Part 5: Jam packed JC life and its culmination in the ‘A’s
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
Busy is the right word to describe JC. There’s too much going on. You want to make new friends, participate in CCAs, do enrichment programmes, join projects to boost your CV, and then you have A Levels to worry about. It’s really a tight 2 years.
On subject combination
So usually there are 4 H2 subjects that make up the combination, together with H1 GP or H2 KI, H1 PW, and H1 MT/O Level HMT. I knew I was going to be pragmatic and take Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics. I debated between KI and GP, and went as far as to put KI as my subject combination in the beginning, but I decided against it because I was under the impression that I would have to take 5H2s because of time tabling issues and I didn’t want to take so many units in case I felt like adding H3s later on. But honestly if I were to turn back time I would drop econs like a hot potato or at least take it as a H1 instead of H2. It was something I really didn’t enjoy and I couldn’t improve in.
As for my advice, I would say look at university pre requisites for a general idea. If say you don’t want to eliminate chemical engineering as a potential choice, then pcme will be the more practical option, or if you know for sure that what you do will not require chemistry, then you could do physics math further math and econs. I would say the most important is preparing for the future and making sure you don’t eliminate any courses too prematurely.
There’s another small discussion point on whether to take H3s. I took Pharmaceutical Chemistry, which doesn’t exist now(what a tragedy), and I had fun even though I was failing through it. I would say to only take a H3 if you think you’re going to enjoy it. They’re not that useful when it comes to university applications anyway, and they do take up some time. My classmate and I were worrying about the results for H3 and negative impacts, and he just said that as long as we feel enriched, it’s a good subject to have taken. So that’s the same advice I have for anyone who wants to take a H3.
On CCAs and other programmes
I would say to not give those up. Personally I managed to squeeze in long term volunteering, participation in school activities, a 7 hour a week CCA and peer mentoring enrichment, and I turned out fine, even though you already know that I don’t have the best time management and discipline. However, these are probably things students should do in the beginning like from J1 to early J2, and only keep small activities that have less time commitment so that there is still time to manage the A Levels. Personally, the most fun I had was acting as an orientation guide for the incoming batch of juniors and performing for CCA concert. So, don’t rob yourself of enjoyment. The 2 year period doesn’t need to be pure suffering.
PW is not something people enjoy in general. Literally the only good that comes out of it is that all group members and batchmates will probably be united in the common hatred for PW. There’s nothing wrong with it theoretically. Requiring kids to work in teams to identify a social issue and formulate concrete solutions and plans sounds like a very practical idea. The issue is with the way the rubrics that are structured, the presence of both individual and team requirements, the complete arbitrariness of it, as well as the lack of time dedicated to PW in normal curriculum time.
More than half my group members were in sports CCAs. And the issue with that is that their time outside of curriculum time is ridiculously difficult to match during sports season. To me, one of the most difficult part of PW is to get a viable issue and its causes cleared, which is the beginning. And that period of time was during sports season. Hence we lagged behind. And then we caught up a little, but then after that we had twenty million other small issues, like free rider problems, inequality in work distribution issues, miscommunication issues, major and minor disagreements, constant rejection from our teacher, the list goes on. And truthfully, my group wasn’t even the worst. Because of the sheer fact that everyone thinks differently and that we had minimal contact with each other before PW, learning how to work together is difficult. There were groups with control freak issues, groups with lack of leadership, groups with complete isolation… It was just rare for any group to work in harmony. Sometimes, even harmony isn’t enough because ideas had to be creative (to be honest this doesn’t really end up happening. I can guarantee that every group probably used an app in some way, and some exhibition in some way). So it would go through rounds and rounds of revision until students probably dreamt of their written report and oral presentation at night.
Looking back, perhaps all the problems that we encountered was part of the rationale in the subject, and I’m sure it taught every one important lessons despite it being a largely negative experience. Nevertheless, one should go into PW prepared, and also know that unless you manage to get people who operate on the same frequency as you, conflicts will happen.
In general, there are a few types of students. There’s the kind who consistently do well, and when A Levels comes in, they’re confident and well prepared, and they will do well. There’s the other kind that will flop throughout the first year, and failure spurs their determination, and they will make tremendous improvement. There’s also the type of students who do decently but not fantastic throughout, and hope for the bell curve to pull through. I think I’m the last type, and for econs, that didn’t really work out.
So after the A Levels ended and the results came out, I decided to reflect on how I studied, why I succeeded in some subjects but fell below expectation in econs. And I think I’ve come to some conclusions.
1. Different people shouldn’t study the same way. I mean, certainly there are study methods that are guaranteed to improve everyone’s performance, but it’s also true that just because your friend told you they got good at a subject by doing abcd, you should do the same. The most important thing is identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses and one’s most productive methods.
a. E.g. if you’re an auditory learner, perhaps reciting biology concepts repeatedly and working them through by talking to yourself is better than writing them down, but someone else may like drawing diagrams and making a stack of neat notes, or like if you keep doing badly for economics despite getting the main gist mostly correct then maybe it’s time to practice writing paragraphs in detail and not reading notes to revise concepts
2. Different subjects should be studied differently. This also sounds silly because you’re going to be like, of course! We don’t need you to tell me this! But, I don’t know, there will be this period during preparation for A Levels that you become so done with everything that you put less effort in thinking reflectively about how to study, and studying just becomes a continuous motion. I can only speak about bcme, but these are some ways I think is best for each subject.
a. Biology – it’s undeniable that there’s a lot of memorization, but it isn’t blind memorization. Biology is less of memorizing hard facts but more of processes. That’s why the school lessons will be focused on explaining those processes, what causes them, what consequences they lead to, and the individual steps. What students have to do afterwards is to memorise the details and learn how things may change depending on different contexts. This is why my classmate who was really good at biology always claimed that she didn’t memorise biology. At that time we kept calling her out for humblebragging, but truthfully she’d just digested the processes so well that each step led up to another naturally in her head.
b. Chemistry – this one’s sort of tricky because I like to divide chem into a few parts.
i. Math heavy parts
1. Usually in the three types of equilibria, gases, electrochem sometimes, thermo, and kinetics. (Highly possible that I missed stuff out) Also stoichiometry will just seep its way into all topics. So the most important part is understanding what each individual step in calculation does when you get a question wrong, so that you’ll be able to replicate the correct answer when the context changes, and not keep getting them wrong. Personally I study math heavy parts like math. Understanding explanations, then everything after is just practice.
ii. Explanation parts
1. By explanation I mean the standard explanations, like oh why is this boiling point higher? Why is this bond stronger? Why does this dissociate better? Why is this ionization energy higher than the other one? Stuff that you’ve 100% seen in the notes or your tutorial at least once. Here the important thing is grasping the key points. Like usually there are a few. Say you’re talking about some partial double bond character somewhere. You have to say something about some atom having a lone pair of electrons, then something about orbital overlap and then something about resonance structures. I think it’s often sequential, and once you break it into small parts it becomes easier to remember.
iii. Content knowledge + logic parts
1. At the moment I can only think of organic chemistry as best examples of this. There’s a lot of reactions to remember, and it’s going to be so difficult to remember all of them at first until you’ve done so many that it comes naturally. The logic part comes in during elucidation questions, deducing the product of a reaction, or drawing certain mechanisms you’ve never done before. You have to connect what you already know with what is given to make deductions and sometimes a creative guess. I’d say to treat them like puzzles, and to be patient and uncover the picture slowly.
c. Math – I like to split this into sections as well
1. This is a large chunk of the syllabus, and it’s got twenty million sub topics, but if I were to take one key skill out, it’s still the very basic differentiation and integration techniques. Those will be in every single calculus question, and you have to make sure you don’t make silly mistakes. Foundation is very important. And for math, the only way to really firm up foundation is to practice.
ii. Familiar topics like inequalities and functions
1. Generally people like these topics. It’s just mini upgrades from whatever we’re used to, and generally being careful is more important because these questions are usually not meant to kill.
iii. New topics like complex numbers and vectors
1. For new topics, I would say suspend your judgment, and just focus on whatever new thing you’re learning. For a lot of us there was a lot of difficulty at first, but after a while you realize that most questions go by similar patterns, especially since they can’t go too high level because these are topics most haven’t been exposed to before JC.
1. I love stats. There are always a lot of free marks in the press calculator questions, so being meticulous is important to not lose those marks. Some parts may be strangely tedious so checking through and making sure you define your terms clearly is crucial. The less reliable questions are usually the PnC and probability ones, where you probably have 1 or 2 parts you’re not certain about. Like in lectures they’re going to teach you individual techniques for counting cases, but then the questions are going to be a mixture. I’ve always liked it because it’s like a puzzle, but I know many people hate it, but you just have to do your best and gain as many method marks as you can if the answer doesn’t seem the most clear.
d. Econs – the bane of my existence.
I’m really not the best person to give advice on this subject. You’re probably going to say, if you can give all this advice why did you do badly for econs?
i. Don’t grasp main concepts. I know that sounds super stupid, but main concepts are just the first step when it comes to econs. The marks you get are from rigour in analysis, which means, detailed step-by-step processes with contextual link. I can’t tell you how to get there, because I obviously didn’t.
ii. I was too obsessed with trying to get it ‘right’, when in econs usually, more than ‘right’ answers, it was reasonable and well argued ones. Like sure in case studies there are often right and wrong answers, but when it comes to points that make up an essay, it’s reasonable arguments, so it should be somewhat predictable, but detailed and not repetitive.
iii. Fixing your mistakes is more important than trying to aim for a good essay. Instead of looking at model essays and copying chunks from suggested answers, fixing your own mistakes and improving your past essays could actually be more helpful.
On peer pressure/stress/influences
The JC I went to is probably one of the most stressful ones. In general studying is a common sight anywhere, and there’s a lot of results analysis that’s done after every test. So you have an acute understanding of where you stand among the cohort. The students don’t actively breed competitiveness, but you can’t help it. I know that stress can be a positive thing, but unfortunately, there are some unavoidable negative implications on mental health and general anxiety due to our exam oriented system. Information from batches above, as well as observations from current students created this saying that every year, someone offs themselves. I know many people like to call them one off events and ignore them because it doesn’t apply to too many people and it seems more like an individual’s own issues, but truly the way the school achieves good results indirectly causes tragedies. I’m not sure about other JCs, but I can imagine stress levels run high everywhere. Taking care of yourself is certainly more important than anything. If you notice something wrong in yourself or people around you, please don’t hesitate in taking action.
Anyway, as you can tell, since JC has been the most recent, I’ve had the most to say about it. There are too many points here that I can’t make an effective conclusion, but if you don’t remember anything I’ve written up to this point, just remember to prioritise your health before anything, find your best study method, and find outlets within school that could allow you to relieve stress.
So that’s a wrap!
I’m not sure if any readers will reach this paragraph, but if you have, thank you. Hope this has benefited you, or at least entertained you. I’m not a natural writer by any means, so this was really just unfiltered word spam. Look out for more posts by me. I’m watermelon.