By Chung So Hyun (18A13A) and Grace Lau (18SO3I)
What on earth is “H1”?
As to-be J1 students, we remember first coming across this unfamiliar term while talking to our seniors about “the JC life”. Initially, we thought that “H1” was an acronym for “History Paper 1”. It was only through our senior that we found out later — “H1” actually stood for the most basic level among the 3 different levels of study for the GCE A-Level subjects.
If you are as clueless as I was back then, fret not! This article is for you. In this feature, we provide a short introduction to some common H1 subjects — Project Work (PW), General Paper (GP), and H1 Economics.
As you’ll come to realise, PW makes up a significant portion of your J1 journey. You may have heard of “horror stories” from your seniors about this 8-month long project, from having to deal with group conflicts to the dreary prospect of an Oral Presentation (OP). If not, you have probably been inundated by emails and WhatsApp messages from your seniors, desperately pleading, “Please help us with our PW survey!”
Getting to the core proper, PW is an examinable A-Level subject and is also the only subject which involves both teamwork and independent research. This journey begins in March when you first get your 2 topics for the year, from which you must choose 1. Though it may be easy to assume that PW is entirely a group project, 50% of your marks actually comes from individual tasks. For instance, an individual assignment is the Insights and Reflections (I&R) – in which you look back on your group’s project and evaluate it. But way before this, groups will be assigned (no, you don’t have a choice since it is randomised) and the rigorous process of crafting the Group Project Proposal (GPP) marks the beginning of your project. This is when you will be researching on possible topics and coming to a decision with your group on the project you wish to embark on. There will definitely be trials and errors, and your tutor may reject your proposal. But eventually, you will settle on a topic and become “experts” in it!
The rest of the months are dedicated to the 2500- to 3000-word Written Report (WR). After going through numerous drafts involving laborious editing and unimaginably excruciating word-cutting, your group’s research culminates with the submission of the WR.
Of course, there is the much-dreaded – though it is not as scary as you think! – Oral Presentation (OP) in November. Essentially, you will be presenting your project to a group of teacher assessors, with 5 minutes of speaking time for each speaker. Following this, there is a Question and Answer segment for each speaker as well. It may sound daunting at first, but with practice and support from groupmates, OP can actually be a fun process!
As the Cambridge General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) defines it, “General Paper aims to develop in students the ability to think critically, to construct cogent arguments and to communicate their ideas using clear, accurate and effective language.” Perhaps the easiest way to summarise GP is “an English subject that requires general knowledge”. It indeed sounds a lot like English taught in secondary school, but it requires much more rigour, diligence, and efficient time-management skills.
GP is broken up into two parts – Paper 1 requires you to write an argumentative essay, and Paper 2 tests your comprehension abilities based on 1 long or 2 shorter passages. For Paper 1, you will be given 12 questions from a range of topics, such as the environment, politics, media, and technology. Fortunately, you only need to choose 1 to answer in one and a half hours. But, in fact, the paradox of choice makes it even harder to choose the most suitable question. (I used to spend more than 10 minutes just to decide on a question to answer!)
The maximum mark you can attain is 50 marks. 60% of the marks is awarded for content, which demonstrates the importance of having sufficient contextual knowledge for providing sound examples and elaboration. When marking GP essays, examiners seek a well-read mind that is not only able to eloquently express the variety of perspectives but also encompasses logical arguments that are well-substantiated and developed. What this means is that unlike some of us who could “smoke our way through” in relatively more lenient secondary school essays, for JC, concrete content is the essential backbone of one’s essay.
Of course, like every English paper, examiners expect students to write in succinct and grammatically correct sentences. Having gone through a year of GP lessons, the best tip we can give you is to read widely, think critically, and write clearly (and legibly!).
Next, we move on to the comprehension paper. It is also out of 50 marks, out of which 35 are content marks and 15 marks come from your language use. Apart from the short-answer-questions and a 120-word summary that you may be more familiar with, there is an application question (AQ) too. This is similar to a mini-essay that tests you on your ability to comprehend and dissect the author’s core arguments and evaluate their application in Singapore’s context. This question takes up a whopping 10 marks and most students follow the Point-Explanation/Examples-Evaluation-Link structure. After many practices, you will be able to grasp the skills eventually. But truth be told, we have yet to master the AQ component as well, but generally, this section is where students perform the poorest. In fact, getting 4 or 5 marks would be considered average!
As for the short-answer-question and summary segments, the key to scoring high marks lies in answering techniques, as there are specific requirements for each question type. Don’t worry too much about this now, as your tutors will go through the process with you when your lessons begin.
For those of you considering taking Economics, you have an option to choose between H1 and H2 Economics. According to the Cambridge A-Level syllabus, the aim of H1 Econs is to provide the basis for a broad understanding of economics within half the curriculum time of the H2 Econs syllabus. The H1 Econs syllabus is specifically catered to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of economic concepts and skills such as interpreting, evaluating and analysing given information using relevant economic concepts. Upon completion of the syllabus, you will definitely better appreciate the economic issues and policy considerations that you encounter in your everyday life.
So how exactly is H1 Econs different from H2? Lessons are conducted in both lecture and tutorial structures for both units, but students taking H1 Econs have one tutorial class and one lecture per week. On the other hand, H2 students have about two tutorial classes and two lectures.
Furthermore, as compared to H2 Econs lessons, the pace is more manageable as there is less content covered. While the themes covered are similar to those of the H2 Econs syllabus, the scope of each theme is smaller. To give an example, students learn about the price elasticities concepts under both the H1 and H2 Econs syllabi. However, the H2 Econs syllabus delves deeper into the topic by also introducing the concepts of income and cross elasticities of demand.
As for the final assessment for H1 Econs, there is only one compulsory written paper with two compulsory case studies. This is unlike the H2 Econs assessment, which has two compulsory written papers with two case studies and three essay questions.
Like any other subject, the key to excelling economics is diligence. While it is important to have a full grasp of the main economic concepts, memorising key words and mastering the answering techniques are also key to acing the subject. Thus, to excel, you have to be committed to making notes and spending time digesting the necessary content.
If you are interested in the subject but afraid of being unable to cope with the heavy workload, H1 Econs might just be what you are looking for.
We hope what we have discussed did not throw you into a frenzy, but if you are starting to get a little worried, we do recommend that you start by reading the newspapers daily or even getting your hands on some GP materials (e.g. KS Bull at the Shaw Foundation Library).
For PW, the best you could do is perhaps to consult your seniors, who should be able to provide you with tips to handle group relations and et cetera. Last but not least, it always pays to be prepared so why not read up on some Econs content online just to pique your interest in the subject? H1s are not as scary as you think, and like all other subjects, they require hard work and patience.
If you would like to know more about other subjects in JC, feel free to check out our “Please Mind the Platform Gap” section. J1 is an exciting, hectic, and novel experience, and academics is definitely not everything. Be excited for the year ahead of you!