will be regarded as a hero instead of pest by all his siblings and hoisted off on the shoulders of the triumphant parents, leaving his peers to wallow in their lower t-scores. 200 a far cry from 250? Perhaps…but only for a day. Or two. Maybe three for the more emotional.

You know, even if that dratted t-score isn’t high enough to guarantee a place in one of the venerated institutions of study, like Raffles or Hwa Chong, parents should quickly seize the opportunity to teach their offspring about one of life’s greatest lessons: that while anyone can turn an already successful situation into a great product, it takes real substance to parlay a seemingly deflated circumstance into one of success.

And there are genuine success stories of late bloomers. A personal friend, who scored only 200 back in 1997, was tossed into Tampines Secondary School, which wasn’t considered fantastic. He flowered – academically, of course – only in university, went on to achieve first-class honours in biomedical science, and was awarded with a scholarship to pursue a phD in cancer research with a globally-acclaimed scientist. Not bad for a guy whose parents lamented “Si ah, si ah” on the day he got his PSLE results.

And this success should extend to beyond the classroom. School, after all, was designed to prepare children for life. It is a child’s well-being, mental perception, and skills acquired along the way that will set him up for life. Tomorrow is shaped by how you choose to handle your today.