How I Ended Up in University College London (Part 1)

Today I came across this article. It talked about how University College London beat Oxford for the 4th ranked university in the world. I was surprised but happy… so happy that I shared it with my fellow ex-uni mates and they’re all celebrating it too.

That article brought me back to many many years back thinking about how I ended up in UCL… and the struggles I had in college.

After I finished Form 5 I did my A-Levels. For the first time in my life I had to pick what I wanted to study in university for real and I guess I settled for Economics. Why? Because I guess I kinda liked Economics in A-levels… I enjoyed it.

After I knew what I wanted to study, I had to decide on where. I had initially wanted to study in the US but my parents only agreed to send me if I got into top top universities there. Universities that they would have heard of before. That means MIT, Stanford, Harvard and the likes. Even Duke, Brown, University of Chicago, Northwestern and colleges like that which were top education institutions in their own right wouldn’t pass the test. If I didn’t make any of these then my parents wouldn’t send me. They would send me instead to Australia.

So I studied for my SATs and I studied for quite a while but as I started my A-levels something else hit me. Mathematics. You see…. in school I had never been really good at mathematics. So I didn’t opt to take add maths. I did however still get my A1 in modern mathematics but that’s just modern maths.

Then I went to A-levels and I took mathematics because it was an important subject to take in order to get admitted into a good university. I remember my first lesson of mathematics at A-levels. We were doing differentiation and the lecturer Miss J was teaching as if it was something we should have already known. I was clueless.  I was like.. wtf is differentiation? I didn’t study that in modern maths.

At the end of the lesson I went up to Miss J and told her that I didn’t do add maths in school. She then asked me to drop mathematics in A-levels because she said I would find it way too difficult.

I considered it but I decided not to do it. I decided that even though I was bad in mathematics I would work hard and got my A. My parents supported me by getting me a really good mathematics teacher named Jahn.

When I told Miss J that I wasn’t going to drop mathematics though she literally just said “Why? You’re going to fail… I’m telling you”. I didn’t want to believe her so I went on ahead with it anyway.

I spent my entire A-levels struggling with Mathematics. I spent about 70% of my time studying on Mathematics and the remaining 30% on the other subjects I was doing… which to me weren’t even remotely as difficult as mathematics.

I remember one trial exam we did. Miss J failed like half the class with the highest scoring one getting only 76. I ended up with a score of 58… which relative to a lot of my friends and the rest of my class was considered good. When she passed me in the hallway one day, Miss J said “I’m really surprised you passed your test. Not bad… not bad”.

It was obvious to me by then what kind of teacher Miss J was. She’s embraced and celebrated the gifted students who were good at the subject she taught, but she discouraged, demotivated and was impatient with the students who were slow. I was one of them slow students so whenever I asked her for help she got very agitated very quickly if I didn’t catch something fast enough. The top students in the class would say Miss J was a good teacher… but I disagreed. It was then that I learned what a good teacher really meant. A good teacher isn’t the one that helps top students score good marks. They’re going to score good marks anyway with or without your teaching help. A good teacher is the one who can find the struggling students and turn them to A students.

After 1 and a half years, the finals grades came in and I had gotten an A for Mathematics. I proudly met Miss J one day in Midvalley and told her that I had gotten an A. She said “I always knew you would get an A”. I just smiled back at her because I didn’t want to put her on the spot or anything. Looking back now though I feel like I should’ve said something. I should have told her how my A had nothing to do with her and if anything she had made it harder for me to get an A with all the confidence issues she gave me. Maybe I should have told her that.. so she wouldn’t do the same to any other student. But alas… I didn’t. I walked away… and I have never seen her since.

I realize this blog entry already seems pretty long so I’m going to split it into a part 2 for the next entry. So to be continued….

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  • Thien Sing. Tan

    Hey Timothy , I’m 17 this year which is facing the most important examination(SPM) for now . So after I read your post about your life in uni which is having difficulties in maths subject , you motivated me by telling me that hard work pays off . So I’m gonna study hard for my weakest subject (add maths )which i never pass b4 . Thank you so much ! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it a great feeling proving people (especially teachers) that you can do what they think you can’t? I faced the same thing as you before and I am a teacher today. I’ve to say though, I am thankful for being an under average student because that makes me a good teacher today (self praise or what lol but I knw myself lar n I honestly know my own value as a teacher from the sparkly eyes I’ve seen) I feel for my students because I was once a slow learner. And every time before I give out to them, I’ll hold back, remind myself of my past, how I wished to be taught and that anger will disappear automatically. So, bad things/people aren’t always bad for us eh? 🙂

  • Maxine

    Good post, Tim (as always)! Ahhh.. Hahah! You and Maths never got along back then! I remember when you used to grumble that you failed Maths but did well in all the other subjects. But see where you are now! Hard work definitely pays off. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    in Singapore, we call it ‘O’ levels. i have been getting F9 for my math since i entered secondary school. but one teacher didn’t give up on me during my 3rd year. even if i get a D7 (40/100) he still praised me saying i have improved and to keep up my good work. My final year teacher… instead of helping much. she just treat me as non-existence in class. that was when i know, i need to get a good tuition teacher. and after my O lvls result is out, my class had 1 person who failed math. she kept thinking it was me. and when i showed her my results i got a B3, she told me “i was surprised you pass” thank god she didn’t claim credits or else i would have snapped at her.rn

  • Vy

    Oooo Add Maths…The horror of studying it in the first few months in F4. However, turned to love it at F5! Memories…

  • Anonymous

    did you get kikkie tan for econs?

  • Anonymous

    kimmie tan

  • Anonymous

    I am in the exact situation as you are in! I am currently doing A levels and I have a math teacher who told me I would get a D. So I got a good tutor who’s doing a wonderful job. Really could identify myself with this post 🙂 and it feels good knowing that one person bringing down your confidence is such a minior problem cause it seems so big to me now.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Jahn Cheah eh? I just finished A-levels and was from HELP too. Now having trouble deciding what to do for degree, haha.

  • Anonymous

    I remembered once my high school teacher would call my friends and i rotten apples. We used to be in second class. We got into the first class the following year and we scored straight A’s. And i really don’t like how she called us rotten apples.

  • Anonymous

    Hello Tim!nnI’m a avid blog reader of yours.I just want to say thank you for always encouraging me to do my best and encouraging me that with handwork,things would always be made possible.I aspire to be a medical student and sometimes when I feel like I would not be able to go to medical school,because I only had average grades,I read your blog and realize that hey,successful people worked very hard for their goals too.I am always failing Maths like you,but I believe,if I really work hard to study Maths,I would be able to go to medical school,graduate and work as a doctor.That is always something that keeps me going.Thank you for always being so inspiring:)