Are Malaysian exams getting easier?

The prickly issue of the overall low quality and employability of local graduates has been festering for some time, despite the record number of top Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) scorers each year.

Claims abound that examination standards have been lowered, together with the marking scheme, to purportedly churn out more straight-A students.

So, are students smarter these days or have exams become easier?

Former top scorer Fong Tze Junn told the New Sunday Times recently: "Yes, I have heard a lot of rumours about SPM, but the contention was not about the quality of the exam papers, it's more about whether the marking standards have been lowered. I have heard this since I was young and until now, I am still hearing this."

Former health minister and MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek had said in a radio interview last year that it was "so easy" for SPM graders to get an A+ grade but many employers were still disappointed with the overall quality of school leavers.

"Our standard of education has gone down south, not to the north," he said.

He cited the number of promising government-sponsored medical students who performed poorly in matriculation, despite doing well in the national exams.

He pointed out that the country might produce straight A+ students, but a survey showed that they did not live up to expectations.

The latest SPM results were released in March and it was reported that the overall achievement of students in SPM was the best in five years.

A total of 559 students scored straight A+ compared with 363 in 2010.

The same question was raised after the release of the results.

In an interview recently, Deputy Education Minister Dr Datuk Wee Ka Siong said students these days were getting more adept at answering examination questions.

"I'm sure you would agree with me that if our students go to a book fair, many would go looking for books with past year questions.

"Their ability to answer questions based on past year questions and forecast questions is very good, I must admit," said Wee.

At a glance, they could tell which revision book publisher a question came from, he added.

"They could tell if it is from Sasbadi, Pelangi or Preston. You know the questions... you only modify here and there (because) the syllabus is fixed."

Wee said the standard of examinations here was being monitored by examination agencies such as from the United Kingdom and Australia.

"Their experts have been invited to sit in our (examination) board. So, I would say the standard is recognised worldwide. But the question of whether the standard is very high or low is subjective."

Having said that, Wee admitted that the our system of education did not inculcate soft skills in students, that is, the ability to sell and promote themselves, and to communicate well.

He also acknowledged that being able to handle exam questions did not necessarily mean being able to handle problems in real life.

On the education system, Wee said: "There is much room for improvement. That's why it is being revamped."

The Malaysian Examinations Syndicate declined comment on the issue of a supposedly lowered marking scheme used in grading SPM students.

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