Please Mind the Platform Gap: O Level Students’ Survival Guide (Part 1)

by Valerie Tang (13S06F) and Amy Ng (13A01E)

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counseling.

This open letter is targeted at O Level students interested in joining RI in JC1/Yr 5 through the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE). Part 2 of this article can be found here.

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To the future RI JAE student:

So you have just finished your O Level examinations. It feels good not to have that constant nagging at the back of your head doesn’t it? Enjoy yourself while you can because the A Level journey will be much more trying. You will have to enter a new environment, make new friends and adapt to different school systems and programmes.

This is much more crucial if you are coming to an IP School like Raffles Institution (RI) as you would be integrating with people who have been in the Raffles Programme (RP) since Secondary One. At least in a non-IP school, everyone is just as clueless as you are. However, in RI, you will not have prior experience with respect to the way things work in Raffles.

The purpose of this letter is not to discourage you from going to RI or any IP school for that matter. Rather, we are trying to address some of the things JAE students like yourself may not be aware of and to help you be prepared for your entrance into Raffles Institution.

In January next year, students from RP will be having a week of introductory briefings even before the release of the school posting results. They will be learning all about the programmes and systems that RI offers and so will have ample time to evaluate the different opportunities in front of them and prepare to make important decisions such as their subject combinations.

For JAE students, however, time is much more limited.

Of course, on your first day at RI, you will expect to be briefed about everything from the matriculation process to the enrichment programmes and you will not be disappointed. The introductory briefings will be conducted once again for JAE students – except that what was covered in a week for RP students will be squeezed into two hours. On the bright side, you will not need to sit through hours of briefings like the RP students, but your version of information will be much more condensed.

After that, while you are still pondering over whether taking Knowledge and Inquiry will be better than taking General Paper, you will be rushed off to take part in the orientation’s fun and games. It is all very fast-paced but that’s efficiency for you. You will eventually learn to get used to it and even cherish it during your time in RI.

Unless you have an older sibling or a senior in RI, you may be unfamiliar with the different terms such as ‘Raffles Diploma’ and ‘Humanities Programme’. So here you are in this strange new land and in the next few days, you are going to have to make certain choices that will affect the rest of your JC experience or even your life. These choices are going to be based on very limited preparation and information if you choose to remain ignorant.

We have experienced the consequences of this ignorance first hand. The feeling of being unprepared and uninformed is terrible, especially after the high of doing well in the O Levels. One of the worst parts of our experience was the confusion about the prestigious Raffles Academy (RA) and being told that the entrance examination for it is on the very next day. We weren’t expecting a test on the first week of school! What if this RA was offering us a wonderful opportunity that we missed?

All’s well that ends well, though. We managed to get through the baffling orientation period and make a place for ourselves in the Raffles family. However, even after a year in RI, we still find that there is a problem of ignorance in the induction process when we reflect back.

This letter, therefore, aims to clear up this ignorance so that future RI JAE students like you will not have to experience the same confusion and worry that we had during the orientation period. While this may not be a substitute for formal academic counseling, as JAE students ourselves, we hope that you will find our advice useful.

1) Matriculation

For more information please click here.

On this topic, the only advice we can give is this: You should have already decided what subject combination you want to offer before you even step into RI.

The reason for this is that the matriculation process is rushed. You will be instructed to visit an online portal to choose your subjects over the five days of orientation and you may be reaching home late at night each day during that period. This gives you very little time to sit down and properly consider all your options when it comes to your subject choices. So, if you have absolutely no idea what Humanities subject best suits you, for instance, you should think about it right now.

2) Raffles Academy

Chemistry_A_lvl_StudyGuide_CS_Toh

Now, for the mysteries of the RA: this is an accelerated and enriched curriculum for the sciences. As with everything else, you will be briefed about this on the first day of Orientation. Since the RA programme is above and beyond that of the normal curriculum, you will first have to undergo a selection test. Unfortunately, the topics for the test will only be released on the first day of Orientation, while the tests will start immediately on the next day. This means that if you have set your mind on RA, start studying right now. Pick up some H2 A level study guides and pray that whatever you managed to study will be tested.

However, be warned that RA is not for the faint-hearted. The RP students taking RA in JC have more often than not taken RA in Secondary School. This means that they already have a good grasp of the content; your teachers will assume you do too. Also, students taking RA are often assumed to be going for the Science Olympiads, so if you are not planning to do so, then some might advice you not to waste your time. This is because once you get into RA, it is not easy to get out. For one thing, RA students are put together in the same class, so if you decide to drop out halfway, you might end up having a lonely time when all your classmates are going for lectures that do not include you. Ultimately though, Olympiads are a separate enrichment programme from RA, though being one of the only four to five members of your class not involved in Olympiads can be a little depressing at times.

As for those brave-hearted smart alecks out there who want to give it a shot – good luck.

3) Humanities Programme

As the name suggests, the Humanities Programme is for the humanities. This is somewhat equivalent to the RA of the Arts. Assuming you have already chosen your subject combinations for the Arts, with Literature in English being one of your chosen subjects, you can choose to apply for the Humanities Programme (HP). Please note that the Humanities Programme is offered by the school itself and this is not to be confused with the Humanities Scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Also, the two are not synonymous as there have been cases where students apply for both HP and the Humanities Scholarship but only attain one or the other.

To apply for the Humanities Scholarship, you are required to write an essay of about 500-800 words which is to be submitted via MOE’s website. Scholarship application opens around the week after Orientation, so if you’re applying, you might want to start writing before the mad rush of Orientation begins. More information on this can be found here.

As for the Raffles HP application, it is roughly the same as the scholarship, with an essay of the same topic to be submitted to the school. The deadline for this is the second day of Orientation. Unfortunately, the uninformed student will only find out about this on the first day, which means that will have to work through the night to finish their essay.

Therefore, the moral of the story: do your homework before coming!

4) Knowledge and Inquiry

For more information please click here.

Last but not least, it is time to look at the interesting subject of Knowledge and Inquiry (KI). Please note that this is not the same as studying philosophy although KI does contain some elements from philosophy. KI is in fact the understanding of the nature and construction of knowledge. That sounds mind-boggling doesn’t it?

Well, in simple layman terms, KI examines what is knowledge and how we process it. It also examines somewhat philosophical questions such as what is true knowledge. However, its main focus would be more on how knowledge affects society and how knowledge should be used. That’s not to say that having knowledge in basic philosophy isn’t helpful. In fact, RP students from Raffles Girls School (RGS) have an advantage in this respect as they have studied philosophy in secondary school. This gives them an edge in their essays as they know more theory and terms which they can apply to their arguments.  Don’t be daunted though, because as long as you are well-read and have a passion for the subject, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Some perks about KI is that it if you take KI you don’t need to take the H1 subject General Paper (GP) as KI can be taken in lieu of GP. This is because KI is a H2 subject that develops the higher critical thinking skills similar to GP. Another advantage is that 40% of your A level grade would be based on an essay submitted somewhere in the midst of your J2 year. In other words, less to worry about during the actual A levels in November. However, do bear in mind that you would probably also have to spend more time on a H2 subject compared to a H1 subject.

So how do you apply to take KI as a subject in RI? As always, there is a selection test, and again you will only be informed about it on the first day. The test is (of course) a few days away. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to prepare for this. The selection test is based on an unseen text in which you simply have to answer a question to the best of your ability. Thus, the only advice we can give in this aspect would be to tell you to critically identify the arguments and assumptions within the text and evaluate them. So, if you do decide to try for KI, make sure you keep a clear head and think.

With that, we look forward to seeing you join the Rafflesian family next year.  Do check out our next article for an update after you get your O Level results.

Best wishes

Valerie Tang 13S06F
Amy Ng 13A01E

PS. Special thanks to the contribution of our interviewees for this article.
(Lu Zhao Boyu, 13AO1D; Toh Yi Shan, 13SO6O; Celeste Tan, 13SO6N; Yap Zhi Xin Regine, 13SO6F; Fan Wenqing 13SO6F)

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