The path of a failure… or a successful redemption story?
Disclaimer: My post is intended for the general audience, which I define as people who are healthy. If you suffer from certain conditions, my advice may not apply to you.
I’ve been rather forthcoming in my background that while I came from an elite institution, I fared badly for my national examination. While many of my peers successfully went on to colleges of their desires, I was left with the fact that I had very little choice. I could either go to a public institution that didn’t offer a major of my desire, or go to a private university. Either way this was a bad outcome for me, after having the authority to choose any secondary school I wanted after PSLE.
Likewise, if you are reading this post, it is highly likely that you fared badly for your national examination too. While our situations may differ, I want to offer you my story on how I (rather) successfully retook A Levels as a private candidate. I used “rather” as a disclaimer because I failed to achieve my goals. Nevertheless, I hope there is some useful advice in this post that can you can apply in your life.
Why that decision was easy for me
While many will consider going the route of private university, I simply did not consider it. I knew what I wanted out of my college education- a rigorous education in an established and well funded university that can stretch me. Unfortunately, I believe this is less so for (local) private universities, as they lack government funding and are more focused on simply “providing a degree”. Moreover, I felt the need to prove myself. I wanted to show that I was still capable of excelling academically.
If you asked me, it all came down to one word- pride. And for the general group of people who fared badly for examinations, I urge you to take pride in your own potential. I urge you to stretch and challenge yourself. Most importantly, a college education can change you for life, so please do not view a year off as wasted time.
Because I am a male, I had to serve National Service (NS). While some may decide to retake during NS, I did not find the NS schedule matching mine. I have had several peers who took A Levels as private candidates during NS, and I felt that they could’ve scored better if they simply retook after NS. For the males out there, it is your choice. However, I really believe that if you’re going to retake, do it after NS. You will get a lot more out of it. As for the females, do retake immediately because I feel that the content will still be somewhat ingrained in your mind.
The 9 months after NS
I ORD-ed in March, which gave me roughly 8-9 months to prep for A Levels. Note that I didn’t really study during NS. I tried studying on weekends but I found that I couldn’t retain the knowledge. Frequent study sessions really beat the infrequent ones.
I only chose to take 3 H2s and GP. The 3 H2s were: Physics, Economics and Math. Since Math had the most content out of these three subjects, I pretty much did Math every other day while fitting in Economics and Physics on the alternate days. As I’ve thrown away all my notes after A Levels, I had to get new ones.
For Physics, I simply chose a textbook from Popular that I purchased after knowing my A Level results. The book wasn’t great but it served its purpose for getting my feet wet. For Economics, I purchased a well know model essay book. I felt that the content was well taught in that book and I didn’t have to sift through tons of Economics notes. For Math, I purchased Power Math from Popular. The books aren’t cheap but they are very similar to the notes you will find in your school. For GP, I was fortunate enough to make a friend who was studying in TJC that year and she bought her school’s notes for me (thanks Huiyun!).
My plan was to complete my content by late June. I managed to do so for all subjects except Math. I took up to around late July/early August because there was just so much content.
Thereafter, I went into full exam prep mode (albeit probably a bit too early). My plan was to practise as many papers as I can to make sure I’m ready. A little more about this later on.
The support that I got
A common question is regarding my environment- who did I surround myself with and were my peers supportive?
Let me touch on my academic environment first.
I attended 2 tuition centres, one which I started in June and the other 10 weeks before A Levels.
The physics tuition I went to is very well known. I can’t praise the quality of the content enough, it is really, really good. However, I’m not mentioning the name here because I do disagree with how profit maximising the firm is. Nevertheless, they have the quality so kudos to them.
I attended an Economics tuition which was also pretty well known. Unfortunately, the teacher wasn’t keen to mark my essays. I quit the tuition shortly thereafter and didn’t find another one. A huge mistake and I believe had I found a teacher who’s willing to mark my essays, I would’ve gotten my A. (I ended up with a B.)
Lastly, I attended My Knowledge Base for GP. I can’t say enough good things about Mr Chong, the tutor. The fees are pretty reasonable and he really cares for his students. He would chase me for my essays if he didn’t receive them. As a private tutor, he is under no obligation to do all these extra services, but he does them anyway. Really proud to have gotten my A for GP under his guidance.
I found my ex Math teacher in JC (thanks Ms Mok!!!) who didn’t charge me any extras for consultations. It’s people like her and Mr Chong that really brightens up my world. :))
As for my peers, they were generally accepting and supportive. Even if they looked down on me, I didn’t sense it. And if they did, I frankly didn’t care. I had set goals for myself at that point and was only focused on achieving them.
The final sprint
The last 10 weeks leading up to the start of A Levels represented the final sprint for me. On hindsight, it was a bit too early to start going all in then. I got very burnt out during A Levels and my results were fluctuating.
My schedule was simple- I strive to do my practice papers at whatever timing I was going to take them. For example, if I knew I was going to take Math Paper 1 on Wednesday at 8am, I would be doing my Math practice papers on a Wednesday at 8am. The reason is simple- you want to give yourself the mental edge knowing that you can perform at that timing. I try to rehearse all my behavior before the test so that I know I’m just going in “for another run”.
Basically, everyday I would have done roughly 2 papers- a morning and afternoon paper. This is to simulate A Levels. In addition, I will go through the papers immediately after I done them. I will study at night too. This schedule is extremely grueling and I recommend it only when A Levels are closer.
Here’s an image of my schedule for reference:
I only took Physics, hence I only had to retake Physics SPA. I got the worksheets from my school’s teacher (thanks Ms Koh!) and just visualized myself doing the experiments. Apparently it worked. Coupled with how much easier the private candidates’ SPA was, I pretty much got an A.
Going in to A Levels
By the time I took A Levels, I felt I was sufficiently prepared. Hence it was more of a matter of just “going through the motions” again, since I’ve already done so much practice.
I hope this guide provided you with a clear idea on how you should proceed. Know that there are others before you who succeeded, and you can too. Feel free to drop me an email or a comment if you’ve any questions. All the best! 🙂
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