What guidebooks to get for General Paper?

This query comes from a student:

Okay, my GP grades have been terrible for too long, always averaging an E grade so obviously I need to do something abt it. I want to try this by myself 1st without having any tuition (tuition is exp no offense), so I am wondering what guidebks u guys recommend? My frens told me KS Bull issues are very good, but I recently saw this book GP Power by Robert Wilks in Popular which I kinda like too. Quite undecided, pls help. Thx.

The Response:


GP is a complicated subject, or should I say, it's more than a subject.

In the essay portion, you will need good English writing skills to demonstrate that you can respond to questions using reason, logic and facts. This means you need to read articles on current affairs, humanities and social sciences to get both knowledge about issues and topics, as well as to glean insights on what makes a good essay. Reading widely also helps you with the comprehension section because the more the number of difficult articles and essays you can understand from your own reading, the less likely you will be stumped by the essay in the comprehension section.

Ultimately, I think to do well in GP, it is really a matter of attitude. From how you typed your query, I infer that you are generally very careless and sloppy in your writing. That one paragraph is replete with spelling and grammatical errors. It appears that you have formed some bad writing habits. You may argue that you will be more careful in a test or exam setting, but given the grades that you are receiving, there's some evidence that it isn't working. Each and every time you write or communicate is a opportunity to hone the correctness and accuracy of your writing. You need to start forming good writing habits right away.

You also need to form good reading habits. This means that you need the discipline to spend at least an hour or two every day on reading. It's been a good 15 years since I took my GP exam, but up until now, I still spend an hour or two every day reading up on current affairs, humanities and social sciences from a variety of sources. The good thing now is that with the internet, it's very easy to get information. You can access quality journalism such as New York Times, Washington Post, Time, The Economist etc online, and without having to pay a single dime. There are news and reading apps on mobile stores that will collect these current affairs stories for you to read. You don't really need guide books. You just need to spend time to find and read these resources.

GP is a little like life; there's no user guide or manual. If your mindset is to look for guidebooks that contain all the information to solve your problem, unfortunately, that's not going to work. You have mentioned that there are a couple of guidebooks available in bookstores, and they may be of some help, but you will run into trouble at the next level because there are no guidebooks for university and working life. I suggest that you start with regularly reading the sources I mentioned above, and search new ones on your own. Be extremely particular about how you express yourself in English, regardless of whether it is a Whatsapp message, an email, or your GP essay. If you have queries about what you've read, talk to your GP tutor. Don't just keep quiet. It's not easy to pick up such habits and attitudes, but if you do, you will excel in GP, and in life.

Aaron Ng

(Councilor: December 2014 - December 2015)

Aaron Ng has since returned to NUS as a full time lecturer and is no longer active tutoring.

Answered On 5 May 2015