The baccalaureate, or Grade 12 examination, has become a rite of passage for all Cambodian youths, especially those who intend to continue their education afterwards. The Post spoke with three students who took the exam last year and earned “A” grade to find out how they prepared for it and their thoughts on the process.

Long Sokunliza from Phnom Penh said she started out by making commitments to planning and scheduling study activities and then stuck with it in order to achieve an “A” grade on her exam.

Similarly, Much Laksmy, a young person from Prey Veng province, said he made a six-point plan by setting goals and missions to achieve them while maintaining awareness about his commitments, sticking to a schedule and not skipping homework.

Meanwhile, Ros Soklot, another grade “A” student from Kampong Cham province, focused on filling in the gaps of knowledge that weren’t covered in his classes and allocating time each week in his study schedule for sports and entertainment as reward for his hard work.

These three students all did well enough on the exam to be among the 1,753 Grade A students for the academic school year 2020-2021.

Senior year superstars

A student of Hun Sen Borey 100 Khnang High School, Long Sokunliza earned an “A” grade along with two other schoolmates among 441 candidates attending grade 12 there in 2021. She said their preparations for it began much earlier.

“I started thinking about it in grade 10, with teachers advising me that if I wanted to get an ‘A’ I should take a hard science course, not a social sciences one. From grade 10 onwards I studied hard and never fell out of the top 10 in my class,” Sokunliza, now 19, told The Post.

Before entering grade 12, Sokunliza began watching videos of seniors celebrating after finding out they had gotten an “A” on the exam and she set her goals by first asking herself why it was important to her to do well on the test.

“If you want an ‘A’ you must earn it through preparation is what I kept telling myself,” Sokunliza said.

Sokunliza was extensive in her planning. She wrote a separate study plan for each of the seven subjects on the exam and set targets for herself on a schedule for her reading and other studying.

She said she just kept repeating to herself that she must become an “A” grade student and being thankful for her teachers and her parents who taught her and supported her in her studies.

“It’s funny. I would always say these words, especially when riding a motorcycle, and sometimes I’d stick these words on the walls of the house and read along,” said Sokunilza.

She recommends that students make a very detailed schedule that covers things daily, weekly, monthly and annually if possible. But any long term schedule then has to be broken down into a daily one ultimately and they must follow it and also take the initiative with their learning and not wait for a teacher or tutor to tell them what to do.

Much Laksmy is another grade “A” student along with five of her schoolmates – all of them female students – from Hun Sen Kampong Popil High School in Prey Veng province’s Pea Reang district.

Laksmy focused on keeping track of what she was doing so she didn’t skip anything or waste time going over the same material more than necessary so she kept a study diary in a notebook that logged all of her activities.

She said that students needed to be honest with themselves about the level of their academic skills in order to try to correct their shortcomings.

Laksmy, who now attends the CEO Institute, said that it boils down to the personal commitment of the individual student along with the level of self-confidence they have because they’ll need to be able to self-direct and self-motivate their studies in most cases.

“I would make my schedule based on my actual abilities and for each lesson I would rate myself as strong, medium or weak before allocating time to do it. You also have to pay attention to your health because it affects concentration, but they should find their optimal time for memorising lessons quickly and be sure to use that part of the day to study,” she said.

Laksmy, who also works at the Team Idol programme, added that some students were not interested in doing the homework assignments or studying and the teachers generally interpreted a student’s effort level as being the same as the student’s actual ability.

She said students must not wait until it’s close to exam day and then try to study everything all at once in a rush, rather they must begin the process at the beginning of grade 12 at minimum and try to do their best to focus while in class.

Ros Soklot, a grade “A” student along with three schoolmates from Hun Sen Chamkar Leu High School in Kampong Cham province, recalls that the lessons taught in class were often not well understood by anyone, so his solution was to note the general topic and keywords and clarify things on his own outside of class.

Soklot said he liked to study in a group with less gifted or focused students so that he could explain things to them because he found that doing so actually increased his capacities greatly. When he studied with the other top students all of them were too clever to require any explanations and he preferred the interactive style of study that came with tutoring others.

“I didn’t stress out too much about studying. I spared some time to play football or sit down with friends, to refresh my brain regularly. I used to try to study the whole week, but it made me bored and unhappy and it showed in my results,” he said.

Soklot, now a freshman year student at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, said he would spend Wednesday and Thursday playing sports during the day with some studying at night and the rest of the week.

Countdown to exam day

Laksmy shared her experiences preparing for the exam as it approached and said she hoped it would benefit other senior year students.

She focused on testing her ability to recall what she had already studied through brief lessons using techniques like flash cards and she would time them so she didn’t cut them short or go too long.

She recommends reducing “extra class” studying with their teacher – usually for a fee – and just using the time to study on their own if they can, while also paying attention to their health, diet, sleep and exercise.

“At this point, with the exam coming up, I’m sure a lot of students are feeling nervous. But they shouldn’t let their feelings confuse them. Just study according to their schedule and think positively. Have some fun if you can, but don’t force yourself to,” she said.

Soklot spent a few days relaxing before the exam day. He recommends that anyone who isn’t as prepared as they should be try to review some core lessons if they feel uncertain about them, but don’t try to start from page one with no time left to cover the material.

Sokunliza, who earned two university scholarships and is studying human resources, international relations and business management at the National Institute of Business, pointed out that a lot of what it takes to be successful on the diploma exam are the same things that it takes to succeed at anything: Devoting time to it, planning how to use that time, making your best effort and having a positive attitude.

“Self help! The reason they have been studying for 12 years has now arrived and they have to do their very best or they won’t be getting the best grade,” she said.