Please Mind the Platform Gap: A Year in the Life of a Science RA JAE

by Anonymous Y6
Cover image courtesy of Vita Life Wellness

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.

A well-known academic programme provided by Raffles Institution happens to be the Raffles Academy (RA), which caters to students with great passion and aptitude for the Maths and Sciences. It is also often looked upon as an exclusive route open to few except those hailing from the top echelons of their academic cohorts. To lend an alternative view to that common perception, I will aim to chronicle my experiences in RA as someone from the O-Level route through the account that follows in this article. While every RA experience is decidedly different, I believe that there are a few situations that every new kid on the block might experience. That said, I do not speak for my peers who are in RA, some of whom, I’m certain, will have vastly differing experiences from mine.

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Source: YouTube

My journey in the Biology RA began on the second day of Orientation with a written entrance test. I had not expected to pass, and I certainly had not expected to be called to the office of the Dean of Academics in the middle of war games the following day. As I sat in the plush black swivel chair across from the Dean, holding that flimsy slip of paper which was the acceptance form in my hands, I remember feeling so much trepidation simultaneously mixed with happiness that I thought, surely, I would burst. When I first met my class, I realised, to some apprehension, that I did not know anyone there. There were only two of us, out of the 19 in the class, from the O-Level route and the other girl was not from my secondary school. I had met her only briefly prior to this encounter, and though she seemed friendly enough, we did not know each other enough for me to truly call her a friend. I believe that many, if not all, of those from the O-Level route in RA — and beyond that, even in other Integrated Programme (IP) schools — face similar situations.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this was that almost all the girls already knew each other, most having come from the Biology RA class in secondary school. From the rumors I had heard from seniors and my peers, I was ready for open hostility and scorn from the other students. I experienced another hurt – just as unintentional as the previous one, but just as painful. The other students in my class were warm and welcoming, offering to show me around the school and introducing themselves to me with a smile. They were not cruel in any way and in fact, if I were to describe the experience, I would say that first day was a rather pleasant one. As the hours dragged on into days and the days into weeks, I realised that this tentative friendship remained right where it was, superficial and shallow, with small smiles and waves and tentative hellos. It was not that they openly despised me, just that they already had their small, close-knit group of friends that they had made and kept throughout their secondary school years and had no need for additions. That was totally understandable; I would probably have stuck close to my besties too, if they had been in my class. So, for a long time, my classmates were ‘hi-bye friends’, the sort of friends you wave to in the corridors and smile to across the room, but not the sort you invite for sleepovers or birthday parties or celebrations after the exams. It hurt more than it should have.

I also quickly began to realise that I was falling behind in my schoolwork. It wasn’t that the school had set a significantly more challenging curriculum for the students in the Raffles Academy; it in fact had not, and our classes were almost identical to those of the other classes. It was that the other students in my class were, for the lack of better phrasing, far smarter than me. The pace of tutorials were faster that I was used to, which was a nightmare considering how I took a full hour to grasp concepts my classmates could understand within minutes. I was often overwhelmed and tired in class. At this point, a month into the curriculum, I had friends who decided to switch out of the Raffles Academy to join another class. Perhaps this was the best decision for them, allowing them the opportunity to make new friends without having to worry about breaking into a clique and to not feel so darned slow all the time. For some reason though, I stayed.

Somewhere along the line, I am not quite sure when myself, a group of my classmates started talking to me more and we became friends. I started to do better in class, grades-wise, or at least understand some of what was happening during tutorials. I don’t know if it was because I was getting used to life in the new environment or simply due to a stroke of luck, but things seemed to get much better. My group of friends has only gotten closer since then and now we spend every break together and sit together most lessons. These four friends of mine are real friends, ones whom I am sure I will want to keep in touch with long after I graduate and leave the Rafflesian family. I am proud to say I am doing better grades-wise, though my common tests in Term 2 were a bad joke and, even now, I am still nowhere near the top of my class, nor do I ever expect to be. But things have gotten better since that first month of school and, if my experience in the Raffles Academy is anything to go by, I’d expect that your time in RA will be an enjoyable and fruitful one too.

Conclusion
Perhaps it takes me twice the amount of time to complete my tutorials compared to my classmates; perhaps I am not at the top of my class academically (in fact, if my results from this term’s promotional examinations are anything to go by, I would argue that I rank somewhere near the bottom); perhaps I have to work that much harder to keep up in class. But I have learnt so much from my teachers, who have been nothing but patient with me throughout the year, even if I was the slowest; I gained wonderful experiences from the Olympiad and competitions that I participated in (but never won); and I found a close-knit group of friends who share similar interests as me and care about me as a person. I do admit that being in the Raffles Academy has put me through a fair share of struggles, and never being quite smart enough, no matter how hard I try, does indeed take its toll. However, with everything said and done, being in this class has given me good friends a myriad of wonderful experiences that I would not have been able to find anywhere else and I wouldn’t-couldn’t-shouldn’t trade it for the world. And, in the end, isn’t this all that matters?

For all you bright-eyed young ones taking the great leap of faith from your secondary schools into the broader, scarier experience that is any junior college, allow me a few humble words of advice to tide you through the mess and chaos that is only just beginning. Those of you who have seniors in the school may be under the impression that the RA is an elite and exclusive community that will not allow newbies like you and me a chance. But if you have the passion for a subject, if you’re willing to work at it (twice as hard); willing to try (and, sometimes, to fail); willing to get used to the idea that you’re not the smartest kid in the room, I say take a leap of faith. Perhaps the Raffles Academy could be the place for you. Have an open mind, it’s not all as bad as they say. You might meet new friends, dedicated teachers and create wonderful experiences, as I have. I do hope I don’t come off as pretentious when I say – you might just find you like it here.

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