Just one of many
Like Muhammad and Rebecca, these high achievers are the first to admit that snagging the highest scores at PSLE does not necessarily guarantee a cushy future.
Never mind that they get to pick from good secondary schools. As several discovered, being the top student can pile on the pressure.
Peggy Pao-Keerthi Pei Yu, a legal service officer, sat the PSLE in 1995. She scored 286, the highest for that year.
She told ST: “I did feel some pressure to continue performing well… Thankfully, my parents always told me that the most important thing is to try my best.”
No preferential treatment was extended to outstanding students. Livia Teo’s (pictured above) PSLE score of 290 in 1993 gave her a place in Raffles Girls’ School, after which she studied at Raffles Junior College. The former Nanyang Primary pupil was third in her cohort.
“I was initially quite excited to be labelled a top student,” said the consultant ophthalmologist in an interview with ST.
“But the excitement soon wore off when I started secondary school, where there were many new challenges like making friends and adjusting to a new environment.”
“The PSLE might seem like the most important thing when you are 12,” she added, “but people will soon forget your score. By the time I entered JC, everyone had forgotten about the PSLE. And it definitely did not come up at my job interview.”
Academic achievement was not always a breeze. Rebecca said that getting into medical school was especially tough. The RGS and Raffles Institution alumna had failed her chemistry preliminary paper a month before the ‘A’ levels.
“It made me more determined to work hard,” she shared with ST. “Things definitely don’t come easy to me. There are times when I have found my studies difficult, but in those instances, I have taken my time to understand things and have never been afraid to ask for help.”
Being a top scorer have encouraged some top pupils to take a road less travelled. Many have gone on to be civil servants, lawyers and business consultants but not Bjorn Lee Varella.
The top Eurasian pupil in 2006 with a score of 270, he is a second-year art history student at Columbia University. The Maris Stella High and RI alumnus wants to work as a performance artist and curator in Singapore after graduation.
As he told ST: “I am probably one of the more striking examples of someone who has pursued an unconventional path in the arts.”