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Mr Chen's anecdotes.


Updated: Jan 15, 2023

If there is one thing I’m known for in JC, it is that I am almost automatically enrolled into any remedial / night study program that the school arranged.

If you read my previous entry in its entirety, you would know that I topped my class for prelims in Economics after scoring 12% in my JC2 CT1. So I was sitting rather confidently in the hall with my 45 rank points, listening to the VP talk about the night study program details.

"The students who score 45 rank points and below are to stay back for night study program.
"Wait, Su Yeon, he said below 45 rank points right?"
"No, he said 45 and below!"

Bitch then proceeded to laugh at me.

"You mad bro?"

The previous MYE results were justified because I didn’t study. I was humble enough to accept the help and punishment that the school was offering me. Yes I complained but I still gave it my best shot and took it as a chance to explore different ways of studying.

However, prelims was different. I tried the Night Study and STAR program and it was limited in effectiveness for me. Furthermore, I already started on a better plan. I found my own way of studying. Even though it was significantly different from what my peers were doing, I knew I was right. (I may be wrong but it's highly unlikely.)

It was then no surprise that I brought out any teenager’s secret weapon to get out of shit. My mum.

(Girls, if one day a guy you’re not interested in ask you out and you don’t know how to reject him, just tell him "My mum say cannot".)

During the Meet-The-Parent session, I explained to my Civics tutor, whom we affectionately address as "Mam", my reasons for failure and how I gave whatever the school offered me my best shot. With my mum at my aid, I tried to convince her that I knew my process was going to work and that it needed time to bear fruit.

"Mam, please. Just trust me."

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The Goal of Prelims

It’s not that I don’t take my school exams seriously… Okay fine, I only take it seriously when the stakes are high (promos & prelims). For JC promotional exam, it is obvious, I don’t want to get retained. For preliminary exams, I usually take it somewhat seriously because it is my dressed rehearsal for when the real thing arrives. The A level.

We all know preliminary exams is the closest you would get to in terms of emulating the environment of the actual national exams. Every topic is tested, knowledge required for questions are not just limited to concepts from a specific chapter, but rather an amalgamation of ideas from a variety of topics. Not only that, the pressure is tangible with the knowledge that the national exam is approaching and your results could be a reflection of what is about to arrive.

Unlike my peers around me, I’m not looking to score A’s. I’m not looking to get a certificate. I’m not looking to bath in glory (yet). Of course, getting an A would be great but I’m ultimately looking for something more important. I’m looking for progress and improvements in my work. I’m looking for verification that my study method is indeed working. And most importantly, I’m looking to not get enrolled in the ever-so-irritating night study program which I tanked for a whole month staying back in school between 6pm to 9pm.

My Mistakes Prior to Prelim exams

My Mid-Year Exams results was a sheer disaster. I did badly even though I studied, or at least I thought I did. Truth be told, I never actually tried studying for anything, including my O level, prior to my JC2 prelims. I did what I thought was studying and what most of you little shits are do for a start. Writing my own notes.

Like most students, we get this idea that if I’m doing something related to school, I’m studying. What better way is there to start than to start writing a summary of the topic in a way that aesthetically pleasing to the eye? Not only are you reading through the notes, you’re also writing it down to aid you in integrating the information into your brain. Much wow, such amaze!

"Eh Wa 你妈啦"

I did exactly that. I wrote my own notes for the entire H2 economics syllabus prior to my CT1 and MYE.

Score - 12%

Allow me to rationalize why most students choose summarising of notes as the first and foremost step to studying. It’s convenient and you’re lazy. Most of us drag ourselves to study because we know we are going to face problems along the way. We then decide to write notes because all one have to do is read, understand and just put it down on paper. It really isn’t that hard. What more, you actually felt that you studied! Yay, you!

"Look at my notes! I highlighted all the important points!"

No, you highlighted everything. You might as well don't.

Writing notes and summarising is nothing but a waste of time and a well-disguised form of procrastination. I’ve explained in another article the idea of cognitive dissonance. (Read it here.) You need to run into obstacles before actual learning takes place. True, one does need to achieve some level of basic mastery of the subject before attempting questions. However, if it is basic mastery you are seeking, try speed reading through the notes and applying it to basic questions in your tutorials instead.

Furthermore, most school lecture notes already provide you with a summary of key ideas and techniques for each individual chapter. Even if they don’t, there are plenty free online resources or you can simply purchase a guidebook on the shelf. School summary are usually terse and to the point. It is significantly likely that it’s better than your self written eye-pleasing summary. After all, most students just highlight everything thinking every word written on the page is imperative to their understanding.

I watch a lot of Ronaldinho and videos explaining his moves on YouTube but I hardly kick a ball. Does that make me half as good as Ronaldinho? I think not.

Point blank, it’s a pathetic pretext employed to pretend and feel like you’re studying. You are wasting your time.

Your Unrealized Hidden Stash of Gold

I don’t own a single copy of Ten-Year-Series for A levels.

I find more value in tutorials and school revision packages… And also, I usually just persuade my school teachers to print past year papers for me, free of charge. XD

"Print it for me leh, Madam Goh 🥺"

Tutorials and school revision packages are actually invaluable to a student. Most students simply see tutorials as a burden with minimal value and your homework to be done when you finally get home at 7 pm after a long day in school. They value prelim papers more highly because ultimately that will be the closest thing you get to an exam paper. Most of my peers simply dived head first into the pool of prelim papers they purchased from the book shop.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t like most students.

Prelim papers were my eventual goal, no doubt.

However, I decided practicing via prelim papers was premature.

It's not game time... Yet.

I realized that tutorials are usually carefully designed by teachers to bring across a key message about the topic. Tutorial questions are designed beyond just conveying the idea in baby steps. Besides having basic mastery and commonly asked questions, tutorial worksheets also set up common pitfalls when that students run into when solving questions. It is during tutorial sessions that teachers will pick out such questions to discuss extensively such that most doubts and common misconceptions are clarified.

To this day, students asked me how I studied for H2 Math. Truth be told, I don’t remember studying for H2 Math except for that one night when I sat at my desk in front of a small lamp, just redoing my vectors tutorial. It was such an excruciating experience that I still remember today. True, I had some recollection of how the question is to be done, but I still struggled. I did eventually complete it after trying to recall what was taught. And of course, I did sneak a peek at the model answers uploaded when I was really at my wits’ ends.

True Story.

When the attempting revision period finally arrives, one should re-do the bulk of the tutorial. If not, attempt the highlighted tutorial questions discussed during class to fully internalize all the messages your teachers are trying to convey. Sure, you may say you have gone through the question in class and you have a hint of memory left. However, few would be able to complete the tutorial again with complete ease.

After I have completed the tutorials, I eventually moved on to doing topical revision packages. These packages usually consist of questions curated by your school teachers from examination papers from other schools into topical formats. Essentially, this is just another set of tutorial questions, albeit potentially at a higher difficulty. Similar to tutorial worksheets, you are expected to develop a keen sense of identifying concepts tested just by reading the question. Beyond that, you should see a pattern of the way questions are formulated, asked and the sequence of steps involved in solving them.

Contrary to Prelim papers and Topical TYS, tutorial worksheets and topical revision packages have wholesome questions which are formulated to solely test on a few, if not, just one isolated topic from your syllabus. It is not an amalgamation of theories from a variety of topics. Furthermore, topical revision packages are structured such that you practice the same skill set. Again and again. This is one of the few opportunities where you get to practice just one skill and attempt to fully master it.

Why rush into a practice match when your forehand smash is still below par?

Every Knight Needs A Good Sword

Just before my MYE, I decided I needed a good sword to slay. A worthy steed to accompany me into battle. A faithful companion that would stand by me in dire straits and when the going gets tough. So I went into the bookstore and purchased one of these.

Every one of these is filled with my workings of practice papers.

Yes, I know. The default writing material that most students employ is just a foolscap pad. You write, you done, you throw. EzPz. Foolscap pads are no doubt, convenient, light, and very disposable but most students forget one key factor about intensive practice. Progress.

My "sword" & "steed" of choice are not only aesthetic, but most importantly it tracks my progress. Every question attempted is recorded and bound together in this booklet. Whatever questions that are left undone would have scribblings of my thought process. How I eventually got stuck and the question revolving around my idea that I wanted answers for when I see my school teacher or tutor.

When the question is finally answered and I can eventually arrive at the solution on my own, it is recorded for future reference as a contingency for me meeting a similar obstacle in the future. Certainly, I did eventually run into similar problems again. Instead of having to seek help, I now have some form of inkling to guide me towards the solution albeit the question might require a similar yet different approach.

Behind every Michael Jordan, stands a Phil Jackson

We all have the potential to excel. What separates us from the rest of the pack is not just determination but the coach who shows you the way. I am known to be stubborn as a bull when it comes to hard work. Tenacity, grit, and my relentless drive to pursue growth led me to where I am today. A big part of my success during my A levels was my teachers and tutors.

My tutees and I, are a team.

We all know a teacher and tutor’s role is to guide and show you how to navigate the treacherous path that they have once trekked. Unfortunately, most students do not fully understand how to best work with your teachers. We are here to help you but the effectiveness of our rendered help could be limited by you.

Never have I once gone up to my teacher or tutor and simply asked "how do I do this question?"

My questions are sharp and targeted at finding out why I got stuck or whether my understanding of the concept is coherent. Learn to formulate a good question to ask your teacher that is pivoted on growing your understanding or identifying your knowledge gap. When you have the answers and eventually apply them correctly to questions, that’s when you truly grow.

For the not-so-independent learner, your school teachers are unlikely to mark your exam papers for you. Most of us know that from experience. My econs teacher did her best to look through my work before seeing me for consultations even though it wasn’t marked intently. However, I’m certain her refusal to mark helped me more than intended. (That’s a learning point for another article).

For some, you might decide to engage a tutor while others may join a tuition centre. As mentioned previously, most students don’t study in the right way. (But somehow chant about "study smart, not hard" as if they know what they are doing). Depending on the tutor you engage, they could be of help. Personally, as a 1-1 tutor, I focus on asking you the same sharp questions I asked my teachers and focus on practicing your forehand smash before we get to choreographing your 劈杀绝招.

What's your finishing move?

Regardless if you approach your teacher, private 1-1 tutor, or tutor at a tuition centre for help, trust that we have the best of intentions. Stay open-minded and give whatever the school has planned for you a 100%. I hated STAR (Remedial) and Night Study program but I was still humble enough to go through it. When I realized it didn’t work for me, I was ready to have a healthy discussion with my teacher about what’s the best way forward for us.

As the national exam approached, it dawned upon me.

Whatever happens,

Glory or Defeat,

I am fully responsible for it.

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