Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: The Common Test Crunch

Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Check out Raffles Press’ new column, Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset, and our resident Aunties and Uncles will be glad to help you with your Rafflesian troubles! Submit your confessions to tinyurl.com/rafflesadvicecolumn and we’ll give them our best shot.

“I’m preparing for my first CTs and it seems as if I may not be able to finish my revision before it! Is this normal? Seniors always say CTs will be a wakeup call and not to bank on getting any As so I shouldn’t be too stressed about it and go with the flow… I’m not sure what to think of it?”
stressedJ1

“I’m really really worried for my CTs!!! It’s going to determine my life and yet I can’t study! [screams]”
Angst

“For the past few exams, this poor Snaek did not do quite well despite his hard work and efforts. It’s really depressing too when people accuse me of not working hard enough when I actually do! How can I better study to make it more effective (and hopefully reflect in my work and results)? It’s so stressful to be amidst King Cobras and as a little puny, insecure snaek, I really wish to do better!”
Insecure Snaek

In lieu of next week’s Common Tests and the influx of queries highlighting concerns about how to study effectively and do well, Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset would like to say, with a tinge of regret: we cannot directly sit your papers for you and grab the As that you may need.

But – you need not be afraid, for not all is lost! We can still aid you with specialised tips specific to subjects, contributed by the veterans of taking exams among us (i.e. Y6s). We hope these will give at least a small push for that last round of cramming – hopefully, it helps.

A big thank you goes out to all the seniors who provided their invaluable advice for this article!

General Examination Tips:

  • Bring a jacket. This is a small thing, but it can mean the difference between chattering with your teeth below the aircon or being warm enough to drive your hand muscles for writing.
  • Know your seating plan and examination number beforehand.
  • Don’t dwell on the things stressing you out right before the paper – if you have problems dealing with examination anxiety, some tips to vent it constructively would be to get a piece of paper and write down every thought troubling you without thinking too hard while doing it.
  • Make a checklist of materials you have to bring the night before, and ensure everything is with you. This goes particularly for Mathematics and Science subjects, which needs not just calculators, but pencils and rulers as well.

The Sciences
That which Inflicts Nearly All (Mathematics):

  • Your worst enemy will be carelessness. If you have time, double-do your working. It’s easy to be complacent and think nothing will go wrong, but as any JC student would know, the careless mistakes will prove you wrong every time.
  • If you can’t solve a question despite already applying every concept you know, it’s worthwhile to use your GC and write very appropriately on your exam paper: “From GC…”(Note: Do watch out for the question – do not do this if the question specifically requests, “Without using a calculator…”)
  • Familiarise yourself with MF15. Know what formulas are provided in it, and more crucially, which ones aren’t.
  • Practise different types of questions, preferably with an appropriately challenging difficulty. Seniors have suggested turning to revision packages, instead of re-doing tutorials and assignments.
  • Don’t fret over those questions that stump you before you’ve even started on them. Check the solutions if any are provided, and dissect why the question was answered using a certain formula or series of steps.
  • Questions in the exam paper are ordered by length, not difficulty. If you get stuck in (God-forbid) the very first question, don’t despair just yet. Move on to other questions.
  • Make sure your calculator is in the correct mode before attempting a question.

Chemistry:

  • Know how to use your data booklet.
  • Take care not to miss out steps in writing procedures (e.g. why atomic radii decreases in different periods).
  • Concepts are essential. Most of the time chemistry requires application of concepts to different situations, not a mere regurgitation of notes.
  • Same rule from Maths – it’s easy to make careless mistakes, so watch out and stay sufficiently alert.
  • For MCQs, always think not just about why your answer is right but what all the other options are wrong too.

Physics:

  • Memorise definitions – it’s an easy way to earn up to a few marks.
  • Always question the question: What’s the catch?
  • Usually, for some MCQs, there’ll be some options present that aim to catch you off guard.
  • Only a few concepts are required per topic. It’s useful to draw up some mind maps to look at the big picture. It’ll come in handy in seeing the overarching ideas in some questions when they weave topics together. (e.g. kinematics involving graphs, kinematic equations and parabolic motion)

Biology:

  • Again, understanding concepts is very important, especially for the applications syllabus.
  • Planning, if you have studied, is usually not that hard. So do study your guidebooks thoroughly! Practice the questions at the back and memorise the details and at least the common phrases and apparatus used. Just a note of caution: don’t spend excessive time on planning.
  • Do not ever waste time being stuck at a question. If you still are as clueless as you were when you first started after about 1 – 2 minutes, move on and return later if time is available.
  • Practise integrated questions, since they tend to be more difficult and very different what’s available in your tutorials.

The Arts:
Economics:

  • If a question is allocated more than 4 marks, an antithesis is very likely needed.
  • Understand exactly what you are studying. No matter how much Googling or watching Khan Academy you have to do, do it if it’ll help you grasp a difficult theory. (e.g. Theory of the Firm in Microeconomics)
  • The above goes doubly so for all the diagrams, like the LRAC Curve or the Kinked Demand Curve. Understand why the diagram is shaped a particular way and how to explain it.
  • Non-standard questions are quite common and when answering such questions, the key is being able to apply your understanding and restructuring all your information according to the question.
  • Rote memorisation is heavily discouraged not just because it is entirely possible that it won’t work at all, but also because you’ll have a much harder time picking it all up again for your next Econs exam.
  • If in doubt, define every key term to get a head-start.
  • Avoid coming to definite conclusions; lots of things depend on variable extents. (e.g. ‘Supply is likely to increase more than demand.’ is more effective than ‘Supply WILL increase more than demand’.)
  • It is acceptable to conclude for case study questions that there is insufficient information to support a particular opinion.

Geography:

  • Condense the information present in your notes into your own study materials. It may be a chore, but one of the best ways to remember important content – especially since Geography is overloaded with it as it is – is to physically write it down somehow. Research has been done on how just writing notes with a pen can aid in remembering information effectively.
  • 16 mark essays require 5 – 7 main points, while 9 mark essays require 3 – 4 main points (excluding the introduction and conclusion).
  • In your conclusion, briefly comment on why your thesis can be wrong and the situation concerning a Physical or Human phenomenon is never purely black-and-white by introducing outside factors not mentioned in the body which also play a part.
  • Write essay outlines – take just 10 minutes to jot down main points or concepts relevant to the question.
  • For ‘Describe’ questions, cap your answer at writing the key points – don’t describe everything in excruciating detail.
  • If in doubt for points to use in Physical Geography essay questions, draw relevant diagrams (e.g. mass movement, plate divergence).
  • Answer all the questions as much as possible, and don’t leave out any of them.
  • Caught in Geog is a database where you can find highly condensed summaries , contributed by members of the public (recommended for last minute refreshing of concepts!).

History:

  • While having a strong foundation in the subject is a must, there is no urgent need to know every single minute detail that appears in the lecture notes, especially for SEA Hist where there is invariably more than is needed. The key is knowing what kinds of examples you need.
  • Study based on factors, not countries – ditto for practising essay questions.
  • SEA History is a comparative paper, and as such what you’re looking out for are trends. Don’t forget to mention country clusters. International History on the other hand is more theme-based.
  • International History focuses a lot on evaluation and depth of analysis — that should come through especially so in the introduction and conclusion of your essay.
  • Both histories involve pitting factors against one another so ensure that you don’t stray from the question. Bring up the question’s main concerns in every paragraph if it helps.
  • Beware of nuances in the questions (e.g. ‘success of nationalists’ vs. ‘success of nationalist leaders’)
  • It’s better to have two mediocre essays than two brilliant but incomplete ones. Write complete answers for every question.

English Language and Linguistics:

  • Where possible, supplement your knowledge with additional research by Googling famous linguists or looking for library books – this is a subject that requires much independent learning.
  • It may help to think of Paper 1 as a toolbox – you are learning tools to take apart and dissect a text!
  • For Paper 1, keep PACC in mind and pepper it through your argument as opposed to just referencing it in the conclusion (Consider organising the whole essay according to PACC).
  • For Paper 2, focus on content and link back to linguistic references consistently
  • If two texts are spoken and written, you must mention how they conform to or depart from conventions of that type.

Literature:

  • In all subjects, and especially so for Literature, there is no model answer that can answer everything – what’s important are the skills that allow you to come up with a coherent and well-thought answer.
  • For set texts, take note of significant quotes in the text.
  • Read good essays (if available to you) just to get a feel of what a good answer looks like.
  • Do an extremely meticulous close reading of the set text to prepare for Passage-Based Questions. Link language features or quotes to either Themes, Characters or Plot for your texts.

Final Tips

  • To reiterate: we highly encourage you to make your own study materials, because it’s one of the best ways to get closer to your content. Still, if needed, public-contributed subjects summaries and notes are available for strictly personal academic use on certain websites accessible with a Google – such as Owl Cove, and Caught in Notes.
  • For the Humanities subjects, you can collaborate with your friends to write essay outlines, on online platforms such as Google Drive – two brains are better than one, and if you do well because you used an outline you wrote out together, it may make the reward sweeter!
  • Even better – start a compilation of model essays within your own class, and invite everyone to contribute!

It’s been said by many a senior that taking examinations is actually a skill, and the good news is that this means you can become proficient at it with practice and keeping some wits about you. Always remember that the purpose in writing your script is to answer the questions (rather than what you think the question is, as surely many educators would say) – and that examiners will be marking for how deeply you can engage it and keep to the topic sentence. Taking tests is rarely ever enjoyable, but don’t fret – as long as you work hard and take a vested interest in your academics, it’ll pay off one day.

Good luck for your Common Tests, and see you after the soon-to-be-ending trials and tribulations of next week!

Sincerely,
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you have any queries or concerns related to the Aunt Agony/Uncle Upset column or its confessions, please direct them to press.raffles@gmail.com, with the title ‘Questions about Aunt Agony’.

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