Last year's SOTY winners reveal the secret to being on top

By Wong Tsui-kai

Hong Kong's most prestigious award for students is about searching for the best of the best, so last year's top three offer their tips for success

By Wong Tsui-kai |

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Eunice Yiu (right) thinks personality and passion are more important than winning competitions.

The South China Morning Post Student of the Year (SOTY) competition is revving up again for 2015. Before it begins and our prospective competitors strut their stuff, let's take a look at how last year's winner and finalists of the grand prize made it through the tests and interviews.

Eunice Yiu of St Paul's Convent School (Secondary Section) was described as a leader rather than a follower by the judges, as well as very well-rounded. With her diverse interests, she impressed the judges enough to stand out from the rest and win the grand prize.

Currently in Form Six and studying hard, she is not letting her busy schedule drag her down. "There are a lot of exams, but I make sure I still do sports," Eunice says.

Her focus on a balanced lifestyle keeps her upbeat even while under pressure. Her advice to other students is: "Focus on one thing at a time. Stick to a timetable and don't procrastinate. " Eunice sticks to her own schedule, going home at 4pm after school and making sure she gets a half-hour run-in, even when she has lots of studying to do.

For her, the best part of the competition was realising how much her confidence had grown.

"I know I'm not perfect and I didn't think I'd win, but going through the judging process and being recognised rebuilt my confidence," says Eunice.

Advising the competitors to be themselves, she says her personality and good mindset were key to her victory. "The judges go beyond the standard criteria. I think they liked my balanced lifestyle. You can't be good at everything, but accept failure and just keep going. Persistence and determination are applicable to many things in life. "

Bianca Chan says it's important to try not to be nervous.
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP

Bianca Chan Ying-ying of Maryknoll Convent School (Secondary Section) is humble and modest when it comes to her achievements, explaining that she had no expectations of getting to interview stage, never mind finishing as first runner-up.

"I didn't expect to win, so I just saw it as an opportunity rather than a serious competition. Now that I think about it, the judges were probably more interested in how dedicated we are to our service/activity than in the prizes we'd won."

Her advice to prospective students is simple. "You really shouldn't be nervous about it. The judges are probably going to be more impressed by how chill you are than the prizes you have won. Just show how interested and dedicated you are to your activity, and how it helps you to serve others." She also has an important tip for this year's students: "Seriously, don't try to guess what they want to hear - just be cool and be yourself."

Bianca also suggests picking something you like and specialising in it. "Don't try to juggle too many things at once - find an activity that you really like and stick to it. For me, it was public speaking."

Gabriel Wong (center) believes in being yourself.

Her final tip is simple: don't show off. "When you become dedicated, you will have opportunities to serve others. Show how your activity allowed you to help others. If you're good at doing a sport, don't focus too much on how well you do at competitions; instead talk about how you teach little kids to play or how you manage your school team."

Currently she is busy with schoolwork and other activities.

"Form Five was a pretty hectic year for me. I joined the Hong Kong national debate squad to become a better debater. I also wrote Op-Ed articles for Young Post," she says.

Second runner-up Gabriel Wong Chun-hei of La Salle College was praised by the judges for being open-minded, optimistic, and highly impressive, academically.

He believes in being yourself. "Have a goal and follow your dreams. Show you've worked towards them. Show the judges what you're passionate about."

His final piece of advice is equally simple: "The judges are friendly; they want to get to know you. Just relax."