By Law May Ning (14S03O), Feng Zhuo (14S03S), Allison Choong (14S05B), Tan Jun Xiang (14S06C)
The following is the first part of Raffles Press’ feature, Please Mind The Platform Gap: Choosing Subject Combinations. You can find the second part of the feature on Arts combinations here.
So you’ve been forcibly pushed into entering the labyrinth that is choosing a subject combination. By now, you’re an absolute expert on all the rules of the game, having successfully memorised which subjects you can and cannot do together, and you can totally rattle off the definition of what counts as a “contrasting subject”.
Perhaps you’ve already set your heart on that particular combination and want to ensure (for the hundredth time) you’ve made the right choice. Perhaps you have absolutely no clue what to do and are looking for some place to start. Well either way, this article is for you – we will cover some of the more common subject combinations, different pros and cons and things you should consider before selecting each one.
The (Pure) Sciences
(B = Biology, P = Physics, C= Chemistry, M = Maths, E = Econs, x = Other contrasting subject such as Geography, Literature, History, KI, French, German etc.)
Maybe it’s always been your childhood dream to become a doctor or a scientist, or maybe in your spare time you catch bugs cut them open and think about their anatomy. With that burning passion in mind, you’ve decided to become a science student. Well, you’re in for a ride.
General things to consider:
As with choosing any subject combination, the primary consideration with taking this combination should really be interest. This is easily the most popular combination in RI, and possibly Singapore, so make sure it is really what you want to do rather than just because you followed the crowd. Without interest, the sheer intensity of the content makes it easy to burn out very fast.
Content-wise, the P/BCME combination can be very heavy, especially if you choose Biology, so it can be difficult to catch up – it certainly requires consistent and conscientious effort. There’s a huge gap from Year 4 science to Year 5 science. For Biology, biomolecules (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes & lipids) which, if you came from RGS, took up your entire Year 3, is covered in one mere month in RI. Be prepared to work – and work hard.
Our suggestion would definitely be to take a look at the MOE official syllabus for yourself to work just how much you’ve gotten yourself into.
Career aspirations definitely do also play a role in taking up the combination. Generally, while Art university courses have fewer prerequisites, not doing a pure science in JC eliminates most science related careers and degrees (with the exception of certain degrees that may only require one science). Look at prerequisites for university courses before you choose your combinations – although different universities will require different prerequisites, a good guide would be the local NUS requirements to find the general gist of requirements.
Step 1: Physics or Biology?
If you’ve decided to do this (pure) science combination, and were amongst the triple science majority in secondary school, the first thing you should consider is whether to do Physics or Biology. The main differences in Physics and Biology lie in the nature of the subject – while Physics is more concept based, while Biology is on the other hand strongly content based.
In terms of studying, Biology exams are certainly “muggable”, but require more effort, while Physics is application based and it is easy to slip up and makes mistakes. Of course, that’s not to say Physics involves little memorising and studying (it does require a fair chunk for definitions and such), but it pales in comparison to the mountain of books that is Biology.
The main thing would be to set a time aside for self-reflection, decide what you like to do, and what you can realistically do. Rely on your own experience in secondary school so far to gauge these things – if you’re still conflicted, flip through an A level textbook to see which you could imagine yourself doing.
Or you could always toss a coin.
Step 2: Econs? Or another contrasting subject?
Once you have spent some time deciding on which science you should take, it’s time to embark on the next arduous part of the journey: deciding which contrasting subject (also known as your humanities subject) you should take.
Hear ye, hear ye! The first stop that you must certainly bypass is one known as Economics, or Econs for short. However, this is a relatively unknown and foreign stretch of land, and you will find yourself in strange territory. In order to gauge your chances of survival in this piece of land, one piece of advice would be to visit your nearest Popular, or consult your predecessors (also known as seniors) to obtain a book of the local lingo (the Economics textbook). Flip through the book, and consider if you would be able to study that for two years consecutively.
One other thing to keep in mind is that the issue of a contrasting subject will also bring about several timetabling and class issues. Majority of the science classes being solely for the PCME combinations and BCME combinations, while typically, for non-economic contrasting subjects, there will be one class for each subject (i.e. about one class per cohort for BCMG, one class per cohort for PCMG etc). As a result of this, taking (or not taking) economics will affect who else is in your class. By taking the more common B/PCME combination, the different classes will be likely be streamed by your Year 4 results so you might end up with people with similar Year 4 results. (though your choice of other subjects such as Chinese will also affect timetabling). On the other hand, taking for example, Literature, as a contrasting subject will result in classmates of all academic standards since everyone will end up in one class. Perhaps taking a less common combination is a probable way to end up with your friends, but taking certain subjects purely so you can spend time with your bestie alone is probably not a very wise way to go about things.
With regards to class, your Year 4 results will play a huge role in determining your class composition and personality. Those looking for a more competitive schooling experience will find solace in high band classes, surrounded by like-minded individuals who thrive on the thrill of scoring well for each and every examination. Yet students looking for a more casual, relaxed environment may very well miss the sense of camaraderie and downright craziness in their previous classes (not that high-scorers can’t have fun, but they do tend to be more muted in their fun-having). Ultimately, a large part of your JC experience will be moulded by the type of classmates you have as well as the friends you mingle with. But fret not, if you do end up having serious issues with your classmates you can always request for a class transfer as a last resort.
Other contrasting subject options:
History might seem like a viable option to those who have a strong passion for heritage and the past. However, do think wisely before you decide to plunge right in into JC history, because it might be a huge difference from what you have been used to in secondary school. History may seem like nothing but a memory-demanding subject in secondary school, however, in JC, “it is more than just memory work, and is in fact about actually working out the trends across the examples taught and crafting them into arguments”, said a Year 5 history student who chose to remain anonymous. That being said, one of course still needs to hit the books and make sure that one has a solid grasp of content and knowledge to understand the subject. This is particularly crucial as the A level examination splits History at H2 level into two separate papers – Paper 1 covers International History while Paper 2 covers Southeast Asian history. H1 Level history, however, only covers Paper 1.
However, if you think that being able to rattle off facts about Southeast Asian history and the Cold War is all you need in order to pass with flying colours in JC, think again. A strong and continued passion is necessary for one to be able to sustain himself/herself through the heavy content found in history.
If you are considering a combination like BCMH, do prepare yourself for the demanding memory work. However, one Year 5 history student reconciles by saying that “the exam timetable is crafted in such a way that allows sufficient time to study both. For example, in the recent promotional examinations, there are two days for me to study both history and biology each”, so perhaps one need not be overly worried about not being able to survive through the hectic exam timetable should one decide to take a combination like BCMH.
A pure science and Geography combination is only for the brave at heart, particularly if one is attempting the BCMG combination. With thick stacks of books to look through, the BCMG combination is arguably the heaviest combination there is. No less, taking this is certainly an option for those passionate about Geography. Geography at H2 level is split into two separate sections, Human Geog and Physical Geog. While Physical Geog is content heavy, Human Geog has been said to be similar to economics. It certainly has useful real world applications to learn more about statistics about the state of Singapore, with there even always being “geography-type” of questions in the General Paper essay, for example, the “liveable city” question in the recent Y5 Promos.
Students focus on the study of lithological, hydrological, and atmospheric processes in Physical Geog, and Globalisation, Population, and Urbanisation for Human Geog. Why is Geography so content-heavy, you might ask? Wasn’t Year Four Geography an easy A? Do bear in mind that one has to study for Human Geog and Physical Geog concurrently. Imagine attempting to memorize physical properties of Castle Koppies while desperately internalizing case studies on TNCs in India! Papers consist of 6 questions, and are three hours – each. Geography is certainly not for the faint-hearted out there. (Not to mention that the exam committee has a knack for putting Biology and Geography papers on the same day. That could, though, be coincidence – don’t take our word for it.)
For those inclined in languages and, literature might be a possible prospect that you could consider. Literature is probably one of the least content-heavy subjects in JC. Nonetheless, one needs to have great appreciation and passion for the written work, as literature requires more self-study and reading as compared to the other subjects. Contrary to common belief, Literature is a subject that can be “studied”. It is important that one does sufficient readings and pays close attention during classes to sieve out important information which might only be derived through rigorous thinking complemented with the opinions of teachers during lessons. Also, another common misconception is that one requires a background in literature to study the subject. However, the writer has encountered many people who have not taken literature previously, yet still do well in the subject in JC. One year 5 Literature student who did not have a prior literature background in upper secondary commented that “exposure might be a slight issue as other more experienced students may be more well-acquainted in literary works and knowledge. However, this can be overcome as long as one makes an effort to listen and expose themselves to literary works outside of the syllabus.”
It might also be interesting to note that literature is a humanities subject with one of the highest passing rates in JC across the past years, though it might of course be only due to the hard work of the preceding batches. Lastly, one important distinction in the way literature is taught in JC as compared to schools like RGS is that there is a great deal more focus on close textual analysis throughout most of the coursework as compared to the thematic focuses of RGS. In addition, one might notice a decrease in the number of class discussions one might get to do in JC. This is all part and parcel of taking Literature, but if one has a strong passion for the subject, this should not pose as a serious obstacle.
At H1 level, Literature comprises on paper covering one novel, one drama and one unseen poetry comparison. H2 level Literature covers the H1 paper in addition to a paper on Victorian Literature.
Third language is a possible choice for those who are already proficient in their respective third languages in secondary school. Even though this might be one of the least-trodden paths in JC, there is no reason why one should avoid taking this road just because it is less popular amongst their peers. It is extremely crucial that one already has a certain level of passion and ability to do well in the language, as some might find the content a huge leap from secondary school. After all, it is also important for one to do well, since it will be reflected as one of one’s A Level subjects. One concern that one might have might be the class schedule. The starting may be tough, as one might find it difficult to get adjusted to staying back till 7.30 p.m. at MOELC twice every week. Bearing in mind that there are still CCA days, this might be quite taxing on the individual. Thus, some may choose to take sign up for a less hectic CCA to balance out their schedule.
However, the rewards of pursuing one’s interest to a higher level can be immensely rewarding. Year 5 French student Alicia Lian certainly does not regret her choice, as she “like(s) the language, culture and opportunities it opens up to.” The JC third language programme does offer a more intimate learning experience as class sizes are often smaller. It also usually offers exchange programmes for its students, which can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to increase one’s exposure and knowledge of the respective country’s language and country. For example, the Year 5 French students will be embarking on a trip to Dijon at the end of this year. That being said, one should not choose to take third language in JC just because one is tempted to dance around the streets of Paris, but rather, one needs to be sure in his/her commitment to studying the language before making the choice.
So which contrasting subject?
The above list is hardly exhaustive – there are other subjects one can offer such as Knowledge and Inquiry, English, Chinese, and Tamil Language & Linguistics… Though these are in fact the more common ones.
With all the advice there is given, it is perhaps time for you to start considering where your interests and abilities lie. While economics is indisputably the most popular subject in JC, there is no reason why one should follow the well-trodden path if one has a strong passion in other areas. Subject content can get very heavy in JC, so it is extremely important for one to derive a sense of joy and fulfillment in what one studies, or the next two years can seem like a never-ending labyrinth. As Year 5 student Amanda Chin from 14S03S aptly puts it, “it is more important to follow your passion, than to tred on the path of conventionalism.” If you are worried that what you are passionate about is not practical, do make sure you do your research in advance and read through the course requirements of the potential careers that you might want to have in the future. Remember: passion and practicality is not necessarily mutually exclusive, Always follow your hearts, adventurers, and may the coming two years be joyous and fruitful for you!
The Hybrid Science Combinations
(list is not exhaustive, many other combinations are possible including combinations with French, German, KI etc.)
(C = Chemistry, P = Physics, M = Maths, E = Econs, L = Literature, G = Geography, H = History)
Hybrid science combinations are combinations that include one science, mathematics, and two contrasting subjects. The nitty gritty about what can be taken with what should well be familiar to you by now, or if not, you could consult the official sources. While generally flexible, there are in fact certain rules as to what you can or cannot take, like how you cannot take Biology if you only take one science subject.
General things to consider:
To some, those who take the hybrid combinations simple do so because they “can’t make up their minds”, but whether or not that is true, hybrid combinations are more for those people who have no wish to specialize in the hard sciences, but do not want to completely be arts students. Students may prefer to offer one more science subject on top of the almost compulsory Math, while dedicating more time to the humanities.
“I just felt like Physics would like open my options a bit more than taking the arts stream,” said one Year 5 taking a hybrid combination, who declined to be named. As we’ve mentioned earlier, taking a combination with Physics/Chemistry broadens your options in university, and may allow you to take on further studies in either the sciences or the humanities. This might also be the reason why these students come off as indecisive, but it’s not a given that everyone knows what profession they wish to work in at the mere age of 16!
Taking a hybrid combination has also only become a trend in recent years. From a small number of 3-4 classes in 2010, the class of 2014 has 3 PME and CME classes each. Students are easily split into Geography, History, and Literature classes, with the remaining few scattered where the timetable seems to fit their non-traditional combinations. However, this is where one may see the issue of taking a hybrid combination. Due to the small number of classes, it’s unlikely that students are banded by academic ability, and students may face a learning environment where learning paces are vastly different. In fact, some speak of an entire class who failed to meet promotional criteria for CTs. To date, there have been less than 10 students from hybrid classes on the deans’ list. Students within a single class may be extremely broad in terms of not only academic ability, but interests and timetables. This is a oft-heard complaint regarding PW meetings; students with different combinations and timetables may have few common blocks to discuss in their groups. Although some claim that hybrid classes receive poorly spread-out timetables which seem to clash with the rest of the school, as far as this author is concerned, this is false.
Nevertheless, one should certainly consider the implications of not taking a third science in JC; one student, who declined to be named, commented that, “I’m not sure what I want to do with my life yet, and Chemistry opens up more options for me than Geography!” Be it studying the mineral composition of granite, or titrating NaOH and HCl, it all boils down to what you deem more suitable for your future aspirations, and of course, what you truly enjoy.
Hybrid considerations: Chemistry or Physics?
Those of you from the Raffles family (RI Y1-4 or RGS) will have no doubt been regaled with stories from your seniors about this dreaded subject. Legend speaks of a year where the cohort average for the Chemistry promotional examinations was a resounding “E”. Don’t be disheartened though. Like most other subjects, Chemistry simply requires a strong grasp of the fundamental concepts as well as a healthy dose of hard, work. Yet, as your Chemistry lecturers will gleefully inform you, hard work and effort alone will not guarantee that coveted A. Apart from the formidable volume of content in your lecture notes (which you should have at your fingertips), you are expected to familiarize yourself with a thousand other minute details and key information that are often only revealed during lectures and tutorials. Chemistry may be widely regarded as one of the more challenging subjects out there, but it is definitely do-able if you are willing to put in the effort to make it happen.
Career wise, Chemistry is a key requirement for taking medicine at NUS and the hard sciences. Though, if you are taking a hybrid combination, medicine is already out of the question since you require two sciences. Physics opens doors in terms of Engineering prospects to name a few. It’s a question of interest, aptitude and aspirations.
To Sum Up:
If you’ve reached all the way to the bottom of this page and your head isn’t completely muddled then good for you! Choosing a subject combination is only the beginning of your JC journey, but also arguably the most important part – many a weary student who lamented his or her subject combination during the first few months of the school year had to disrupt the finally settling waters of JC only to go through a lot of trouble and class changes. Here’s to good luck on your journey ahead, and be sure to read some frequently asked questions as well as our Part 2 of choosing subject combinations to find out more about the Arts subject combinations later this week.
Official MOE website syllabus: https://www.seab.gov.sg/pages/nationalExaminations/GAL/School_Candidates/syllabus/gce-a-level-syllabuses-examined-in-2019
NUS Course Prerequisites http://www.nus.edu.sg/oam/apply/local/prerequisites/BYA-prerequisites.html
Read more on subject combinations here: https://rafflespress.com/2012/10/22/please-mind-the-platform-gap-subject-combinations/