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December 28, 2018
Five Tips on Excelling in H2 Chemistry
February 1, 2019

“My JC days were the darkest time of my life.”

“I would never ever want to retake A-Levels!”

The quotes above (and their variations) echo among many students who recently completed the Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-Level examinations.

This article discusses the reasons why many students find Junior College Year 1 (JC1) education challenging these days by looking at the system itself. Through this article, parents can get up-to-speed with the demands of the current GCE A-Level education in Singapore.

For those who wish to find out more about the proportion of students entering publicly-funded universities in Singapore, please click the link here.

Understand the Reality of the A-Level Bell Curve

With the introduction of the Integrated Programme (IP), the top PSLE performers of every cohort bypass the O-Level examinations and sit for the A-Level exams directly.

This means that the grades received by the GCE O-Level candidates for each of their subjects might not be an accurate representation of how their academic abilities sit within the entire cohort (i.e. if you obtained A1 for O-Level Pure Chemistry now, you might be obtaining B3 instead if the IP students joined the O-Level exams). This is simply due to the absence of the more academically inclined students in the GCE O-Level examinations.

As a result, GCE O-Level students who progress to JCs might end up finding themselves at the bottom of the GCE A-Level Bell Curve because

  1. They are reunited with the more competitive top PSLE performers
  2. Weaker GCE O-Level performers have moved on to the polytechnics and ITE

GCE O-Level students must be prepared to work harder than their O-Level days if they want to stay on top of the academic game during their JC years.

On the other hand, the top O-Level performers who choose the A-Level route are usually more exam-ready than their IP counterparts. It is highly likely that they have developed intellectual maturity and good studying habits over their secondary school years. IP students need to come to terms and accept that they might not have remained at the top of their PSLE cohort during their JC years.

Extensive Content to be Covered and Tested within 7 months of JC1

As O-Level results and Joint Admission Exercise (JAE) posting results are released at the end of January, JC1 lessons would commence only in February. The JC1 End-of-Year Promotion Exams is usually conducted in September, leaving mere 7 months for students to prepare for it.

For all H2 subjects, every topic that was introduced back in secondary schools would be delved deeper (comparable to university freshman modules). Using H2 Chemistry as an example, most O-Level Pure Chemistry A-graders would feel overwhelmed after exposure to the first 3 topics (Stoichiometry & Redox, Atomic Structure and Chemical Bonding) which would be covered in less than two months. Typically, JC1 H2 Chemistry students will be tested on 11 topics in their Promotion Exam, a content load that is most certainly higher than the whole of secondary schools’ Pure Chemistry workload.

The Toil of Offering a Contrasting Subject

The GCE A-Level subjects are divided into three tiers – H1, H2 and H3 – with the breadth and depth of content increasing from H1 to H3. JC students must offer at least three H2 and one H1 subjects on top of H1 General Paper (GP), H1 Project Work (PW) and obtaining a satisfactory pass in Mother Tongue. It is also necessary that one of these subjects is contrasting to his / her main area of specialisation (i.e. Science students must offer at least one subject from the Humanities & the Arts. Students in the Arts stream must offer Mathematics or any Science as well). This specific policy is set with the aim to better prepare JC students to be all-rounders and enable them to excel in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Nonetheless, very few students excel in both the Sciences and the Arts. As such, many JC students are forced out of their comfort zones and would have to spend significant amounts of time studying for their contrasting subjects in order to overcome their lack of interest or natural flair in them.

For those who are interested to know more about H3 Chemistry, please click the link here.

Unexpectedly High Demand from H1 Project Work (PW)

A significant portion of one’s JC1 journey would be taken up by H1 PW. It is an examinable subject at the A-Levels with assessments that would only conclude at the end of JC1. It is the only A-Level subject which involves both teamwork and independent research. As the year progresses, JC1 students can easily spend 2 weekdays meeting their PW group mates. Poor coordination and unproductive PW meetings will severely distract one from their H2 subjects. Additionally, many clueless JC1 students would spend too much time trying to perform well for their individual tasks which constitutes 50% of their PW grade. This acutely reduces the time which could otherwise be spent on their H2 or other H1 subjects.

Longer School Days, Less Time for Self

Most people need about 3 months to get fully acclimatized to a new environment. However the pace of JC life is so much faster than that of secondary schools that some do not even feel that they can afford the time to get adjusted.

Most school days end much later at around 5pm especially if you have Mother Tongue lessons, H1 Project Work (PW) meetings or CCA trainings, leaving very little time for the necessary daily self-study (Discipline is needed for this) or even relaxation.

Very High Risk of Retaining in JC1 if Performance in July Mid-Year Exams (MYE) is Poor

Before a freshman gets fully adjusted to the new JC life, it would soon be the June holidays, which would usually be filled with many CCA trainings and student leadership camps. Despite these commitments, JC1 students are encouraged to clear all their academic doubts by the June holidays and should aim to do well for their Mid-Year Exams (MYE) in July, as though they are preparing for their End-of-Year Promotion exams (Promo Exam).

Making sure you pass for all your subjects in MYE is important because:

  • Time is not on your side. The Promo Exam would commence in mid-September, just two months after MYE.
  • If you flunk your MYE, there would be lots of catching up needed for the content covered from February to May within these two months.
  • Schools would introduce tougher topics in these two months and all JC1 topics would be tested in the Promo Exam.
  • If you have not mastered the earlier topics tested in MYE, you would struggle to even comprehend the harder topics taught in these two months and beyond.
  • PW workload would come in on a full swing in these two months.

Preparation for MYE should begin as early as February (before PW kicks in during March). Once you find yourself not doing well for class quizzes or lecture tests by March, seek help!

Compared to Secondary School, A Different Academic Skill Set is Required for JC

Let’s use H2 Chemistry, which is offered by many JC students, as an example to illustrate this.

Firstly, there should be less rote-memorising and more cross-topical understanding. H2 Chemistry demands more integrated reasoning and application of knowledge to case studies. It is naive to think that one can pass just by memorising the concepts and vomiting out key phrases found in lecture notes during exams as the scenarios in H2 Chemistry exams are usually complex.

Secondly, there should be more consistency and less last-minute preparation because the content load is simply too heavy! Some think that H2 Chemistry is of a similar standard to O-Level Pure Chemistry where you can simply condense your studies in the last 2-3 months. We can guarantee that you will not do well, at least for 99.99% of you…

Lastly, school internal assessments are usually of a higher standard and difficulty level than the actual A-Level exams. Some students think that they can just spam the Ten-Year Series (TYS) and/or school tutorials to do well. The truth is, even if  students complete the TYS and/or school tutorials multiple times, they might still fail their school tests because school questions are original and are set by a team of highly professional teachers. Students should do more than just their TYS or their school tutorials with proper guidance, in order to perform well throughout their JC journey.


These are some of the hard truths which all JC1 freshmen should come to terms with. With this, we hope JC1 students can reflect and think through how they would like to approach their new academic journey, which is designed to be challenging but certainly rewarding as well.

If you would like to read about some tips on how to excel in H2 Chemistry, please click here!