Please Mind the Platform Gap: The H3 Experience – the Sciences

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Allison Choong (14S05B)


In this week’s instalment of Please Mind the Platform Gap, we answer a common question hanging over a fair number of Year Fives’ heads – should I take a H3? Some may say, “I want to take a H3 because it’s interesting!” but there’s much more to consider than that. We’ve approached a number of Year Sixes and ex-Rafflesians to help you get a better picture as to whether you should consider taking a H3 in the Sciences (or not).

MOE Pharmaceutical Chemistry
MOE Pharmaceutical Chemistry and NUS Linear Algebra
MOE Math
NTU Molecular Biology
MOE Essentials of Modern Physics
NUS Modern Physics

MOE Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Bang Cong Huynh, Class of 2012

This course runs for the entire of your J2 year, and you will take only one written paper during the A-Level Examination itself. It focuses on three main components: analytical chemistry, organic chemistry and chemistry of drugs. Analytical chemistry involves spectrometric and spectroscopic methods, which you will need to know their working principles and how to apply them to elucidating structures of organic compounds. There is also a significant part on separation techniques which demands a thorough understanding of intermolecular interactions. Organic chemistry is a proper version of H2 organic chemistry where you get to learn more about reaction mechanisms and reactivity of the different organic functional groups. A strong understanding of how molecules react with one another is crucial, instead of just mere memorisation of reactions and reagents. Good 3D visualisation is also recommended as this helps in analysing stereochemistry. And chemistry of drugs introduces the different classes of drugs and how they react / interact with our bodies. This part can be learnt through mere memorisation, but can be further appreciated if relations to organic chemistry and analytical chemistry are drawn and well understood.

The course contents are, in general, manageable because part of them are related to quite a number of H2 principles. However, a lot of practice will be needed, especially for structural elucidation (both from reactivity and from spectrometry / spectroscopy). Mechanism proposal also requires some thorough understanding of organic reactions.

There is only one lecture per week, so the pace can be quite fast for some. Sadly, there is no practical assessment. In general, the course provides you with very interesting materials that reinforce your H2 understanding of organic chemistry. Approach it with enthusiasm and you will definitely enjoy it!

Anonymous, Class of 2013

In taking this module, I got what I went in for, which is to learn something. The meat of Pharm Chem is organic chemistry, but what’s really interesting is learning how drugs work – and that’s covered in the last 2 topics. All the exam questions are contextualised in terms of pharmaceuticals so you’ll eventually get a lot of exposure.

There are only mass tutorial sessions, so it’s very independent. I did notice that the course is heavily adapted from one book (Patrick’s Medicinal Chemistry), so those who are interested can probably give yourself a headstart there!

Exam wise, it’s notoriously time tight so get ready for that – finishing the questions itself is a challenge. Each paper has 6 questions and you pick 5 to answer, and each question takes 30 minutes to answer, so you definitely need stamina and speed.

You should also make sure your organic chemistry is quite steady. I would, however, suggest that those attempting this module practice more realistic papers beforehand, as I found the tutorial questions to be lacking in terms of preparation for the papers.

MOE Pharmaceutical Chemistry and NUS Linear Algebra

Victoria Yeow, Class of 2012

Well, people actually told me my combination was crazy, but it was actually quite alright! As long as you work hard, pay attention, and keep on top of the work, it’s really quite manageable. It sounds pretty commonsensical, but my advice for Linear Algebra is to attend all the lectures, and do all the problems. As for Pharm Chem, you either have to be really good at Chem, or be prepared for a lot of memorizing.

Both modules were pretty fun, and it was definitely a great experience for me. Most people might not mention this, but NUS gives you a student card, which can be used for access into their libraries, and discounts at participating outlets!

People talk a lot about the curve, but it’s not horrifying. It is bell curved though, probably because there are many Math RA people taking this module, so you may want to take that into account when applying for the module.

MOE Math

Low Jun Wei, Class of 2013

I would say that this module was manageable. Content wise, it focuses more on depth than breadth. In this module, there are three major components: Pure Math (35%), Differential Equations (40%) and Combinatorics (25%). The latter two are all rather standard, in that once understood, they were quite manageable. The module builds on H2 knowledge, so it also helps with H2 understanding.

While Pure Math provided an eye-opening experience, it was super daunting and overwhelming at first – but we soon realised that it was just 35%! Pure math is rather difficult and requires lots of exposure, but Combinatorics and Differential Equations were rather manageable.

Differential Equations is interesting as we learn other techniques, such as integrating factors and characteristic equations, and also how to graph solutions for models such as population models and physics damping. Combinatorics is very different from ordinary Permutations and Combinations, because of the variety of techniques and questions, as well as the need for creativity to come out with combinatorial arguments. There’s not much creativity there, but one must have a good understanding of it.

They were definitely interesting, say, when we learnt the relevance of Differential Equations in modeling. I do have one tip for potential applicants – WolframAlpha is your best friend for Pure Math!

NTU Molecular Biology

Sonia Vijendran, Class of 2013

Taking this module was a great experience overall! Basically, we had lectures in RI itself (which was really convenient) every Friday. They were about 3 hours each, where our professor from NTU would give a lecture on a particular topic. The topics built upon what we already learnt in Year Five and Six H2 Biology, and sometimes, we had guest lecturers as well.

I would say that the most interesting (and fun!) thing for me were the lab sessions at NTU every Saturday. In the labs, we work in groups and my group (accidentally) broke one of the centrifuge machines during one of the first lessons, and almost disrupted the whole lab! That was one of the most memorable experiences for my group – besides the content, of course.

The lab sessions were quite fun as we were free to do whatever we wanted, as long as we completed the basic experiment for the day. As you would expect, we did a lot of our own experimenting. We had the opportunity to remain quite independent, which is, I think, something you don’t always get in school, or even in other H3s. Independent learning entails much more than what we normally study in school, such as reading lecture notes and preparing for lectures beforehand.

MOE Essentials of Modern Physics

Huan Yan Qi, Class of 2012

I took this module, as well as NUS Linear Algebra last year. The module generally covers content that’s more “modern” than the classical physics taught in normal H2, such as Special Relativity, some simple Solid State Physics and Quantum Physics.

The math is generally fine, though you should expect quite a bit of integration and calculus in Quantum Mechanics – but I would say that it is generally fine for H2 Math students.

Be prepared for quite a lot of writing! It’s a little like Chemistry, where you have to explain quantitative questions far in detail, as well as the physical steps and processes regarding a particular phenomenon.

Lastly, although the concepts and ideas may be abstract or new to some, the module also covers many practical applications, such as fibre optics, which may be rather interesting.

However, because of the difficulty of some of these modern topics, most of the formulae are provided without much derivation or explanation of their origin. It may be confusing or irritating, because it seems like you’re just solving mathematical equations/substituting values following a fixed set of rules without understanding a lot!

NUS Modern Physics

Bang Cong Huynh, Class of 2012

The course focuses on, as its name suggests, modern physics, which includes the principles of relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics and cosmology. The principles of relativity include mostly special relativity that deals with both kinematics and dynamics. Quantum mechanics introduces the Schrödinger equation and its solutions in some simple cases. Particle physics covers atomic structures from both the classical point of view and the quantum mechanical point of view. It also touches on the Standard Model, as well as the structures of atomic nuclei. Cosmology is the last bit of the course that exposes you to general relativity and the structures of the Universe.

The course contents are, in general, rather demanding, as more advanced mathematical methods (such as second-order differential equations, hyperbolic functions, probability and statistics, and a little bit of multivariate calculus and Fourier methods) are taught and will be required for solving certain physics problems and/or deriving certain physics concepts. Of course, the physics involved in this course is more abstract and requires more rigorous mathematical treatments. However, these can be learnt quite easily, especially for those with a strong foundation in H2 Mathematics.

There are two lectures per week – one tutorial and one practical every fortnight (if I’m not wrong). The practicals are very enjoyable, because you will get to do proper experiments and write proper reports (unlike SPA) on modern physics phenomena (such as the photoelectric effect, electron diffraction, emission spectra, radioactive decay, etc.). Sometimes, the process is quite frustrating, as some experiments do not give very nice results, but there is much learning to be gained from those sessions.

There should be two examinations: one shorter paper halfway through the course, and one final paper in late April or early May. Practicals are continuously assessed and graded. In general, the course provides you with very interesting materials that are not watered down due to the constraints of A-Level, if you approach it with the willingness to learn.

Any questions that we didn’t address? Fill in our survey with any further queries, or leave a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Please Mind the Platform Gap: The H3 Experience – the Sciences”

  1. I took h3 moe math back in 2010. I’m not sure if the pure math component has changed, but it used to be only graph theory. I don’t recall it being a direct build-up on h2 math, other than DEs. Take a h3 only if you’re seriously considering doing a degree based on that in the future. It’ll gives you a head start into some courses.

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