Grit [how to develop it and succeed in school] Most people don’t even see it but babies work hard! And they are develop grit whilst working on being human. Because of the anatomical design of a normal human, we are far less stable than other multi-legged creatures. Our 2-leg upright stance makes it a huge challenge for the baby new to the world. They cannot understand a book or YouTube video learning the skill of how to walk as yet. So it is just something they have to figure out on their own. Instead of waiting on the couch until the day he/she is ready to proudly strut across the room, they are there on the floor. Trying it out every unoccupied waking moment. Through the process, they begin to discover for themselves what works and what doesn’t. And for those times that doesn’t work, they take a fall for it. Sometimes, they cry. But they persist anyways. And that person is you as well isn’t it? However as students, it is easy to throw in the towel and lament how you lack the talent. And how compatriots are brimming full of them. But you know what? Some of the most successful in the world right now don’t start out brimming with talent. They grit their teeth and work on their craft day after day. The story of Scott Adams, the master of grit Scott Adams is the genius behind the Dilbert comics. Documenting ironic/funny stories happening in the office. Here’s a reminder of the famous protagonist in the comics: Whilst he started drawing cartoons since young, it took him a long time to find success. His first rejection came at 11, for an artist correspondence course. Realizing that he will need an alternative career, he choose to read law. And later switched to business and subsequently found work as a bank teller. He worked his way up for the next 8 years, taking an MBA alongside hoping to progress further. After hitting a ceiling, he left for Pacific Bell, a telecommunications company. Frustration struck when he was there for hitting the ceiling of progress again. That was when he proceeded to buy new supplies to practice drawing before work. He make it a routine to write the mantra “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” 15 times every day. At that point, it was not a desire. He WANT it. The grit of Scott Adams “It’s a key difference, for once you want it, you take action. Wishing starts in the mind and generally stays there.” Drawing inspiration from the ‘toxic’ office environment he is in, he draws trials and tribulations of the Dilbert. And many find themselves identifying very much with the character. Subsequently, his popularity grew together with newspaper syndication of his comics. He continues to draw during his years in Pacific Bell. Waking at 4am in the morning to draw, commute to work then return home to continue. So much so his right pinkie begin to spasm. His doctor diagnosed him with focal dystonia for which there was no known cure. He continue to draw still, by strapping down his little pinkie. Afterwards transiting into a tablet and a stylus alleviating the problem. He is today worth US$75 million and started writing books. What is Grit? Scott Adam is not born with talent but constantly honing his craft to where he is today. Grit is his secret to success not talent. Grit is a potion that comprises passion and perseverance. Passion is the interest and desire to dwell into something. And perseverance is when one continue working on it even when it gets hard and/or boring. Those who then falter and give up shifting their attention away, are those who do not have enough grit. An excuse for not having grit You know why there is widespread admiration for people with talent out there? According to Angela Duckworth, it is so that we don’t have to go through the hard work of developing the skill-sets ourselves. Because we tell ourselves we will never be like or better than them. So we don’t have to put in the hard work to improve ourselves in the first place. As a student, you can develop grit! How many times have you read about the recalcitrant delinquent in the newspapers? Who is initially lost and drops out of the education system. And then go on to experience great success subsequently? Based on my experiences and working with students with very weak academic skills. Central to their turnaround, frequently is another person and/or an event. Let’s talk about the person first. This is usually someone who can help the recalcitrant learner develop an interest. This interest is important to spark off the desire in the learner to dwell in the subject matter. Then the person helps direct the recalcitrant learner’s learning. Pointing out what is incorrect and reinforce what are correct responses. This may then provide a positive feedback that makes the person feel good about himself/herself. This is the creation of passion in grit. And then that desire drives the want to continue. But this is when sometimes, the learner hits a rough patch of the road and stutters. Complementing this is the occurrence of event(s) that has a significant impact to the learner. Giving him/her a very strong reason and strength to continue. This creates the perseverance in grit. With passion and perseverance comes grit. Which will build up in the learner leading to his/her eventual success in the school system. Bottom-line on grit If you are a student and is trying to find success in the school and exams, you will thus need to do 2 things right now. First, find a tutor who is able to help you with deliberate practice and learning. They are generally hard to come by, let me give you some pointers to consider. Second, write a letter to your future-self collecting your exam results. Tell him/her why you are doing what you are doing now and to move towards the performance goal. Also tell him/her why they deserve the great outcome at that point. The reasons you list in the letter can come from event(s) in your life. And when you are feeling a little down. Open these letters and read them. Once you develop grit, it will be a handy tool to help you overcome all the academic obstacles. And more importantly, success beyond the degree scroll.
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Factors for picking secondary schools [opinion] A recent article suggests factors to consider for picking secondary schools. As well meaning as the article is tries, if parents want their kids to go into JC, then the only consideration is if that school has a through train IP program. Everything else is secondary (pun unintended). Picking secondary schools: IP program An IP program is curated for the smarter students to go through an academic program without worrying about the downtime. The rational being that a good part of the year in secondary 4 students spend time preparing for the final O level exams. Consequently, schools design a richer curriculum for their students in replacement of exam preparations. On one hand, this means the child will not have to worry about the ‘O’ level exams (streaming). On the other, the richer curriculum may cover academic and non-academic experiences. Some schools send their students out to gain industry experiences like research attachments. Other schools create specialized classes where students undergo higher academic rigor, such as the Raffles Academy in Raffles Institution. There are some schools that just go ahead and start the JC curriculum in year 4 anyway. This is really important for the students as it places them ahead of their compatriots because they have more time to develop through years 1-4. Picking secondary schools: distance? Let me pour through each of the points of consideration the article states. Distance. Yes I do agree that distance to school is an important consideration when picking secondary schools. Which is why many parents decide to shift and rent near to the school, which also increases the chance getting their kids into IP schools. The example of Johorians traveling into Singapore is kinda moot. They do travel a long ways off, that is because they are in a different country. Because oping for a Singaporean education is a better choice. And they do so anyway despite the distance. The reason why they are willing to travel because of the hope that it will provide them with the best education they can receive. And that’s the same consideration for many parents for their kids. Since the Singaporean infrastructure is top notch there is no problems getting from one end of the island to another. More importantly, getting the students to travel to school forces them develop independence and resilience. If you ask the Johorian students, complains are few and far between. This is because they appreciate the chance they have as many countrymen cannot afford the chance. Ask the same of the locals and some even whine about the walk to school because of the weather. Who do you think is more likely to succeed in life? Picking secondary schools: CCAs offered? The article bring in examples where some CCAs are unique that one should look forward to when picking secondary schools. To the neighborhood school that is. It is not unusual if one were to go to an IP school. The more prestigious schools have a larger students intake and it allows the school to budget for and support various CCAs. And a quick browse through the National School Games website and you begin to see who are the dominant sports groups. They mostly come from prestigious schools. Picking secondary schools: special programs? AEPs and MEPs are traditional IP school strengths. So I wonder what the author was thinking when writing this point when advising about picking secondary schools?! Picking secondary schools: culture and religion? The author goes on to state that many schools have cultural differences one should be sensitive to when picking secondary schools. Specifically, some Christian mission schools have morning devotions or weekly chapel services. Well, guess what? The schools that have the ability to offer that are the more ‘prestigious’ schools anyway. On the other hand, is the author trying to suggest that some schools offer ‘better’ culture/religion than others for their kids? Picking secondary schools: special needs? Actually there are already schools who cater specifically to special needs. And these schools tend not to be a mainstream school because the latter just cannot meet the needs. And these should be the options parents consider in the first place. So the advice to picking secondary schools that is not ‘prestigious’ is completely moot. Bottomline: Picking secondary schools I get that the article is trying to push for the idea of opting for admissions into ‘non-elite’ schools. So that parents don’t chase for grades for their kids in the process. But unfortunately the reasons are pretty weak which is why majority of parents are still grades chasing. Because they want the best for their kids and they know where to put them in.
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!
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.

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Factors for picking secondary schools [opinion] A recent article suggests factors to consider for picking secondary schools. As well meaning as the article is tries, if parents want their kids to go into JC, then the only consideration is if that school has a through train IP program. Everything else is secondary (pun unintended). Picking secondary schools: IP program An IP program is curated for the smarter students to go through an academic program without worrying about the downtime. The rational being that a good part of the year in secondary 4 students spend time preparing for the final O level exams. Consequently, schools design a richer curriculum for their students in replacement of exam preparations. On one hand, this means the child will not have to worry about the ‘O’ level exams (streaming). On the other, the richer curriculum may cover academic and non-academic experiences. Some schools send their students out to gain industry experiences like research attachments. Other schools create specialized classes where students undergo higher academic rigor, such as the Raffles Academy in Raffles Institution. There are some schools that just go ahead and start the JC curriculum in year 4 anyway. This is really important for the students as it places them ahead of their compatriots because they have more time to develop through years 1-4. Picking secondary schools: distance? Let me pour through each of the points of consideration the article states. Distance. Yes I do agree that distance to school is an important consideration when picking secondary schools. Which is why many parents decide to shift and rent near to the school, which also increases the chance getting their kids into IP schools. The example of Johorians traveling into Singapore is kinda moot. They do travel a long ways off, that is because they are in a different country. Because oping for a Singaporean education is a better choice. And they do so anyway despite the distance. The reason why they are willing to travel because of the hope that it will provide them with the best education they can receive. And that’s the same consideration for many parents for their kids. Since the Singaporean infrastructure is top notch there is no problems getting from one end of the island to another. More importantly, getting the students to travel to school forces them develop independence and resilience. If you ask the Johorian students, complains are few and far between. This is because they appreciate the chance they have as many countrymen cannot afford the chance. Ask the same of the locals and some even whine about the walk to school because of the weather. Who do you think is more likely to succeed in life? Picking secondary schools: CCAs offered? The article bring in examples where some CCAs are unique that one should look forward to when picking secondary schools. To the neighborhood school that is. It is not unusual if one were to go to an IP school. The more prestigious schools have a larger students intake and it allows the school to budget for and support various CCAs. And a quick browse through the National School Games website and you begin to see who are the dominant sports groups. They mostly come from prestigious schools. Picking secondary schools: special programs? AEPs and MEPs are traditional IP school strengths. So I wonder what the author was thinking when writing this point when advising about picking secondary schools?! Picking secondary schools: culture and religion? The author goes on to state that many schools have cultural differences one should be sensitive to when picking secondary schools. Specifically, some Christian mission schools have morning devotions or weekly chapel services. Well, guess what? The schools that have the ability to offer that are the more ‘prestigious’ schools anyway. On the other hand, is the author trying to suggest that some schools offer ‘better’ culture/religion than others for their kids? Picking secondary schools: special needs? Actually there are already schools who cater specifically to special needs. And these schools tend not to be a mainstream school because the latter just cannot meet the needs. And these should be the options parents consider in the first place. So the advice to picking secondary schools that is not ‘prestigious’ is completely moot. Bottomline: Picking secondary schools I get that the article is trying to push for the idea of opting for admissions into ‘non-elite’ schools. So that parents don’t chase for grades for their kids in the process. But unfortunately the reasons are pretty weak which is why majority of parents are still grades chasing. Because they want the best for their kids and they know where to put them in.
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!
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.