By Kang Yi Xi (15S03N)
Additional reporting by anonymous Year 5 contributors
In the weeks leading up to October each year, our school becomes the site of one of the most spectacular wildlife displays on the planet. Snaeks of every size, shape and gender break out their most prized and jealously guarded possessions – sheets of paper adorned with a bewildering morass of annotations and diagrams – and pore over them as fastidiously as the local felines preen themselves. This exotic species particularly favours the Shaw Foundation Library as a habitat, and within its frigid confines, members of the population adopt all manner of studying habits to prepare for a most important ritual: the annual promotional exams. To promote the growth of these remarkable organisms, Raffles Press invited several specimens who achieved great success in their last major ritual, the Year 5 Common Test, to provide some study tips for their peers.
Amongst us dwell particularly fearsome reptiles that conquer all that they encounter and are tireless in their pursuits all year round. We (cautiously) approached some of them to ask them about their studying methods.
The basics: one individual we spoke to distills her methods down to three faultless central principles: ‘one should make notes for oneself, do all exercises, and sleep early’. The majority of other study habits depend on individual preference; for instance, although the jury is out on whether music helps or harms one’s studying efforts, most literature seems to agree that songs with lyrics impede memorisation, while listening to classical music with 60-70 beats per minute while studying is associated with a 12% increase in mathematics test scores. In particular, one interviewee mentions that he finds Linkin Park’s LPU XIII very relaxing for doing mathematics practice questions. Additionally, taking regular breaks is paramount: a University of Illinois study found that ‘brief diversions…could significantly increase one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods of time’. Though relaxing for a while may appear to be a grave violation of your work ethic, it is worth it to exercise your muscles a little by taking a walk (but immersing yourself in the incessant chatter of your social media feeds is less effective at galvanizing your cognitive abilities).
To study alone, or with other friends? While one interviewee tells us that he studies alone because ‘I’ll get distracted if I study in groups’, studying in groups means you’re more likely to get help from friends if you get confused by a topic or a question. If you intend for your session to be fully effective, we suggest studying the same subject as your friends on a given day, and studying with people who are at least as focused (or worried) as you are.
Study go where? Those intolerant of noise or preferring to have all their resources at hand will choose to study at home, while others study in school or at the library and take the opportunity to have lunch with friends. (Check out our prior articles on where to study in school – you might be surprised!) There are also those who study at cafes, but this is potentially ruinously expensive and too noisy for many — there’s also the major problem of cafe proprietors booting students out at peak hour to make way for new customers. If you rely on the ambient noise of cafes, we suggest using Coffitivity, which simulates the bustle of an average Starbucks. Should you be looking for a less densely-populated cafe around school to study at, we recommend the Starbucks @ Metropolis in Buona Vista, and the 93°C Bean and Leaf San Francisco at Holland Village.
Below, we detail some of the subject-specific tips we have managed to procure from individuals who achieved stellar results in their CTs.
Mathematics, the subject that almost all students take in one form or another, is relatively straightforward and can be systematically studied for. According to our correspondent, doing well for it boils down to regular sustained practice so that ‘during the exam, the familiarity helps to both reduce time taken and increase chances of success’. If you haven’t been doing your tutorials, there’s no time like the present to start — our correspondent suggests that you shouldn’t fret if you remain puzzled by mathematical heuristics and formulae, as ‘understanding usually comes with revision and practice’. He also stresses that students should duly utilise the generous resources available, pointing out that ‘the math teachers have provided pretty helpful notes and example exercises, and have also supplied many self-practice questions’.
Our correspondent also remarks that ‘maths is about understanding and presenting’ and says that AP-GP/Statistics are primarily about presentation. As for specific units, he recommends noting down pointers for functions and graph drawing, which is where students frequently lose marks. Of course, differentiation and integration boil down to being careful when applying the relevant formulae.
An anonymous student who scored well in this year’s Chemistry CTs tells us that there admittedly are ‘lots of things to remember, from VSEPR to basic organic chemistry’, and says that ‘it helps to summarise the thick notes into important points’. He underscores the importance of developing answering techniques, and urges students to consult the tutorial answers available on Discovery. It is well known that many people were unable to complete the CT paper in time, and our correspondent suggests that students circumvent this by ‘doing practice papers under timed conditions’ and ‘checking for mistakes in calculations’. He has also been privy to the rumour that the Promo paper will be ‘interesting’ and have a major focus on ‘conceptual understanding and application’.
A top Physics student calls attention to how the the verbose nature of the notes provided means that ‘summarising the definitions and formulae will save a lot of time revising’. He also mentions that there is such a list for the A levels online, but says one caveat is that these ‘definitions are slightly different from what’s in the notes’. Besides that, he reiterates the tried-and-tested advice to ‘(practice) with the past year papers/question compilations given out’, for he feels that this will aid in ‘understanding the questions and how to use the formulae, as well as finishing within the paper’s timing’. Despite the fact that many students did decently well for their Physics CTs, he warns that the upcoming paper may not be as kind, though surely nobody needs the reminder to take Promos seriously.
Our Biology correspondent advises against wholesale memorisation, as ‘that will hinder the application part in the paper’. She recommends that students check their MCQ responses multiple times to weed out careless errors, and also suggests that Biology students attempt the structured questions rather than the essays first, because ‘the structured questions need more thinking […] leaving yourself little time to process will give you a panic attack and won’t do you any good’.
Our GP correspondent suggests that you focus your attentions on selectively studying content examples for certain topics, as ‘there’s no point studying everything taught if you can’t remember everything’. She also highlights the need to have good time management for the Comprehension paper, and feels that you should ‘leave 30 min for summary and 30 min for AQ so you can think clearly’. Of course, making sure your essay is coherent and well-organised is key to scoring well in the language department — it is very easy to lose control of your essay when you’re halfway through it, so defining the question’s key terms as well as your essay’s scope and direction from the outset is crucial. One teacher also advises us to ‘see the forest for the trees’ by not getting too caught up in the details of our arguments, particularly for questions pertaining to science and technology.
As an anonymous correspondent tells us, ‘Economics has a bad reputation and the lack of time is an obvious reason why.’ In addition to practising writing out your responses within the time limit, he emphasises the need to summarise your huge stacks of notes. Beyond this, he is of the opinion that ‘remembering common essay answering formats, like the price adjustment process, elasticities definitions and applicability, externalities, efficiency definitions and graphs, and which essays to use them for’ can help improve your scores.
With regard to specific topics in economics, he points out that ‘most market failure essays fall into standard types, formats and markets’, while elasticity-related questions are similarly manageable provided you have a firm grasp of definitions and essay formats. As he suggests, ‘using comparisons could make the links much clearer and easier’ for market structure questions. If you’re thinking of taking on a demand and supply question for the paper, you may wish to reconsider: questions may be in strange never-before-seen markets which might make it difficult to score’. If you have yet to start on your Economics revision, he urges you to get your hands on tutorial answers to mine for ‘essay formats, writing pointers and a base to practice off’ at all costs.
As a top History student informs us: ‘The way to synthesize historical content is to visualise events. Historical events usually unfold in a logical chain and happen at the time that they do for specific reasons: visualising these reasons makes it easier to understand vast amounts of data.’ To prepare for Promos, he advises students to revise evaluator handles for each topic. That aside, he finds value in practising essay questions — for students who wish to do so, he said that ’you don’t necessarily have to write them out in full, just come up with the thesis/PEEL in point form within 10 minutes or less’.
While unseen poetry/prose papers have a great deal to do with your use of textual evidence and understanding of the text, the upcoming exam is text-based, and will hence require prior assimilation of whatever your teacher has covered during class. Teachers suggest that we organise class notes by the headers of Theme, Language and Characterisation. If you’re studying a play (such as Twelfth Night) and have trouble relating to the text, looking at published articles or papers on the stageing of the play can help you visualise the finer details of each scene.
If you have access to model essays, it’s advisable to read through them for new insights, or to find better ways to express points you may already have thought of. Reading through them the night before the paper right before sleeping also helps you recap the ideal structure of a literature essay, and get yourself into the mood for literature.
As all of us exam veterans should know, speed is of the utmost importance during almost any paper, and our correspondent feels that the Geography paper is no exception to this golden rule. He advocates ‘writing down essay plans for past year questions, or condensing the information into your own accessible notes’, as he feels that this will enable you to ‘effectively deliver and apply the content you memorized, instead of regretting not writing a point that you have forgotten’. Moreover, he is of the opinion that timing yourself during the exam is key to success, and recommends that you ‘create a schedule of how much time you allocate to each question, and stick closely to that schedule, as you do not want to risk neglecting some questions’. Though the temptation to tack additional elaboration onto your answers may be tantalizing, he warns of the dangers of spending excessive time on a question, and explains that ‘1 question left unanswered is far worse than a few sub-par answers’. Of course, sound planning prior to writing out your responses is imperative if you wish to score highly in this subject.
All in all, while Promos may seem awfully intimidating, following these tips may enable you to perceive them in a more hopeful light – you may even feel confident of landing a spot or two on the sacred Dean’s List! What we’ve noticed is that most of our correspondents place great weight on revising with specific exam formats and questions in mind, and, of course, on the indispensable virtues of diligence and conscientiousness. However, it goes without saying that you might wish to modify these tips to suit your personal learning style instead of obeying them stringently. In any case, Raffles Press would like to heartily wish everybody good luck for their Promos; judging by how dismally many of us have performed in our recent lecture tests, we’ll probably need as much luck – and preparation – as we can get.