Cass Shan makes an impassioned case against the STPM.

More than a decade ago, when faced with the possibility of opting to sit for STPM or go to a private college, I immediately decided to opt for private college.

It’s not because STPM is tough (possibly the toughest examination in the world) but because STPM is institutionalised racism designed to weed out bright non-Malay-Muslims out of a chance at tertiary education at a public university.

That was my views over a decade ago, and I’m amazed that no one has called for the STPM to be repealed until now, what with the brouhaha over lack of meritocracy.

Even then, I warned my friends thinking of taking up STPM, telling them to avoid it like cancer. They ignored my advice and consequently felt the brunt faced by these students making the news now.

The fact that Malays get to sit for easier university qualification through matriculation programs is already glaring evidence. You don’t exactly see many non-Malays sitting for STPM, and for good reason. This has always been the way the Education Department flush out otherwise equally good students from a fair chance at a place in public universities. This has been obvious for a long time.

Otherwise, why not allow non-Malays to take up matriculation courses at public universities?

On top of that, that, the STPM syllabus is a burden to students.

The A-levels is a system used almost worldwide and recognised most anywhere. Cambridge offers a good A-levels option that encourages critical thinking too.

Are we actually supposed to believe that our very own STPM better equips our students than Cambridge’s A-levels? Who are we kidding?

Pre-university qualification should be standardised in Malaysia, especially when it comes to gaining entry into local universities. In fact, the STPM exams simply encourages the memorising and regurgitating of information – potentially creating more drones in Malaysia. On the other hand, proven pre-university qualification such as the Cambridge A-levels encourages critical thinking skills that will help develop better students and hence, better graduates.

The Education Department is merely using cosmetics to cover up institutionalised racism for years on end and this has to stop now.

We can go on and on about giving top students places in public universities, but even that doesn’t solve the problem as we only create more drones in public universities (let’s not forget the quality of our graduates isn’t exactly remarkable). MCA and MIC yelling for quota systems to be reinstated or even pushing to get all straight-A students into public university won’t solve the problem, which is that the STPM exams itself is a problematic exam, wrought with the wrong learning techniques to induce skilled memorisers rather than thinkers.

What we should do is embrace the A-Levels exams as the universal university entry requirement, followed by interviews for competitive subjects like medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.

I don’t know about you, but how many people say that their passion is to look into people’s oral orifices day in and day out and attacking cavities? My guess is not many. The rest are just gunning for prestige, money and perceived stature… especially if studying medicine becomes out of reach.

How many people get driven into medicine by their parents? My guess is many. That’s not reason enough to get into a course in medicine regardless of exams results.

So for all that whining about institutionalised racism, I have this to say: “It’s been going on for years and we allow it to take place when we open-heartedly walk into an STPM course”.

While I know that we are losing out on some potential talents, these applicants are already aware of this institutionalised racism before they agreed to take on the mammoth task that is getting into public  universities using the STPM method. In some ways, they asked for it — if I were to be kinder, I’d say they should have expected it.

But then again,  we always know that you win some, you lose some. It’s just part of the game of life.

Featured image is from

Cass likes coffee. She equates politics to drinking coffee. Too much will keep you awake. You need to sweeten it yourself or else it will taste bitter. But it's also addictive if you drink it frequently.

20 replies on “Get Rid of STPM!”


    I wrote a really long comment on how I nod my head in agreement with Ms. Cass but it somehow, disappeared. So I gave up and decided, "Oh hey, look! A Link to the page of a student taking the brand spanking new STPM examinations! Lets link that up!" because I have read so many comments about the system which are better applicable to the defense of the older version of the STPM.

    This wonderful person up there will probably give you a better illustration of what's going on today because the system of the yesteryear, is gone. It's a different story now. One that I and him happen to be a part of. Please do read if you are interested in having a semi better understanding of what is going on.
    I have got some textbooks to burn into my memory.

    Have a good life everyone.

  2. I have written solutions to poorer students who think they have no options but to take STPM which should be published sometime later.

  3. I agree with Pink Cup Cake.

    If you have not taken STPM, how can you trash it? Yes, maybe STPM students find it hard to go to public university and STPM is just a method to weed out the non-malays from entering public university but you cannot say that STPM should be abolished.

    On what grounds?
    Because of racism?

    STPM still gives a chance for poor students to get a pre-university education. And if poor students do well in their STPM, they have a chance for scholarships and the ability to apply universities all over the world.

    STPM is still a valid pre-university course. And it does help.

    Not everyone can afford foundation or A-levels.

    As for racism, well, I believe that it's better to look past it. Yes, it's happening. But we have to deal with it the best way we know how.
    But abolishing STPM or telling people not to take STPM even though it's their only option left, isn't quite fair to the poorer students.

  4. Dear c57k,
    I agree that there is institutionalized racism. Which is what I mentioned in the article. But to hope a piece of writing can tear down the racism that exist is pretty pathetic. So, Instead I focused on the STPM itself, urging students NOT to take part in institutionalised racism.

  5. I fully agree that there should only be one pre-U system for all Malaysians. It is fair to everyone and it promotes better interactions between all students. It's irony that the government is unhappy about interactions between students from different races yet promotes a system that segregates our students.

  6. Dear Cass Shen,

    After reading your wall of text, If I could only say this, the fact that you went to a private institution has already invalidated grounds for you to do the following:

    1. To say that STPM is all about memorizing and regurgitation of information. Sorry but I have to say this – If you have never experienced the STPM process, how could you trash talk about STPM degrading its status. You do not possess any ‘locus standi’ to do so. Even if it is what you heard, maybe you should research deeper into to verify those unfounded claims. Maybe you should include some expert evidence or some valid research done by educationist to substantiate your unfounded claims.

    2. To propose the abolishment of STPM.

    Come on, you gave up in the system at the very beginning by deciding to go straight to college and now suddenly you talk about getting rid of STPM? wow… just wow… Do you know what I smell here? burnt smell of a bias mind.

    If I could just answer one of your rhetorical questions in your article, then proceed to whether to abolish STPM:

    Q: Are we actually supposed to belief that our very own STPM better equips our students than Cambridge’s A-levels?

    A: Why not? Are you oblivious to the fact that many foreign universities (Harvard and NUS for example) accept STPM results for their intake application? Are you trying to convince everyone that STPM could never match A-levels? Awww.. I wonder what made you cultivate such prejudice in the first place.

    I am not going to entertain your racism claims, as I do not intend to dwell into matters (quota system) which are enshrined in our constitution and approved by our founding fathers. So if you have problem with it, blame it on your founding fathers. nuff said. p/s:

    Just sayin…Your journalistic endeavor would have been better received if you are actually a student who fought his/her battle in STPM and struggled the crap out of it. To me, you just sound like a child to a family whom can afford to send their kids to private colleges/universities, whining on how unfair is the system when you have not even attempted to work your way through the system. Therefore, for the simple reasons above, your arguments shall be invalidated on ground of bias and partiality.

    1. '…(quota system) which are enshrined in our constitution and approved by our founding fathers. So if you have problem with it, blame it on your founding fathers. nuff said.'

      This is a REAL cheap shot!

      Do u realise that there was a time cap on this clause. 15 yrs, to be precise. In fact ALL NEP clauses have this time cap, as envisaged by one of its architect, Tun Dr Ismail.

      So, it's indeed EASY to blame it on the founding fathers. The founding fathers sat the initiative & WE allows those initiatives to be abused, for whatever reasons!!!!

      So now, our children r facing the crunches & yet u still want to put blame on others????

      Perhaps, u r REALLY growing up with cup cake, the pinky type. Sort like Marie Antoinette of the let-them-eat-cake-instead-fame?, yes?

      Truth to be spoken, both Cass Shen & u, need a BIG reality check! Go get real!!!

      STPM/CAL/UEC etc etc r not he issue – the pink elephant, that everyone of u, refused to see& roaming in the tiny chinese shop, is the deeply ingrained manipulated dislocations of our educational system to favour one race.

      Get real & hit THIS target!!

  7. Lol have you even done STPM? It is on par with if not more challenging than CAL. And it's not about memorisation.
    You're either very misinformed, or just had the intention to misinform.

    Edit: Btw that said, yes, the matrics/stpm double standard is clear, disgusting, institutionalised racism. On that we can all agree.

  8. Dead Cass Shan

    I usually don’t comment back on pieces I’ve read online regardless of how disturbing the viewpoints are because I often expect someone else will find their way to the article and bring up a decent argument. However so, upon reading your piece, I felt compelled to share my views as well, not because I disagree with everything you say, but I accept that you cannot have come from both the CAL and STPM to provide a non-biased first hand view of both streams.

    I am a product of the STPM syllabus and examination (in my humble opinion, both do not refer to the same thing), and I would like to share my take here.

    You are right to believe that STPM is somewhat “designed to weed out bright non-Malay-Muslims”. It’s true that the brightest never make it into public institutions, and even if they are offered a place, it’s rarely for a course of their choice. There is no argument about the Matriculation programme catering for second-class minds (those not willing to participate in real competition) and I have seen enough of their understanding/analysing capabilities in public universities to ever recommend it to a SPM leaver regardless of the free ticket in.

    Now, I find it disturbing that people would believe STPM “simply encourages the memorising and regurgitating of information”. Let’s start with the syllabus. The STPM syllabus is really wide in the sense that it is almost impossible to find a single text book that would cater to even one topic in a subject and so students have relied on more than one reference for each topic. For example, since Chemistry is divided into the Physical, Organic and Inorganic parts, we wouldn’t have three textbooks; we would have at least six for these subjects. But comparing who uses more books in which class is an idiot’s job and is not my intention. I’m merely extending on Fluffy’s point on how STPM students are not really taught the subject, but instead to learn and appreciate the information they’re given, and be open to different views.

    And I dare say that the examination does not test you on what you have learnt from the lectures or notes. It’s about applying your knowledge to answer questions with reason and acceptable logic. Mathematics or Physics was not merely about applying formulas but deriving them and understanding how it can be improved. A lot of the questions seen in the examination are not those attempted in the class. BenG is correct in noting that the ability in recognising patterns and having the understanding will help them succeed. Facts will not help you here if you firstly do not understand.

    I know my words may not carry much impact seeming that I was an STPM student and this could be deemed biased (I tried my best not to be, and in my defense, I don’t advocate for the mess that it’s become). I genuinely believed that the Malaysian education system had something to be proud of before they decided to standardise it with the Matriculation. Doing away with STPM will force the Education Dept to rethink the need for standardisation in the university intake (or how else to keep bright students from a chance at tertiary education), but for argument’s sake, why should we do so at the expense of quality?

    “The day when students prefer STPM to other private courses is the day we see our malaysian education succeed.”
    BenG, I agree with that, so thank you, because I know you don’t have a vested interest for endorsing it.

  9. U r right about STPM been the toughest exam in the world.

    It's also a known tool for the bigots, within the educational dept, to denial top grade nonMalay M'sian students for qualified entry to the public university.

    But it's also a public university entrance exam, sunsidizied by the govt & recognized throughout the world for university entrance. There r of course, many other exams that catered for the same purpose, like Cambridge 'A' level, but they r almost all privately held. That only means MONEY.

    Now, not all university entrance aspirants can afford to take these privately held exams, due to the huge cost involved.

    Even the 'cheap' Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), run by the Dong Jiao Zong, has to be held as internal exam for independent schools. Otherwise, the educational dept would force it to stop, if it's open for public!

    So under such circumstances, STPM becomes the only outlet, even though it's run on highly uneven playing field as we ALL known it!

    Unless & until the unfair educational dislocations as practices now, based on race, be completely removed, there is NO better solution.

    The current form of STPM would just have to remain as one of the symbol of our nation's discriminative policies!!!

  10. Dear Cass Shan,

    I have to agree fully with Fluffy above here. He's been through STPM and knows how it feels. For me, while I may have been through the CAL system, I had once tutored students in STPM Chem and a dash of math (reading and learning their syllabus on my own time), and let me tell you, CAL is nothing compared to STPM. Its not purely memory, heck I am even willing to argue CAL is more memory-demanding than STPM (with the latest trend of past years). Its all about working smart, only the brightest, who can note patterns fast and understand and apply it will succeed. What that is lack however, is just time, and teacher quality. If it was spread to 2 years, it would have been better, and with improved teacher quality, heck our STPM could even rival CAL.

    CAL itself is dying. Grade inflation is hugely apparent in CAL, when now you do past years 10 years ago and past years now, its nothing. Overall, it is not a sustainable solution to just jump the bandwagon called CAL (besides, that is just purely being lazy).

    The solution, should the government choose is simple (yet difficult). Your article intent of institutionalised racism in our education, particularly the split between matriculation and STPM is true. No debates, matriculation should be abolished, STPM enhanced with more time and teacher quality, with little to no reviews/changes on examinations and maybe syllabus. And also, potentially infrastructure investment for STPM only schools. The day when students prefer STPM to other private courses is the day we see our malaysian education succeed.

  11. The shameful fact is that this have been going on for decades with little protest from minority BN parties.
    When Khairi was vying for UMNO post, he stated that Bumis should ask for 60%, not 30%. In this particular case, they have 80.
    In any case, why bother trying your best to get into a university which is below par. there is no liberal thinking in local universities like in the west. That is why the west are evolving in many directions science, arts, lifestyle, music, philosophy etc) while we are stuck in a rut.

    1. Drawing on your argument on not trying to enter into a university which is below par. Not many are as privileged as you. Despite what you have written about the local universities, the education fees are subsidized, hence cheaper fees for the masses who can't afford relatively higher university fees.

  12. Thank God. Now we have only Loyar Burok. If we accept this Tanjung Rambutan idea then we will also have Mahasiawa Burok.

  13. Sorry, just to avoid any misunderstanding, by racism I meant *institutional racism* . Cheers :)

  14. Dear Cass Shan,

    Thank you for the insightful article into the racism behinds the veils of an examination.

    However with all due respect, I have to disagree with you on your preposition that STPM candidates memorize and regurgitate facts. An STPM student is like a sea lion thrown into a deep sea of information. He then gathers his strength to sieve through those facts, principles, theories and reasoning just to understand what he is learning. Subsequently, he works hard to grasp the intricate details required by the rigor of his learning and coalesce it to form a big picture.

    But wait, Sea Lion is running out of time because he only has 1 1/2 year to complete his quest for knowledge and understanding. What does this Sea Lion have to do??? He, obviously, has to figure out a way to beat time and he work smarter. He then comes face to face with a brick wall called "life" where he has to juggle his lifestyle and his future. Every decision he makes affect his conscience.

    Sea Lion is perplex. With his due diligence, he found that STPM exam questions are FUNNY; not what the usual things you see in text books. Sea Lion was ask to solve problems using what he learned. And trust him, the problems are problems. Of course, another stage of critical thinking is required, one that promotes independent studying.

    Sea Lion solve maths problems, understand concepts in physics, does experiments in chemistry, argue on economical theory etc.

    I strongly believe Sea Lion does a lot of critical thinking whilst working very hard. Trust me, STPM is not about memorizing.

    Yours truly

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