My JPA interview was held sometime in March 2013 at the Kuching State Library, Sarawak. I signed up for an engineering degree in Germany, so the course was notified beforehand to the interviewers. The entire session lasted about 4 hours, in the following order:
- Group study in English and BM + presentation
- Group interview
If I remember correctly, 30 people were present at the event, all wearing blazers, prepped about national affairs and general knowledge. I will tell you something about this interview, though: it is not much different than a day in the active corporate world. The one rule you must remember is to look good without stabbing other members in the back; stay true to it and you should do fine.
So first, we sent up our documentations (the actual requirements will be detailed pre-interview, but for me it was my cocurricular certificates and photocopies). After that, we were assigned numbers and split into groups of 5. Me included, there were 3 girls and 2 guys in the group. Sadly, excluding the single Chinese girl, every other member was introverted and reluctant to speak up at all. Me, being the outspoken type, started the introduction and promptly got everyone to tell their names (but this wasn’t an official activity).
These kids, I tell you, were conveying the “scared” sort of body language; not the fearful sort when a bear comes up at you, but the sort that other quiet nerd back in class gives during English oral examinations: hands clasped together, avoiding eye contact and having no substance in their voices. Dear reader, you absolutely cannot allow yourself to be seen this way. It will seriously boost first impressions if you prepare yourself fundamentally to speak in public without showing any fear. Keep your fists out! Don’t avoid the stares, counter them! Everyone in your group is smart, but your goal is to proclaim your enthusiasm, so preach it, brother.
The first part of the interviews had begun; we were ushered into a meeting room with a round table, several markers and a sheet of paper hung on a prop stand. We Kuchingites have no problem with shaking hands with the opposite gender, so we were all greeting the two interviewers (both women, PhD holders) before sitting down. The rules were laid out: “This is the English presentation section of the interviews. You have 15 minutes to analyse and discuss the stimuli (topic and some pictures on an A4 paper) with your teammates. Thereafter, you take turns presenting your findings to us using the materials provided. The time starts–”
Just looking at the paper in front gave me the chills. “CHILD ABUSE” was all that was written on the front, and no requests otherwise. What would they want from us? Examples, opinions or methods to counter it? OK, so there was a picture of some eye-censored child in binds or something. I told myself, if nobody makes a single order in 5 seconds, I’m going to assume leader and run the entire show. God help us.
10 seconds. No sound. Everyone was just doing their own thing, so I open my mouth and suggested to the girl beside me quite audibly: “We should totally work together on this, otherwise our presentation will be a complete mess. Do you want to do the intro?” She says “Sure!” and I go on, “OK, then, I’ll need three more positions for the effects of child abuse on families, communities and the country, as well as methods of preventing child abuse. Who’s up?”
Ideas flow like a waterfall from all sides except one boy on the far end of the table. (Dude, you want a million-dollar scholarship; nobody’ll know you’re worth it if you stay mum like that…) In the midst of all the clutter, I notice something: the interviewers were observing our discussion and marking things on the score sheet in front of them. It dawned upon me that if this kid didn’t talk, he’d get 0 for active participation. I ‘spoonfed’ him with words to say with those rhetorical sort of questions (“Do you think increasing the jail terms would scare potential evildoers?”) and got him to respond a bit. Remember: a team is only as strong as its weakest member, so if people like that show up in your group (hopefully not), work on their people skills as well.
Oh, remember that the time allocated to you before presentation assumes you have written all the stuff you need on that sheet of paper on the wall. Do not add to it during your speech, it makes you look unprepared. You could point to it, though, and it seems other people came prepared with retractable pointers which had me feeling rather jealous.
Everyone did their part, but there was a lot of reading directly from the presentation sheet. Avoid this, and remember they don’t care about your points, they want to look at you. Be spontaneous, don’t stutter. Smile!
Done. Next, came the same session in Bahasa Melayu. This was a bit harder as there was not a line of text; all we got was a picture of the national monument (our beloved Tugu Negara). Once again, I assumed leader and everyone did nicely, except for that speech impediment. Can’t be helped, though. If you’re used to English, then you need to work on your BM speaking.
We had a break in between, and my father was all questions. It was rather funny, seeing him peek through the glass and walking by just to get a glimpse of me, but for you nervous people, make sure your parents don’t do that; it makes you forget your points you had in mind. During this time, a lot of speculations were made on what sort of questions would come out, and it had us reading up on all sorts of nonsense, like PLKN’s mission, what political parties would be doing in the next half-decade, Project Iskandar et cetera. None of those ever appeared in the questions, though.
It was then time for the group interviews. We entered a smaller room with one man and one woman in the front. We were asked to introduce ourselves, with the inclusion of one cocurricular activity. This should be no problem, assuming you don’t make a blunder of it, but don’t go on and on about how awesome you were in Photography Club. Once you bore the two in front, game over. If you’ve done anything international, this really helps.
The order of questioning was reversed and we were asked one thing we would do, one innovation back for Malaysia if we obtained a degree in whichever country we chose. I heard some far-fetched ideas: “I want to find new elements, or try to mash new elements together to see if I can find new uses for them like gunpowder”, or “I want to travel to Germany to learn how to make buildings more stable”. These were PhD holders, and I didn’t know if they caught the fact that gunpowder is a sulphur compund, or that earthquakes in Germany average 3 on the Richter scale, but I didn’t have anything good to say, either. When it was my turn, I just told them about some science study I was working on (which I brought to the international level), and they were pretty impressed. Had them hammering me about chelation, ion-exchange and a lot of Chemistry-based stuff, though, which I tried to answer as best I could.
Don’t lie to them if you don’t know what you’re talking about, OK? I learnt that the embarassing way.
The second question was what change we would like to see if we were Prime Minister for a day. Among the answers given were “Fix roads to two-layer overhead systems to reduce traffic jams”, which almost got me killed when the man asked who the Works Minister was and I had no idea! (The answer at my time was Dato’ Seri Samy Vellu, by the way.) Thankfully someone else took the questions, and the ball got rolling again. I went for removing the modular system for STPM students, as I remembered my seniors who gave my school the worst results after the recent changes in the educational system.
Somehow 40 minutes had passed through the talks and there weren’t any hiccups. The man in front talked quite an earful about his career as a telecommunications engineer, layering fibre optic wires at the bottom of the ocean, but I was just too happy it was all over. I received the offer for Germany 2 months later, and I haven’t looked back once!
In a nutshell:
- Make sure your cocurricular CGPA is > 8.0 and well
- Practice not looking scared in public
- Offer to lead if given the chance
- Don’t lie if you don’t know
Best of luck, and Godspeed on this new post-SPM chapter of your life!