Should you repeat A levels? [Advice] Every year, many students consider the idea of repeating A levels. After getting rejection letters from local unis. Should you do it? Repeat A levels: This is a difficult exam! The Singapore-Cambridge version is really hard. And there are many brilliant students every year. So re-taking A levels is a risk because there are many cases where some students see their grades stagnate or even drop. Unfortunately, you cannot cherry pick the better grades from each of the exams. It has to be taken as a whole. Because it is so stressful, I generally advice students to NOT do it. Even if this means I lose potential students who may enrol into my class. Repeat A levels: I can’t get into med/dental school Let me try to break down the reasons why some students consider retaking. The chief of which is that they are not able to qualify for NUS, NTU, SMU’s most competitive courses. Medicine for example requires straight As and rank points of 85 and above. And many students are not able to hit that level to shortlist for admissions. Unfortunately, these students ignore the fact that there are numerous options overseas with easier admissions criteria. In addition, there’s a scheme by MOH that seeks to attract Singaporean medical/dentistry students overseas back to Singapore via a pre-employment grant. In this scheme, MOH is willing to pay a lump sum to get students back to Singapore to practice. Here’s more information about it. The large sum of money helps to bring down the costs of an overseas degree. Yes, medical and dentistry courses are extremely competitive even overseas. But there’s yet another way to gain admissions. Get an offer to a basic science degree and subsequently gain entry into graduate medical/dentistry programs. These science courses usually have even lower admission criteria! Australian universities also offer 1 year foundation programs you can enrol into, sit for the exams and then enter directly upon fulfilment of their exams. Generally far easier than the Singaporean version. I hope you begin to realise now that there are many options. If you look around hard enough, there are plenty of alternatives. Repeat A levels: What if I still want to repeat? For those students who absolutely have to repeat A levels, it is doable. I have a few students who have done it and aced the exams. So here are a few suggestions for you: Do you really really want it? Are you willing to put in an inhumane amount of effort to get there? Don’t go further if your answer is no! I see some of the NS guys who come to me after work and I can see the life drain from their faces. They try but find that the effort needed is far beyond what they can commit to. If your answer is yes to both questions above, let me ask you this question next. Are you going to repeat the pattern and way you study to improve your grades? If you are, then you’d likely be wasting another year. Things have to change drastically and you need to seek out what were the shortcomings and improve upon them. This is the only way to improve your grades in the next attempt. Finding tutors that have the ability to provide targeted help is of utmost importance. You may find this checklist useful in narrowing down which tutors to go to. Repeat A levels: A tip to make repeating A levels easier Local universities can actually consider H1 subjects from another sitting. If you have done well for an H1 then you only need to focus on your remaining 3H2 subjects plus GP. This way, you reduce a significant amount of workload prepping to repeat A levels. For those who decide that this is a necessary path, I’d be crossing fingers for you.
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1-1 or group tuition classes? [Question] So should I (my kid) get 1-1 or group tuition? This is a question a lot of parents, students ask when looking for tutors for the additional academic help. There is certainly no right or wrong way to approach this. However, in my opinion it is much better to go into a group tuition rather than 1-1. There is a caveat to this but I’ll explain it a little bit more later. As an educator, I don’t recommend long term 1-1 tuition. I would only prescribe it as a short term measure to get a new student ready to join a group class. Other situations in which 1-1 works is before important exams or a quick review after poor exam performance. Why group tuition? The learning environment! Usually, the tutor goes to the student’s residence. Answers to other frequent questions. Although the student will have the full attention of his/her tutor, frequently, the learning environment is not ideal. The mom is in the kitchen cooking, someone is knocking on door, the telephone rings, there is TV noise and foot traffic around. Even if its quiet at home, it is harder to get tools tutors can deploy to help their tutees understand the subject matter. In group class setup, I can readily give my students some hands-on to aid in their understanding of complex material. This is using physical items like lego bricks, ropes as well as colored candies to digital animations projected over a sound system. Even taking time for individuals within the group to air their views on contentious issues of a concept. All the resources can deploy easily and optimally because of the classroom setup. This is just not possible for 1-1. Why group tuition? The teaching tools Also, there is the matter of economies of scale. It is much more affordable to attend a group class rather than a 1-1. Even if money is not an issue, the extra money can be better spent elsewhere such as investing better quality food and rest. I am a proponent of a multi-disciplinary way of preparing a student to ace in the exams. Content mastery is not enough in exam performance. Why group tuition? Inter-motivation and big data Some educators make magic happen in the class, students react, getting a light bulb moment. This creates the energy that drives the students which in turn drives the teacher. The effort snowballs resulting in a dynamic and enjoyable class. That enjoyment stimulates the students to think about the subject matter as well as motivating the students. It also help them retain the content better. And it is tough to re-enact this on a 1-1 as the energy levels is solely dependent on the 1 student fully. Also, when learning in a group, each individual benefits because other students bring up unique questions. As the tutor collect more and more of these questions, they get a bird’s eye view of where are the common problematic areas. This allows them to respond by simplifying particularly tough concepts, refine materials, or dedicating a bit more time. Which subsequently creates a better teacher and students benefit from the foresight. Why group tuition? Support I also encourage my students to help each other. When they feel that they are not alone, the camaraderie drives them to do better. Look at the successful dragonboat teams (for that matter any other successful sports teams) and you’d begin to realize that strong camaraderie is common. Someone shouting after each member of the team, edging them on when someone has given up. Somehow, that helps to grow grit referencing Angela Duckworth’s work on this subject. This also helps them develop soft skills. Such as being emotionally sensitive to classmates, social communication and dynamics – which are are crucial to a work life after the studies. Also it allows them (since students come from different schools) to be able to pool resources for all their subjects. I further encourage collaborative learning by setting a group goal before the reward is unlocked. All of these are not possible with 1-1 tuition. Bottomline on group tuition Some people will say but isn’t the school precisely the place where group learning should happen? Well ideally yes, however, teachers are likely over-worked (just talk to some of the school teachers). So they may not have the time to be able to curate the best learning experience. And also the caveat is that if the teacher do not appreciate the power of group learning and conducts the class as per routine then the opportunity is lost.
Which subject combi for A levels: H2 BIO [Question] For incoming JC students thinking about which subject combi to confirm, let me make the case for choosing H2 BIO. Subject combi: But I want to be in Arts In deciding the subject combi, a lot of students don’t realise that bio is the most arty farty of all the A level sciences. During exams, the precision required comes in the form of presenting the scientific relationships primarily using numbers and formulae in physics. Elements and compounds and their interactions in chemistry. But in biology it is mostly formulating stories containing processes and concepts surrounding life. In formulating your answer, it is like crafting an artwork. There is no specific way of doing it. You decide which direction you want to take your artwork within the framework of the question. This is where most students even teachers don’t appreciate. Thinking that the subject revolves around rote learning of concepts and processes. Then subsequent regurgitation afterwards. Subject combi: Why Bio can be considered an arts subject The fact is, there is still a lot of things we don’t know about life. Even the things we know about, because of how complex life is, and how organisms keep evolving, we keep finding exceptions to the facts we know to be true. Let me give you an example. For the longest time, we associate the chloroplast with plants and photosynthesis. They make their own food using light energy. Animals in turn feed on them to obtain the energy that powers every cell in them. How do you think we feel when we find sea slugs that maintain their own chloroplasts and depend on them for food? On this basis, you take the sum total of the facts to make your story/conclusion. In fact, if you want to become a lawyer, this will be an important skillset to develop. Subject combi: Bio is an important subject for science students In biology exams, precision comes in the form of words. Bio students learn how to express ourselves. Because frequently, exam questions involves structured and essay questions. Which in turn necessitate long form answers. If you want to gain marks from the examiners. You better state your story in the clearest way possible. Therein helping the students develop an important skillset. Let me recount a real story as to why this skill is so important. I have a friend who runs a head-hunting agency whose clients are MNCs looking for C-level staff. i.e. CEO/CFO/COO etc. This is enormous responsibility and also high value service. And in return my friend gets a substantial reward for successful matches. Which he hopes to repeat into the future. He laments to me his frustrations as he tries to fill these white collar jobs with Singaporean compatriots. He tells me even though he knows many Singaporeans are very capable few are able to speak as if their lives depend on it. Consequently, they make really bad interviewees he can recommend to the MNC clients. Eventually he fields potential non-Singaporean candidates. Because they make him look good and also increases the chance of them subsequently snagging the position. Of course there are students who study the other sciences who can present themselves well. This may likely be a result of environment. But in biology classes with me, I train you day in and out to express yourself logically, coherently and elegantly. Subject combi: synergism For the arts students, biology synergises well with geography. In fact, a topic in the new syllabus: climate change overlaps substantially. Learn once, apply twice! For science students, biology synergises really well with chemistry. Because practical skills in chemistry can be reused in biology. In addition, the molecular interactions in cells has an underlying chemical basis. For all students, biology will be an important help in General paper. Domain knowledge in biology allows you to make discussions much better. Especially for essay questions falling under the area of science and technology, environment, social/ethical issues. Subject combi: relevant courses Students who want to take up biology frequently want to gain admissions into bio-related university courses afterwards. These are some of the most difficult courses to gain admission. Because the associated courses are professional level. Meaning, the qualifications are acceptable and minimum requirement to join the profession. Such as the medical and surgery courses, dentistry, pharmacy etc. Having biology as part of the subject combi increases the chances for consideration because of the relevance. Subject combi: bottomline Ultimately, you make your own decisions. However, I hope that I have established an important perspective for you to mull over. And thereby increases the chances of you making an informed decision rather than an irrational one.
Failing promos in JC, am I going to fail A levels? Another common question I get. If I am failing promos in JC, am I therefore going to fail A levels too? Failing promos Firstly, this is not the end of the world! For instance, a frequent observation after all these years of tutoring H2 Bio is the incredible variation of teacher competence across different schools. As well as the expected quality of answers in exams. A student may get an A grade from a H2 Bio exam in a school. However, if the script is remarked by another school’s teacher, it may return a U grade in contrast. Which consequently results in the student failing promos. One way to see this phenomenon is to look at the final grade in school versus the A level grades. If we see huge variations, this means that the school teacher grossly over or under-estimate the level of the papers/marking. So this most importantly shows an inadequacy at the school and not the student level. In contrast, many students blame themselves instead when they receive poor grades. My heart goes out to these poor students for all the stress they have to bear. However, don’t forget the opposite can happen! Especially for students who do well when their teachers grossly over-estimate their academic performance. Failing promos: the school’s fault For example, when students send their exam scripts to me to help them break down their performance, I see egregious errors by the teachers. Let me bring up one such example in the following. This is an example scenario where the exam question was set by one JC in Singapore. The question asks for the student to give an evidence. In doing so, such an evidence can then support the scientist … In fact, my student correctly do so by dutifully list the evidence. But see what the teacher do in response? Here the teacher penalises the student who did the right thing because the teacher asked the wrong question. Let me correct phrasing of the question to reflect what the teacher want: Give an evidence AND EXPLAIN why… So how can you expect students to do well in such situations? And worst yet fault them for doing poorly? Failing promos: what can you do about it? Most importantly, instead of worrying about the meaningless promo grades, consider what you need to do right-away to improve. Since the school teacher cannot change, start looking out for tutors who are very familiar with the syllabus. More importantly, they show that they know exactly what and how to interpret exam questions. This way, you can get a proper dissection and approximation of your level of academic performance. In contrast to the vague and useless instructions from many school teachers like study harder. In addition, identify your errors. Likewise, ask yourself if these errors a result of carelessness or concepts that you don’t understand? Is it because of insufficient time? Or if it’s none of the above then are the questions very difficult instead? As such, each of these reasons requires a different ‘treatment’. And the Chinese say it best ‘对症下药’. Subsequently, the students in a bid to improve tries to study harder. Studying harder unfortunately will not make any significant difference. Because that is not the primary reason for the poor results! For example, a number of students spend too much time writing expansive answers. However, it’s unnecessary because they have already gotten all the points. Consequently, this wastes a lot time and they cannot complete the paper therefore losing a lot of marks. As such, studying harder will then be unhelpful for the student in gaining marks in exams.

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1-1 or group tuition classes? [Question] So should I (my kid) get 1-1 or group tuition? This is a question a lot of parents, students ask when looking for tutors for the additional academic help. There is certainly no right or wrong way to approach this. However, in my opinion it is much better to go into a group tuition rather than 1-1. There is a caveat to this but I’ll explain it a little bit more later. As an educator, I don’t recommend long term 1-1 tuition. I would only prescribe it as a short term measure to get a new student ready to join a group class. Other situations in which 1-1 works is before important exams or a quick review after poor exam performance. Why group tuition? The learning environment! Usually, the tutor goes to the student’s residence. Answers to other frequent questions. Although the student will have the full attention of his/her tutor, frequently, the learning environment is not ideal. The mom is in the kitchen cooking, someone is knocking on door, the telephone rings, there is TV noise and foot traffic around. Even if its quiet at home, it is harder to get tools tutors can deploy to help their tutees understand the subject matter. In group class setup, I can readily give my students some hands-on to aid in their understanding of complex material. This is using physical items like lego bricks, ropes as well as colored candies to digital animations projected over a sound system. Even taking time for individuals within the group to air their views on contentious issues of a concept. All the resources can deploy easily and optimally because of the classroom setup. This is just not possible for 1-1. Why group tuition? The teaching tools Also, there is the matter of economies of scale. It is much more affordable to attend a group class rather than a 1-1. Even if money is not an issue, the extra money can be better spent elsewhere such as investing better quality food and rest. I am a proponent of a multi-disciplinary way of preparing a student to ace in the exams. Content mastery is not enough in exam performance. Why group tuition? Inter-motivation and big data Some educators make magic happen in the class, students react, getting a light bulb moment. This creates the energy that drives the students which in turn drives the teacher. The effort snowballs resulting in a dynamic and enjoyable class. That enjoyment stimulates the students to think about the subject matter as well as motivating the students. It also help them retain the content better. And it is tough to re-enact this on a 1-1 as the energy levels is solely dependent on the 1 student fully. Also, when learning in a group, each individual benefits because other students bring up unique questions. As the tutor collect more and more of these questions, they get a bird’s eye view of where are the common problematic areas. This allows them to respond by simplifying particularly tough concepts, refine materials, or dedicating a bit more time. Which subsequently creates a better teacher and students benefit from the foresight. Why group tuition? Support I also encourage my students to help each other. When they feel that they are not alone, the camaraderie drives them to do better. Look at the successful dragonboat teams (for that matter any other successful sports teams) and you’d begin to realize that strong camaraderie is common. Someone shouting after each member of the team, edging them on when someone has given up. Somehow, that helps to grow grit referencing Angela Duckworth’s work on this subject. This also helps them develop soft skills. Such as being emotionally sensitive to classmates, social communication and dynamics – which are are crucial to a work life after the studies. Also it allows them (since students come from different schools) to be able to pool resources for all their subjects. I further encourage collaborative learning by setting a group goal before the reward is unlocked. All of these are not possible with 1-1 tuition. Bottomline on group tuition Some people will say but isn’t the school precisely the place where group learning should happen? Well ideally yes, however, teachers are likely over-worked (just talk to some of the school teachers). So they may not have the time to be able to curate the best learning experience. And also the caveat is that if the teacher do not appreciate the power of group learning and conducts the class as per routine then the opportunity is lost.
Which subject combi for A levels: H2 BIO [Question] For incoming JC students thinking about which subject combi to confirm, let me make the case for choosing H2 BIO. Subject combi: But I want to be in Arts In deciding the subject combi, a lot of students don’t realise that bio is the most arty farty of all the A level sciences. During exams, the precision required comes in the form of presenting the scientific relationships primarily using numbers and formulae in physics. Elements and compounds and their interactions in chemistry. But in biology it is mostly formulating stories containing processes and concepts surrounding life. In formulating your answer, it is like crafting an artwork. There is no specific way of doing it. You decide which direction you want to take your artwork within the framework of the question. This is where most students even teachers don’t appreciate. Thinking that the subject revolves around rote learning of concepts and processes. Then subsequent regurgitation afterwards. Subject combi: Why Bio can be considered an arts subject The fact is, there is still a lot of things we don’t know about life. Even the things we know about, because of how complex life is, and how organisms keep evolving, we keep finding exceptions to the facts we know to be true. Let me give you an example. For the longest time, we associate the chloroplast with plants and photosynthesis. They make their own food using light energy. Animals in turn feed on them to obtain the energy that powers every cell in them. How do you think we feel when we find sea slugs that maintain their own chloroplasts and depend on them for food? On this basis, you take the sum total of the facts to make your story/conclusion. In fact, if you want to become a lawyer, this will be an important skillset to develop. Subject combi: Bio is an important subject for science students In biology exams, precision comes in the form of words. Bio students learn how to express ourselves. Because frequently, exam questions involves structured and essay questions. Which in turn necessitate long form answers. If you want to gain marks from the examiners. You better state your story in the clearest way possible. Therein helping the students develop an important skillset. Let me recount a real story as to why this skill is so important. I have a friend who runs a head-hunting agency whose clients are MNCs looking for C-level staff. i.e. CEO/CFO/COO etc. This is enormous responsibility and also high value service. And in return my friend gets a substantial reward for successful matches. Which he hopes to repeat into the future. He laments to me his frustrations as he tries to fill these white collar jobs with Singaporean compatriots. He tells me even though he knows many Singaporeans are very capable few are able to speak as if their lives depend on it. Consequently, they make really bad interviewees he can recommend to the MNC clients. Eventually he fields potential non-Singaporean candidates. Because they make him look good and also increases the chance of them subsequently snagging the position. Of course there are students who study the other sciences who can present themselves well. This may likely be a result of environment. But in biology classes with me, I train you day in and out to express yourself logically, coherently and elegantly. Subject combi: synergism For the arts students, biology synergises well with geography. In fact, a topic in the new syllabus: climate change overlaps substantially. Learn once, apply twice! For science students, biology synergises really well with chemistry. Because practical skills in chemistry can be reused in biology. In addition, the molecular interactions in cells has an underlying chemical basis. For all students, biology will be an important help in General paper. Domain knowledge in biology allows you to make discussions much better. Especially for essay questions falling under the area of science and technology, environment, social/ethical issues. Subject combi: relevant courses Students who want to take up biology frequently want to gain admissions into bio-related university courses afterwards. These are some of the most difficult courses to gain admission. Because the associated courses are professional level. Meaning, the qualifications are acceptable and minimum requirement to join the profession. Such as the medical and surgery courses, dentistry, pharmacy etc. Having biology as part of the subject combi increases the chances for consideration because of the relevance. Subject combi: bottomline Ultimately, you make your own decisions. However, I hope that I have established an important perspective for you to mull over. And thereby increases the chances of you making an informed decision rather than an irrational one.
Failing promos in JC, am I going to fail A levels? Another common question I get. If I am failing promos in JC, am I therefore going to fail A levels too? Failing promos Firstly, this is not the end of the world! For instance, a frequent observation after all these years of tutoring H2 Bio is the incredible variation of teacher competence across different schools. As well as the expected quality of answers in exams. A student may get an A grade from a H2 Bio exam in a school. However, if the script is remarked by another school’s teacher, it may return a U grade in contrast. Which consequently results in the student failing promos. One way to see this phenomenon is to look at the final grade in school versus the A level grades. If we see huge variations, this means that the school teacher grossly over or under-estimate the level of the papers/marking. So this most importantly shows an inadequacy at the school and not the student level. In contrast, many students blame themselves instead when they receive poor grades. My heart goes out to these poor students for all the stress they have to bear. However, don’t forget the opposite can happen! Especially for students who do well when their teachers grossly over-estimate their academic performance. Failing promos: the school’s fault For example, when students send their exam scripts to me to help them break down their performance, I see egregious errors by the teachers. Let me bring up one such example in the following. This is an example scenario where the exam question was set by one JC in Singapore. The question asks for the student to give an evidence. In doing so, such an evidence can then support the scientist … In fact, my student correctly do so by dutifully list the evidence. But see what the teacher do in response? Here the teacher penalises the student who did the right thing because the teacher asked the wrong question. Let me correct phrasing of the question to reflect what the teacher want: Give an evidence AND EXPLAIN why… So how can you expect students to do well in such situations? And worst yet fault them for doing poorly? Failing promos: what can you do about it? Most importantly, instead of worrying about the meaningless promo grades, consider what you need to do right-away to improve. Since the school teacher cannot change, start looking out for tutors who are very familiar with the syllabus. More importantly, they show that they know exactly what and how to interpret exam questions. This way, you can get a proper dissection and approximation of your level of academic performance. In contrast to the vague and useless instructions from many school teachers like study harder. In addition, identify your errors. Likewise, ask yourself if these errors a result of carelessness or concepts that you don’t understand? Is it because of insufficient time? Or if it’s none of the above then are the questions very difficult instead? As such, each of these reasons requires a different ‘treatment’. And the Chinese say it best ‘对症下药’. Subsequently, the students in a bid to improve tries to study harder. Studying harder unfortunately will not make any significant difference. Because that is not the primary reason for the poor results! For example, a number of students spend too much time writing expansive answers. However, it’s unnecessary because they have already gotten all the points. Consequently, this wastes a lot time and they cannot complete the paper therefore losing a lot of marks. As such, studying harder will then be unhelpful for the student in gaining marks in exams.