The JC survival guide.
By Sudo Nyme
Hello, all you kiddos moving up from secondary school to JC :D. I hope you got into the school of your choice! But if not, don't worry, 2 years will pass by really quickly and who knows you may end up falling in love with your school anyway! Anyhow, I thought I'd just write a guide for you peeps who don't want to just survive JC, but want to breeze through and flourish in it. (which contradicts the title I know hahaha)
There's one thing you should know beforehand, though: read this with an open mind and a willingness to embrace change. Some of my advice may uh... contradict the deepest-rooted preconceived notions you might have about the art of studying and performing well. This guide is undoubtedly an aberration from what you've probably been told your whole life. And I concede that there isn't a one-size-fits-all method, so feel free to adapt accordingly to your needs! :)
Understanding is the key
My academic philosophy consists of one principle only - and that is to truly understand your stuff. It's not enough to know superficially the equations for gravitational force, or finding the volume of a function rotated about the y-axis by integration... you have to dive beneath this layer of "knowledge" into the workings of the concepts to know why they work the way they do. You need to appreciate the concept and be able to develop an intuitive feel for it.
If I have the choice of choosing between an eidetic memory and the ability to truly, 100% understand any single concept, I'd instantly pick the latter. Because with the former, you can answer any question that you have encountered; with the latter, though, you can answer any question incorporating a concept that you already know. So obviously, an established understanding will allow you to adapt what you already know and apply that knowledge to virtually any question. :) This is especially so for physics and mathematics, where a single concept can be embedded within an amazingly large variety of questions.
So for all you lazy bums who want maximal results with minimal efforts, you know what to do. That said, gaining exposure to different question types is really important too (see Homework).
One last thing. Important. I've emphasized a lot on how important a solid fundamental understanding is, so if you're unsure, please clarify your doubts right away. Don't hesitate and allow your misconception to perpetuate and grow and mutate until you've got yourself a deep-rooted misconception that you believe to be true. Ask your tutors, your classmates, or just Google, for the love of Pete. Don't underestimate Google in your academics. #thankyouGoogle
Homework - ain't nobody got time for that!
I don't believe in homework. Actually, there isn't that much homework in JC imo, due in part to my definition of homework as... "assignments to be submitted". See, a lot of assignments are to be discussed in class (I don't know if this practice is common across all JCs, but in RJ 90% of all "homework" are to be gone through in tutorials).
The way I see it is that homework is a tool to facilitate the understanding of a principle. So if I've already understood something, I wouldn't want to waste time on answering questions that I'm already confident of solving... so, for the most part, I'd skip the homework and spend my afternoons on leisure :).
BUT. Mistakes happen, and you may be mistaken about the extent of your understanding of a topic, so trying out a few questions from time to time isn't a bad idea. In fact, unless you can vow with 100% certainty that your understanding of a particular concept is perfectly solid (you can't), I advocate trying out as many variations as possible of questions on that concept. This exposure will be invaluable during your tests/exams, when you won't have time to leisurely try to tweak your understanding to fit the requirements of the question. Never. Underestimate. The. Power. Of. Exposure. I can't emphasize this enough.
Sleeping (at the right time, at the right place, please)
Please do not sleep in lectures. That is the single most destructive thing you can do. If you've been following thus far you'd know what I state to be the most important thing you can have to ensure academic success. And the best opportunity by far to acquire this understanding is during lectures.
That's because lectures are the time when new concepts are introduced, explained, elaborated on, and exemplified. You want to be conscious and alert to assimilate this wealth of information. This is the best time to secure your mastery of a concept.
You can sleep all you want in tutorials, though. But only if you're confident you know your stuff. Shh, that didn't come from me though.
That said, I was a student before (and I'm gonna be one again after NS... yay I can't wait), and I know how incredibly draining it is to have your mental faculties firing on all cylinders unceasingly. Your attention should be cranked to maximum during the important parts of the lecture, and toned down during the less important bits.
Oh, one last thing. I know how tempting it is to chit-chat or use your phone during lectures. Knock yourself out. That's what I did throughout JC :) It's okay to have a bit of entertainment, provided it's not at the expense of your learning. And it helps to have the ability to pick up new stuff really quickly. De-stressing is really important because a stressed mind can't absorb new information.
GP tips are so easy and difficult... simultaneously. They're easy because they're straightforward and unambiguous and anyone can do it; incredibly hard because of the immense effort and diligence required. I'm sad to report that although I've on multiple occasions resolved to faithfully adhere to my goals, I've never actually done it lol.
To excel in GP, you need to expand and diversify your knowledge. The primary way to do so is to read extensively from multiple sources. E.g. Time magazine, the Economist, Straits Times, New York Times, Forbes, Digg. Heck, even sites like Reddit can be a trove of content waiting to be stumbled upon. (That's right, you can improve your GP by surfing entertainment sites like Reddit).
Another way is to watch videos on YouTube. See, it doesn't matter how you get your information. There're a lot of educational channels that are crazily entertaining and very informative. They mostly cover the sciences, although some delve into history, philosophy, logic, etc.
The thing about GP is that it's so freaking wide-ranging that almost anything goes. Here are some examples:
If you have an innate passion to learn as much about the world as possible, good for you, and I'm oh so jealous that I didn't. Fortunately, I managed to get my A in the end.
Physics and Mathematics
Understanding is the foremost key to Physics, seriously. I like physics because it's minimal-effort. Truly and profoundly understand a concept and you can solve any question they can throw at you. Exposure is really helpful too to patch any gaps in your understanding.
Pretty much the same for Mathematics. Although I confess I've never done as well for mathematics as I have had for Physics. But really, fundamental subjects like these require more of understanding and less on memory.
Chemistry IMHO is in the sweet spot between understanding and memory. You do need your fundamentals to solve problems, but you gotta be able to remember quite a bit of additional information too. And different topics require different techniques.
So for organic chemistry for example, you need much more memory work to cover the reaction pathways, reaction conditions and reagents, etc. For physical chemistry you need to understand the underlying concepts and principles.
But overall, Chemistry is fun :) So enjoy.
I won't delve too much into Economics because it isn't one of my stronger subjects. IMO econs require a fair bit of memory work, but as it's a pretty science-y humanity subject understanding is very important too. Consult your teachers regularly to clear up any doubts/misunderstandings! And don't sleep in lectures (no matter how boring they are).
And oh, exposure is very important to score well in Economics, because you need to get a feel of the sort of questions that are typically asked of each concept/topic. And practice writing... a lot. Econs essays are always periods of madness and furious scribbling lol.
Enjoy your 2 fruitful years!
This article was first published over at the blog of Sudo Nyme (a Raffles Alumni) on 16 February 2014. It is reproduced with permission.
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