A Primer for Prospective University Applicants: How to Optimize Your Selection of University Courses and Adapt to the Demands of University (Part II)

(This post by Mr Koh Kian Leon first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 2 April 2014. It is the second of two parts. You can read part one HERE)

By Koh Kian Leon

Making the Transition from Junior College to University

The transition from Junior College to University is not as easy as students might think, especially for the boys who will invariably suffer from a temporary loss of cognitive ability, having just returned from a two-year National Service hiatus (though the boys often derive some other intangible edge from NS, usually in terms of maturity of thought, wisdom and drive!)

Firstly, let’s talk about pedagogy. While most Universities adopt the traditional lecture-tutorial system (save for SMU, which employs the seminar style of teaching) which is not dissimilar to the system put in place at JCs, the standard expected of students in terms of critical thought processes and level of preparation is much higher. Lectures are usually confined to an exposition of the fundamental concepts; for this reason, it is imperative that students digest the required reading materials for a particular topic both before and after classes. This optimizes the absorption rate for new concepts both during and after lectures and maximizes learning efficiency in the long run.

Secondly, let’s deal with competition. Students must understand that the barrier to academic success is raised in our local universities because of the implementation of the bell-curve grading system. It is not the same as the system of grade moderation utilized in JC. Bell-curve grading is a statistical method of allocating grades designed to yield a particular distribution of grades for a specific module. For example, if there are five grades in a particular university module (e.g. A, B, C, D and F), A will generally be reserved for the top 20% of students, B for the next 40% of students, C for next 35-40% of students, and D/F for the bottom 0-5% (usually in very exceptional circumstances). This means that the students in any given class are assessed relative to their peers. In contrast, the “A” level grading system uses a student’s absolute test scores to determine the grade to be assigned to that student (e.g., if a student scores 70 marks, he gets an “A” grade; 60-69 marks for a “B” grade and so on and so forth). Moderation simply means that the “cut-off mark” for attaining a particular grade is either increased or decreased depending on the difficulty of the paper, which is wholly distinct from the bell-curve grading system.

This fundamental change in the grading system means that an “A” grade is not guaranteed merely because a student scores 70 marks on the exam. He needs to rank in the top 20% to attain an “A” grade; in other words, he needs to outperform 80% of his classmates to score the “A”. What this means is that, if more than 20% of his classmates score 71 marks or higher, he immediately drops to a "B" grade, and so on and so forth.

My advice to students is this: don’t feel downcast or upset if you only obtain a B on your first test; the fact is that at least 50% of your peers scored a B or below on that particular test. You will need to moderate your expectations, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a study technique to optimize your grades in the future. Do not feel disheartened because of a few bad grades here and there.

Remember this: while grades are a good indication of a student’s exam ability (and general scholastic ability), it is not, and should not be, the sole yardstick by which you determine your own value and self-worth. Academic ability (especially at the University level) is not the determinative factor by which professional aptitude and success is measured.

A Final Word to all JC Students

I am here to help you pursue the most optimal course of university education (and prospective career) based on your unique circumstances and background. I will be able to advice you on a wide variety of university courses and what to expect both prior to and after graduation. This ensures that your aspirations and expectations are aligned with the reality of employment once you graduate into the workforce. For those who are less risk-averse, pursuing the path of entrepreneurship and starting your own business at the expense of income security is actually the path which offers the greatest rewards, if successful.

Ultimately, it is imperative that students optimize their career options at this crucial stage in their life. I am here to help you achieve your dreams. Don’t ever settle for less or short-change yourself; reach for the stars so that you'll land on the clouds if you fall. At least you'll know for a fact that you've tried your best. You may have fallen short in the sprint of scholastic achievement, but should you carry this attitude with you for the rest of your journey, I can assure you that you will outshine your peers in the marathon of life. Just make sure to focus on what you can do for yourself and not what others can do for you.

About The Author

Leon is a NUS law graduate specializing in career planning for prospective university applicants and English/GP tuition for secondary school and JC students, with a focus on the essay writing component and the development of core writing skills. He has had substantial experience of close to three years mentoring students, with all of his students demonstrating dramatic improvements under his proactive tutelage and genuine care.

Feel free to visit his personal website over at http://thecareertutor.weebly.com for his background, teaching pedagogy, as well as his tutoring services and rates.


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