A former pupil of Shalom Academy, Nsukka, Enugu State, Chinecherem Cynthia Ali, who shocked many people after getting A grade in all the subjects she took in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination has shared the secret to her success.
In this interview with Toluwani Eniola of Punch, Cynthia revealed what and how she was able to achieve such a wonderful feat.
Please introduce yourself.
I hail from Umuagama community in Enugu State. I am the third of eight children. I am 18 years old. I attended Shalom Academy in Nsukka, Enugu State. My parents are not so rich but they gave me adequate care. My dad is a teacher. He also has a poultry farm. My mother works as a medical lab scientist in a district hospital.
You became the first pupil in your school to earn A grade in all the subjects you sat for in WASSCE. What motivated you to achieve the feat?
While I was in school, my priority was to make a wonderful result. I had clarity of purpose in what I wanted to achieve. My elder brother was the chief motivator. He made six As in his WASSCE last year. He told me I could do better than he did. He planted that goal to surpass his feat in me. Whenever I had a problem with my studies, he was always around to help me out. He practically taught me the techniques to excel in the subjects. He prepared my mind about the syllabus in SS3, who the teachers were and what would enable me to get the best from each of them.
He told me I needed to put in extra efforts in whatever I was doing. On my first day in school, when I got to SS1, my chemistry teacher called me and told me certain things about my goal. He told me no one had ever made nine As in the school. He said he heard an inner voice that I could break the record. I was just laughing when he told me. I had a note which I titled, “My future WASSCE results.”
I wrote down my results on the note, filling As across all the subjects I was to sit for. I prayed to God to help me achieve the goal. My friends who saw the note said I was going crazy. But I told God to help me. Another teacher that helped me a great deal was my biology teacher. She prepared a study timetable for me to follow. She told me to study at least two hours at a stretch. The two teachers (chemistry and biology) told me my goal was achievable.
Have you always had an excellent result like this?
By God grace, I have always excelled in my studies. My results were always among the best.
What did you say when you saw your outstanding result?
I was overwhelmed with joy. It was a record-breaking result because no one had ever made that result in my school. On that day, I was sleeping. My brother came to wake me up and broke the news. When I saw it, I thought I was dreaming.
How many hours did you study daily?
In our school, we were mandated to observe our preparatory classes for day students. From 2.30pm to 4pm, I would go home to cook and do other things I needed to do till around 7pm. From 7pm till 10pm, I was always reading my books daily. Sometimes, I could set aside five or six hours to read.
How did you cope with the distractions from boys in school?
I never had a boyfriend. One thing I learnt along the line was that once one is serious with one’s studies, it will be difficult for boys to approach one for a relationship. When I was in SS1, one day I entered the class. There was this male classmate of mine who was always disturbing me. I was reading my book. We had just finished the computer practical. Others were discussing while I was reading my book. Then the boy said, “What’s the problem with you? Is it that you cannot rest, at least talk to people.”
He said I didn’t need to be reading every time. I was able to overcome the pressures of male pupils because I didn’t entertain any unserious talks. They knew me for that so they avoided me. Also, I was a day student, so I spent most of my time in class. We had preparatory classes by 4pm so I was always at home when I was not in school. This made it impossible for any boy to approach me. Maybe if I was in the boarding school, it would have been a different story. I am a quiet girl. Because I rarely had time to chat with others, they said I was a proud girl. But I taught a few of my classmates in my spare time.
What subject was the most challenging for you and how did you overcome it?
I think physics posed the greatest challenge. I always found it hard comprehending the subject. The situation changed when I got to SS3. Our physics teacher always gave us tests every week. If you failed the test, he would cane you. I was afraid of his cane. I then made up my mind to study hard. Along the line, I realised that physics was not even as difficult as I thought. Mathematics was easy for me. God was just helping me at every stage. I found out that I understood what I was taught quickly. We had five mathematics teachers. While in school, mathematics was divided into five areas. We had separate teachers for arithmetic, algebra, statistics, geometry and vector. Each of these subjects was taught separately. The way mathematics was split into five areas really helped me to have a thorough understanding of the subject. I usually excelled in my mathematics examinations even without studying. I love the subject so much.
How did you feel meeting the Enugu State governor?
I thank God for the privilege to meet the governor at my age. I am grateful to God for making it possible. Thousands of pupils in our state would like to meet the governor. For me, it is one of the most memorable moments of my life as I shook hands with the governor. The governor congratulated me and said the commissioner for education would reach out to me.
Later, I was told that the governor had given me a scholarship to study in any university of my choice in Nigeria and a prize of N1m. I felt overwhelmed. I never believed that I would be a beneficiary of a scholarship. I appreciate the government for this noble gesture.
What role did your parents play in your success?
My dad is an English teacher. He always encouraged us. He taught us English after school hours. He made sure I didn’t use a mobile phone. Once I got to secondary school, I neither used a phone nor had access to any gadget. It was a serious offence at home. It really helped me because if I had a mobile, I would have been distracted. I might have spent less time on my studies. My mum always encouraged me too. She told me that when she was my age, she excelled in her studies too. She emphasised that I could break the record. When I was in primary school, my father supported me with extra lessons at home. He also got part-time teachers for me.
Do you think you are a genius?
I don’t think I am one. I think anyone who studied hard and relied on God can make a similar feat.
What is the next step for you?
I want to study medicine. I chose medicine because I believe it would enable me to save lives. It is also a noble profession.
What did you score in the UTME?
The UTME was out before I took WASSCE. I scored 266. I was discouraged when I saw the result because I felt I should have got above 300 marks. The good thing is that they also use the WASSCE result to select candidates. They grade prospective candidates, using 60 per cent for the UTME and 40 per cent for the WASSCE result. When I saw my UTME results, I was just praying to God to excel in WASSCE result a wonderful one. When our principal saw my UTME result, he didn’t believe that it was my result because he expected more from me. UTME was very easy for me and I was disappointed when I saw the score.
Which schools did you apply to?
I applied to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Ebonyi State University. The universities have not started issuing admission letters. They have started uploading the results. The cut off mark for medicine is 290 or so in UNN last year. I checked my result and it was 319.6, so I am hopeful I would be admitted.
Why don’t you study abroad instead?
I want to study in Nigeria first. I guess I am too young to study outside the country all alone. But I would like to do postgraduate studies abroad.
Was cramming part of your studying methods?
I am not good at cramming books. I develop many codes to remember what I read.
What are the most remarkable lessons you have learnt from your success?
I think the most important part of my success story is to do one’s best and to trust in God. I always believe that it’s only God that can enable me to fulfill my destiny.