My Blog

Standard of exams has raised tremendously over the years

It’s not easy been a student today.  Thirty years ago when I was a student, tuition was a term virtually unheard of – only the weak ones had tuition.

Today, the tuition industry is worth S$1.4billion in Singapore.  9 in 10 students are reported to have some form of enrichment lesson.  Hothousing students has become the norm.  And it is not without good reason…

I did my O levels more than 3 decades ago in 1988.  I still keep the English paper.  Comparing the English O level exam 30 years later in 2018, the level of difficulty has gone notably higher.  In 1988, comprehension was simply based on inferential skills and vocabulary power.  30 years later, apart from the fundamental inference and word power, answering techniques are required for specific questions such as Language Use, Unusual and Effective, Irony, Writer’s Craft, Contrast and Effect, paraphrasing etc…

To all students who are reading this, you have a much higher hurdle to clear.  I know.

Similar looking words that are actually dissimilar in meaning – Part 2 (Final)

  1.  Determined and Determinism

When you are determined, you persevere.  Determinism has nothing to do with perseverance.  Instead, this word is used to describe a belief that everything is predestined, so people are not able to act according to their free will.

For instance, those who are determined are more likely to achieve their goals as compared to those who subscribe to the concept of  determinism.

2. Systematic and Systemic

Being systematic is doing something in a structured manner. Systemic however, relates to or affects the whole of a system, organization etc

For instance, corruption faced by the country is a systemic one that will require a systematic approach to eradicate over an extended period.

3. Category and Categorically

While the word category is used to indicate a group, it would be a mistake to think that categorically relates to classification.  Instead, the word means something that is clear and without a doubt.

For instance, the government categorically (clearly without a doubt) states that cocaine remains in the category of illegal drugs that is banned even for medical purposes.

4. Attendant

Most of us know that an attendant is someone hired to provide a service.  This is so when the word is used as a noun.  But it’s a different meaning altogether when it becomes an adjective.  As an adjective, it means something that occurs with or happens as a result.

For instance, the attendant explosion happened when the pump attendant was smoking too near the gas station.

Similar looking words that are actually dissimilar in meaning – Part 1

This month, I would like to share a set of words that may look alike but are actually not related.  Many students who misunderstood them to be somewhat similar had been penalised as a result.

  1.  Oblivious and Oblivion

The word oblivious is to describe someone who is not aware or concerned about what’s happening around him whereas, the word oblivion can be used to describe the state of being completely destroyed.  

For instance, if man continues to be oblivious to environmental damage, a lot more species on earth will be sent into oblivion.

2. Sanction

Interestingly, this word has opposite meanings when used in different contexts.  On one hand, it is used to indicate a penalty / punishment for disobeying.  On the other hand, it is also used to indicate approval / permission to do something.

For instance,  North Korea faces sanction (punishment) for firing missiles and nuclear testing.  Japan is seeking international sanction (approval) for its intention to release treated radioactive water into the sea.

3. Fatal and Fatalistic

As we already know, the word fatal is used to describe something deadly.  The word fatalistic however, has nothing to do with being deadly.  Instead, it is used to describe a belief that nothing can be done to change an event or situation.   

For instance, if we adopt a fatalistic attitude in the fight against Covid, the consequences will be fatal.

Sheer amount of homework

A student wrote to the press (The Straits Times Forum Page) on 15 March 2021, lamenting that students are overwhelmed by all the homework during the week long school holidays.  A holiday is literally a break, yet it is common for many students to have to go back to school for extra lessons (compulsory for all) almost every day.  

Indeed, I do empathise with our young the sheer amount of work that they have to handle.  Looking from another perspective, students must realise that the more homework teachers give, the more work they are actually giving themselves.  Teachers don’t simply dish out homework based on whims and fancy.  Whatever homework that they give, they have to mark and return to the students.  I am sure it would be so much easier for teachers not to give any homework.  But as an educator, I am well aware that no responsible teacher would do that, if he or she has the student’s interest at heart.

Indeed, the amount of work that students have is significant.  And it’s understandable that they are complaining.  We can’t blame teachers too for doing what they ought to.  It is precisely how rigorous our system is, that has enabled Singapore to progress from a third world country to a first world nation today. Remember – GROWTH AND COMFORT DO NOT COEXIST.

Silly Pronoun Errors

There is an increasing number of students who commit pronoun errors in their writing.  And these types of mistakes not only affect the weak ones, even those who are typically strong overlook them from time to time.

Below are actual samples of students’ essays

Sample Writing 1
Sample Writing 2

As you can see, the errors are minor enough, but if an essay has too many of them, it will erode the quality of your writing.

I hope by showing excerpts of sample essays, it will bring to the attention of everyone to be more mindful and take effort to prevent committing them in essay writing.

A Reflection on 2020

As we enter the new year, I would like to reflect on 2020.  If I may use a catch phrase to best describe the year, it would be “thinking out of the box”.  

Indeed, the pandemic is a game changer; it forces every individual and industry to think out of the box to survive.  The conventional ways of doing things can no longer sustain; much less thrive…  No one is spared.  From the man in the street to global brands.  

As borders closed, travel came to an abrupt halt.  Passenger planes were retrofitted to become cargo jets to keep them flying, restaurants and even hawkers pivoted to online orders and deliveries, and taxi and grab drivers with no tourists or locals to pick up turned to delivering food orders to sustain their income.  Every enterprise and enterprising individual had to think out of the box.

I had been teaching for almost a decade.  And in all these years that I have taught, lessons were conducted physically – either in a classroom or at students’ premises.  Online lessons were never an option; either because of concerns over efficacy, quality of content and the likes.  The pandemic was no exception for me.  All physical lessons had to stop indefinitely… Suddenly what used to be ‘radical’ to me – online lesson was the only way to keep my lessons going.

Embarking on a new platform, I realise all my concerns are unfounded.  Online lessons not only takes away the time commute, time saving also leads to more productivity, lessons can be recorded and reviewed anytime by students and parents, the level of engagement is no different from physical lessons and quality of delivery is not at all compromised.  In short, it’s effective and efficient.  Thinking out of the box has opened more opportunities for me.   The episode was a blessing in disguise indeed.  

We don’t know what 2021 has in store for us.  But we do know that surviving 2020 has made us stronger, wiser and more resilient to deal with what comes in 2021.

Some insights after the End of Year Exams

I am pleased to share that almost half of all my charges have delivered a distinction for English.  More notably are those who have never scored an A and managed to do so finally.  Remarkably, all my students from a SAP school but one have got an A (the only one who didn’t got a B)

To those who have done well, you deserve credits for your stellar performance.  There’s only this much that I can do; as I always tell parents and students.    

For those yet to achieve that grade you desire, still, give yourself a pat.  You have done your best.  Work on your weaknesses and never keep trying. Joining the ranks of those who have got distinctions is not far off.

Finally, grades do not define us.  It’s merely a feedback of our understanding.  As for me, I will strive to do better and continue to look for innovative ways to impart my skills and knowledge.

Clever use of Idioms

Idioms are part and parcel of any language.  They often add colour to the language.  It is rather disappointing that many students have forgotten the beauty of idioms to express their thoughts in their essays.  Idioms are useful in vividly showing something by providing images that give an impactful yet concise explanation.

There are thousands of idioms and it’s virtually impossible to go through every single one.  In this article, I would like to share the following which are very useful.

  • A chip on the shoulder – to be upset / afraid by something that happened in the past

He was almost drowned as a child in the pool.  Now, whenever he sees water, he’s fearful.  The incident has become a chip on his shoulder.

  • A dime a dozen – something that is very common

Pandas are a rarity in Singapore.  In China however, pandas are a dime a dozen.

  • Bark up the wrong tree – blame a wrong person or to take a wrong approach

Some parents are too busy for their children.  They shower their kids with everything except attention.  They are barking up the wrong tree, when sometimes what the child wants is their attention.

  • Count your chickens before they hatch – to be too sure or over-confident 

We should never count our chickens before they hatch.  Although we may be very good at a particular subject, it pays to be careful and check our work especially in exams.

  • Go to hell in a handbasket – something that is already bad and will become disastrous

The team is weak and its members are also not in harmony with one another.  They will be going to hell in a handbasket when they meet the defending champion in the next match.

  • Other fish to fry – other more important things to do

The exams are coming.  Instead of playing all the time, don’t you have other fish to fry?

  • Paddle your own canoe – to do something without any help

Parents should let their child paddle their own canoe as much as possible so that the child can learn to be independent.

  • Sail under false colours – to pretend to be something that one is not

When making friends on social media, we should always be wary of people who sail under false colours.  They may be criminals looking to cheat or harm us.

  • See the world through rose-coloured glasses – to be too optimistic and only see the good side about something

Although technology has brought convenience to our lives, we should not see the world through rose-coloured glasses.  It has also caused distress to victims of scam and cyberbullying.

  • When the chips are down – when situation becomes really bad or difficult

We will only know who our friends are when the chips are down.  True friends will help and encourage us.  Those who are not our real friends will abandon us when we need them.

For those who want to know more about using idioms in essay writing, you can always grab a copy of these books (that I have authored) from the school bookshop or Popular Book stores.

This book is used by some of the top schools such as Hwa Chong, Nanyang Girls and Raffles Girls as teaching aid and recommended reading text.

A call to regulate the tuition industry

I read a Forum Page article on 12 Aug by a concerned parent calling the authorities to regulate the tuition industry.  The writer mentioned how some tuition agencies require parents to pay six months worth of  fees in advance.  Not only that, parents have to put a few months’ deposit as well.  You may read the whole article

Indeed, some establishments resort to unfair means to “lock in” students with 6 months to a year of course fees.  These can actually be tell-tale signs of measures to curb the high attrition rates of students who may have previously signed up with them.  Often times, students register with high hopes that they will become star students like others.  However, when they realise that it is not what they have expected, they cannot back out due to the significant amount of fees already paid – with no refund.    

Locking in students using questionable means can only do this much to retain students’ loyalty.  Staying true to my course has been my guiding principle over a decade.  Parents and students will be able to tell a tutor’s level of commitment with just a few sessions.  

So to all parents and students, when faced with such registrations’ pre-requisites, do ponder and not to make hasty decision.  I once had a student a few years ago who had to give up two months of fees paid to a “branded” establishment and come to me.

An Inspiring True Story

There was a young artist in Italy trying to make a living by selling his paintings on the street.  A very rich woman came and offered him $1,000 to have her portrait painted. The artist put in his best effort and time to paint her portrait. 

When it was completed, the woman didn’t like how she looked (in fact, that was exactly how she looked) and backed out on her promise. She refused to pay anything for the work and said it was a piece of trash. The artist was very hurt by the wealthy woman and told her that one day, she would buy back that painting at more than 600 times the price. The woman scoffed and left.

The humiliated artist went back to his hometown and continued improving his painting skill. 10 years later, he became a renowned artist and held an art exhibition. It attracted the rich and famous and woman’s circle of friends who attended the exhibition told the woman about the amazing artist and his works. They said that all his paintings but one, were snapped up.  It was the portrait of a woman and not for sale.  Everyone commented that the woman in the portrait looked so much like her.  Curious, the woman went to the art gallery to see for herself.  There, standing at the centre stage of the gallery was the portrait of her that the artist had painted 10 years ago.  It was titled “THIEF”.  The woman was dumbfounded and apologised to the artist. And yes, she paid 600 times above the original price for that piece of painting – $600,000.  The name of the young artist is Picasso.

By sharing with you this story, I hope just like Picasso, believe in yourself and never let others underestimate your self-worth.