When hunting for scholarships post-SPM or otherwise, you might’ve come across this either familiar or alien acronym: PNB. For those who don’t know, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) is a Malaysian investment company; you may have heard of some of their products like ASNB or their projects like the Merdeka 118 skyscraper. PNB gives out multiple types of scholarships to mostly Bumiputera students as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative, but here I’ll highlight the nitty-gritty of my experience in applying for the 2019 PNB Global Scholarship Award (Anugerah Biasiswa Luar Negara PNB).
Before that, let me give you a little run-down of what this particular scholarship is and what it entails. PNB Global Scholarship Award provides outstanding students tertiary education opportunities at approved top universities abroad, namely the United Kingdom and the United States. PNB scholars enjoy the liberty to pick their university courses to their hearts’ content (except medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, or other non-relevant courses like music or theology). PNB sends its scholars to Kolej Yayasan UEM (KYUEM) to study Cambridge A-Levels as the preparatory course, and fully covers all academic expenses (even external exams like SATs!) while also giving an allowance.
There is an employment bond between the scholars and PNB: one year of sponsorship in Malaysia gives you one year of bond, one year abroad gives you two years, totaling to either eight or ten years of bond depending on how long your course is. While this may deter some, I personally see this as a win—a job at a renowned investment house and an opportunity to advance in the corporate world. Indeed, I am eternally grateful for being blessed with receiving the 2019 PNB Global Scholarship Award.
Now then, let’s get to the crux of this article: the application.
THE APPLICATION STAGES
While the stages do happen in this exact chronological order, what constitutes as a “stage” is my own arbitrary choice. So, stage 1 (according to me, haha) would be filling in the application form.
Now, if you’re anyone like me, you probably already have some other scholarship application underway, and you’d know that most other sponsors have some kind of online portal to fill in the application form details. PNB, however, employed more traditional methods—mail and email. The application form was an excel sheet, but don’t let that intimidate you. I didn’t encounter weird technical issues and, in many ways, it really was just like the online forms. Some things to keep in mind when filling up the form:
- READ THE FINE PRINTS. In my cycle of the application, we were required to send the completed form via e-mail and physical mail. Some applicants missed the mailing part and their application was not considered (my 11A+ friend fell victim to this, but he did secure another scholarship though, thankfully). In your cycle, the form submission process may differ, so do read the small prints.
- Check your email and phone frequently. PNB relays information through email and often requires you to reply as confirmation (even accepting the scholarship is done via email). Occasionally, PNB will call you to remind you of the upcoming stage, ask you about important details or inform any changes to the venue and whatnot.
- Choose your course wisely. You have the freedom to change their intended course later during A-Levels as you see fit, but your A-Level subjects will largely be determined by your initial course choice, making especially a major change a difficult process.
- There is (or was, anyway) no essay! So, if you’re eligible to apply, I strongly urge you to do so.
Shortly after sending the application form, I got the confirmation email and, about two and a half weeks later, the invitation email to the next stage.
If you’ve met the minimum requirements and eligibility for the scholarship, chances are you’ll receive an email invitation to the next stage: the written test. My test was carried out at the PNB Tower at Jalan Tun Razak, KL. At this point, there were a lot of qualified applicants, so the pool of applicants was spread over a few days to take the test.
Despite what PNB called it, this test was not, strictly speaking, a written test—it’s multiple-choice. The test took about three hours and consisted of three aptitude sections and one psychometric one. The aptitude portion was made up of numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, and logical/inductive/diagrammatic reasoning sections. In simpler words, maths, English, and puzzles (I really don’t know how to describe this one). I didn’t study for the test but I did take a look at sample questions from this website.
Honestly, at this time, I didn’t bank on getting the PNB scholarship because I didn’t complete all the questions and I wasn’t really hopeful with the prospect of being one of the ~25 per something-hundred successful applicants. But I did my best to answer those questions, and you should too!
Around 3 weeks later, I received another email invitation, this time it was for the interview session. The interview also took place at the PNB Tower. By then I already had an experience at another interview (JPA) and it.. did not turn out very well, so I vowed to do better in this one. Aside from researching common interview questions, I also read the 2018 PNB Annual Report and familiarised myself with corporate and finance jargon. If you make it to this stage, do acquaint yourself with current issues, especially in the field of finance and investment, as I found that PNB does like it if you can show that you’ve gone that extra mile.
My interview session was on a blue Monday, 13th May 2019. It was a hot and slow day, and when I arrived at the tower, the previous interview session hadn’t ended yet. The interview sessions were carried out in groups of four. I was the first person to arrive in my session group, and when the others started arriving, I began to feel a little intimidated. But, after being placed in a waiting room for an hour, we’d chatted a lot and gotten along really well (in the end, we all got into KYUEM!). After that, we were called into the interview room.
The interview room was super cold which didn’t help me compose and calm myself. There was a big video camera at one of the corners of the room, and we sat opposite of the four interviewers. The interviewers were PNB’s own from officers from different departments—human resources, public relations, and education department. In fact, these are the officers that will watch over the scholars once they are selected. The interviewers were quite laid back and the atmosphere got less tense as the interview progressed. The whole thing lasted for one hour, but it felt much shorter than that. I thought my performance was okay. I managed to answer all of the questions without much stuttering, but after it ended, I was a bit disappointed that I forgot to mention some facts that I thought might’ve bolstered my performance even more.
Overall, I’d say that these are the most important takeaways from the interview:
- Prepare for the interview beforehand. This means researching PNB and current affairs, common interview questions, and, if possible, doing a mock interview with another person.
- The questions were a mix of personal and critical questions. Some sessions had their share of questions skewed to either one, for example, my group had more “tell me about yourself” type questions while some of the other groups, as I found out later, had more “what should PNB invest in” type of questions.
- Relax. If you’re the type of person who gets nervous at interviews, think of it as a normal conversation. The officers won’t chastise you or anything, so make yourself comfortable speaking with them as soon as you can. If you’re the type who likes to talk a lot, by all means, do, but don’t be over imposing or cutting off other people.
- In the end, it’s all a learning experience. Note your deficiencies and, hopefully, eliminate them in the next stage!
At last, the final stage. Comprising a group presentation and an online test, this stage was different in that we were given time to prepare for the actual day of the presentation. The qualified applicants were divided into groups of five with one assigned group leader, and the presentations were to be delivered in a “staged debate” format wherein four of the group members were to be the “debaters” and the group leader was to be the “moderator”. Our group got the debate prompt two days before the day of the final stage and, naturally, a WhatsApp group was created. We wanted to have a complete discussion—from planning to creating the PowerPoint slides to distributing the points—but WhatsApp wasn’t a very good platform for that. So, three of the group members, including me, agreed to meet at Perpustakaan Negara the day before the final stage (the final stage was also carried out at the PNB Tower).
The debate prompts were all about contemporary issues. No spoilers, but think trade war, climate change, Brexit, voting age, et cetera, and whatever two sides that are diametrically opposed in the context of those issues. On the day of my final stage, there were about 30 applicants amounting to six groups, and with this stage spanning two days, there were around 60 applicants who made it to the final stage. The presentations were carried out in a designated room, and everyone who wasn’t presenting sat as the audience. The jurors were the same officers as before, and the whole event lasted from about 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. It was a really interesting experience seeing how other applicants spoke and presented their points, and I was fortunate to have made some new friends here.
Some tips from my experience:
- It’s always a good idea to prepare early. PNB gave us about an hour prior to the presentation session to give everyone the chance to get up to speed (especially for those who couldn’t meet physically). This time should only be used to clarify things and go over the roles one last time, your group should have the main points ready by then.
- Though staged as a debate, this is NOT the time to fight with your groupmates. Your group should have distributed the points beforehand, the “debate” is only to signify that your group is expected to have considered both perspectives on the topic. Also, moderators shouldn’t just be the “transition” between debaters but rather be actively involved in the discussion, e.g. by asking clarifying questions whenever they see fit.
- The way you articulate your arguments is just as important as the arguments themselves. Avoid reading from the slides (your slides shouldn’t have too much text anyway, only diagrams, or whatever visuals to corroborate your points) and generally have composure in your speech. Showing confidence goes a long way to sell your points, but again, don’t be over imposing.
- In my time, the audience was allowed to ask questions. Don’t feel pressured to ask questions just to impress the jurors; asking too many questions can actually do the opposite. If you do want to ask something, keep it succinct.
I hear you asking—what about the online test? Don’t sweat it, it was actually just another psychometric type of test, and from what I’ve heard it’s used by PNB to determine what roles suit you best when being employed in the future (not really sure about this though).
Applying for the PNB Global Scholarship Award is a long and arduous process, the whole ordeal took roughly three months. But by God, it was a totally rewarding experience not only because I got the scholarship but also because of the experiences and lessons that continue to benefit me today.
I can say for myself that joining the PNB family has been one of the best things that have happened in my life. Being a PNB scholar gave me a slew of things to be thankful for—the best private A-Level education in the country, the opportunity to study at top global institutions, UK and US university application support, supportive officers, amazing friends—and it is absolutely a life-changing thing. So, if you are intending to apply or are already applying for the PNB Global Scholarship Award, all the best to you!
Irfan Azhan is currently studying A-Levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM. He hopes to read Physics at a top university in the United States. A tech enthusiast who can be found playing Rocket League or sleeping, usually the latter.
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