By Chua Jun Yan (13A01A)
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.
The impending reality of JC smacks you in the face when you are confronted with matriculation – the registration exercise in which you select your subject combination. It can be an intimidating experience, given that you may not know what you are in for. Not to mention a potentially life-changing one. In this instalment of Please Mind the Platform Gap, we help you navigate the various subject options in JC.
#1 Which subject is the easiest to score in?
The unfortunate truth is that no A-level subject is easy to score in: every discipline requires its fair share of graft and hard work. In Year 5, the Arts subjects are probably easier to pass, but harder to do well in. By contrast, the Science subjects are more difficult to pass (it is widely understood that 40% of the current Year 5 cohort failed their first Common Test in Chemistry!). But if you get the hang of it, they tend to be easier to excel in (in the same Common Test, 26% of the cohort scored an A in Mathematics). Nonetheless, the pass and distinction rates are reasonably level by the time you reach the A-levels. In most of the common H2 subjects, the percentage of students scoring an A hovers around 70-80%. For the record, the top-performing H2 subject (with a candidature of at least 50) in the 2011 A-levels was History, in which 81.8% of candidates achieved an A.
Nonetheless, you should be warned: unconventional subjects tend to produce a mixed bag of results. Amongst the 43 candidates who offered English Language & Linguistics (ELL) in 2011, just 32.6% of candidates scored an A, marginally below the national average of 35.2%. Similarly, only 27.9% of candidates achieved an A in China Studies in English, slightly below the national average of 29.8%. Having said that, of 13 the candidates who took H2 Art, 11 achieved a Distinction. If you are genuinely passionate about the subject, you will be motivated to work hard, so it’s probably worth the gamble.
Despite this, there is one thing that is for sure: students who offer subjects they are good at and are interested in tend to perform better than those who take what they think is the “safe route”. Having said that, the same subject may appear in different incarnations in secondary school as compared in JC. For instance, A-level Literature focuses a lot more on close textual analysis, rather than themes on genres. The best bet is to check with a senior before reaching a hasty conclusion.
#2 How will the subject I take affect my university & career options?
It’s tempting to rely on intuition for this one, but our advice is that there is no replacement for solid research. For example, one would assume that “A”-level Biology is a pre-requisite for studying Medicine in the National University of Singapore. As it turns out, the requirement is actually Chemistry! And if you plan to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University, guess what? The recommended subject is not Economics, Knowledge and Inquiry, or even History, but Mathematics! To be dead certain, consider poring through the websites of your dream colleges before you click the “Submit” button on the matriculation form.
A further note of caution about non-traditional subjects: rumour has it that they are frowned upon by top universities. In a 2010 Guardian article, it was alleged that the Russell Group of universities (which includes Oxford and Cambridge) “reject outright pupils who take A-level subjects that appear on unpublished lists [of banned subjects]”. The list is said to include subjects like “art and design” and “drama and theatre studies” (which was mysteriously discontinued in RI, with the last cohort taking their A-levels this year). As with any rumour, there are denials, but it is probably a risk which you want to take into account.
Nevertheless, history remembers the brave: if you are like one of the 9 students in 2011 who genuinely enjoy H2 Music, it may well be worth a shot.
#3 Which subject combination gives me the slackest timetable?
What time you go home each day depends on how homogenous your class is in terms of subject combinations. If your classmates take roughly the same subjects, your timetable is likely to be more compact, and you can expect to leave school by around 2 p.m. each day. On the other hand, if you are in a “rojak” class with multiple subject combinations, it is not unheard of to end at 5 p.m. on an almost daily basis. Of course, this will be compounded if you take H1 Mother Tongue (this adds 4 hours of curriculum time each week), or if you opt to take 4 H2s instead of 3 H2s and 1 H1.
Taking exotic subjects probably lengthens your school day. For instance, Knowledge & Inquiry lessons tend to be held in the afternoons. Similarly, if you are the only student in a cohort of 1259 offering Tamil Language and Literature (like one current Year 5), you probably won’t be surprised to find that many of your one-to-one tutorials are held late in the day.
#4 How will my subject combination affect the number of guys and girls in my class?
Class allocation in JC is a bit like the way students get sorted into Houses at Hogwarts: we all have a vague idea of how it’s done, but no one can pinpoint an exact formula. From a combination of inference and hearsay, here are the main considerations (in order of priority):
- Subject combination (students who take the same subjects are likely to be in the same class)
- Mother Tongue (students who take H1 Mother Tongue are likely to be grouped together)
- Grade Point Average of relevant subjects in Year 4
In truth, it is probably likely that a large part of the class allocations are random, given the huge number of students in each cohort. According to the 2011 report which RI submitted in support of its Singapore Quality Award application, a key performance indicator for the school is the number of days it takes to form classes from the reporting date for O-level students. The benchmark is 14 days (this was actually not met in 2009), so administrators are likely to be under pressure to simply shaft students into classes quickly.
Having said that, the usual gender stereotypes provide a good gauge of the gender composition in your class. If you take the vanilla combination, PCME (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Economics), you are likely to have more boys in your class. In fact, one current Year 6 class has 23 boys – out of a total of 24 students! The ratio is less skewed if you take PCME’s close cousin, BCME (Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Economics). On the other end of the spectrum, one of this year’s Arts classes has a boy to girl ratio of 1 to 8, due in part to the small number of Arts classes. In general, a significantly higher number of girls take Geography than History. Depending on your inclinations, this might swing your options either way.
The statistics on past-year A-level results were taken from the 2012 Institution Report.
Do you have a question about matriculation or subject combinations? Leave a note in the Comments section and we will try to get back to you!