Please Mind the Platform Gap: Choosing a Contrasting Arts Subject

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Trudy Chak (16S03D)

You’ve chosen the Science path after some debating and after deciding on memorising piles of notes and formulas that don’t quite make sense, you’ve come to yet another forkroad: choosing your contrasting (humanities) subject. There’s the ever popular Economics, the usual suspects of Geography, Literature and History as well as oddball subjects like English Language and Linguistics, Art and Music. Matriculation has never been peskier.

Undoubtedly, there will always be hesitation upon embarking on a completely foreign subject which you may not enjoy as opposed to the familiarity and comfort of a subject you’ve done in your past four years. Personally, having taken Literature for the past four years in secondary school, I surprised many, myself included, by choosing Economics, and not Literature again. It was a fresh breath and it assuaged my worry of killing any passion for a subject I enjoy immensely, not to mention the constant emphasis on its real world value. It’s admittedly not a subject that most can grasp from the beginning not only due to our inexperience with the subject but the fact that it uses concepts which you have to break down, memorise and apply, which is quite unlike anything we had to manage in secondary school. It resulted in a good majority of the cohort struggling immensely at the start, but it does get better once you begin understanding these concepts.

Do note that my views are not representative as there are peers who enjoy their time with Economics. However, I personally struggled with Economics because there wasn’t much interest in the subject from the start. I went in blind (my fault) and the graphs (which I never truly grasp in Mathematics or otherwise) and leap in content added to my lethargy whenever it came to hitting the books. It wasn’t until CTs that I properly digested my notes and even then, I didn’t have the skill set to tackle the questions since I didn’t want to put in the time to practice and revise. My past year has definitely been a trying journey with Economics and whilst I still may not enjoy it tremendously, I can appreciate its merits as it undeniably offers a different perspective altogether that I may not have considered had I not undertaken it. However, my point is that ultimately, a budding interest and an open mind always helps in easing into a new subject altogether.


I’ve been asked whether I would choose Literature if given a choice again and in all honesty, it would likely be a yes, purely out of interest. I’ve learnt that it’s so important to go after what you want and pursue your passions, especially at this age where it’s your last chance to choose freely how you wish to spend your time. The syllabus at JC delves deep and it’s crucial that you have sustainable interest in what you study to ensure that you’re able to constantly spend time on it without growing frustration and misery. While there is overwhelming pressure to choose popular subjects that open up opportunities for you, do not fear going against the grain so long as you have a genuine passion for the subject you choose. It’s likely to put you in better stead to perform at moments that matter, which is what truly opens doors for you.

However, to give you a better idea of what to expect, multiple friends of differing backgrounds have offered their experiences with the various humanities subjects thus far.


What made you choose it?

In picking Economics, Rebecca Chia (16S03D) and Lim Shi Yun (16S06Q) both agreed that the practical value, particularly in the future, was the strongest pull. Other points raised were the strong parental encouragement and an interest in understanding how economics hold water in the real world and even the crowd mentality.

On Literature, it was love for the subject. Clarissa Choo (16S03B) offered: Don’t stick to conventions, do what you love. Promise you it’s more worth it than slogging through a subject you have no passion for simply because everyone else does it and appears to have more career options. On the other hand, Jason Cheong (16S03B) found Literature fun as he always been interested in effects of texts.

With regards to History, Faith Ng (16S06A) raised that she chose it because she didn’t take it in secondary school despite keen interest, when her History grades were not as good as her other humanities. It made her realise doing a subject that you enjoy makes school so much enjoyable and she decided to pursue her passion this time despite the heavy risk and it came with very rewarding results! Konstanze Tan (16S03A) has always been innately interested and deeply fascinated by how everyone has a story and open mindedness helps to connect the dots in our narratives through the ages.

Geography, a subject reputable for its content, drew Michele Chong and Esther Foo (both 16S06B) in because of their passion and love for the subject. It keeps them motivated to push on and the extent to which geography can be applied in real life sustained their interest. It was agreed that they chose it with no regrets. :-)

The very unconventional English Language and Linguistics (ELL) piqued Dennis Tan’s (16S03B) interest having heard from seniors about it. Further research had him realise the subject spoke to him and upon discovering there was no placement test here (unlike other JCs), he decided on Raffles and has not been disappointed thus far. Additionally, with no interest in other subjects at JC level, he took a chance on ELL,. Even though it might be tough, he felt that he made the right choice still because of the real-life applications for ELL and how interesting the subject really is!


Is it manageable as you transit from secondary school to JC?

The general sentiment that surrounds Economics is the undeniably tough and confusing start where content is unfamiliar and thereafter one has to grapple with what content and structure to use. Practice is crucial as is sitting down to digest and internalise the content, especially with the fast lecture pace.

A similar opinion is expressed with History and it is mentioned that it’s very different from secondary school, in terms of workload and content. However, Konstanze noted that teachers are all-out to help and encourages going for consultations for a firmer understanding.

In Geography, there was a contrast drawn between RP and JAE students. It was said that RP students may struggle a little because of the non-cumulative nature of assessments in secondary school which made the amount of memory work needed in JC overwhelming. On the other hand, for JAE student, there is a small gap to cover from Pure Geography in secondary school but again, once you acclimatise to lesson structures and content, it’s essentially self study with a large focus on memory work. Do keep up with lectures though!

Literature is slightly intimidating in terms of an increase in the number of books and it does take time to get used to the Victorian context but otherwise, it remains relatively manageable.

With ELL being a completely new subject to learn without anything similar in secondary school, it’s not easy unless you’re really conscientious about your work. Put in effort to build up your foundation — especially in the beginning of the year — to ensure that you will be able to do well in ELL. The key is to really read, read, read. And practice. Sample essays help with giving the structure and the points to write for future essays, so you won’t be thrown into the deep end without knowing what to do.

Girl doing homework
Picture: The Guardian

What can we expect in terms of workload and content?

For Economics, there is substantial reading involved and manageable memorising but the key lies in understanding and application of concepts, particularly in the real-world context. Time management is highly crucial especially planning the structure of the answers in response to the questions beforehand for coherency and organisation.

Regarding History, it is undeniably heavy on content in the thick notes that you must grapple with organising, which takes up a lot of time. While secondary school essays require much more structure, presently, History epitomises “a balanced evaluation to all sides of the argument”. It takes practice and being unafraid to ask for help to improve. Konstanze remarked that, “taking History does feel like taking two subjects: we have International and Southeast Asian History and especially so for SEA history, which we didn’t cover much of in RP history”.

On Geography, which is yet another content-heavy subject, there isn’t as much homework (expect tutorials and mini research assignments) as science subjects but the crucial point lies in making notes and memorising well. Michele Chong mentioned: “sometimes it feels like you’re studying two subjects because Geog is broken into physical and human, and under each there are three large chapters so yes a lot of content and it’s really up to you to self study, read up on case studies (which they sometimes provide) and all.”

As to Literature, expect an expanded skill set and much greater analysis of imagery and language. Usually very light on assigned work with a few assignments per term but there are occasional essay submissions with extremely tight deadlines, and it also gets heavier when you have to finish reading texts. Excelling requires a lot of independent reading and supplementing your readings on your own.

ELL has a light workload with tutorials of readings and occasional assignments but there is a lot of self study and reading to ensure unique examples. There is sizable content, which increases gradually but it is key to sieve through and pick out the crucial aspects. As always, application is pivotal. Expect two really different papers with different skills sets. Says Dennis, “in Y5, you will cover almost all the linguistic fields for paper 1, and in paper 2 you will cover stuff from the reasons for language variation across places and language change across time.”

Ultimately, choosing your humanities is about how you wish to push your own boundaries of creative and critical thinking, especially about this constantly evolving world. Choosing your contrasting subject then becomes an intensely personal choice of the perspective you wish to learn about the world you live in and how it makes us the people that we are. Making the right choice from the start offers greater ease in your humanities passage, so do choose wisely and we hope this article has helped you in doing so!

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