by Joyce Er (15A01A)
So this is it. You’re a fresh-faced J1 or anxious J2 anticipating (or dreading) what will be the culmination of 12 years of Singaporean education: the A Level exams. You’re determined to give it your all and bag straight As, and can’t wait for your first taste of post-JC freedom. As a fresh graduate who just finished my examinations little over a week ago, here are some nasty surprises that you might not expect. You have been warned.
1. It doesn’t always feel like sweet, sweet victory
Preparing for the A Levels proper spans at least two months of intensive studying every single day. This does not include the month of November itself, where you try your best not to fall sick from stress, sleep deprivation and/or a lack of exercise. In a sense, you’ve really been building up to the A Levels all your life. Even so, no amount of preparation is going to make you walk out of the exam hall feeling like you did enough for those coveted straight As. For all that we’re told that the school helps us to handle questions of any difficulty by over-preparing us, the A Levels are not obliged to be kind to you. They certainly weren’t to us. And since results day is four months away, you have plenty of time to regret not studying hard enough, because…
2. You might actually miss being a student
Okay, I’ll admit I actually really enjoyed what I was learning in school. But even if you didn’t, being a student is easy – you have your work cut out for you, and strive for clear, if superficial and academic-centric, indicators of success (straight As, Dean’s List, academic awards). Perhaps I’m downplaying the difficulty of struggling through CTs and homework now that it’s water under the bridge, but believe me, dealing with an uncertain future, especially if you have unsatisfactory Prelim results that won’t convince universities to give you a conditional offer, preys far more on your sense of wellbeing. Not convinced? Well, there’s another major reason to miss school:
3. Meeting up with friends becomes way harder
Paradoxical, but true. While studying for my A’s, I spent most of my time in the Shaw Foundation Library. Alternatively, when every seat in the SFL was taken (seriously), I studied in the B-block classrooms that were kindly opened to prevent us from inhaling haze-saturated air at the Raja Block, pickup point, or windy benches. The funny thing about A’s is that it unites everyone with a common purpose. Forget J1, where everyone was busy with their individual CCAs and schedules were clashing all the time. In the A Level season, everyone drops everything to study. This creates a strange kind of camaraderie, found in grabbing lunch and a temporary respite from mock papers at J8 with study buddies, or trying to amass enough orders to get some delivery food because you’ve had instant noodles from Chill four days in a row. Crazy as it sounds, some of my best memories of JC come from the A Level period. In contrast, finishing A’s means that everyone begins to make their own plans for the future, which are likely to diverge vastly from yours. It also means that finding a common reason to gather is much harder. Many go to Grad Night filled with the knowledge that it’ll be the last time they see most of their acquaintances and some of their close friends. It’s a cliché, but a truthful one, that friends make school bearable and worthwhile.
4. You have to make plans for the future – and fast
No escaping from those university and scholarship application deadlines that have been creeping up around the corner. With A Levels securely out of the way, the queries of “Where are you studying?” and “Are you applying for the PSC?” will come crowding in thick and fast. This is not helped by the fact that PSC information sessions are only made available to ‘nominated students’, or that many of your peers may already have applied Early Action or Early Decision to various American universities; as I write, many of my friends are on planes to Oxford for their interviews, while still more concluded their Cambridge interviews back in October. If you’re a J1 reading this, take my advice and write your personal statement as soon as you can. If you’re a J2…well, we’re all in this together.
5. Adulthood looms
No more concession fares on the MRT…but besides those perks of teenhood, there’s a sense of true independence that can sometimes feel disturbingly like loneliness in the face of the wide world. In school, flunking a subject usually means your CT speaks to you and your parents, and you get placed in remedial. Outside of that support network where people are invested in your welfare, you alone are responsible for your own success or failure.
So where does that leave us? If you are a J1, or just entering JC, remember always that life does not end with the A Levels, in the sense that getting good grades does not necessitate that your future is cut out for you, and it is important to plan ahead rather than fixating on the A Levels for the better part of your JC life. At the same time, remember to make time for the things and people that matter to you. Being truthful to yourself, and not to external measures of success, is crucial if you wish to find the strength to do what means the most to you. For better or worse, the A Levels are not and should not be all you plan towards – your entire adult life is waiting to unfold.
ETA: An earlier version of this article stated that museum visits would no longer be free as an adult. This has been removed to reflect that all Singaporean citizens have free entry to said museums."5 Things I Wish I'd Known About Finishing A Levels",