Do I need tuition [Answers to question] I am sure many JC students will ask the question to themselves sometime during the 2 years,”do I need tuition?” I hope with the the following points I can give you a clearer perspective. Do I need tuition? Accessing expertise Notice how professional athletes always have a coach. In fact some of the coaches are as famous as the athletes. For example, legendary swimmer Michael Phelps has Bob Bowman as his coach during his record breaking years. Why is that? This is because a coach will notice if the game is off for the athletes as well as help make small adjustments so as to bring the performance to the next level. Likewise, an academic tutor can bring drastic improvements in performance for their tutees. The benefit is that you are leveraging on the years of experience a tutor has so that you can speed ahead of the competition. Even though you are perfectly fine doing academic work independently, time unfortunately is not on your side. I have written about how the Singaporean A levels is one of the hardest versions around. Furthermore, you only have less than 2 years to cover the entire syllabus. Finally, teachers force students to participate in CCAs and I talk about how this is not desirable for students. All these conspire to work against you in your goals for A levels reducing chances of university admission offers. Do I need tuition? Isn’t my school teacher enough? The A levels exams is high stakes, but you may not have the luxury of a great teacher or school as I have mentioned. Frequently, the teachers are newly promoted from junior schools, new to the program or even fresh graduates. As such, they come without any experience in guiding their students towards academic excellence. Not only that, because of the numerous responsibilities the teachers in school do not have the time to track individual performance. They are not able to give individual feedback so that students can learn from their own mistakes and progress. Imagine an average swim coach barking orders for his swimmers to swim faster. Swimmers are lost not because they aren’t aware they are slow. But because they are not sure which part of their swim is hindering their speed. For some it can be ineffective hand pulling, or not having rhythmic kicking, and yet others incorrect body positions. Achieving subject mastery Do you remember your past when you are interpreting things in a certain way only for someone to come in and provide a completely different perspective? If you are working on your own, you will likely be thinking things in a certain way as a result of your experiences. There is nothing wrong with that but it is very narrow and not sufficient to achieve subject mastery. And in order to do that, then you have to practice much, think deeply as well as make connections across topics. In my H2 Biology tuition, I make sure students gain all 3 from me. I liken this process to the concept of anti-aging for example. Many approach the concept at a surface level with some going under the knife in addition to other medical procedures to look younger. Whilst they do appear to be younger on the outside it doesn’t reflect what is going on inside the body. To slow down the effects of aging, cells and organs beneath the skin are equally if not more important. So anti-aging efforts should not only target the exterior but the insides too. For example, if the liver is not working optimally, then the detoxifying function is sub-optimal. This then reduces the bodily function since toxins accumulate and interfere with biochemical reactions within cells. This may in fact speed up biological aging contrary to what a person seeks to achieve in the first place. So why aren’t the person who is seeking to slow down aging looking at the root of the problem? Perhaps it is because that’s what he/she knows to do based on his/her life experience to date. And that precisely is my point isn’t it? I cannot afford tuition Some students think that by saving money off tuition they may be doing a service to their parents. Let me bring up another example to show you that this thought can be a case of ‘penny wise pound foolish’. Consider that by hiring a coach to achieve mastery and then going on to do well opening up opportunities to earn money. This is what describes Roger Federer worth about USD94 million as of June 2019. And how important his coach is to bringing him out of a performance slump. And according to this article a professional tennis coach gets USD1000/week according to this article. Therefore one can work out the returns on investment with the figures above. Likewise, if a student does really well in the exams. This can subsequently open up scholarship opportunities local or overseas, access to highly competitive courses, even potential parents hiring him/her to coach their kids! This returns can be multiple-fold. Bottomline So I hope I have given you at the very least another perspective answering your question, ‘Do I need tuition?’. Before I end let me refer you to what world renowned surgeon Atul Gawande have to say on the same topic for he too even hired a coach to observe him in surgery so that he can break through his performance plateau. Most importantly I hope you find exam success in the near future.

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Go to an average neighborhood school, article suggests Every once in a while an article like this turns up, imploring parents to consider a neighborhood school. The article is almost formulaic, insert the name of the student, state the elite school. Then replace it with a neighborhood school and then accessorize it the student’s justification for the choice. Suddenly the neighborhood school looks not too shabby at all. Then rinse and repeat every time the PSLE results are about to be released. Neighborhood school vs elite schools: IP program I hope I can clarify the viewpoint so that more people become aware about the school choices. There are many reasons why students want to get to elite schools. Prestige and the generally competency level of educators in such schools are often consideration factors. What is most important however, is that these good schools often run integrated programs (IP). This is where students bypass the O levels and head straight to the Singaporean A levels. And the Singaporean version of A level is some of the toughest examinations far exceeding that of the international version. Important advantage of an IP program Whilst the IP program is not perfect and can place undue amount of stress for final year students, there are several advantages. First, students under these scheme will not need to compete for placements in IP schools heading into JC. The O level graduates have to fight for these places and are frequently few and far between. For example, O level graduates who gain admissions into RI routinely have below 6 points for the L1R5. That means the student have perfect grades through 6 subjects and have to reduce their points further before getting a chance. For the regular year 4 IP student, they get across to the next year as long as they pass. Other advantages of an IP program In addition, these IP schools have more time developing their students because they don’t have to prep their students for the O levels. With the extra time, the teachers frequently start teaching A level syllabus. As such, their students are already ahead of their neighborhood school compatriots. In this scenario being ahead matters. That is because the A levels is so tough and it is the bottleneck to the local universities with keen competition to studentship. This as well as the scholarship opportunities that open up locally or internationally. Therefore giving the IP students an extra edge. It is not that neighborhood school candidates cannot achieve that but the fact that they start the race late. Neighborhood school, MOE’s thinking hat On the other hand, there is an interest to coax students to enroll into the neighborhood schools. This is because the student numbers are declining in such schools and there is a huge amount of resources (human and material) that has already been deployed. If the student numbers are not up then these schools eventually have to close or merge leading to extra headcount and deserted infrastructure. Remember the closure of JCs? These are occurring and the lower tier JCs with none of the IP programs on the chopping board. Neighborhood school, not a great place for development In addition, even if the neighborhood school have caring teachers, students with high motivation are the exception and not the norm. Let’s say if I am the teacher of a class of 30 where there is 1 bright student and 29 other students who are struggling. I will do everything I can to make sure the 29 other students pass. This is because the KPI of schools given by MOE is pass-rate not distinction rates. So serving the needs of the bright student takes a back seat. Which in turn will mean that their potential will not be taken to the next level. This is even more important considering the high level required at the subsequent A level examinations. Bottomline This is not to say the neighborhood school paradigm is completely useless. If the student just want to achieve good O level results and then filter into alternative schooling options such as the local polytechnics, then this is a viable option. So it really depends on the end point objectives. Once the end objective is clear then the option should be straight forward. In contrast, choosing to go into a school simply because the student can spend less time commuting is naive. Firstly, how big is Singapore? There are thousands of students cross the causeway from JB into Singapore on a daily basis. And these students spend far more time traveling compared to an average commute of a Singaporean student. They do so with the belief that Singapore offers a superior education compared to the Malaysia. Talking about distance is a non sequitur for going to neighborhood school instead of an elite school. And the unwritten ‘in-between the lines’ rational of the taxi-driver father in the article (assuming a single salary since the mother was not reported to be working) is that going to a good school (hence higher fees and expenditure) will be a serious tax on the small income. But of course, the article will not admit to that. Otherwise it will completely defeat the purpose of the article won’t it?
Kids with tuition fare worse. REALLY??? [Opinion] Kids with tuition fare worse screams another rubbish article in the local paper. Another week and another newspaper article to debunk. They have been on a vendetta against the tuition industry due to how big the sector is. And it is definitely a slap in the face to the Education Ministry if students are consistently seeking out tuition. Kids with tuition fare worse: the arguments for So the author, a lecturer at the department of economics at NUS compared retrospective data collected in 2012 of Singaporean student performance in PISA. This is also known as the Program for International Student Assessment and as such he determined that students with tuition fared worse. Kids with tuition fare worse: debunking it Readers mention about how inappropriate statistical analysis of the article is. Since this makes the article appear silly, it have been taken offline. Instead I will comment about the methodology from a clinical trials perspective. As such make it relevant to biology (since I am a H2 BIO tutor). Clinical trials are always prospective studies. Meaning when identifying a novel treatment, design a trial, start enrolling patients and then collect data off them. Do an analysis subsequently, back it up with statistics and then come to a conclusion. Is it useful or not? Nobody will do a clinical trial backwards (retrospective). That is go back to the medical records analyze their situation and come to a conclusion the usefulness of a new drug or existing treatment. The nuts and bolts The main reason for that is because the more analysis uses the same set of data the more likely one will find a relationship between an independent and dependent variable. In this case whether students having take tuition or not and their score in PISA. If there is a correlation, this may not be because the relationship is true but rather a chance finding. Just like if a person keep buying TOTO or 4D or lottery tickets, over a period of time there will be a chance that person will make a correct guess and eventually win something. Then is it because the person is lucky or is it because the person has a deep insight and resulting in a correct guess? Also, retrospective studies are very biased and cannot be controlled. Nobody can make causative conclusions from such studies (like what the lecturer did) and can only point out possible correlations. This in turn needs to be confirmed with prospective studies. Why are retrospective studies biased? Let me give you one example. Explaining bias PISA is not a universal test ALL students in Singapore take. Therefore the sample collection is not representative of the students in Singapore and their performance relative to whether they go tuition or not. Take a top tier Independent Singaporean school for example, between PISA and MENSA or the Olympiads, the latter 2 are more prestigious and time is spent preparing for it. PISA is then left to government schools. Can you see how that will skew the results? If the author is serious about the comparison, then design one prospective study, randomized and double-blinded. Then see what the results conclude. This is how proper research can yield amazing insights. However, with the slipshod work and reportage it reflects badly not only on the paper but also on the professor himself. Just so that they can disparage the tuition industry… So if his point is valid, he should conduct a proper study. Unfortunately, they will only serve to debunk his view that kids with tuition fare worse. Kids with tuition fare worse: bottomline By the way, it is not uncommon for tuition centers to brag about their students achieving gold for Olympiads (scroll to the bottom of the page). At the same time, may I also point the author to the article mentioning the top performance of PISA in Singapore due to tuition! That article directly contradicts his stance. So which is which? I hope in this short exercise, I bring to the surface the importance of analytical skills. This is something I routinely teach so that they begin to do better in application questions.
Spaced repetition and making my students master biology The reason why a tutor can be more effective than a school teacher is because we can control our student’s learning by spaced repetition of content. In contrast, a school teacher is busy with admin work, presiding over student’s co-curricular activities, organizing school level events, attending meetings in and outside of school etc. As a tutor, I don’t do much else except to teach and also curate the best flow of content within a class. Outside of teaching, I spend time profiling my students, updating my teaching materials and thinking how I can bring my teaching to the next level. Why the school teaching is not effective In most schools, their teachers frequently split class time between lectures, tutorials and practicals. Majority of these sessions revolves around understanding content. In tuition classes, whilst I allocate a portion of time with students for that, I also spend time repeating, emphasizing memorization and rote learning adapting certain memory techniques helpful for my students. When students flip between the 2 realms of learning do they finally gain subject fluency. Teachers are setting their students up for failure if they only focused on understanding-centered learning. This is bad because most students don’t have photographic memory. Almost all my students gain understanding as I talk about the topic at hand. However, the understanding can quickly slip away and the students have to start from ground zero again without practice and spaced repetition. So when the big exams come, these students are not ready because they are learning to understand the material but unable to gain fluency to use it in novel situations in examinations. It’s no wonder hearing a new (failing) student recently remarked to me, ‘I don’t understand how I could’ve done so badly, I understood what my teacher taught in class!’ What is spaced repetition? It is revisiting the subject material repeatedly but separated by a period of time in each instance right before the students forget. It is much like once the car that is moving, the moment it slows down, pump the accelerator a little and it quickly gets up to speed. This is in contrast to cramming, which is rote memorization right before an exams. Cramming is proven to be very short term and does not translate to long term memory. Even worse, the student will have to spend a lot of time doing it. For difficult exams like A levels, it is not possible to be able to cover the entire material within a short period of time and remembering everything therefore. So poor performance ensues. How to use spaced repetition in exam preparations? Fortunately there is an app for this. The anki app is something my past students have success with. Where you create a set of digital cards filling them up with a variety of facts covering the subject a student learns. The app registers the correct and incorrect responses to these cards and identifies which card is causing problems. It then pushes the card with correct responses further back and increase the frequency of problem cards instead. Over time this helps students to effectively commit concepts into long term memory. Why spaced repetition is important in exam performance If students use spaced repetition successfully, they will have easy access to the concepts. When they encounter novel scenarios in exams, they can quickly tap on the concepts easily using it to answer questions. This is also known as chunking. In contrast, students who use cramming are much slower in response as they try to search for the facts. As such, the preoccupation prevents them from analyzing the novel situation at hand. A standard A level biology paper has a lot of questions but students have a short amount of time to complete it. So its clear which preparation technique is superior. Bottomline If you still have some time now before the major exams are coming up, you should quickly create these cards and start exam preparations. The earlier you do, the more likely the facts are in long term memory. And therefore the more benefits translate during exams. I have created a set for my students for their convenience and can be accessed below. Doing it so that my students can vastly speed up their preparations.

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Go to an average neighborhood school, article suggests Every once in a while an article like this turns up, imploring parents to consider a neighborhood school. The article is almost formulaic, insert the name of the student, state the elite school. Then replace it with a neighborhood school and then accessorize it the student’s justification for the choice. Suddenly the neighborhood school looks not too shabby at all. Then rinse and repeat every time the PSLE results are about to be released. Neighborhood school vs elite schools: IP program I hope I can clarify the viewpoint so that more people become aware about the school choices. There are many reasons why students want to get to elite schools. Prestige and the generally competency level of educators in such schools are often consideration factors. What is most important however, is that these good schools often run integrated programs (IP). This is where students bypass the O levels and head straight to the Singaporean A levels. And the Singaporean version of A level is some of the toughest examinations far exceeding that of the international version. Important advantage of an IP program Whilst the IP program is not perfect and can place undue amount of stress for final year students, there are several advantages. First, students under these scheme will not need to compete for placements in IP schools heading into JC. The O level graduates have to fight for these places and are frequently few and far between. For example, O level graduates who gain admissions into RI routinely have below 6 points for the L1R5. That means the student have perfect grades through 6 subjects and have to reduce their points further before getting a chance. For the regular year 4 IP student, they get across to the next year as long as they pass. Other advantages of an IP program In addition, these IP schools have more time developing their students because they don’t have to prep their students for the O levels. With the extra time, the teachers frequently start teaching A level syllabus. As such, their students are already ahead of their neighborhood school compatriots. In this scenario being ahead matters. That is because the A levels is so tough and it is the bottleneck to the local universities with keen competition to studentship. This as well as the scholarship opportunities that open up locally or internationally. Therefore giving the IP students an extra edge. It is not that neighborhood school candidates cannot achieve that but the fact that they start the race late. Neighborhood school, MOE’s thinking hat On the other hand, there is an interest to coax students to enroll into the neighborhood schools. This is because the student numbers are declining in such schools and there is a huge amount of resources (human and material) that has already been deployed. If the student numbers are not up then these schools eventually have to close or merge leading to extra headcount and deserted infrastructure. Remember the closure of JCs? These are occurring and the lower tier JCs with none of the IP programs on the chopping board. Neighborhood school, not a great place for development In addition, even if the neighborhood school have caring teachers, students with high motivation are the exception and not the norm. Let’s say if I am the teacher of a class of 30 where there is 1 bright student and 29 other students who are struggling. I will do everything I can to make sure the 29 other students pass. This is because the KPI of schools given by MOE is pass-rate not distinction rates. So serving the needs of the bright student takes a back seat. Which in turn will mean that their potential will not be taken to the next level. This is even more important considering the high level required at the subsequent A level examinations. Bottomline This is not to say the neighborhood school paradigm is completely useless. If the student just want to achieve good O level results and then filter into alternative schooling options such as the local polytechnics, then this is a viable option. So it really depends on the end point objectives. Once the end objective is clear then the option should be straight forward. In contrast, choosing to go into a school simply because the student can spend less time commuting is naive. Firstly, how big is Singapore? There are thousands of students cross the causeway from JB into Singapore on a daily basis. And these students spend far more time traveling compared to an average commute of a Singaporean student. They do so with the belief that Singapore offers a superior education compared to the Malaysia. Talking about distance is a non sequitur for going to neighborhood school instead of an elite school. And the unwritten ‘in-between the lines’ rational of the taxi-driver father in the article (assuming a single salary since the mother was not reported to be working) is that going to a good school (hence higher fees and expenditure) will be a serious tax on the small income. But of course, the article will not admit to that. Otherwise it will completely defeat the purpose of the article won’t it?
Kids with tuition fare worse. REALLY??? [Opinion] Kids with tuition fare worse screams another rubbish article in the local paper. Another week and another newspaper article to debunk. They have been on a vendetta against the tuition industry due to how big the sector is. And it is definitely a slap in the face to the Education Ministry if students are consistently seeking out tuition. Kids with tuition fare worse: the arguments for So the author, a lecturer at the department of economics at NUS compared retrospective data collected in 2012 of Singaporean student performance in PISA. This is also known as the Program for International Student Assessment and as such he determined that students with tuition fared worse. Kids with tuition fare worse: debunking it Readers mention about how inappropriate statistical analysis of the article is. Since this makes the article appear silly, it have been taken offline. Instead I will comment about the methodology from a clinical trials perspective. As such make it relevant to biology (since I am a H2 BIO tutor). Clinical trials are always prospective studies. Meaning when identifying a novel treatment, design a trial, start enrolling patients and then collect data off them. Do an analysis subsequently, back it up with statistics and then come to a conclusion. Is it useful or not? Nobody will do a clinical trial backwards (retrospective). That is go back to the medical records analyze their situation and come to a conclusion the usefulness of a new drug or existing treatment. The nuts and bolts The main reason for that is because the more analysis uses the same set of data the more likely one will find a relationship between an independent and dependent variable. In this case whether students having take tuition or not and their score in PISA. If there is a correlation, this may not be because the relationship is true but rather a chance finding. Just like if a person keep buying TOTO or 4D or lottery tickets, over a period of time there will be a chance that person will make a correct guess and eventually win something. Then is it because the person is lucky or is it because the person has a deep insight and resulting in a correct guess? Also, retrospective studies are very biased and cannot be controlled. Nobody can make causative conclusions from such studies (like what the lecturer did) and can only point out possible correlations. This in turn needs to be confirmed with prospective studies. Why are retrospective studies biased? Let me give you one example. Explaining bias PISA is not a universal test ALL students in Singapore take. Therefore the sample collection is not representative of the students in Singapore and their performance relative to whether they go tuition or not. Take a top tier Independent Singaporean school for example, between PISA and MENSA or the Olympiads, the latter 2 are more prestigious and time is spent preparing for it. PISA is then left to government schools. Can you see how that will skew the results? If the author is serious about the comparison, then design one prospective study, randomized and double-blinded. Then see what the results conclude. This is how proper research can yield amazing insights. However, with the slipshod work and reportage it reflects badly not only on the paper but also on the professor himself. Just so that they can disparage the tuition industry… So if his point is valid, he should conduct a proper study. Unfortunately, they will only serve to debunk his view that kids with tuition fare worse. Kids with tuition fare worse: bottomline By the way, it is not uncommon for tuition centers to brag about their students achieving gold for Olympiads (scroll to the bottom of the page). At the same time, may I also point the author to the article mentioning the top performance of PISA in Singapore due to tuition! That article directly contradicts his stance. So which is which? I hope in this short exercise, I bring to the surface the importance of analytical skills. This is something I routinely teach so that they begin to do better in application questions.
Spaced repetition and making my students master biology The reason why a tutor can be more effective than a school teacher is because we can control our student’s learning by spaced repetition of content. In contrast, a school teacher is busy with admin work, presiding over student’s co-curricular activities, organizing school level events, attending meetings in and outside of school etc. As a tutor, I don’t do much else except to teach and also curate the best flow of content within a class. Outside of teaching, I spend time profiling my students, updating my teaching materials and thinking how I can bring my teaching to the next level. Why the school teaching is not effective In most schools, their teachers frequently split class time between lectures, tutorials and practicals. Majority of these sessions revolves around understanding content. In tuition classes, whilst I allocate a portion of time with students for that, I also spend time repeating, emphasizing memorization and rote learning adapting certain memory techniques helpful for my students. When students flip between the 2 realms of learning do they finally gain subject fluency. Teachers are setting their students up for failure if they only focused on understanding-centered learning. This is bad because most students don’t have photographic memory. Almost all my students gain understanding as I talk about the topic at hand. However, the understanding can quickly slip away and the students have to start from ground zero again without practice and spaced repetition. So when the big exams come, these students are not ready because they are learning to understand the material but unable to gain fluency to use it in novel situations in examinations. It’s no wonder hearing a new (failing) student recently remarked to me, ‘I don’t understand how I could’ve done so badly, I understood what my teacher taught in class!’ What is spaced repetition? It is revisiting the subject material repeatedly but separated by a period of time in each instance right before the students forget. It is much like once the car that is moving, the moment it slows down, pump the accelerator a little and it quickly gets up to speed. This is in contrast to cramming, which is rote memorization right before an exams. Cramming is proven to be very short term and does not translate to long term memory. Even worse, the student will have to spend a lot of time doing it. For difficult exams like A levels, it is not possible to be able to cover the entire material within a short period of time and remembering everything therefore. So poor performance ensues. How to use spaced repetition in exam preparations? Fortunately there is an app for this. The anki app is something my past students have success with. Where you create a set of digital cards filling them up with a variety of facts covering the subject a student learns. The app registers the correct and incorrect responses to these cards and identifies which card is causing problems. It then pushes the card with correct responses further back and increase the frequency of problem cards instead. Over time this helps students to effectively commit concepts into long term memory. Why spaced repetition is important in exam performance If students use spaced repetition successfully, they will have easy access to the concepts. When they encounter novel scenarios in exams, they can quickly tap on the concepts easily using it to answer questions. This is also known as chunking. In contrast, students who use cramming are much slower in response as they try to search for the facts. As such, the preoccupation prevents them from analyzing the novel situation at hand. A standard A level biology paper has a lot of questions but students have a short amount of time to complete it. So its clear which preparation technique is superior. Bottomline If you still have some time now before the major exams are coming up, you should quickly create these cards and start exam preparations. The earlier you do, the more likely the facts are in long term memory. And therefore the more benefits translate during exams. I have created a set for my students for their convenience and can be accessed below. Doing it so that my students can vastly speed up their preparations.