Frequently Asked Questions
Lessons consist of a combination of short lectures, in-class discussions, and interactive exercises. We place heavy emphasis on student engagement and interaction because the studies have shown that students learn best when they are deeply invested in what they are learning. Students are also much more likely to develop an interest in the subject if they are active participants in their own learning rather than mere absorbers of information.
To facilitate student engagement and interaction, all online classes are conducted live in small groups of four to ten students. After classes, students are encouraged to clarify doubts and keep in close contact with Mr Liau.
We do not follow a conventional lesson plan of the sort one might find in cramschool-style tuition centres (with endless practices and drills each week). Our goal is not merely to produce good exam results but to also help students develop an interest in the subject and prepare them for higher education. This is not to say that our students do not perform well in exams or that our lesson plans are created in an arbitrary fashion. In fact, our lessons are designed with the latest pedagogical research in mind and backed by our own experience interacting with students every year. Our methods have worked well for us over the years with more than 90% of our students scoring As and Bs and a three-grade improvement on average. For the 2020 A Level exam, all except two of our students scored As and Bs. (i.e. 97% scored an A or a B)
To achieve these results, we place a heavy emphasis on discussion, interaction and engagement. Ample research has shown that students retain more information when they are encouraged to engage in the lesson material. They also develop vital critical thinking and argumentation skills more quickly through live interactions rather than lectures. As such, many of our lessons feature class discussions on pertinent current affairs issues (in group sizes of 4 to 10). Students are encouraged to ask questions and contribute ideas, both in written form and verbally. After each lesson, students are tasked with a writing assignment to sharpen their writing skills and consolidate their knowledge. Notes will also be provided to supplement the class discussions. All work is marked by Mr Liau and detailed feedback is provided.
To ensure that students are well prepared for the unique demands of the GP exam, we also teach exam skills throughout the year. Students will have ample opportunities to attempt comprehension, summary, AQ and essay questions. They will be taught the relevant techniques and will receive feedback on the practices that they do. Most importantly, students will learn how to approach the exams intelligently. Rather than memorise points or examples, students will be introduced to our case studies approach. By exploring case studies, students will learn about foundational concepts using tangible real-life cases. For instance, when learning about the principle of sovereignty in international relations, students will start with the International Criminal Court as their point of entry into the issue. This provides students with a firm grounding and helps avoid the problem that JC students often face with abstract concepts.
We often see students struggle with essay writing but simply cannot figure out why. In most cases, the answer is quite simple: they have nothing meaningful to say. The first thing we like to tell students is to figure out what they want to say, then say it as simply as possible. Students are discouraged from blindly emulating the flowery prose of their more proficient peers. Instead, they should seek to develop an in-depth understanding of the topic and express their own views clearly and concisely. Our in-class discussions and essay planning exercises play a vital role here. Students will also receive extensive reading materials and comprehensive notes.
This is not to say that our focus is purely on content knowledge. If a student has good ideas but cannot articulate them, those ideas will be for naught. Every week, we encourage students to complete at least two paragraphs (or a full essay if possible). Mr Liau personally marks and provides feedback on all work that are submitted as part of the regular classes. Every month, we also devote some time to covering common writing errors.
Every lesson, we share deep insights on two or three major developments in the world to help students understand what they are reading in the news. We also discuss how students can use these insights in their essays. Ultimately, the goal of these discussions is to expose students to different viewpoints, provide them with mental tools to analyse the news, and encourage them to take an interest in current affairs.
Contrary to popular belief, GP is not just an English subject for JC students.
Cambridge examiners have made this abundantly clear. They award low grades to students who exhibit a poor understanding of the subject and fail to substantiate their arguments with robust evidence.
Those who cannot address differing viewpoints fare even worse. They receive failing grades because they are “unable to meet the basic requirement of this paper”. (Examiner Report, 2013)
It’s therefore no surprise that students score poorly when their scripts are filled with comments like: “lacks balance”, “weak argument” and “poor evidence”.
No matter how effusive a student’s language may be, he will not get a good grade. Cambridge has made that abundantly clear.
Memorising facts and statistics without understanding their context or knowing how to use them is actually worse than useless. It can be harmful because it instils a false sense of confidence. A student may think he is impressing the examiner when in fact he is merely frustrating him.
It’s therefore important to build a solid conceptual framework first before students jump into the examples. To accomplish that, we often start with in in-depth discussions of pertinent case studies. Through these discussions, students may ask questions, clarify doubts and attempt to articulate their own understanding of the subject. Class sizes are kept small to ensure that every student has a chance to be heard.
In addition to the class discussions, we provide content packages and comprehensive notes that are designed to expose students to popular arguments and examples. Through these content packages, students will also see how the evidence can be marshalled to support their arguments.
Arguments are central to all components of the GP paper. Paper 1 requires students to write an argumentative essay within 90 minutes. Paper 2 requires students to answer short questions about an argumentative essay (the passage), summarise the author’s arguments, and respond to them through the application question. Ultimately, GP is all about arguments.
In 2013, Cambridge examiners explicitly pointed out that GP is not a test of general knowledge. Students who receive poor grades despite their extensive use of examples should note that no amount of facts and statistics can make up for a poorly-developed argument.
The General Paper subject is primarily about the arguments. Cambridge examiners have made that abundantly clear. Students must argue, reason and persuade, not flood the examiner with details and lengthy descriptions.
This is the trickiest part about GP. Memorising model essays will not work. Neither will copying and pasting canned arguments. Because every question is different, every response must be unique. Within those 90 minutes, students must formulate and express their own arguments.
It is therefore important for students to learn how to use examples to support their points. This is why we teach students to focus on convincing the examiner with persuasive arguments, substantiated with strong examples, rather than on impressing readers with their depth of knowledge.
Let’s be real. If there were truly some secret formula to instant success, schools would have taught it by now and you should have already heard about it.
Instead, the key to our success lies in our use of the age-old Socratic method. Through the painstaking process of asking and answering questions, we push our students to think for themselves and justify their ideas.
The studies support this. Our experience supports this. And our students’ results speak for themselves.
Our students have expressed an overwhelming preference for online classes. As such, we have remained 100% online since March last year (2020). We intend to continue with online classes for now.
In fact, our online classes have proven to be equally, if not more, effective. Students who attended online classes last year did well with 97% of them scoring an A or a B for the A level examination.
The materials will be uploaded to our Learning Management System. Students can access the notes and materials at any time, download them and even print them out. However, as there are a lot of notes and materials, we will not be printing them out for students.
During the class, all work is submitted and marked online using Google Docs. Students have generally found this to be a superior approach for their learning compared to using pen and paper, then taking photos of their work and uploading the photos.
Extensive notes are provided both in class and after class.
We have been conducting online classes since the end of 2019 and have pioneered innovative methods for keeping students engaged. As our classes are conducted live, students are kept on task by the teacher.
All our students who took the A Level exams in 2020 were taught online for almost the entire year. They outperformed previous cohorts. 97% of our 2020 cohort attained ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades.
We have thus remained 100% online because our students have indicated a preference for our online lessons and because they have continued to achieve stellar results.
If you are unable to attend the lesson for the week, you can either attend another lesson in the same week or watch the recording. Any work that you submit will still be marked. You can also contact Mr Liau directly if you have any questions about the material that is covered in the recording.