The competitive overachiever

Christopher Knowles says planning allowed him to accomplish his BGCSE goals

Christopher Knowles never receives pocket money for school or doing chores, but his parents have always rewarded him and his siblings if they do well academically on national examinations. The Knowles – Drs. Ronald and Richelle – believe hard work should be rewarded. They give their children $100 for each A grade; the caveat, if they receive any B grades, they only get $50 per A grade. The Queen’s College student’s goal was to ensure he earned a $1,300 pay day for his senior exams, which meant he had to earn 13 A grades on his Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams. Besides aiming to do his best, Christopher said the money was an additional incentive to achieve his goal.

“When my brother Alex wrote his BJC’s [Bahamas Junior Certificate] and got nine A’s, he earned $900 – I figured, if I got 13 A’s, I would get $1,300 from my parents,” said Christopher. “I had made plans to expand my business and distribute my books, so this achievement would allow me to ‘kill two birds with one stone’.”

Christopher, 16, who sat the exams in 11th grade, was also awarded The Paul L. Adderley Award for the Best BGCSE Overall Performance in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas 2021, The Carol Hanna Award for the Best Overall Performance in the 2021 BGCSE Examinations – Independent Schools, Best Overall Performance in 2021 BGCSE Examinations from the island of New Providence and Top Score in The Bahamas in BGCSE Keyboarding Skills 2021.

The teen said he was inspired to write 13 papers by two female students who had done so before and gotten 13 A grades. Actually, he said he wanted to do one better and sit 14 exams, and spoke to his parents about his goal. He said they told him that, if he was serious, they would support him.

At the start of is 11th-grade year, he said he was doing 14 subjects, but his dream did not materialize as his school did not allow him to sit the literature exam.

“I had re-entered Queens College in grade nine – as a result, I was placed in the unaccelerated class, so I had to settle for writing only 13 subjects.”

He is thankful that in addition to core subjects he was able to sit extra subjects that he said are useful to him in life, including keyboarding, which he believes is an asset, and office procedures, because he has a business “Calm Breeze”, and the education he received in the class he said helped him to run his business properly. He also sat the food and nutrition exam which he did not mind because he loves cooking. He has a YouTube channel and has penned a number of books. The fourth additional subject he took was combined science, which he described as a “no-brainer” as he was already writing the three sciences. He also sat the graphical communication; he loves technical drawing and did it at the BJC level, so he thought it would be fun and challenging to do at the BGCSE level.

“Once I chose my 13 subjects, I had to plan to achieve this goal. I was prepared to devote one year of my life to achieving my dream. Firstly, I recognized my strengths and my weaknesses. My strengths are that God blessed me with a photographic memory and an analytical mind. My weaknesses are procrastination, and I get easily distracted by social media. Now that I had my goal and recognized my strengths and weaknesses, the next step was crucial. It involved a detailed written plan. This is where I asked my mom [Dr. Richelle Knowles] for help as I recognized one of her greatest strengths as being an excellent long-term planner. I told her what extracurricular activities I still wanted to keep for fun, fitness, and relaxation.”

Christopher said, together, with his mom, they came up with a realistic study plan for him that allowed him to accomplish his goals while still having a social life.

He also recognized that he studies better at night and that it is the time when his brain retains the most information. He capitalized on it during the summer of his 10th-grade year and used the two months to review the material taught to him, and completed the related questions from the past paper booklets.

“Since I didn’t have school, I would sleep in the evenings after coming home from golf. Monday to Thursday night, I would study from 10 p.m. to about 4 a.m., then sleep until noon. Between noon and 4 p.m., I would work on my business books or possibly have fun creating recipes in the kitchen.”

His study technique involved hitting the books for 45 minutes, then giving himself a 15-minute break. He also worked on past national exam papers from Friday night to Sunday night.

“The summer preparation before entering grade 11 was crucial and critical for my success. Once I entered grade 11, and had the demands of the five different subjects, I needed to be even more selective with my time management. I turned in my phone, iPad, and laptop early every evening to my parents to avoid distraction, so I could stay on course.”

While others lament the drawbacks that came with the pandemic, Christopher, who has a cumulative 3.9 grade point average (GPA), said it was advantageous to him, as there were fewer things for him to do, or places to go. Distractions were removed.

“Initially, I was not too fond of online learning, but I had to adjust to the ongoing pandemic. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. To work around this, I adopted a different strategy. I could use the extra time to prepare for school to get some much-needed sleep with virtual learning. I could get some extra sleep in the morning or take a quick nap at lunchtime to get more rest. During hybrid learning, when we went in person, I maximized on this time to ask my peers and teachers questions to clarify any doubts I had.”

The teen, who has always been on the principal’s list and honor roll, said his advice to his peers is to live life in balance.

“You need to put aside time for sleep, exercise, fun, schoolwork, and God. You need to focus on your life’s physical, mental, and spiritual aspects and have them in balance. It would be best if you found a mentor to be accountable on a daily or weekly basis, who can keep you and your goals on track. It would help if you surrounded yourself with like-minded people and have similar goals, so you can encourage and support each other, especially when you feel like giving up or the goal seems unattainable. You need to pray and ask God daily to give you knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.”

And his passions are vast and varied from photography, conservation, cooking, and recipe creation, to writing books and playing golf.

He also recognizes the role the educators at QC played in his accomplishment and preparing him to do what he did.

“Queen’s College is a leadership school, and they teach the seven habits of highly effective people. Habit one said to be proactive, so I set my goal of 13 A’s. Habit two said to begin with the end in mind, so I made a written plan to achieve my goal. Habit three said put first things first, so I put God first, then school work, then leisure. Habit four said think to win, so I believed in myself and surrounded myself with positive people. Habit five said to seek first to understand and then to be understood, so I listened to my teachers, parents, and elders. Habit six said to synergize, so I worked together in study groups. Habit seven said sharpen the saw, so I always kept improving myself, staying humble, renewing my mind daily with prayer and exercise, and doing something I love.”

The school also offers extra access classes in the evenings, early morning classes, lunchtime classes, and even Saturday classes.

Christopher, whose parents are both in the medical field, plans to follow in their footsteps.

“My parents said that the volume of work in medical school is vast, so you have to find a way to review the topic. They told me to use the online course information to my advantage and review the topic before class, and then when it is taught, it would seem more familiar. Then, that same evening, they advised me to review the subject again and then, finally, on the weekend, review it one more time. They said repetition and review is the key to coping with volume. I followed this advice, and it has served me well. It takes a lot of discipline to be organized to this extent. My mom was instrumental in keeping me on track and accountable to the study schedule that I had placed on my wall. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child – in my case, I achieved it with the help of God, my parents, teachers, tutors, friends, and other family members.”

Christopher’s hard work, conscientiousness, and determination to make the necessary sacrifices allowed him to achieve the goal he set for himself. Then, there’s the fact that he loves learning and is constantly challenging himself to be his best, for the most part.

“Of course, we all have moments when we fall off the course or want to give up, but the key is to recognize you are human, take a timeout if necessary, then regroup and get back on track. My parents told me that when they started medical school, there was a saying, ‘see one, do one, and teach one’, so, I applied this principle to my studies. I would see what the teacher taught, I would then do the assignments, and the key for me was then teaching the concept to a fellow student, which, in turn, benefited both of us, as I was able to assist someone in need, as well as reinforce and clarify my knowledge on the topic.”

The teen also recognizes that he is competitive, and an overachiever, and that he is always trying to maximize his full potential. And that he tries to always submit assignments with excellence in mind, which has been drilled into him from his parents and his teachers.

In his senior year, Christopher is studying four AP courses – biology, calculus AB, human geography, and psychology; and two honors courses – chemistry and physics. That BGCSE literature that he wasn’t allowed to sit in 2021 is on the cards for 2022 – he just could not let it go.

Christopher, who believes education is the avenue or means by which a person gains knowledge and facts, then applies it to the real world by utilizing understanding of it and asking God to give wisdom for interpretation, plans to study medicine, post-secondary, with a focus in dermatology, with a sub-specialty in Mohs micrographic surgery (a specialized form of skin cancer surgery), in addition to allergy testing and desensitization. He has been assisting his mom in her dermatology practice, and said he recognized the need to have the services available to the general public.

What’s next for Christopher – well, let’s just say, he has his sights set on being named All Bahamas Merit Scholar.

“My mom and dad are both doctors, and they both completed their education by getting scholarships, as well as having summer jobs to give them additional spending money. While some may say I have grown up in a home where I have access to the best, I always had a desire from young to work hard to obtain a scholarship to attend university, as I was inspired by both my parents, who are role models for me.”

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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