Category: Notes from the Underground

Introducing: Ears, Hands, Hearts – Peer Helpers Programme Monday Elective

By Jeanne Tan (17A01B)


A Y5 student walks into a classroom on a Monday morning. He sits in a circle with four other students at the back of the classroom. He reads off the instructions on the board and turns to look at the student sitting opposite him. He gulps. “I-I think I have a crush on you,” he mutters. The student on the receiving end panics momentarily, but quickly recovers.

Continue reading “Introducing: Ears, Hands, Hearts – Peer Helpers Programme Monday Elective”

Notes from the Underground: Coping with Promo Results (Part 2)

‘The measure of someone successful is how you manage to overcome disappointments.’

By Adelyn Tan (16A01E) and Esther Gao Yan Xin (16S03N)

In the second part of our interview with the Raffles Guidance Center, we discuss the tangible steps that one can take to move past the promo results, and make the best of the post-promo life.

Press (P): Beyond emotions and the mentality we can adopt when facing our results, what are some concrete steps that students who are disappointed with their grades can take so they can move on?

Mei Hui (MH): Some concrete steps to take would be to do a good post mortem review. One thing students tend to do when they get their papers back is that they focus on their grades, which is fine for the first few minutes because it’s emotional and all that, but when all the dust settles, it’s important to look at the mistakes you’ve made in the paper. What are your areas of weakness? Is it that you make a lot of careless mistakes? Is it because your conceptual understanding of a certain topic is not there? Is it your time management that’s at fault? Really be very specific and review the whole paper. If you’re very concerned, make an appointment to speak to your tutor about it and see what are the things you can do to really improve in that area.

The second thing is: it’s a good opportunity to really think through the whole past year – it’s a time of self-reflection, to examine what are the things that could have been done better, what are things you need to change, if you were to do whatever you did this year next year, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Once you’ve gone through that whole thought process and you’re ready to actually change – that’s actually the most important, because no one can force you to change if you yourself are not motivated to change. If you really think you want to make some changes, then definitely go and speak to people around you about what they’ve been doing, so you can find out what are the right things to do. Teachers, good students, you can speak to the counsellors as well and we can point you in the right direction. There are also a lot of study skills and resources in the library if you prefer to read something rather than talk to people – that’s also fine.

The next thing you can do is really to draw up a revision plan for the holidays to revise all the subjects you’re weak in. If you have not done all your tutorials, the holidays are a good time to catch up on all the tutorials. They are meant to be done; they should be done. If you haven’t done them, do them.

P: Other than that, are there any tips on how we can spend our time productively during this post-promos period?

MH: That really depends on your grades and what you hope to achieve in the holidays. If you’re quite content with your grades and you’ve done well, then the holidays are a really good opportunity to go and get some real life experience. Go and get an internship, maybe do some part-time work, get some job shadowing experience. Beyond this, looking in the long term, you’ll be thinking of what kind of university degrees you want to do and that’s related to the career you want to pursue – doing some work experience would give you a little bit more insight into the kind of person that you are and what kind of job you might like. That’s very valuable. It’s the only window of opportunity you have within the next year, except after your A Levels. Even if you find it’s something that you don’t like – if you find out that you don’t like data entry, or you don’t like doing sales, then that’s something that you learn about yourself, that you’ll be sure to avoid.

If you feel that you need to work on your grades, then definitely draw up a realistic revision schedule for your holidays. Do your best to cover especially your weakest topics and areas. One of the key mistakes that a lot of students make is that they spend too much time trying to input the information into their brains, but they don’t actually do a lot of the extracting out of information from their brains. They don’t spend enough time doing actual practice. That should be remedied – a lot of people don’t do as well as they ought to because they lack the practice. Do more practice, because practice will help you determine what are your weaker areas and it also gives you good experience for taking the A Level papers.

Finally, this is one of the only long breaks that you get in your whole JC life. You should also take this opportunity to rest and recharge, because Year 6 is going to be a really long, hard slog, and you want to make sure that you meet that year with your batteries recharged, you have paid off your sleep deficits, and you are really well rested and in the best shape and condition to meet next year. Next year, you will have to go through four exams.

P: We’ve been talking more from the perspective of those who are disappointed with their results. How about those who are actually quite pleased with their results? What should they look out for when they talk about academics with those who are weaker?

MH: It’s not nice to boast about your results – good for you, you’ve done well, it’s good your hard work has paid off – but don’t flaunt your results. Don’t be too high and mighty. But if people approach you for help, then be nice enough to offer your help to people who do need the help. If you feel kind enough, offer to tutor some of your friends.

The approach really depends on how close you are to these students. If you’re very close, then maybe you can just offer. If you’re not so close, then wait for them to ask, and help. Do the kind thing! Obviously you’re doing something right. Would you share your notes, put it on a google drive for the class? Or if you have done extremely well, best marks in an essay, would you be kind enough to actually put that up so other people can learn from your essay and writing? Think about how you can help other people.

P: Is there a different way in which science and arts students should approach results? For science students it seems easier to get an A, but also easier to fail, whereas for arts students it’s difficult to fail, but it’s not easy to get a straight A either.

MH: Generally it’s very hard to do well for humanities subjects, but it’s also very hard to fail, which is good. But for a science subject, if you don’t study, you probably will fail. It’s very easy to fail, but I guess if you do put in the work, it’s perhaps a bit easier to get an A. Is that fair? It’s just the difference in the subjects, which is why I advise students to always choose what they’re really interested in. Sometimes what you think is the easiest A is not the easiest A.

P: Any admirable cases of students who did not do well for Promos but improved tremendously afterwards, in Year 6? How can we learn from them?

MH: There are definitely cases of students who didn’t do well for Promos but improved a lot. At the same time, there are not that many. If you think that it’s easy to do, it is really not. It does require you to change a lot of things that you have been doing and change is actually very hard for most people. It’s not just the intent to change, but the actual execution of it, to persist for something long enough for it to become a new habit.

First of all, it’s very hard to break old habits, and then to be able to keep at it long enough that it becomes a new habit, it’s difficult. It’s doable, it’s not impossible, but it’s tough. But it’s definitely worth doing. There is definitely hope – I had a conditionally advanced student who actually did well enough at their A Levels to make it into NUS Law. There are cases like that. But they did put in a tremendous amount of effort.

I want to be very wary here – I don’t want to say that “it can be done, it’s possible, lots of people do it, it’s very easy”. It can be done. But it’s not easy. Very few people manage to do it.

P: How about students who have been retained, or conditionally advanced? It’s hard to deal with doing badly for your Promos, but dealing with retention is so much harder. Is there any additional advice to give students who are being retained or conditionally advanced; any targeted advice for them?

MH: For those who are conditionally advanced, doing badly for your Promos is a symptom that something is wrong, but what that something wrong is could be very different for each student. The best thing to do is to figure out for yourself specifically what is it that you’ve been doing wrong. It’s helpful to go for academic counselling sessions. Sometimes you might not be able to see what it is you’ve done wrong if you’re not getting external feedback. Decide how much you really want it, and then actually go out and do it and follow through with whatever changes that are better so you don’t repeat your mistake. It’s fine if you make mistakes, but don’t repeat them. Learn from them. That’s how you can make it a valuable learning experience.

Notes from the Underground: Coping with Promo Results (Part 1)

‘The measure of someone successful is how you manage to overcome disappointments.’

By Adelyn Tan (16A01E) and Esther Gao Yan Xin (16S03N)

The process of getting back the much dreaded Promotional Examination results can trigger a wide range of emotions and reactions from different people: relieved affirmation for some, and disappointed disbelief for others. Raffles Press went down to the Raffles Guidance Center to garner some advice on confronting your results, and coping with the subsequent feelings that inevitably arise.

Press (P): How do I break it to my parents if my results are below their expectations?

Mei Hui (MH): First do some self-reflection – figure out what you should do, should have done, could have done better and what areas to improve on; if you’ve made mistakes, then what are those mistakes, and whether you need further help. Be prepared to go to your parents with a list of concrete steps – like, “I didn’t do this, this and this”, “I think next year I will be doing this, this and this,” and “I need help in this, could you support me in this”. At least when you go to them, I think your parents would feel that you have self-reflected and accepted responsibility for your grades, and that you have thought about what you ought to be doing next. That will help diffuse a lot of the tension in the situation. The other thing would also be to be honest.

I think the other thing that parents would not like is if you try to conceal your results from them or be dishonest about things or to make excuses for why you did badly. Just be prepared to take responsibility and admit your mistakes. Think of it as a more discussive exercise – how can your parents help you, what they can support you with. If you need tuition or if you need them to take away your laptop, phone, lock it away, if they need to check on you every day and make sure you’re doing your work – this is the time to say it, say “these are some of the things you can help me with”.

Press: What is a healthy mentality that we can adopt when we receive grades that are below our expectations?

MH: The best mentality to adopt would be a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. If you google this, it’s actually based on Dr Carol Dweck’s research. She’s based at Stanford University. Basically it’s whether you think that this defines who you are and this labels who you are. Like, “I’m a failure, I cannot change”, and therefore you are not going to do anything about it. Versus a growth mindset, where you accept that this is just a data point. A blip on your data point, and you can improve. All this result tells you is that where you are at the moment in your learning journey.

There is a difference in how you approach things. If you have a fixed mindset, you’re just going to say, “well, there’s nothing I can do to change my situation, I’m just stupid at this subject and I will abandon it and I will not do anything about it”. Things will definitely not improve and you’re not going to get better, and you’ve basically given up hope. There’s always something you can do to make a difference to your grades, and to be open to getting help from whatever sources or avenues there are. Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not let your grades define who you are.

Press: What are the different kinds of support that we can depend on and look for if we need help with managing our expectations?

MH: Basically, it’s your support network. Your friends, your teachers, your seniors. Especially people who have gone through difficult times in their life, or your seniors who have not done so well. How did they manage to get over this bump? Of course you can also speak to one of the counsellors at RGC. Basically, everyone has had instances of failure in their life, or disappointment.

The measure of someone successful is how you manage to overcome disappointments. A successful person isn’t someone who has never experienced failure in their life. If you look at Silicon Valley, the venture capitalists who are willing to invest money with companies – one of the first questions they ask is “how many times have you failed? How many startups have you started and failed at?” Because you learn so much from each mistake that you make, and that’s something that you cannot buy. If you’ve had two or three failed startups, then basically they’re thinking that you’ve made most of the mistakes that a new person could make, and therefore they don’t have to go through the whole training cycle with you and your next startup is more likely to succeed.

I think it’s the same with life. There’s no such thing as a smooth sailing life where you don’t experience any disappointments. It’s like with little children when they’re learning to walk. Can you imagine, if they fell down and then decided, “walking is not for me. I shall crawl for the rest of my life.” I mean, that’s just not the way to live life to its fullest.

Press: When we talk to our friends, especially those who do better us, then there’s that feeling of, oh man, they did better than me… how do we avoid comparing our grades to our friends’ grades?

MH: First and foremost, if you feel you have a tendency to compare, then adopt the policy of don’t ask don’t tell. Just tell them “I don’t want you to tell me your grades, and I don’t want to compare, I think it’s unhealthy, I’m not going to ask you, you’re not going to tell me, and that’s fine”. Secondly, focus on the process and not the grades. It’s a far more interesting question. A far more useful question to ask would be “you did very well at this subject! Tell me what strategies you used to get a good grade. Is there something I can learn from, is there something I can take away, that I can do? Is it because you did all the Ten Year Series questions? What is your method? Can I borrow your notes?” That’s something you can actually take away and use.

Press: How should we moderate our expectations for future tests, after we’ve overcome the most immediate emotions – how do we move on and look at the next test?

MH: I’m not sure if moderating expectations is really the right thing to do. I firmly believe that you should have high expectations of yourself, because if you don’t even expect yourself to achieve certain targets and goals, then you’re definitely not going to achieve anything.

What is necessary is perhaps to think through your process and your approach, as to whether you are actually using the best learning strategies, if you need to change how you’re managing your time. Rather you should relook your processes. If we see Promos as a step, a data point, in a journey that leads to the A Levels, then what you want to be seeing is that are you moving in the right direction. Are your grades slowly improving? Are you actually slowly making small steps or large steps towards hitting the eventual grades that you want?

Press: But sometimes people are disappointed because they don’t meet their unrealistic expectations…

MH: One other thing that I advise students to do is to not compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself. Look at whether you’re achieving your personal best. Throughout your whole academic history, what have you been capable of achieving? You ought to know whether you are hitting roughly within the same range. You should always be attempting to improve upon your personal best, but at least it gives you some kind of margin of whereabouts you should be expecting to achieve. That’s a far more useful frame of reference than trying to compare to someone else totally different from you who has different strengths and weaknesses and interests. Compare yourself to your best possible self. That ensures that you’re being realistic. If you have achieved certain things in the past then you should expect to achieve certain things in the future as well.

Look out for Part 2 of Dealing with Promos, which will focus on how to progress beyond your promotional results and tangible steps you can take to make the best of the post-Promo period.

Keep Calm: How to Motivate Yourself to Study (II)

By Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E)

In this second installment of how to motivate oneself, Press takes a deeper look at motivation in an interview with counsellors Jeffrey and Mei Hui at the Underground.

In life, we’ll always have things we want to or have to get done. At the same time though, there’ll also be times where we find ourselves losing motivation along the way, or having trouble even getting started. How do we overcome all this and, well, do things with our lives? Being able to motivate yourself clearly comes in handy here. In the first article of this series, we covered some things you can do right away to get motivated. However those are just stop gap measures — in the long haul, we’d need a broader, more substantial approach to motivating ourselves. In this follow up, we present the case for building life skills to motivate yourself.

Self-control is a good way to start. In the end, the idea behind motivation is to accomplish some task. The trouble though is that a lot of the tasks we do, especially as students, pay off only at some far-off point in the future, meaning that our motivation ends up fizzling out along the way, and we fail to accomplish the task. We’ve all experienced this, creating well-laid study timetables only to not follow through with them, instead finding ourselves scrolling through Facebook, reading a Press article, chilling to music or just plain asleep. To keep ourselves on track, we need self-control —“this ability to delay immediate gratification for the long-term”, as Mei Hui shares. “It’s a life skill. For studies you do need to work hard, do practices, do tutorials, before you see the results, and the results may be ten months down the road. You need to persevere, basically.” Granted, it’s one thing to say that and another to actually do it (as many of us know only too well), but thankfully self-control is something we can work on. Self-control is like a skill; Mei Hui says that “the more you practice it the better you get at it, and the easier it comes. Much like all things in life.”

You can also keep yourself on track by giving yourself small immediate incentives to get you there bit by bit. As Jeffrey explains, “short-term yields could be like, if I finish this, I get the magnum,” or it might even involve negotiating with one’s parents to set up some kind of reward, such as a game you really want to try, or letting you go out with friends. On the flipside, you can also set negative motivators. “What pains do you get if you don’t complete something? So maybe if you don’t complete something you have to run ten rounds. You can get someone to help you hold yourself accountable to your goal, whether by positive or negative motivators,” Jeffrey suggests.

However, there are limitations to short-term motivators. While often small and simple to work towards, they may not stay effective for very long. The counselors explained that each time we obtain the reward, its draw decreases, and so over time short-term motivators motivate less. We need to keep this in mind and be careful not to over-reward ourselves when using short-term motivators.

Instead of relying on short-term motivators, we should consider finding for ourselves a larger meaning to work towards. As Jeffrey shares, “The best thing is to be intrinsically motivated, because that lasts a lot longer than any kind of external reward.” Mei Hui gives an example: “Let’s say you have a job and it’s extremely well-paying, but you hate the work. How long do you think you can work at that job before you call it quits? How feasible is lasting if you don’t have an interest or talent in something?” So as Jeffrey says, “Yeah, do some discovery and find some meaning, some passion.” That way, we would be fueled by a stronger intrinsic motivation.

We should figure out what we care about and want to do, instead of merely chasing external rewards.

Intrinsic motivation helps clear up decisions (universities, careers, what to spend the weekend doing), and more importantly, it keeps you going for the long-haul. As Jeffrey shares, “it’s generally true that if you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re heading, then whatever you’re doing at the moment has no meaning”. This lack of meaning is what causes us to disengage and lose motivation. Who among us hasn’t at some point wondered what all this homework is for, or why we force ourselves awake so early morning after morning? Without some larger sense of purpose, the weight of the pointlessness is crushing. Once we find that purpose however, we would know why we do what we do. Having a purpose would bring more meaning and focus to our day-to-day lives, keeping us going, getting us closer to our dreams each day.

If you don’t know where you’re going, every road will lead you nowhere.

Discovering what we want to accomplish is therefore key. However, this is precisely where most of us struggle, as too many things seem interesting and it’s difficult to know which to commit to pursuing. While there is nothing wrong with not wanting to limit ourselves, it can become a problem when our indecision paralyses us. To overcome this, Jeffrey advises that we simply pick one of our interests. “Pick anything that they are heading towards that will reward them as a long-term goal.” This way, we get over the indecision and at least start heading somewhere.

Another way to discover our passion is to get exposure and so gain self-awareness along the way about what we like, through trying things and gaining experience. By exploring, we create opportunities to uncover what drives us, what our passions are. In particular, Jeffrey suggests we “get out of the [Rafflesian] biosphere”. Exploration beyond our sheltered school life could bring fresh insights about ourselves as we go through new experiences. Get out of preordained destinies (lawyer- doctor -engineer) take a look at what else is around and you might find yourself rejuvenated. Be adventurous with your internships – be a lifeguard! Be a pre-school teacher!” Jeffrey suggests.

Some may worry that all this trying is risky, and it is – “it’s really just trial and error; you try something, it doesn’t work, try something else.” However, the risks aren’t as great as we think. “There’s a lot greater leeway to do this after you finish your A Levels and when you’re out in the real world. People change jobs quite easily, because a lot of jobs just require very general skills, like having a degree.” Mei Hui shares, so we shouldn’t be too worried about switching paths when things don’t work out.

Taken from Peanuts.
Taken from Peanuts.

Gaining self-awareness could also involve searching for different perspectives and sourcing for information there. For example, we could talk to peers in a different state and phase of life.

This could be seniors who have been successful, or have made major switches – “these guys graduates as lawyers but turn out to be scriptwriters, went into drama instead of law. Why do they do that? You may find things out from that, it’s a learning process.” Jeffrey suggests. Talking to those around you to get different perspectives on yourself is also a good idea, as others might be more aware of your strengths and passions. “Ask yourself what people ask you for help with.” Mei Hui advises. Biographies and autobiographies are handy too, as we learn from others’ life choices, and decide whether we wish to lead the same kind of life. “The Internet is also a wonderful resource”, Mei Hui points out. “I once had a student who wanted to become a doctor, and she would read blogs written by doctors about their job and their daily lives.” Jeffrey also brings up Elim Chew, the founder of 77th street, whom he suggests writing to “if you want advice on being an entrepreneur. She’s very open too, and if you write to her she will answer you.” Social media allows us to connect with these people so easily, we should take the chance to directly converse with them, and see what they have to say.

Besides the above, RGC also provides assistance in finding motivation. Students can make an appointment to speak to one of the counsellors, who have a series of tools and questionnaires that can help one discover their strengths and shortcomings. The counsellors can then help you do better in what you’re not motivated to do, and that mastery might aid in motivation. For example, Jeffrey says, “We can help you study smarter; if you’re not very motivated, for that limited amount of time you’ve budgeted for the exercise, how do you make the best out of it?”

Ultimately, we hope that somewhere along the discovery process, you’ll be able to find your dream. Once you do so, hold on to it, and keep it in your sights. As Mei Hui suggests, “print a picture, put it on your wall, bedroom, in your file, make it your wallpaper.” Your dream will then bring meaning to your day-to-day lives and give you intrinsic motivation. It’ll be a reminder of why you’re here, doing what you do, and why you keep going.

Keep Calm: How to Motivate Yourself to Study (I)

By Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E), Louisa Li (16A13A), Md Khairillah (16A01B)

In the aftermath of Keep Calm Week, Raffles Press brings to you a special RGC feature on study tips.

The secret of every successful man lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.

Albert Gray, The Common Denominator of Success

Keeping calm and studying in RI aren’t as mutually exclusive as you might think. Studying doesn’t have to be as painful as it is for most students, but if you relate to this, Press brings to you a special RGC feature on some tips to motivate yourself to study.

Protips from the counsellors:

  1. Just get started. Tell yourself that you’ll just do it for 5 minutes, it’ll help you get over the initial inertia, then you’ll find yourself continuing with it. Or, tell yourself you’ll do the easiest part first, like adjusting the margin, changing the font, etc.
  2. Sometimes the problem comes when we over-think things. Focus on the small, achievable tasks, and break them down to make them seem less intimidating. Internal deadlines are another option, but they might not help much; if you were good at self-regulation you probably wouldn’t be procrastinating in the first place.
  3. Fast-forward to the benefits of what you’re doing, then focus on them instead of the difficulties.

    Alternatively, take a look at Shia LaBeouf’s motivational video to kick-start your revision!

  4. Set SMART (Specific, Manageable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound goals) Set mastery-related rather than performance-related goals (“I will understand economics” rather than “I will get an A for economics”).

    Print this out, paste it at your work desk, make it your phone wallpaper, tell yourself this every day. Just do it. Then it gets done!
  5. To make things feel less overwhelming, give yourself a starting and ending time, and divide it into smaller time frames. You can try the Pomodoro technique, where you take breaks after set intervals of work. Research also shows that taking small, effective breaks is the best way to make your work productive!
  6. Can’t bring yourself to study? Try to logically convince yourself to! Consider the consequences if you don’t do it. Is it better to do it now or later? Is it easier to do later? If it’s no, then the logical choice is to do it now. Although it might sound ridiculous, try to self-talk yourself into doing it! Imagine what your parents/future self would say to you, then say it to yourself. Repeatedly.
  7. Still not motivated? Try, which helps motivate people to stick to their tasks and persevere. Set a goal, and set the amount of money you will donate to a charitable cause (to further motivate yourself, you can choose your least favourite cause) if you don’t meet your target. Then publicise your bet! Let all your friends know about it, and perhaps you’ll be more motivated to fulfill your task then.

    Taken from
  8. Still not working? Use your friends! Set up study groups and make appointments with friends to study. Trying to set up a good study habit is like trying to set up any other good habit; doing it with a friend somehow it gets you past the initial hurdle.

Here Press must caution that it is important to find out for yourself what motivates you, and not to take all our suggestions at face value. Ultimately, we all motivate ourselves in different ways. Some of us are motivated by prestige and pride, others by prizes, or perhaps even by people — it’s about figuring out what works for you. While the syllabus and curriculum may remain the same, what we can change are our methods for motivation: and it’s about creating motivation for yourself once you know what works for you. Similarly, if your friends are experiencing motivation issues, find out what motivates them, and create opportunities for them to be motivated. If your friend is motivated by prizes, then you could create games and challenges between one another if that spurs your friend on. Or if your friend needs a study companion, consider helping them out!

However, while you should find what motivates you, sometimes it’s also about just getting down to it. Occasionally, we hold ourselves back with our fear of failure, of taking risks, because we want to protect our image. Our fear of failure makes us self-sabotage and not even begin, so that we can avoid the possibility of failure and maintain our facade of confidence. But by doing that, no one, including yourself, will ever know if you’re truly capable or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If we want to pursue our passions and accomplish our goals, we must be willing to take that first step, and try. After you’ve read this article, pick up a pen and complete that long overdue Math tutorial. Just go do it.