From scoring 217 points in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to now a surgeon, Dr Jay Lim, Associate Consultant, Department of Urology, is a firm believer and fine example that grades do not determine one’s future. The father of three young children shares with LighterNotes his learning philosophy.


1. What were you like as a kid?

I was the street-smart type who had no interest in school. After primary 1, I was transferred from a well-known primary school to join my elder brother in Fowlie Primary School (now closed) as I didn’t do well. My teachers often complained to him about me and asked to see my parents. My brother, by the way, works in SGH too!

2. Did you have tuition or attend enrichment classes?

Oh yes! My parents sent me to the fiercest teacher they could find. My primary school years were packed with tuition, and being ‘hantam’ by the tuition teacher was a norm. That probably resulted in my dislike for school work even more. 

3. Did you or your parents set a target for your PSLE?

They actually made me choose a top tier secondary school before PSLE. For that, I kind of became a laughing stock in school. 

4. How did you feel when you got your PSLE score of 217? What did your parents say?

Honestly, it’s just a number and I wasn’t worried, because I disliked school and exams anyway. My parents said nothing – it was like they had given up on me. But they still scrambled to find me what they thought was a more decent school than the one I was allocated to. They eventually got me a place in Manjusri Secondary School. The teachers were caring, dedicated and encouraging, and taught me well. 

5. What was the turning point that inspired you to want to do better in school?

I don’t think there was one because I was never motivated to do better in school, but I learnt that the best way to get out of exams or any tests is to do it well once. I also really enjoyed learning outside of the classroom, and was heavily involved in volunteer work, the student council and other extracurricular activities.  

6. How did you fare for GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? Which medical school did you attend?

I scrapped through my O levels, and by the time I did my A levels I felt strongly that the local education system was inadequate in preparing us for life, and tried to learn much more outside school. I applied for overseas medical school after national service as it was a straightforward way to prove the point that success is beyond just grades. I aced the interview which was focused on non-academic areas and was accepted into Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne. However, my parents wanted me to pursue a local degree first, which I did. I was then accepted by the Graduate Medical Programme of University of Sydney; bought my ticket and off I went. 

7. Tell us a bit about what medical school was like for you. Did you study?

I am not book smart and had to work really hard to survive medical school. The good thing about graduate medical school is that you meet people from diverse backgrounds. The discussions were often dynamic as a result of the differing viewpoints. It made me realise that medicine is only a small part of clinical management. 

8. You rejected a cookie cutter education yet actively sought knowledge in areas you were interested in. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages you have over your peers as a result of this?

There is no doubt that my peers are the nation’s crème de la crème and I have the privilege of working with the smartest and most caring people. That in itself is one huge advantage. But the experience that I had beyond classroom, and time spent brushing up my dialects with the uncles and ah bengs, really helped me connect better with my patients. 

9. You took a little bit of a detour in your journey to become a doctor. Is there anything you would do differently if given the opportunity to do it all over again? Would you have studied much harder right from the beginning?

Honestly, the detour made me appreciate where I am now even more. Having dealt with failures and being stereotyped, I emerged stronger. Studying harder probably wouldn’t have been the solution. We all learn differently.

10. What is your advice for our colleagues whose kids are taking the PSLE this year?

Parents tend to compare grades, because it is easy to compare. But my advice to them is that classroom learning makes up only 5 per cent of what matters in life. The remaining 95 per cent such as EQ, upbringing, character building, imparting of values, etc., are equally important. Doing poorly in one aspect does not define our children. We love them for who they are and not what they may potentially become.

I’ve also learnt from my own experience, not to put my kids into the rat race. As parents, it is our job to find out what makes them tick since each kid is different. I let my children choose their own activities and often remind them about determination, perseverance and resilience. And I refuse any kind of examinations or tests in whichever activities they do. 

11. What are your expectations for your own children who are taking PSLE in years to come?

I want them to try their best no matter what they choose to do in life. Passing PSLE will be sufficient. While paper qualifications are important, it is the 95 per cent that will ensure they do well in life long after we are gone.

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