Students have differing views about the recent changes to the STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia) format. Some find it appealing while others think otherwise. What was once very much like the A-Levels, a course based around an externally assessed final examination, the STPM is now more akin to pre-university programmes such as the South Australian Matriculation (SAM).
The STPM's new assessment system revolves around continuous school-based assessments and centralised examinations which can be re-taken to improve grades.
Even though the ratio between school-based assessments and examinations is between 20 to 40 per cent and 60 to 80 per cent unlike SAM's 70 per cent college-based assessments and 30 per cent external examinations, it is still seen as a welcome change by many students and teachers.
"As someone who is thinking about sitting for the STPM, this is good news for me. At least now I won't be 'pigeon-holed' into studying for one huge exam.
"Instead of cramming whole text books into my head for final exams, I will be able to focus and score on the tests spread across the one and a half years," said Neda Nejim Al-Asedi, 16, from SMK Assunta on Stuff@school's Facebook page.
She added that the changes were a great move that would help reduce and spread out the stress levels of STPM students a little bit.
Another student who thinks the changes to the STPM are for the better is Tan Hui Jin, 19, from SMK Taman Connaught who said she never considered Form Six as a pre-university option.
"I never thought about it, but the new format is definitely better for the students, as it is no longer entirely exam oriented.
"The assignments and projects under the school-based assessments will help them develop much needed soft skills through presentations and group discussions," she said explaining that students need to be all rounders and well balanced.
Hui Jin elaborated that the new format will help students with their communication and interpersonal skills which are essential in the working world.
"What is the point of acquiring deep knowledge in any field if you can't communicate, express and apply what you learn?" she added.
But to many students, the new format is untested and there are already many longstanding reasons why they are not keen on taking the exam. "New format, new challenges, sounds tempting to me. Seems a whole lot easier than the previous format. However, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon just yet.
"I want to see the learning outcomes of this new format. If it produces better students and results, perhaps I'll take up STPM," posted Syasya Aqilah Abu Bakar, 16, from SMK (P) Methodist Ipoh who has a year to go before deciding whether or not the STPM is for her.
SMJK (C) Yu Hua student Darren Koh, 16, said in his post that he finds the STPM changes really convincing, but he would like some solid evidence first before he decides to take it up.
"Lets see the results of the STPM with the new format, hopefully it will be better. Lenient assessments equals less stress which means healthier students," he said adding that the changes to the STPM did make it more appealing.
Darren continued in his post that he would definitely consider it as an option after he is done with his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
For SMK (P) Sri Aman student B. Jeetha, who cried tears of joy after scoring 10 straight A's in her SPM, the STPM is a risky option she is not willing to take.
"I'm afraid I can't cope with it, even with the changes. I want to take up accountancy and if I take the STPM I will have to enter the Arts stream.
"I am a Science stream student and I would be treading on unfamiliar ground if I go into the Arts stream just to pursue accountancy," she said.
She described that it would be easier to pursue a diploma or other accountancy courses than to sit for all the STPM papers. "Plus the time it takes to finish programmes or courses other than the STPM tend to be faster, which is much more convenient for me," she explained.
B. Jeetha added that she is currently busy looking for a scholarship to further her studies as her mother is a single parent.
Catherine Yee, also a Sri Aman alumni, now a Sunway University A-levels student said she would not consider taking the STPM even after the changes because she believes the syllabus would still be as hard as it used to be.
"I think even with the change in assessment systems and structure, the syllabus will still be harder than most other pre-university courses out there.
"Unless they change the syllabus itself, I believe it is still harder than the A-levels," she said.
After celebrating her straight A's success in the SPM, Siti Diyana also disclosed the fact that she did not want to pursue the STPM, but for simpler reasons.
"I don't want to go back to school. I don't want to put on a uniform anymore, I think I'm quite done with that," she quipped.
She added that she did not think the STPM is too much to handle and with the new format it would definitely relieve the burden of students.
Naysayers and skeptics aside, STPM students who sat or are sitting for the old the exam in its old format think the changes are a boon. Shakthswary Raja, 19, from SMK Cochrane explains.
"I'm jealous of my juniors who will be sitting for the new STPM. My teacher gave me a glimpse of what it's like, and I love it.
"It lightens the burden of the student and spreads it out across the STPM's study duration. This in turn reduces the amount stress students go through," she said.
Perhaps the most colourful comment on the Stuff@school's facebook STPM thread comes from Celine Wu.
The 17-year-old from SMJK (C) P.Pinang who like Syasya Aqilah, found STPM to be a tempting option with the new format, said that she also had her doubts.
"I get the feeling that the first batch of STPM students using the new format will be viewed as an experimental batch to see if the format works.
"So even if I do decide to take the STPM, it will be in the second batch of students after the quality of the certificate under the new format has been confirmed," she said.