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Monday, November 17, 2014

An Insight into South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE International)

Wrong Pre-University Program in Malaysia: An insight into South Australian Matriculation (SAM)

Guest post by johnboston89

Many students are in a state of confusion of what Pre-U to take, after they are done with O levels / SPM / IGCSE. I was confused too, and I’d like to share my experience of choosing the wrong Pre-U after my O levels.

I made the mistake of taking the South Australian Matriculation (SAM). I chose this program because of its short duration (1 year) compared to other international pre-university programs e.g. A-Levels, International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program, etc. and also because of its percentage breakdown (70% coursework 30% exam). However, I was duped into taking this program by the internet (SACE) website. Firstly l will give a brief insight as to what the SAM program is before you consider enrolling yourself in this course. Referring to the SACE website, “The SACE International is an internationally recognised one year pre-university program. The SACE International was previously known as the South Australian Matriculation (SAM) program – the new brand is being rolled out progressively during 2014.

The SACE International is administered by the SACE Board of South Australia, an independent, statutory authority of the South Australian Government that is responsible for curriculum development and accreditation, assessment, reporting and certification for the final years of secondary education.

International acceptance of the SACE International, and its proven track record, has meant continued expansion of SACE International Schools in Asia.”

South Australian Certificate of Education SACE International South Australian Matriculation (SAM)
SACE International | South Australian Certificate of Education International

I would like to question the word ‘International’. SAM is only offered in six schools in Malaysia and one school in China. To make it more international they have now added the word International from South Australian. I think the term ‘international’ is an understatement if it’s only offered in two countries. On the other hand  A Levels and IB  is offered worldwide (understatement not withstanding). This program has been taught for more than 30 years (SACE Website) and yet it still has not expanded to other countries. To summarize, it is a local Australian program offered in South Australia that is offered to a few number of schools outside of Australia, in Malaysia and China. Just like if STPM (although more recognition than SAM) were offered outside of Malaysia, you can’t call it international. A reason for taking SAM instead of foundation (1 year) was because I was under the impression that SAM was a highly accredited international program.

First of all if you would visit the SACE website there is a link to which you can download the SACE booklet. In this booklet you will find testimonials by high achieving SAM students who got admitted to top universities in UK and US. The SACE website however failed to mention the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) score of the said students then visited the websites of the stated institution and saw the entry requirements for SAM in the University of Bristol,UK which is 98.38% – 99.29%ATAR. Other universities also have a similar requirement : 98.5 – 99.5 (Oxford University, UK) 90 - 95 ATAR (University of Lancester, UK) , 98.5 – 99.5 (University of Lancester, UK) 95 – 99.5 ATAR (Monash University, Australia and Malaysia) 85 and above ATAR (International Medical University, Malaysia).

If a comparison for the entry requirements between A levels and SAM is made, it can be seen that the requirements for SAM is ridiculously high when compared to A levels. As an example, the Psychology Degree program in IMU has a minimum entry requirement of two Es (passing two subjects in A Levels) while the ATAR requirement is 70, even for foundation it requires only CGPA 2.5, which is the pass rate for foundation. For an engineering degree in UTAR, they need two passes in A levels & 70 for SAM. For Nottingham University, Chem Eng is set at ABB with 70 ATAR. Taylor’s University 70 ATAR with CCD. When asked why the requirement for SAM is so high, to universities, they said it’s still not globally accepted as A levels, plus the curriculum only covers the basic, so they only want to take the best students of SAM.

Moreover, as for SAM you have to take 5 subjects, you need to do equally good in all the five subjects, as your ATAR will be calculated on your overall performance, not just in two or three subjects that you excelled. A single ‘C’ in any tests/lab/report or other task can bring your ATAR down significantly. That being said, you’d be compelled to study some subjects that won’t favour your further degree studies. Unlike A level where you can take subjects you are best at, and will do a great favour when you pursue your degree studies.

If you think obtaining 90+ ATAR can land you with scholarships, then you’re wrong. The truth is, universities in Australia do not usually hand out scholarships based on the ATAR score, and if they do, the score would have to be 98+. This information was acquired by visiting various university homepages and direct phone calls to the universities themselves. For local universities like IMU, the scholarship requirement is 95+ compared to ABB in A levels program.

I’ll now give you a deeper understanding on how SAM marks are obtained. 70% of coursework might sound simple and very appealing to those who prefer an alternative marking system, instead of the usual 100% exam-based. Some tests, some assignments and voila! But, to break it down concisely, the 70% coursework requires tons of summative assignments, lab report, tests, direct investigations etc. In reality, it is quite burdensome, and I speak from direct experience. There are a handful of students who are always punctual l in their work and assignments, meaning that they finish the work as soon as they get it. I, however, was not part of that minority. Most of the SAM students were rushing to complete their summative assignment (one that would be counted in their ATAR) when we had a summative test (a test that would be counted in the ATAR) the very next day.

For maths and spec maths, you just go have to give TESTS and Quizzes, and Direct Investigation, unlike for science and humanity subjects where you have to do tons of assignments and lab reports. However, it still doesn’t make the mentioned subjects easy. To make things more clear, D.I is something like you have to do investigation and write 3-4 pages essay on maths. That’s right Essay on Maths. Imagine you’re told to differentiate 3x+2 and then write 5-6 pages report on it, what would you write? Here is an example that was given to us. Hard to believe, but every year only 1-2 gets A+ on this investigation, the average grade is C that most gets.

Secondly, there are no weekends or semester break. No breaks at all for SAM students!!! When the whole university is on semester break for a month, the SAM students would be having only 1-2 weeks(highest) break. The SAM students would spend their weekends studying for their tests( be it formative or summative) in the coming week. The semester break (or any breaks, for that matter) would consist of an overload of assignments due after the break and studying for coming summative and formative tests. "You would be exposed to the university life" said my lecturers, but you can hardly find any degree students stressed out like us SAM students.

You have to do a research paper on every subject. It’s very much akin to a mini thesis paper which holds a 25% weightage out of the 70% coursework. You have to choose a topic and carry out investigative research on it  while completing other assignments alongside and not forgetting sitting for the tests. Imagine how hectic it would be. If you’re aiming for a 99.95% get ready to get all A+ for the tests, lab report, research paper basically everything. For an average student the minimum grade should be a C not C-, so if you get one C- or below like E-, the chances gets lower for you to get the minimum requirement in degree programs which is on average 70-80ATAR, unless you work very hard for the coming tests, but again the marks at the end will be unpredictable  and “moderated”.

Moderation is done in SAM. It works like to keep a consistency in the program. Let’s say you did badly for most of your tests but suddenly started to get better scores in the tests which cannot happen for SAM as consistency is maintained, so they will downgrade your mark.

At the end, after giving all the tests and submitting all the assignments, you have to sit for the public exam(held in South Australia and other SAM schools in Malaysia and China) which is in November and holds 30% of the total 100% marks. Now even if you got a perfect 30% moderation will be done, so getting bad result for the tests and the end getting the perfects score won’t give you a good score.

One more thing to know, the resources for SAM is very limited, you will have to go through ONLY study guide set by the South Australian Education Board. Those are only for tests and quizzes, but for investigation and other assignments there are no books .Whereas, in A levels, there is plenty of book to read on also plentiful of resources found online. There are YouTube channels, where the whole A level syllabus is taught for free, so if you’re not having much reliance on your lecturers, you can always use your internet as a dependent tutor.

In conclusion,

What I’ve seen is many students like me are discouraged from taking A-levels  because they think it is stressful (due to its 100% examination assessment), so most end up taking up SAM without having an abundant knowledge of it. I would suggest students to take A levels as their pre-u, as A-levels is actually quite relaxing compared to SAM but not easy when the syllabus is compared, as A level is more in-depth. If you takes SAM CONSISTENCY is must. You have to finish your assignments perfectly almost once in a week or 2 weeks. and because the duration of SAM are short, plus the number of subjects you’re required to take (5, compared to A-levels max only 4), the stress level is actually higher.

Many students especially the one who opts for engineering and medicine has moved on to do foundation  on the respective universities or a levels, as they had not met the required requirement wasting one whole year. It’s a big risk if you take SAM, and you’re sheer consistency isn’t there.

For a-levels, u can study on your own pace, and do things relaxingly. And u can choose to love yourself more by taking only 3 subjects. Even entrance into Oxford needs only 3A’s in A-levels, why punish yourself?

Whoever is doing foundation must note that foundation is local, it cannot guarantee your admission to any other universities other than the one where you’re doing the foundation. So wherever you do your foundation, make sure that’s the same university you do you undergrad in.

I made a mistake that had affected me, and I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake I did. So the choice is yours. Hope you make the right choice :)

Feel free to express your feedback on SAM, or any other Pre-U.

Criticism and appreciation are both cordially welcomed.

This post was written by johnboston89 and first published on his blog.
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  1. Thank you very much for your blog on SAM. It is very helpful. Luckily, we did not make a decision to take SAM , mainly because we read that its more towards if you're going to South Australia. I guess in that sense we're wrong in our assumptions too. No wonder wherever we looked for entrance requirements for SAM, its like they always asked for almost 100% of the scores, which we think is quite impossible to achieve and very stressful to boot.
    So thank you again for your blog ib SAM.

    1. Hi yes, as the final score is based on all the best 4 subjects combined till 2014, and from next year 5 subjects! So yes all 5 subjects you have to ace it unlike A levels where it is decided on each individual subject . :) thank you for comment too.

  2. Dear student,

    Thank You. It’s a good info. I did the same mistake with my son earlier too. Asking him to do an foundation which was not recognized.

    Sekian, terima kasih

  3. I did SAM in 2006 , I had impression Sam is easy and worth it . I was however a bit discouraged when heard take 5 subjects as I'm only best in biology and wanted to study medicine but still took sam compared to a levels at its 1 year . Takin Sam is the bbiggest mistake I made in life , I took bio chem which were my best subs n maths psychology research, I needed an atar 90+ , I even got a+ for both bio and chem but got a- for maths n research n b+ for psych , I was confident of 90+ until sace has downgraded all of our grades in moderation , I ended up with 87 atar. I was surprised and sad. I worked so hard . I went to a career counselor and told me to do a levels , I took bio chem and maths I got 3A's and was accepted into uni of Melbourne . My advice to Sam students , don't do it if the requirements is very high, you might end up not getting it.

    1. It surprises me that you didn't get the score of 90+ . You did pretty well . I'm starting to get worried now since I'm planning to take SAM.

    2. Hi I did sam in 2012 .although I got 91 atar and to be honest I wish I could withdraw it as soon as possible it was very tough. Unless you're a study-holic it's very impossible to get a very good atar

  4. Thank you so much for the info . Helps me a lot . I was planning to take SAM for this coming intake but I'm a bit worried since it has lots of poor reviews. Was it really that hard to score 80 and above ? Personally , would u prefer American Degree Transfer Program or SAM ? Hope u can help me on that .

    1. It's not that hard to get 80 above if you get b or c in ALL tests(very tough/not enough time to study unless you sleep only 4 hours ) and ASSIGNMENTS(lots of them) and both keep that score in all 5 subjects

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I really appreciate it very much as we were about to register for SAM in Taylor. This is really a good advise. We have decided not to take SAM, and considering other options. Thank you.

    1. You're most welcome.
      I just shared my opinion of SAM, and why o think it wasn't the right pre-u for me, but again it depends on what you want.

      Hope you take the right option :-)

  6. May I ask, which college were you at for SAM? 'Cause I got an offer to pursue my studies at Taylor's College, doing SAM under petronas. Is it any good?

  7. I think you are totally missing the point. It doesn't matter whether it is Taylor's college or Sunway college or any college. The problem is with the South Australian Matriculation (SAM) programme itself - its structure, assessment etc. After reading the experience shared, you can of course still proceed to take SAM, but at your own risk.

  8. Hi i wanna ask for ur opinion. is SAM and Canadian pre u similar? i know CPU grading is the same as SAM, i'm asking as in their syallbus.

  9. I am a SAM student who only have around three more weeks (7 days more to finals) before ending my SAM journey. Contrary to what you said, I personally think that SAM is a really good program, as it focuses more on producing well rounded students (a lot of tests, presentations, assignments, collaboration work), rather than students who can only memorise an entire book and sit down for a 3-hours exam and get a perfect score . SAM is more about exposing students to real life where skills such as time management, research skill and laboratory skill are as equally vital as exam results. It'd be a total lie if I say that I had never struggled in SAM, but I think that the satisfaction of being able to produce my own researches, reports, folios, are worth all the hard times. I have grown so much through SAM. And I think it is not that hard to get good grades in reports and SATs (from my experience and my friends' experiences lah. We all agree that if we were given opportunity to do pre-U one more time, we will undoubtedly choose SAM again)

    In my college, 70% of our senior last year scored ATAR above 90 and quite a number achieved above 95 and 97. A few even achieved 99. I personally think that it is a very good program, however that is only from my own personal view and experience. In terms of recognition, I do agree that SAM might not be as well recognised as A-levels and IB. But since I am pursuing my studies to Australia, that is totally fine with me :)

  10. Are the assignments/quizes/tests given after the lecturer finish every topic? Or there's a big test every end of term?

  11. What is the best college for SAM?

  12. Great article. I totlly liked it. Your entire website is great. I am a finance brokers. We got folks awesome mortgages and other commercial finance.


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