You don’t have to be an IP Man: Bing Geng shares about his IP experience!
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
Wah! Did you see the lowest GPA for our cohort? Who could score a 1.4 sia!” My heart sank as the topic of conversation with my friends at the canteen took a turn towards our grades. Although my friends did not know it, that grade, which seemed impossibly low to them, was mine.
I had always been spared the nosy questions about grades by my family. Everyone assumed that because I was from my school’s Integrated Programme, I was like the rest of the high achieving, hyper-competitive students in my class. But truth be told, I was struggling to keep up with my classmates, and constantly felt like an impostor.
My classmates were all like ‘Ip Man’. Watching them go through the school day was like watching a skilled martial artist fighting ten different opponents at once – they seemed to tackle everything which came their way with ease, excelling in almost everything they did. There were the straight-A students who also competed at a national level for their sport, there were the councillors who somehow found time to revise for tests between organising events for the school, and the seemingly prodigious students who always “never study”.
I on the other hand, struggled academically. In a bid to do it all as my friends did, and against the advice of my teachers, I still split my time between the classroom, and the school field, with a heavy preference for the school field even as my grades suffered. In my mind, I was just like the rest of my classmates, taking on my academics and my passion without difficulty, but in reality, the strain of taking on both was making it difficult to excel in either.
Thus, it probably came as no surprise to anyone but myself when in Secondary Three, I attained the lowest GPA of 1.4 in my cohort.
In the weeks following that poor grade, I scrambled to cram for my remedial examinations, which was my only hope for remaining in the Integrated Programme. But it was too little, too late. Much to my dismay, I failed the remedial examinations by a single mark, and soon after received a letter to inform my parents and I that I would be taking the ‘O’ Levels in Secondary 4, concluding my unceremonious exit from the Integrated Programme.
It was like my world had collapsed. My identity and self-worth had been built on this idea of being the stereotypical high-achieving IP student, even though it had just been a facade which I struggled to keep up.
As if the dejection I felt was not enough, I was constantly reminded of it as my new class was right next to my old Integrated Programme class. I passed their classroom everyday while getting to mine. I stood next to my former classmates during flag-raising. I sat next to them during level assemblies. But I was no longer one of them. I began to dread coming to school, internalising the judgement and shame of being seen as inferior to my peers.
Many of my new classmates felt similarly. We were treated differently by the school, being excluded from certain activities to allow us to focus on our studies, and found ourselves interacting less with the rest of the cohort. In response, we formed our own tight-knit community, studying together, playing together, and supporting each other through the year. I remember it as one of the best times of my secondary school life. I had finally found my tribe.
Knowing that I had multiple paths open to me now that I was taking the 'O' Levels, as opposed to the "through train" model of the Integrated Programme, I started to think about what I wanted for myself. While some in my class realised that they would prefer to go to a polytechnic, or a different junior college, I decided that I wanted to do well to join the rest of my cohort again. In this way, having to take the ‘O’ Levels ended up being a blessing in disguise. It gave me perspective enough to recognise what I wanted for myself, and in having to work towards the goal, I had to learn to be pragmatic and prioritise what was important. Even though I realised that JC was still the route for me, now I was very sure why I wanted it.
I knew the path ahead was not going to be easy. Faced with a new curriculum, everything I had learnt from the past 3 years in the Integrated Programme was thrown out of the window, and I had only one year to absorb two years of content for the 'O' Level syllabus, while also juggling my CCA commitments. I could no longer afford to try to be ‘Ip Man’ in the way my old classmates always seemed to be.
Although my passion for soccer remained as strong as before, I had to be realistic about how much time I spent on the field. Where it did not directly benefit my co-curricular activity performance, I decided to spend the time on studying instead. At first, I struggled to come to terms with spending less time on my passion to study instead. It felt as if I was abandoning my passion, but I realised that I was simply prioritising the more urgent goal of doing well in the ‘O’ Levels, and that soccer remained important to me, but was simply not as urgent as my studies.
But the more time I spent studying, the more lost I felt. My lack of a strong foundation in the subjects meant that I could not rely on blindly memorising the more advanced concepts and doing mock paper after mock paper. Thus I took a lesson from the gym, and started doing the academic equivalent of regression exercises. I went back to the basics, and started building my foundation again. It was stressful and frustrating in the beginning, especially with the ‘O’ Levels just around the corner. I had to actively fight the intrusive thoughts of being a failure and not being good enough with positive reinforcement of my own.
I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could, and that it would take time to see an improvement, constantly making an effort to correct the negative mindsets I had. Learning to be patient with myself, and to view my mistakes and shortcomings in a positive light ended up being one of the best lessons I took away from my schooling.
Even though I did well enough in my ‘O’ Levels to join my cohort in Junior College, the year I spent ‘in exile’ turned out not to be will stay with me as my biggest turning point.. I learnt to take the setbacks and challenges I faced in my stride, learning and growing from them instead of being paralysed by my fear of failure. Looking back, I now remember my low GPA fondly as the catalyst which pushed me towards self-improvement. It was the wooden dummy I needed to become my own version of ‘Ip Man’, teaching me to emulate the discipline and attitude of a skilled martial artist, not just the flashy feats of trying doing everything at once.
As I left the classroom for the last time after collecting my results, I felt as if I was stepping out onto the peak of a mountain, the path behind me the arduous journey of the past year. Looking out from that peak, I saw my friends all stepping out onto the peaks of their own personal mountains. Some, like me, would be going onto the junior colleges of our choice. Some were going onto pursue diplomas at the polytechnics. But each of us got to where we were by supporting one another on our personal journeys, and from where we were, could now see our own paths ahead, with miles to go before we sleep.