Category: Notes from the Underground

RSS Mental Health Strand

By Bryan Ling (17S06C) and Jeanne Tan (17A01B)

Mental health is an often overlooked but vital aspect of health and wellbeing. With the introduction of the Peer Helper’s Programme and Mental Health Awareness Week in recent years, there is no doubt that efforts have been made to create a platform for mental health education in RI.

This year at the Raffles Science Symposium, the Raffles Guidance Centre extended this platform further, showcasing their own Mental Health strand for the first time. With a variety of speakers and visitors from other schools, this was a diverse beginning to this new RSS strand.

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Notes from the Underground: Holiday Blues

By Nadiya Nesseer (17S03B) and Carman Chew (17A01D)

The ‘holiday blues’ – is it the fear you feel when you can’t remember your estranged uncle’s name at a Christmas party? Or is it the regret that affronts you at 10pm and you realise you haven’t done anything but watch videos all day? Could it be that dread you experience when it’s New Year’s Day and you still haven’t touched any of your holiday assignments?

In this instalment of Notes from the Underground, Raffles Press (P) speaks to 2 of our counselors, Ms Woo Mei Hui (MH) and Ms Chua Kah Hwee (KH), to better understand what the holiday blues are, what we can do about it and some tips to prepare for the year ahead.

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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.

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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.