Yeo Shao Qi's parents got divorced when he was just 10.
His father later suffered from depression and his grandmother became ill.
He also had to give Chinese tuition and sell IT products when he was in junior college to help his mother, who works in a supermarket, with household expenses.
As a result, the Pioneer Junior College (PJC) student could not concentrate in school and had to repeat his first year in JC.
His friends and teachers, however, rallied behind him.
Teachers gave the 20-year-old extra lessons; one of them even delivered lunch for Shao Qi, who also received financial aid from PJC and the Education Ministry.
Yesterday, Shao Qi emerged as one of the students lauded for his commendable results in the face of adversity. He scored As for history, China studies, mathematics and project work, a B for General Paper and C for economics.
"A lot of compassion and kindness was shown to me though I didn't do well in my first year," said Shao Qi, who hopes to study law or get an arts degree at the National University of Singapore.
Shao Qi, who lives in a flat with his mother and younger brother, was one of the 13,936 students from 20 schools who received their results yesterday.
This year's cohort, which sat the exam last year, scored the best results since the A-level structure was modified in 2007.
Some 91.1 per cent achieved at least three H2 passes, with a pass in General Paper or Knowledge and Inquiry.
This was higher than the 90.6 per cent attained by students in the previous year and 90.79 per cent in 2010 - the highest score before this year's cohort.
Students who entered junior college in 2006 were the first to take subjects divided into three levels of difficulty, from H1 to H3.
Hwa Chong Institution said more than 60 per cent of its students scored at least three As in their H2 subjects, the highest since its first batch of Integrated Programme students took the A levels in 2007.
Raffles Institution said about 67 per cent of its students scored As in three H2 subjects. Four of its students had nine distinctions, the maximum number of subjects an A-level student can take. Last year, it had 10.
At River Valley High School, 68 out of its 415 students attained at least six As.
Newer schools like PJC in Choa Chu Kang also improved, with 87.9 per cent of its students achieving three H2 passes, better than the year before. For the first time, one student, Zhu Di Fu, 19, had eight As. His schoolmate Nur Farhana Abdul Rahman, 18, who scored four As, said: "It was difficult balancing two co-curricular activities, and being part of the Malay Language Elective Programme and studying. But I learnt discipline."
At Victoria Junior College, Shaun Sim, 18, who struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, scored four As for project work, chemistry, economics and maths, and Bs for physics and General Paper.
In the months before the exams, his mother Jessica Sim, 48, sat beside him to help him revise. "I made sure he studied at least 45 minutes, and then I'd set the alarm to let him have a 15-minute break. Sometimes I'd have to drag him back to the study table."
Shaun hopes to study business and marketing at university.