Written by: Clarence Sim (19-A6), Beverly Tan (19-E3), Alyssa Minjoot (19-I1), Dillon Phang (19-I4), Aloysius Tng (19-U4), Wong Sean Yew (19-U4)
Designed by: Lee Entong (19-U2)
We at The Origin* are sure that some of you definitely have many dilemmas about what to do in light of the upcoming Subject Combination Proposal Exercise (SCOPE), and our team would like to bring to you some information on the different subjects one can offer for the A-levels!
Interviews and our own experiences came together to bring you this much-awaited article. There are MOE subject syllabus documents linked as well! Just look out for the orange text in the article.
Choosing a subject combination is of paramount importance, due to the ramifications it can have on one’s future. Here are some thoughts on how to manage this difficult choice.
When considering what stream you should take, the two factors you should consider are interest and viability.
The rigour and content for every A-level subject is naturally high. When studying for them, you will inevitably feel drained at some point in time. Interest should hence be considered, and prioritized, when choosing your combination. If you already dislike a particular subject, you shouldn’t make your life harder by choosing to torture yourself by forcing yourself through it. In contrast, if you love or are interested in a subject, you should choose it as liking the subject in the first place can reduce the pain you feel when studying.
The viability of a subject combination is also important in deciding the subjects to take. We’re sure that the teachers have already mentioned how you should check your target university’s website for your preferred courses’ prerequisite subjects, but we would like to reiterate this piece of useful advice.
Should I take arts (or science)?
Photo taken by: Mr Marc Kenji Lim
There is a stigma surrounding the arts – they do not offer many future career options. This is a reputation that is thoroughly undeserved, as there are many scholarships specifically for arts students and the variety of jobs available for arts students have grown far beyond the stereotypical fields such as law. Now, arts students can obtain jobs in different sectors, be it human resources, teaching and even in politics. We would hence like to encourage students to consider all options, rather than restricting themselves to the sciences just because they think their future would be brighter if they took that path.
However, for local universities, the arts do not require many prerequisites, especially when compared to science courses. Thus, if one is still undecided about what university courses to take, one could stick to tried and tested science subjects in JC, so that they can join any course they want in universities.
However, it is undeniable that arts subjects provide a solid foundation for future arts courses and could provide an advantage when applying for competitive humanities university courses in overseas and local universities. Thus, if you have your sights set on the arts, go for it!
Should I take a hybrid combination?
If you do not wish to pursue a major that requires two H2 Sciences in University, you may consider a hybrid combination. A hybrid combination is versatile for university applications as you would be able to pursue Engineering (if you pick physics), or a number of Science courses while also having a Humanities background for Arts majors. As Biology must be paired with Chemistry, you would need to choose between Physics and Chemistry while Math is a practical part of your combination. Most hybrid students take Economics but any mix of Arts subjects other than Geography and History (due to timetabling clashes) are viable.
Photo taken by: Mr Marc Kenji Lim
What contrasting subject should I take?
Looking across the cohort, the majority of students in Science stream offer Economics as their contrasting subject. You may think Economics is an ideal subject as it does not involve essays similar to History and Geography, however, essay writing is a crucial portion in Economics, and in fact all Humanities subjects. Economics is seen as the most versatile option amongst the humanities due to the similarities it shares with the maths and sciences (graphs) and is often seen as the most “muggable”. You’d expect to deal with real-world concepts that are rather simple to understand, but in a more logical and formal terminology. Other popular ones include Geography, History, Literature in English, Translation (Chinese) and China Studies in Chinese (CSC) (regarding CSC, check out Bridging the Cultural Gap: A Guide to CSC). Translation and CSC are perhaps 2 more unfamiliar subjects as you wouldn’t know of them from secondary school. As for Humanities/Arts Stream, almost everyone offers Mathematics as their contrasting subject. There aren’t many other options.
Should I take Biology or Physics?
Photo taken by: Ang Wei Ning (EJC Media)
The choice between the two will be important in narrowing down which University course and career you are eligible for. You should look up on university websites to find out which subject will better fit your ideal university course. Contrary to popular belief, Biology is not compulsory for taking Medicine and Pharmacy in University. Local medicine schools do accept Physics students, though the competition will be tougher for you especially since the majority of Biology students there would have a headstart content-wise. If you are sure that you are interested in entering a Biology-related career like Medicine, you should take Biology. If at this point you are more unsure of your career choice, perhaps Physics will be the more sensible option. Physics involves solving more mathematical problems that are applied to real-world physics problems, hence you will need a strong foundation in Mathematics as well. Instead of rote memorising, try to understand the meaning behind formulas and definitions. Generally, the A-level syllabus involves less memorising and regurgitating of formulas and definitions, and instead more application questions. You should also be more observant about phenomena related to Physics concepts that are present in our everyday lives, since many examination-style questions are based on these. For Biology, as described by a Biology student, Lee En Tong (19-U2), you will face a much more rigorous content base, which involves even more memorising and mugging. Just like Physics, there are application questions that may not be fully present in the lecture notes. You will need to focus more on staying up to pace with the lessons since the lessons are so fast-paced. Concept maps and topic summaries may help.
Photo taken by: Ang Wei Ning (EJC Media)
Should I offer KI?
Knowledge and Inquiry (KI) is the study of epistemology, fitted into the A-levels “to be taken in lieu of General Paper (GP) for those craving little intellectual deaths”, to quote KI student, Lee Keng Yan (19-U1). The subject, dabbling with knowledge’s nature and construction, is not for everyone, for three main reasons. Firstly, KI has no clear equivalent in Secondary subjects and University courses. This means that KI will have a steep learning curve. Secondly, most universities, locally and internationally, treat KI as the equivalent of GP, despite the difference in difficulty, and only a select few overseas universities acknowledge KI as a separate subject. This may hinder applications, as an A in KI is substantially harder to achieve than an A in GP. In addition, KI requires independent motivation, preferably of a larger scale than simply not wishing to fail. The subject syllabus demands that students be familiar with concepts and theories that cannot be fully understood without outside reading and self-learning. There is a compulsory individual coursework component, the aptly named Independent Study, that necessitates personal investment. Finally, the subject itself is extremely rigorous, and students are expected to be extremely discerning and disciplined. Essays, in particular, will have you disgraced and stripped of your honour should you misinterpret a question demand. The subject is more than GP+.
However, at the journey’s peak, one can expect to enter University already battle-hardened, with rigorous research experience and a toolbox of useful conceptual frameworks under your belt. With a clearer sense and vision in multiple fields, KI will definitely change your perspective on many key issues.
If you are still undeterred, go on and try the entrance test, which will give a small taste of the issues to be grappled with. Come with open mind and mouth.
Should I offer Music?
Eunoia is one of the few JCs that offers H2 Music with the Music Elective Programme (MEP). However, the workload is heavy, to say the least from performance and composition to a skill-based written paper. In addition to the six hours a week in Music lectures and tutorials, one needs to devote a substantial amount of time to practice and compose. Despite the intimidating timetable, Eunoia MEP is a place where music goes beyond the ‘A’ level syllabus and where each and every musician has grown to be better musicians, as testified by Ng Weihan, an EJC MEP alumnus.
Should I offer Art?
When the famed painter Henri Matisse said “Creativity takes courage”, he had just unknowingly summed up H2 Art. With 3 hours of coursework and 2 hours of Study of Visual Arts (SOVA) every week, H2 Art students spend lots of time to perfect their craft. According to H2 Art student, Clare Lam (19-I1), the environment at EJ Art is “very chill and nurturing as the teachers try their best to guide students to find their art styles and create works that best cater to their interests”. If you’re up for the challenge, take the upcoming diagnostic test. H2 Art does not require one to study art in secondary school, so everyone is welcome to take the diagnostic test.
What should I expect after taking Third Language?
Taking a third language in JC is a big step up from O level. In the words of Sherry Mak (19-A6), a H2 German student, “the language becomes a part of your life.” The lessons are held at the MOE Language Centre in Bishan on two evenings every week which is compensated by more free time during school hours. With a third language, one has more opportunities to study overseas. Furthermore, one can be able to immerse in the culture through trips and exchanges as well as projects.
Should I offer F Math?
F Math, known as H2 Further Mathematics, is basically H2 Mathematics but in greater depth and more application-based. We asked Lin Wangyu (19-U5) what were some key requirements to take the subject and he cited “perseverance and a passion to learn” (besides being good in Math of course). Do note that all Further Math combinations require students to take H2 Physics and H2 Mathematics. Many students taking Further Math take Economics or China Studies in Chinese (CSC), so if you want to take a different humanities subject, you have to approach the teachers during SCOPE and your proposed subject combination will be subject to the teachers’ approval (pun totally unintended). Daunting as it may be, take the test if you have the passion for Math and we wish you all the best.
What’s the difference between H1 and H2?
Generally, H1 subjects have three quarters the content of their H2 counterparts. This means that the school will finish the syllabus earlier, up to half a year faster than their H2 counterparts. However, the techniques required for answering questions are similar. For instance, both H2 and H1 Economics require CSQ answering techniques. Often, there is a change in examination format as well. For example, practicals are not tested for the H1 Sciences. H1 Economics does not test essay format questions. However, there is a tradeoff as taking 4 H2s, as compared to 3H2s 1H1 is considering to be ‘safer’, as even if you score badly for one of your H2 subjects, there is a safety net and your rank points suffer less. Also, taking 4 H2s in your first year can allow you to drop one subject to H1 if you find that you cannot cope with the workload, so that can be considered another safety net.
Now, your subject combination is not something you should take lightly. We urge all our juniors to be rational decision-makers and consider your interests, ideal university courses and jobs. We hope we have answered most of your queries. If you still have any more questions, feel free to ask Agony Aunt Agatha through this form!