Like thousands of other Form Five students across the country, Nurul Syafiza Wan Shariman faced a slew of challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, from an academic year fraught with disruptions to delays in the SPM examination schedule.
On top of that, she had to help take care of her father who was diagnosed with meningitis in May.
When SPM results were released yesterday, she and her family waited in trepidation while the website loaded.
“I tried to check the education ministry’s website but it had technical problems and crashed for about 20 minutes,” she told MalaysiaNow.
“Then I tried checking through the SMS system.”
When they finally came through, the results spoke for themselves: against the odds, Syafiza had scored 9A’s.
“I was shocked beyond words,” she said.
Now 18, Nurul Syafiza had been a pure science student at SMK Aminuddin Baki in Kuala Lumpur.
Her school, along with others nationwide, was shut down during the movement control order as part of efforts to cut the spread of Covid-19.
The closures meant that the SPM examination for 2020 had to be postponed to Feb 22 this year.
Education Minister Radzi Jidin said in November that the decision was made after taking into consideration current developments which would have an effect on the exam candidates.
Syafiza, the youngest of three children, said her results came as a gift to her entire family, especially her father who had been bedridden since his health began to fail.
Since last year, her family had been depending on the insurance money from her father’s Perkeso account in order to get by. This, together with the money her brother earned at his part-time job, was just enough.
“It’s definitely hard to learn online, but my good friend helped me a lot.”
Syafiza said the long periods of school closure made it difficult to keep up with her lessons but added that she was grateful for the support she received from her friends.
“It’s definitely hard to learn online, especially Additional Mathematics. But my good friend helped me a lot. Any time I had trouble understanding something, I asked her,” she said.
She and her friends were only able to attend school until March last year. After that, the first MCO was declared and schools were closed until June. After they reopened, she and her classmates went back for face-to-face classes until October.
“After October, we didn’t go back to school at all until early this year,” she said.
“So we were rushing to finish the syllabus. For example, 70% of our Chemistry subject was taught only online.”
During the periods of school closure, her class had their lessons through Google Meet, Google Classroom and Zoom.
Two months before SPM, she buckled down to begin studying in earnest.
“My daily routine would begin at 7.30am,” she said. “I’d study together with my friends until noon, then I’d take a break before continuing until evening.
“At night, I would study until 11pm or midnight.”
She said one of the challenges of sitting for an exam during the pandemic was communicating with her friends before taking the test.
Physical distancing measures meant they would often have to raise their voices in order to be heard by one another.
“It was like we had to shout just to discuss things with each other,” she said.
With 9A’s under her belt, she is now ready to move on towards her goal of becoming an architect one day.
Her advice for students who will be taking SPM in the days to come is to jot down their own notes during classes to help them stay focused, especially if lessons are held online.
She also cautions against getting distracted by mobile phones or the internet.
“I only looked at my phone for 10 minutes every few hours as a treat for myself,” she said.