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Lousy prelims, preparing for A levels [Tip] A lot of JC students don’t do well in their prelims. They subsequently worry whether they can make it through A levels. If you have this worry, let me dissect the problem for you. Hopefully this will direct your preparations heading into A levels. Poor prelims performance but have sound knowledge In the instance when the student has good grasp of knowledge as well as getting good grades from TYS then there is nothing to worry about. This shows that you have sound knowledge. That is the foundation in which answers to questions will come from. The problem here is the school teachers. Unfortunately, some of them like to make their prelim exams exceedingly hard. To make matters worse, they are sometimes also unreasonable when it comes to awarding marks. For example, I have seen some teachers practice awarding ½ marks. In a 3 mark structured question, instead of writing 3 valid points to score the marks, students end up having to write 6?! Unfortunately, it often causes the students to write too much. Consequently, they do not have enough time to finish answering the exam questions. Not only that, when the teachers implement such practices, they want to jolt students into working hard for the finals. This only serves to make students even more stressed heading into the exams. More damningly, it also prevents students from using the prelim results to apply to top universities in the world because their deadlines close before the release of A level results. Below is the timeline for applications process if one seeks admissions into Oxford university. If a Singaporean students takes exams in 2019, the exam results will only come in late Feb 2020. So the only way to gain admissions is via prelim results. And the ignorant school teachers don’t care anyway. Even if the data is prevalent on the fact that positive reinforcement aids in learning. Poor prelims performance poor knowledge On the other extreme, there are some students who are just not ready. This is due to poor grasp of knowledge. For these students, my suggestion will be to do TYS questions ignoring the grades. This helps the students to identify which topics and concepts are weak instead. And to go back and reinforce concepts within these topics. Re-attempt again to see if there is improvement. This can help to increase will-power and also shorten the time to preparations. You don’t want to end up wasting time going through things you already know. Especially so when each student has so much academic load to bear. For those JC students who are studying H2 Biology, I have a set of notes written in the simplest manner and clearly organized which will be useful in times like these. For other subjects, do hunt for similar resources. Poor prelims performance ok knowledge Most students belong to this group. Like my advice for the group above, cover the TYS questions to identify knowledge gaps. More importantly focus on why your answer is wrong. Majority of the time, there is no problems with the answers but instead, the student is not answering the question. It may be surprising to note that there are very high rates of incorrect interpretation of H2 biology questions. Examiners frequently set unique twists to routine questions and students who routinely cut, copy and paste textbook phrases are unlikely going to answer the questions correctly. Let me give you an example from an actual TYS question: Explain the significance to the alpha and beta cells of their blood supply. I guarantee you almost 70-80% of students will focus their answers on the alpha beta cells. In my experience, only a small minority will see the focus being on the blood supply. Unsurprisingly, many school teachers even miss out such twists in exam questions! To improve, you will need somebody experienced to read through your answers and comment on them. Join my H2 bio classes if you need help in this specific area. Poor prelims performance bottom line I hope this is a helpful guide especially for those who are facing the final examinations soon. Here’s wishing you will find exam success in A levels!
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Lousy JC teachers/school environment [advice] I hear this question from many JC students al the time. What do I do if I have got lousy JC teachers? Lousy JC teachers, let me explain As much as the ministry want to paint the picture that all schools are good, this cannot be further from the truth. I have students routinely telling me how they have lousy JC teachers and school sucks. Some even go on to tell me some horror stories of things that happen in school. Like in one JC, different teachers give different answers to the same question. When students ask for clarification, the friendlier teacher cannot provide a clear explanation. The other teacher on the other hand is angry that students dare approach and proceed to give them a verbal trashing to the point of tears, before sending them away. Most importantly, without providing any response to the question. Events like this occur in many JCs and on a daily basis. They come from lousy JC teachers who do not care about students. Even though their students are sitting for the most important exams in their lives to date. This is especially true in 2nd/3rd tier JCs. Why you may ask? That’s because the really good teachers gravitate towards the top schools. Lousy JC teachers? Move aside! The principals of these top schools always have an eye out for the best teachers. Whom subsequently produce results for the school. And these schools frequently place more emphasis in learning so teachers get better recognition for their craft. Indeed, these teachers are happy that they get recognition for their craft and they strive harder creating a positive feedback. A quick look at the 2nd/3rd tier JCs and one would quickly realise they spend more time trumpeting their CCA accomplishments than exam results (which are dismal). Splash photos like these are common place in school websites. In addition, good teachers know that having a good school teaching experience help build their resume. This is especially pertinent in Singapore because a large number of teachers routinely leave service and join the tuition industry. Having the school experience would mean it is far easier to get students to tutor. As students equate top school teaching experience with quality. So these teachers shout out their credentials as a means to attract students. Lousy JC teacher, students lose out As much as it pains me to say this, one should look out for your own interest by looking for tutors (good teachers) who have plenty of experience in rehabilitating weak students. So that he/she can guide you in your learning journey instead of the lousy JC teachers. Your school will not look out for your academic performance and will push you to all kinds of CCA involvement. That leaves little to no time to prepare for the biggest exam in your life. And nobody in the school will be accountable to the lousy grades at the end of the JC journey. Joining the group setting that many good tutors provide is advantageous on the other hand. Because everyone in the class have the same goals. So this an antidote to the toxic environment in school with lousy JC teachers and compatriots who are nonchalant. Lousy JC teachers are frequently very negative in their life perspective. Unfortunately, they pass this negative on to their students. Negative emotions adversely affect the learning outcomes. Lousy JC teacher, bottomline Ironically in my experience, it is the top students that are seeking extra academic help even when they already have the best teachers. So they leave the students who are in dire need of help in further behind. Those students with lousy JC teachers who really need the help on the other hand seem to be the most unaware they can do something to pull themselves out of the rut.
No PSLE? A really bad idea [opinion] There have been calls to have no PSLE for primary schools. No PSLE? Thread carefully Luckily, there have been a push back. In the context of the Singaporean eduscape, I think the idea of no PSLE will be deadly. Whilst some ‘kind soul’ want to alleviate student pressures, they are not themselves subject to the situation. It’s easy to talk and talk is cheap. But they don’t have to clean up after the fact. Most importantly, it will not affect them directly. No PSLE? Why I think it is not a good idea Currently in Singapore, there are a growing number of JC students who are on a through train program from secondary school. At the end of the 4 years of their education, they bypass the O levels and head straight into A levels or IBs. When I am in class with these students, I see that they carry on their shoulders a world of burden. Not only do they have to pass, they also have to do well enough to get into a local university. Otherwise all they have for show will be a lowly PSLE certificate (if they fail). This can only mean they quickly run out of options afterwards. That places even more stress on these students as they enter the exams. As is, it is not uncommon to hear about students who end up with psychological scars. With some even continuing down the path of suicide as a way to find release from the stress. This is in addition to a hard cap on local university admissions. No PSLE? It will be deadly to students! Imagine a no PSLE environment for a moment. This will mean that these students if they don’t do well in A levels will end up with nothing at all. Instead of focusing on the idea of no PSLE, why not try to improve the teaching quality in schools? That way students will have better preparations for exams isn’t it? Otherwise, open up to the idea of accepting students into the university without prejudice of grade performance? Bottom line: No PSLE, find new solutions rather than introduce new problems But alas, this will never happen. I talked about why the universities will not open up the floodgates. Also, because this will mean that MOE as well as NIE have to focus on actual teaching and teacher training instead of relying on the system to sort itself out. Not to mention the God complexes some teachers develop in their career – I call them the unteachable teachers. These people think they are the best even though they are receding in teaching quality every year. Which is why whatever the MOE dictates, the tuition centers have to pick up the slag. Because we are frequently the last hope for the students tossed about according to the whims and fancy of the education minister. In the messy messy world of the Singaporean education system.
Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education… “It would be foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective” says the education minister Ong Ye Kung. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective? Well of course he will say that since the ministry places a hard cap on university admissions. What he is trying to do is to dissuade people from attaining a university degree. But he is not one of the hopefuls trying to gain admissions into a local university. Neither is he one of the IP students who only have a PSLE certificate to show if they don’t do well in A levels. For these students, grades are everything. Because that’s the first thing that local universities consider for admissions. Just look at the indicative grade profiles of students who successfully gain admissions. Even a very decent BBB for the H2 subjects, will mean more than half of the courses offered by the university to be out of reach. Limited Choices for those who cannot gain admissions into a local university That is terrifying for a JC student. Because career options are few and far between for the A level holder. Whilst the JC student studies very hard, the subject coverage are mostly not technical in nature. A level graduates do not gain technical skills unlike the polytechnic counter parts. Of course there are other options available. Frequently this involves the plethora of private university options. The most notable is SIM. These institutions frequently run courses for other universities. Let me do a cost comparison for you between the same course run by SIM for a University of London program: Then an equivalent in SMU. As you can see, private university options do not receive any MOE training subsidies. Consequently, the fees are much more expensive. Unfortunately, this may be another bottleneck for someone who comes from an average middle class family and who cannot qualify for the local university. And that is also considering that not all courses are available for students in such institutions. Frequently, the courses that are not available are also those that directly qualify students into the profession. Courses such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture etc. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will NOT be effective! So the old ways of education planning is not foolish but effective. Unless the university starts changing their admissions rules. What I think the education minister really meant is that gaining a university degree does not mean one may find a job after graduation. But he does not want to say that outright, because that places the burden on the government. To create enough jobs to hire all the graduates afterwards. And this task is getting harder by the day. It is easier to say, ‘look you chose the university route and this is your plight now. Your choice, your fault, not mine’. How do JC students navigate the education landscape in this backdrop? Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education can be changed If you want to get ahead, you got to take control of your academic future. You gotta design and maximize your own learning journey. For many, relying solely on school is insufficient. Which is why many seek out tutors with exceptional experience to guiding them to academic success. However, time is of essence so the JC student have to pick great tutors with care. This checklist I created may be helpful. In addition, look for opportunities to allow you to gain skills that will differentiate you from your compatriots come university admissions time. Unfortunately, many JC students think that these skills can be acquired through CCAs, I think that is unwise and lay out my thoughts and recommendations here. All the best for your JC life and I hope that you will achieve your desired grades as well as qualify for your course in the future.

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Lousy JC teachers/school environment [advice] I hear this question from many JC students al the time. What do I do if I have got lousy JC teachers? Lousy JC teachers, let me explain As much as the ministry want to paint the picture that all schools are good, this cannot be further from the truth. I have students routinely telling me how they have lousy JC teachers and school sucks. Some even go on to tell me some horror stories of things that happen in school. Like in one JC, different teachers give different answers to the same question. When students ask for clarification, the friendlier teacher cannot provide a clear explanation. The other teacher on the other hand is angry that students dare approach and proceed to give them a verbal trashing to the point of tears, before sending them away. Most importantly, without providing any response to the question. Events like this occur in many JCs and on a daily basis. They come from lousy JC teachers who do not care about students. Even though their students are sitting for the most important exams in their lives to date. This is especially true in 2nd/3rd tier JCs. Why you may ask? That’s because the really good teachers gravitate towards the top schools. Lousy JC teachers? Move aside! The principals of these top schools always have an eye out for the best teachers. Whom subsequently produce results for the school. And these schools frequently place more emphasis in learning so teachers get better recognition for their craft. Indeed, these teachers are happy that they get recognition for their craft and they strive harder creating a positive feedback. A quick look at the 2nd/3rd tier JCs and one would quickly realise they spend more time trumpeting their CCA accomplishments than exam results (which are dismal). Splash photos like these are common place in school websites. In addition, good teachers know that having a good school teaching experience help build their resume. This is especially pertinent in Singapore because a large number of teachers routinely leave service and join the tuition industry. Having the school experience would mean it is far easier to get students to tutor. As students equate top school teaching experience with quality. So these teachers shout out their credentials as a means to attract students. Lousy JC teacher, students lose out As much as it pains me to say this, one should look out for your own interest by looking for tutors (good teachers) who have plenty of experience in rehabilitating weak students. So that he/she can guide you in your learning journey instead of the lousy JC teachers. Your school will not look out for your academic performance and will push you to all kinds of CCA involvement. That leaves little to no time to prepare for the biggest exam in your life. And nobody in the school will be accountable to the lousy grades at the end of the JC journey. Joining the group setting that many good tutors provide is advantageous on the other hand. Because everyone in the class have the same goals. So this an antidote to the toxic environment in school with lousy JC teachers and compatriots who are nonchalant. Lousy JC teachers are frequently very negative in their life perspective. Unfortunately, they pass this negative on to their students. Negative emotions adversely affect the learning outcomes. Lousy JC teacher, bottomline Ironically in my experience, it is the top students that are seeking extra academic help even when they already have the best teachers. So they leave the students who are in dire need of help in further behind. Those students with lousy JC teachers who really need the help on the other hand seem to be the most unaware they can do something to pull themselves out of the rut.
No PSLE? A really bad idea [opinion] There have been calls to have no PSLE for primary schools. No PSLE? Thread carefully Luckily, there have been a push back. In the context of the Singaporean eduscape, I think the idea of no PSLE will be deadly. Whilst some ‘kind soul’ want to alleviate student pressures, they are not themselves subject to the situation. It’s easy to talk and talk is cheap. But they don’t have to clean up after the fact. Most importantly, it will not affect them directly. No PSLE? Why I think it is not a good idea Currently in Singapore, there are a growing number of JC students who are on a through train program from secondary school. At the end of the 4 years of their education, they bypass the O levels and head straight into A levels or IBs. When I am in class with these students, I see that they carry on their shoulders a world of burden. Not only do they have to pass, they also have to do well enough to get into a local university. Otherwise all they have for show will be a lowly PSLE certificate (if they fail). This can only mean they quickly run out of options afterwards. That places even more stress on these students as they enter the exams. As is, it is not uncommon to hear about students who end up with psychological scars. With some even continuing down the path of suicide as a way to find release from the stress. This is in addition to a hard cap on local university admissions. No PSLE? It will be deadly to students! Imagine a no PSLE environment for a moment. This will mean that these students if they don’t do well in A levels will end up with nothing at all. Instead of focusing on the idea of no PSLE, why not try to improve the teaching quality in schools? That way students will have better preparations for exams isn’t it? Otherwise, open up to the idea of accepting students into the university without prejudice of grade performance? Bottom line: No PSLE, find new solutions rather than introduce new problems But alas, this will never happen. I talked about why the universities will not open up the floodgates. Also, because this will mean that MOE as well as NIE have to focus on actual teaching and teacher training instead of relying on the system to sort itself out. Not to mention the God complexes some teachers develop in their career – I call them the unteachable teachers. These people think they are the best even though they are receding in teaching quality every year. Which is why whatever the MOE dictates, the tuition centers have to pick up the slag. Because we are frequently the last hope for the students tossed about according to the whims and fancy of the education minister. In the messy messy world of the Singaporean education system.
Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education… “It would be foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective” says the education minister Ong Ye Kung. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective? Well of course he will say that since the ministry places a hard cap on university admissions. What he is trying to do is to dissuade people from attaining a university degree. But he is not one of the hopefuls trying to gain admissions into a local university. Neither is he one of the IP students who only have a PSLE certificate to show if they don’t do well in A levels. For these students, grades are everything. Because that’s the first thing that local universities consider for admissions. Just look at the indicative grade profiles of students who successfully gain admissions. Even a very decent BBB for the H2 subjects, will mean more than half of the courses offered by the university to be out of reach. Limited Choices for those who cannot gain admissions into a local university That is terrifying for a JC student. Because career options are few and far between for the A level holder. Whilst the JC student studies very hard, the subject coverage are mostly not technical in nature. A level graduates do not gain technical skills unlike the polytechnic counter parts. Of course there are other options available. Frequently this involves the plethora of private university options. The most notable is SIM. These institutions frequently run courses for other universities. Let me do a cost comparison for you between the same course run by SIM for a University of London program: Then an equivalent in SMU. As you can see, private university options do not receive any MOE training subsidies. Consequently, the fees are much more expensive. Unfortunately, this may be another bottleneck for someone who comes from an average middle class family and who cannot qualify for the local university. And that is also considering that not all courses are available for students in such institutions. Frequently, the courses that are not available are also those that directly qualify students into the profession. Courses such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture etc. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will NOT be effective! So the old ways of education planning is not foolish but effective. Unless the university starts changing their admissions rules. What I think the education minister really meant is that gaining a university degree does not mean one may find a job after graduation. But he does not want to say that outright, because that places the burden on the government. To create enough jobs to hire all the graduates afterwards. And this task is getting harder by the day. It is easier to say, ‘look you chose the university route and this is your plight now. Your choice, your fault, not mine’. How do JC students navigate the education landscape in this backdrop? Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education can be changed If you want to get ahead, you got to take control of your academic future. You gotta design and maximize your own learning journey. For many, relying solely on school is insufficient. Which is why many seek out tutors with exceptional experience to guiding them to academic success. However, time is of essence so the JC student have to pick great tutors with care. This checklist I created may be helpful. In addition, look for opportunities to allow you to gain skills that will differentiate you from your compatriots come university admissions time. Unfortunately, many JC students think that these skills can be acquired through CCAs, I think that is unwise and lay out my thoughts and recommendations here. All the best for your JC life and I hope that you will achieve your desired grades as well as qualify for your course in the future.