Fear of Fjälling: The JAE Experience in RI

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By Zara Karimi (18A01A), Ianni Tan (18S03C), Zacchaeus Chok (18S03O) and Jeslyn Tan (18S06R)

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If you have recently received a text message confirming your acceptance into RI, congratulations! Your course code is already in the MOE’s systems – 28A or 28S. For better or for worse, you are about to become a Rafflesian.  

Yet when it sinks in that you have enrolled in a JC where the majority of your peers will have been from an entirely different programme for the past four years, everything suddenly appears incredibly daunting. What if everyone already knows each other, and you have trouble fitting in? What if you are unable to keep up?

These are a few of the many anxieties that initially plague the minds of students who enter Raffles Institution in Y5-6 through the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE). Coming from all walks of life, and a wide variety of schools all over the island, Raffles Press decided to embark on an examination and discussion of the experiences of JAE students as they entered RI, as something of a guide for this year’s batch of JAE entrants. Most JAE students reported that the majority of their initial concerns pertained to academic and social pressures.

Social Pressures

“I was kind of afraid that people would have already formed their cliques and would have been really against letting anyone else in,” admitted Jonah Tan (18A01A), recounting his experiences first entering RI.

In contrast to RI boys and RGS girls who would both recognise each other along the hallways and greet each other excitedly, JAE students felt as if they were hardly a cohesive branch within the school. Considering how different numbers of students from secondary schools all over the island comprise the body of all JAE students, any apprehension surrounding not fitting in comes as no surprise. No one likes feeling alone.

“It’s quite scary how RGS girls [tended to] cluster a lot,” commented Wan Jia Ling (18A01A), recounting her Orientation experience. “JAE students and RP students automatically clumping together was a common sight.”

While the issue of socialising during Orientation garners a mixed bag of reviews, a large number of JAE students reported having more pleasant experiences with their classes compared to with their OGs. A JAE student, who chose to remain anonymous, counts herself fortunate– “I guess it was really a blessing that I was allocated a class where nearly half of the students are JAEs, which made O levels a common bonding experience and at the very least a conversation topic to avoid awkward silence.”

But not all classes have such a “fortunate” ratio – there are classes with only 1 or 2 JAE students. Even then, the RP/JAE divide dissolves very quickly. Throughout the fast-paced academic curricula in the following 7 months after Orientation, there are numerous opportunities for interaction. And it is the conflicts during PW, the laughter during PE lessons and the compounding stress that forms a new set of shared experiences.

Socialising doesn’t only take place during “official” events such as Class Bonding Time during Civics, or class outings. A great deal of it happens during small, seemingly insignificant moments. Having casual conversations over lunch break effectively strips away the pressure of getting to know someone for the first time. Engaging in team sports (or for the less sports-inclined, suffering together) as a class during PE is a valuable opportunity for you to quite literally, warm up to your new classmates as you all let loose and have fun together.

More importantly, though, don’t be afraid to socialize with people around you. Though our fear of social barriers is justified, the fact of the matter is that they might be less of a big deal than you initially thought.

Academic Pressures

It is clear that the O-level system is very different from the Raffles Programme, and what an education in the O-level system entails will definitely vary from school to school. JAE students that we interviewed initially felt that the differences in systems of education would result in an intimidating academic environment. This is a justified fear to have. The Raffles Programme supplements its curriculum with additions like (but certainly not limited to) Philosophy, Research Studies, and specialized Raffles Academy programmes.

Furthermore, for certain subjects, RP students also went through a syllabus that had more depth and breadth than the ‘O’ Levels. For instance, many RP students covered significant chunks of ‘A’ Level Biology content in years 3-4, while JAE students mainly geared themselves with the shallower “O” Level content.

Still, while differences in acquired knowledge may persist, the fact of the matter is that JAEs perform as well (or as poor) in examinations and tests; there is no clear indication of widely differing academic performance along the RP/JAE distinction. Perhaps this is true: Regardless of whether you were taught through rote-learning, or through self-directed exploration, the learning curve of lecture-tutorial systems, as well as the larger marathon that is the demanding A level curriculum– will be hard for everyone to adjust to.

As a result, the playing field has been proven to be a lot more equal than it may seem. As Deborah Seah (18S03C) says, there is the “huge misconception” that “everyone is a high flier and you’re kind of just there at the bottom of the student population”. She highlights the fact that, in reality, “every one is learning to find their feet and stay awake in lectures, apart from the rare geniuses you might meet.”

In reality, everybody is afraid of everybody. The RP students generally have the mentality that JAE students are incredibly hard-working, diligent, and have an edge over the IP students since their last major national exam wasn’t a good 5-6 years ago. For JAEs, it could be said that the ‘As’ are Just Another Examination!

Whether you’re a JAE student or an RP student, you will have your own unique advantages because of the different experiences that you’ve garnered over the last four years. In the long run, these disparities grow to mean less and less, as we all learn and grow together here.

Finally settling into RI

The initial RI/RGS/JAE divide is definitely a common occurrence. While familiarity is undeniably a reason for RP students to clique together, upon deeper reflection, it’s quite safe to say that there is underlying fear that drives many of us to resort to this. In a similar vein, the RP students are equally apprehensive about meeting new people.

In terms of academic pressure, do not let differences in  your education define the way you interact with and approach the A level curriculum. Regardless of where you are from, everyone has their own struggles, functioning alongside their own advantages.  

Remember that during periods of change and transformation, predispositions do not necessarily guarantee outcomes. If you let your fears, valid as they are, govern your decision-making before JC even begins, it will only result in a miserable two years. Your experience in RI will be based on what you make of it, so don’t hold back and live your JC years to the fullest.

Chart of advice from Year 6 JAEs

With Special Thanks to
Jonah Tan (18A01A)
Wan Jia Ling (18A01A)
Tanisha Moghe (18A01A)
Samantha Tjong (18A01A)
Deborah Seah (18S03C)
Gan Jia Xin (18S03C)

For sharing their insight and experiences.

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