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Musings, The Straits Times

Reviewing The Individual Physical Proficiency Test

One of the biggest problems that plague IPPT – and the preceding Napfa – is the fact that they place arbitrary indicators and values on what it means to be “fit” or “unfit”.

Plans to review, and possibly improve the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and the National Physical Fitness Assessment (Napfa) – in the report “Review Of School Fitness Tests” (November 4, 2011) by Miss Kimberly Spykerman – are well-intentioned and considerably plausible. From the perspective of a Singaporean male who has gone through these physical assessments in school and during National Service (NS), three key areas deserve attention: first, the lack of exposition on the purpose and objectives of the test; second, the perceived redundancy of particular stations; and third, the pedantic adherence towards generalised standards that do not reflect a person’s true ability.

Improving Areas Of Inadequacy

One of the biggest problems that plague IPPT – and the preceding Napfa – is the fact that they place arbitrary indicators and values on what it means to be “fit” or “unfit”. None of my Physical Education (PE) teachers or unit representatives have been able to convincingly explain the usefulness of the tests; all I was told was that I just had to do well  so as to avoid a longer NS commitment, and not attend remedial training (RT). These may be fitness tests in names, but we could do more to elaborate on the significance of stations – cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength et cetera – and highlight the importance of lifelong fitness to encourage participants.

Lack of information about the respective stations has led many to believe that some segments – especially sit-and-reach and standing broad jump (SBJ) – are unfair and redundant. Anecdotally, I have friends who run marathons or spend long periods of time training in the gym, but struggle with – and even fail – the aforementioned components. In every other circumstance beyond the structures dictated by IPPT and Napfa, they would definitely not be classified as “unfit” in any way.

The Woes Of Categorisation With IPPT And Napfa

Because of its inflexibility and purported inconvenience, many naturally view IPPT as a needless burden than as a constructive platform for the maintenance of their fitness levels.

Inherently, IPPT and Napfa prescribe general aggregated standards for its servicemen and students to aspire towards; unfortunately, this system of measurement fails to take into account the observation that different people have dissimilar all-round physiological capabilities. The distinction is more pronounced for NSmen who have long graduated from the school or NS training regime, and are correspondingly bogged down by the assorted pressures of work, lifestyle and family. Because of its inflexibility and purported inconvenience, many naturally view IPPT as a needless burden than as a constructive platform for the maintenance of their fitness levels.

The present system of IPPT and Napfa should be refined to take into account the progress and improvements made by students and servicemen; instead of grading them based on the chart per se, criteria for RT and the assignment of the “passing grade” should take into account his or her progress over a period of time. The ultimate aim should be to allow them to build up their physical abilities consistently, progressively and realistically; pure dependence on the carrot-and-stick mentality should not remain the way forward.

Moving ahead, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) should be proactive in terms of gathering feedback from its stakeholders, so as to get a more accurate understanding of the status quo within the institutions, as well as present first-hand perspectives. A proper comprehension of sentiments would allow the organisations to make more judicious and useful improvements to IPPT and Napfa; change must be the new constant.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Reviewing The Individual Physical Proficiency Test

  1. I applaud you for questioning why people go through the moments of the various stations within IPPT. But I thought the fundamental principle people fail to see, it that keeping fit is the basic responsibility of a soldier (even for NSmen).Whether, standing board jump helps you leap over drains during FBO, shuttle running to sprint behind points etc is irrelevant in the larger context of matters, But sure we ought to be informed why.

    As for your take on progressive training on RT/IPPT etc, I think you have not researched hard enough. It shows your lack of diligence in this area and aim to pushing your point across. You should check around, the review on RT and IPT this year and the IPPT-In-Your Community are good examples of such.

    It is interesting that you are still a serviceman (?) but your lack of depth and understanding of issues only serves to mislead others.

    Posted by Dayen | November 7, 2011, 11:05 am
  2. I applaud you for questioning why people go through the motions of the various stations within IPPT. But I thought the fundamental principle which many people fail to see (which you failed to mention), is that keeping fit is the basic responsibility of a soldier (even for NSmen – like it or not).Whether standing board jump helps you leap over drains during FBO, shuttle running helps you to sprint behind points dodging gun fire etc is irrelevant in the larger context of being fit enough to be called upon when the need arises, But sure we ought to be informed why the need for such stations. Perhaps the all important lessions have been lost through the years.

    I think your point on the aggregation of standards for IPPT/NAPFA, in a sense – different strokes (or points) or different folks, makes sense. There will be others who will find it easier to strike gold because of their physiology, but for most others, training hard in all aspects will earn you gold. Candidly, your friends ain’t training hard enough because I have not seen my friends not being rewarded for their efforts – though standing board jump is a real “bitch”. But that’s why gold is a precious (pun intended).

    As for your take on progressive training on RT/IPPT etc, I really think you have not researched hard enough. It shows your lack of diligence in this area and aim of pushing your point across without situational awareness. You should check around, the review on RT and IPT this year and the IPPT-In-Your Community are good examples of such.

    You write well but your lack of depth and understanding of issues only serves to mislead others – particularly if you are still a serviceman (?) and should know better.

    Posted by Dayen | November 7, 2011, 11:33 am
    • Dear Dayen,

      1. Thank you for your comment(s). Before I reply to your points I figured it would be good to preface that my recommendations to improve fitness tests in Singapore are applicable to both IPPT and Napfa (which means both in the military and school contexts).

      2. Your first point was precisely my major gripe with the status quo; as I penned: “These may be fitness tests in names, but we could do more to elaborate on the significance of stations – cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength et cetera – and highlight the importance of lifelong fitness to encourage participants“. Servicemen and students are put through IPPT and Napfa without a clear understanding of what these evaluations and stations are for, so it makes sense for the organisations to provide more exposition on the usefulness of these elements.

      In fact, I would like to further your proposition that “keeping fit is the basic responsibility of a soldier” to the assertion that “keeping fit and healthy – through physical activity, sports, nutrition et cetera – should be the responsibility of all Singaporeans“.

      3. Anecdotal examples, either way, do not hold much value; so I concede on that point (yes there are individuals who have worked hard and gotten results, but there would also be others who see no significant improvements). But then this contemplation leads back to the fundamental objective of the fitness tests; if the tests are supposed to encourage basic fitness, then I think test-takers have the right to comprehend the value of individual stations? For instance, how would doing well in SBJ or sit-and-reach be beneficial in the long-run beyond the much-heralded gold award? Should I train repetitively for a specific station even though I am not convinced that it would be useful beyond the frameworks of the fitness tests? If achieving a pass or obtaining awards is the aim, then we are on the wrong track.

      Healthy questioning of the relevance of these stations would be great in terms of clarifying doubts too.

      4. I am basing my perspectives on a personal basis; so yes, I apologise for the lack of insights in the areas of RT and IPT (I am still in service, so I haven’t had first-hand experiences with these schemes). Thanks for the advice nonetheless.

      Of course, I maintain my stand that school programmes should be worked upon to encompass the aforementioned aspects, and that we could rethink the carrot-and-stick mentality to take into account how a soldier or student progresses over a period of time; because ultimately what we want is for him or her to understand that fitness should be a lifelong culture. Yes, there are no short-cuts to physical fitness except training hard and regularly (I know this first-hand), but if we push too rigidly than we would only allow defeatist attitudes to manifest.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | November 7, 2011, 12:13 pm
  3. I enjoyed reading this post. No one reading this can come away without a clear realisation that fitness tests in Singapore are imperfect and unfair, and I also know many people that are very fit in certain fields but yet can’t get their gold. It is not difficult to see the flaws, but the question I would like to see you address more is what should be done about it? Apart from suggesting that MOE and MINDEF should be more open to feedback, is there anything stronger you can recommend?

    Firstly, do you agree that fitness is important to the country, and in particular to the military?
    If so, then do you agree that it is important to have some kind of fitness test so that people will strive toward this?
    If so, and we agree that some test is needed, then the million dollar question is what the test should be like? Should it be a standardised test or a very customised test? And have you tried doing any research on other countries or militaries to see what their fitness tests look like, to suggest a model that might work better for Singapore than what we have currently?

    One thing I disagree with is that the grade should be based on progress rather than absolute achievement. This is not an intuitive argument to me, and perhaps you would like to elaborate on this further.

    Posted by paddychicken | November 7, 2011, 8:30 pm
    • 1. Unquestionably so; fitness is important to the country (inside and outside of the military framework), which is why I contended that the ultimate objective of our fitness tests should be to encourage a lifelong pursuit of fitness and health-consciousness. My worry is that students and servicemen, once it is no longer imperative for them to participate, would not appreciate this aim.

      2. Some of the other tests I have read about assess through three “stations”: a long-distance run (the actual distances do not vary a lot), test of muscular strength (either through push-ups or pull-ups) and abdominal endurance (sit-ups, primarily). I am not contending that stations like SBJ, sit-and-reach and shuttle run – because I’m not well-versed in these physical aspects and benefits – but at the moment I don’t see their purpose. I think this lack of information can also be attributed to the poor exposition done by schools and units; that is, teachers and representatives did not – through my personal experience – do a good job in terms of explaining the stations and their usefulness.

      When taking IPPT in the army, there is so much emphasis on the right “techniques” for the SBJ and shuttle run; however, is there true value in these forms of repetitive training? In the first place, what are the tangible benefits for these stations?

      3. I think I should rephrase my proposition. Standardised grading is inevitable (administratively), and it in general provides general benchmarks for most to aspire towards. However, for the group of students or servicemen who struggle to pass, we should place more emphasis on their individual development rather than striving to force them to reach the minimum standard (often with a carrot-and-stick mentality). Things like the PTP and IPT (which I’ve just read about) are moves in the right direction, but within individual units – especially beyond the training school context – administrators could look into how failures are dealt with.

      And I think that is the reason why avenues should be made available for people to sound out about their cases and challenges. The general direction is right – save for the contentions over the validity of stations – but we should also take into account those who might struggle to keep up.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | November 7, 2011, 9:45 pm
  4. No need to complain so much. You voted for PAP. So just suck it up. You deserve it.

    After completing 2.5yrs of NSF in combat unit, I simply downgrade from reservist. 2.5yrs fulltime 24/7 at $400/mth is more than enough sacrifice for any freaking country.

    Posted by ex-NSman | November 8, 2011, 1:27 pm
  5. There are obviously many aspects of physical fitness. One NAPFA or IPPT can’t cover them all. If you want the most “army” specific & accurate test of physical ability, why not have one that involves dodging live bullets?

    The IPPT is designed to just cover the broad areas of physical fitness, using proxy exercises such at situps for core, SBJ for lower body power, pull ups for upper body strength, etc. We can argue about how these are not representative, but would there be some other test that can be done similarly easily and yet be more representative? And in any case it is perfectly fair, the IPPT requirements are published and have been unchanged for ages.

    Would be interested in seeing what changes you propose. I run marathons myself and a long distance run test would be highly advantageous to me, but i dont see how it can be time effective to have every NS man do a 10k or long run as part of the IPPT test.

    Posted by abc | November 8, 2011, 1:48 pm
    • I am not very well-versed or knowledgeable in the technical aspects of the stations, which is why I thought it was a pity – from my personal experiences – that my teachers and representatives did not devote sufficient time to the exposition of the purpose of the test and stations.

      You are right to point out that no one test can cover all aspects; but I think it would be worthwhile to relook the relevance of some of the stations. A number of military fitness tests overseas do not have the sit-and-reach or standing broad jump stations, so it would be positive for individuals like me (who are not very informed in these aspects), to learn more about its significance.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | November 8, 2011, 6:18 pm
      • theres no sit & reach test in IPPT right? (havent taken any IPPT in ages).

        and somehow a standing broad jump test just sounds very relevant to being a soldier. surely soldiers would be expected to jump across/over obstacles, carry heavy loads etc, hence requiring strong legs?

        Posted by abc | November 9, 2011, 8:57 am
      • Well then again, you have anecdotal instances of soldiers who barely pass their SBJ but are extremely combat fit. The same instance I raised in my article: he could probably manage a 220cm for his jump, but his fast-march timings and load-carrying abilities (we are an infantry reconnaissance company) are tremendous. These are the little disconnects that make me wonder if these stations might be truly representative.

        No sit and reach in IPPT. Flexibility is important for a person’s physical fitness, but through sit and reach we are only assessing the hamstrings’ capabilities.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | November 9, 2011, 10:17 am
  6. You wrote much, but what are the alternatives? To be fair, and to cater to big numbers from diverse background and levels of fitness, the tests have to be standardized. Sure, no limited number of tests can give a true picture of an individual’s fitness. But can you suggest alternatives?

    Posted by The | November 8, 2011, 5:23 pm
    • 1. Relook the relevance of existing stations, such as SBJ and sit-and-reach. If they do have tangible benefits or value, their significance should be communicated more effectively to students and servicemen, instead of putting them through the motion of taking and passing the tests.

      2. Work on how we assist failures: instead of using the carrot-and-stick methodology (if you fail, you’ll be liable for remedial training and confinement et cetera), an individual’s progress should be based on his previous results and subsequent improvements, rather than adhering pedantically to the table of grades.

      3. Open up platforms of feedback for students and servicemen; I don’t think I or my anecdotes are representative, so it would be good if we could gather more opinions on the current systems of assessment, and collectively suggest more alternatives beyond the aforementioned points.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | November 8, 2011, 6:24 pm
  7. I believe fitness has nothing to do with whether you can run long distance or jump far or whatsoever. I believe that so long as one is living healthily by eating well, resting well and exercising well to their own standards, that’s enough. What rights do the rest of the world have to force their standards of “fitness” on the individuals?

    Posted by broylim | March 25, 2012, 3:17 pm
    • Hello,

      I think standardised testings within the army are inevitable, given the need for tracking and assessments. But, it would be right to review existing stations, or to explain their significance in greater detail.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 25, 2012, 3:32 pm
  8. Standing broad jump depends a lot on technique so I think it should be scrapped. I think the ippt should have the following tests, pull ups, push ups, sit ups, shuttle run, and the 2.4 km run.

    Posted by HenryP | July 8, 2014, 9:29 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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