Written by azhar.
Edited by Ng Ding Jie.
The resentment that cocooned Benjamin Lim three years ago after receiving his ‘O’ level certificate had always consumed his mind. Despite his efforts, he had only managed to attain 14 points for his ‘O’ level examinations. Deep in his mind, he knew he was not at all satisfied with the results and reminded himself that he would never want to feel the same amount of disappointment again. He was determined to excel in his studies and avoid history from repeating itself.
Three years have gone by and now, Benjamin Lim has emerged as the top ‘A’ level student in Tampines Junior College. Instead of just merely memorizing the date of the past dark history like what historians do, he picked himself up and learned from his previous mistakes. Finally, in March this year, an immense feeling of happiness overwhelmed him when the results slip landed on his hands. He scored 6 distinctions in total for his H2 Economics, Mathematics and Physics as well as H1 General Paper, Geography and Project Work. He credits his success not only to his own hard work, but also to his family, tutors and friends who were always there when he needed them the most.
Benjamin Lim with schoolmate during Prom night.
Benjamin believes in taking every challenge as an opportunity. The former Ngee Ann Secondary School student strongly believes in putting his very best in any task he is assigned to do and feels that there is no point in giving up halfway and regretting in the end. For instance, his past failures in the Economics test papers had given him the opportunity to develop new learning techniques to tackle the subject. Instead of telling himself 'I can't seem to pass Economics', he asked himself 'How do I pass my Economics?'. Benjamin has a dream in life. And that ambition is to be a professional financial consultant in the future. His dream acted as a motivation for him to even study even harder, if not smarter.
Being a third child in the family, Benjamin wanted to make his parents proud, like how his sisters did. He spends his free time dining out with his family and friends occasionally. He loves to sketch and play sports such as rock climbing during his leisure time. Perhaps, being a rock climber has taught him how to clamber up and overcome obstacles before reaching the peak of his academic success today as a tpjcian.
During the two-hour interview I had with Benjamin, I have to admit I didn’t expect him to be such a friendly and outgoing person. He answered every question almost immediately and ended them with a tinge of humour. It was obvious that he has a strong passion in rock climbing. Moreover, he is also a very generous and humble person, as he was willing to share his useful study tips with the current batch of tpjcians here. He is now in National Service (NS) and has applied for accountancy and law double degree at both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU). I truly hope he will soar to greater heights and at the same time be someone known for both his qualifications and character.
The following is the online interview by Mohd. Azhar of TPJCian magazine, conducted on 11th May 2008. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity, and extraneous material omitted.
Azhar: Recently, the college has implemented a new system whereby tpjcians have to attend compulsory extra lessons after school. The J2s have to attend for subjects that they failed in their Semester Examinations (SA) while the J1s have to attend for all subjects. Quite a number of tpjcians have complained about this system, saying it makes them tired and lethargic for the next day since extra lessons end late. What do you think?
Benjamin: Yeah, I heard that a lot from my rock climbing friends also after our training. However, what I feel is that extra lessons would definitely be beneficial to students who are not doing well in their subjects. Nonetheless, if the schedule is so tight that it makes everyone so lethargic, I would say having the lessons on Saturday or something would be better, because having lessons when you're tired and not absorbing is not very effective and defeats the purpose. So I guess overall what I feel is that the extra lessons should not be eliminated but rather be re-scheduled more appropriately. Personally, I'd rather have the lessons on Saturday morning, when I’ll probably be fresh and able to absorb better. But that's just one person's opinion.
Azhar: Well, actually quite a number of students wanted lessons to be on Saturday. However, there's another group who argues that the teachers too have a family and they deserve a rest on weekends. What is your opinion?
Benjamin: I would say that such an issue is rather subjective. It depends very much on the teacher and whether he or she is willing to sacrifice his or her weekends for the students. So I guess perhaps they could rotate lecturers every week. And for me, I feel that if the lectures are from like 7-10 am or something then it shouldn’t take too much of the weekends out from the teachers.
Azhar: It is quite disappointing that a few tpjcian bloggers openly commented that TPJC is a slack college. The naysayers often compare us with other colleges, especially MJC and continue to spread the rumour that we're indeed a slack college. What is your view regarding this issue?
Benjamin: I guess it depends on the perspective that you take when you decide to label a college as slack or not. In terms of academia, I would say that perhaps our school is perhaps less intense than that of other JCs like MJC for example. But I wouldn't say that we are much less intense, especially now with the new system of extra lessons and all that has been implemented by Miss Choo. I feel that TPJC focuses more on a holistic education than academics alone and thus it would be a fallacy to say that TPJC is a slack college. And one more thing that I feel is very important is that if tpjcians continue to have the mentality that TPJC is slack, then this "reputation" will not die off and improving our school's standards will be harder.
Azhar: Our college recent performance in General Paper (GP) seems to be worrying. Statistics have shown that the percentage passes have dropped from 87% to 82.5%. Many tpjcians are worried the trend may continue as the recent SA results for GP is not really satisfactory. A couple of suggestions were shared to students to help improve their grades in GP, but some are still confused on how they should start. What do you think is the best way to do well in GP? What did you do to improve GP?
Benjamin: For Essay Writing, start gathering content knowledge for a few topics by collecting articles and stuff. Remember to do this for at least 6-8 topics. For me, I did only 3 topics. It was a big mistake and none of my specialized topics came out so I had to do a general topic for the GP essay. This way, before the A's you should have more than enough information to go read up and use as examples. From what I've seen, content knowledge alone without a superb but decent use of the English language can still get you a rather reasonable grade 30 marks out of 50 for essay! For Comprehension, you need to practice a lot! Know the types of questions well so that you can answer them appropriately. Also get a vocabulary book, which includes both the meaning of the words, and alternative words that you can use.
Azhar: I am a H2 Economics student. I read and recall the notes, as told by my tutor. But I still can't figure out why I keep getting U and S. Where do you think I went wrong?
Benjamin: Economics is indeed a challenging subject it was the toughest of all my H2s for me. But I enjoyed it the most. For Economics, knowing the theory is not enough; you must also know how to apply it appropriately.One very important issue that I faced was to be able to complete a standard essay in time. Whenever you can, practice essay writing as much as possible. Also, know the theory at your fingertips and train yourself to think quickly. For example, when the question asks you about a certain topic, there are certain things that should immediately pop in your head. This will help you to be able to complete a full essay faster.
Azhar: Did you use any other external study resources, like the thick books in library?
Benjamin: Wow, I did not touch those books at all. Everything that I used was issued by my teacher. The case studies that you do can be considered to be " external resources" for you to practice your analytical skills or maybe sometimes, economic news in the daily newspapers.
Azhar: What about for the students who are weak in Mathematics? Do you have any study tips for them?
Benjamin: For Maths, basically it's practice, practice and more practice. Make sure that when you're doing questions, you're actually applying the concepts learnt and not getting the answer due to the question being similar to one that you have done before. And for topics like vectors, it's useful to draw out the 3-D diagrams or if possible you can just visualize it in your head.
Azhar: Any suggestions for the Physics students to do well in that subject?
Benjamin: Understanding the concepts is very important! Sometimes the syllabus itself provides only limited information for full understanding of the topic, for example, quantum. Therefore, you can try asking your tutor for additional information should you have difficulties understanding some stuff. Generally, for each subject, consolidate your own hand written notes for easier understanding and quick reviews before each exam. I think this is a really useful method of learning. Also, once you've clarified any doubts with your tutors, write them down in the notes.
Azhar: The issue of our lecture notes has been raised by a few tpjcians. They claim that our lecture notes are not as well organized or detailed as the other JCs. This has prompted some of them to collect and share lecture notes from their friends in other JCs, particularly Meridian JC. What is your opinion regarding this issue? Are our notes too brief?
Benjamin: I definitely do not believe that our notes are too brief. I have seen notes from other JCs, and I can say that ours are as good or in some cases even better. There are of course certain variations such as different emphasis on different parts of a subject. But overall, I feel that notes wise, ours are definitely all right.
Azhar: There are certain weeks where everything seems to cram up together. For example, for this week, some tpjcians have a series of tests to sit. At the same time, they also have to complete the tutorials and assignments from at least five other subjects. Some tpjcians complain it’s a workload too heavy for them as a lot of things suddenly come shooting at them at one go. Have you encountered such a problem? How do you successfully overcome it?
Benjamin: Yes, I personally have encountered such a problem. Key thing now is to prioritize your time appropriately. For example, if you feel that your assignments are less significant at the point of time, try asking for time extensions from your teacher.
Azhar: The idea of forming study groups seems to be permeating in college. Many tpjcians are spending time with their classmates in the college library to revise their work together. Do you support the idea of study groups or do you prefer studying alone, and why?
Benjamin: The thing about studying in groups or alone is subjective. Some study better in groups while others alone. Personally, I study better alone. For me, when I study alone, there's less interruption and thus I tend to be able to absorb more. I have this thing called the golden hours. It's the 2-3 hour period of the day whereby you are able to absorb the most mine occurs from about 11pm to 2am so during school hours. I do sometimes study in groups, but it’s more of a recap form of studying. So my advice is to find your golden hours. Actually this golden hours name is from my civics tutor Ms Tan Chien Ming; she also had them when she was in JC.
Azhar: How often did you ask questions with your tutors?
Benjamin: Yes, you can ask all my teachers. I think they're pretty fed up with my questions, especially my Economics teacher. I ask mostly during classes. If you do not understand something, you should ask on the spot. Other than that, I do book consultation sessions with my tutors, but this was only during the period nearing the Prelims and ‘A’ levels.
Azhar: The June holidays is coming. The J1s are preparing for their Mid-Year examinations and the J2s will be seating for their Prelims soon. How do you think they should make use of the time wisely?
Benjamin: I think for the number of hours of studying is subjective to each individual, depending on his or her level of consistency through JC1 and 2. Actually, I can't really remember how many hours I did study last year. I would say 6-8 hours a day would be good enough. Yeah, it’s a lot but I think it's necessary especially if you are unsure of your JC1 topics. Then the June holidays are a good time to catch up. Of course, take breaks during weekends.
Azhar: Some tpjcians say that JC life is equals NO life. Do you agree?
Benjamin: Definitely not! It all depends on how you plan your time. JC can be tough. There's a lot of studying involved but there are also other stuffs to do like your respective CCAs. And on weekends and sometimes even weekdays, you can go out and hang out with your friends. Perhaps, when the ‘A’ levels are nearing, you will feel like you have no life. You go out less and there is a cessation of CCA activities. But for me, I feel that it’s just a give and take. What are a few months (2-3) of no life syndrome compared to good results at the end?
Azhar: All right, name 3 things that you sorely miss in TPJC, now that you have graduated. Do you have any shout outs to them?
Benjamin: The first group of people would be all my friends in TPJC. Next, are my teachers. I'm truly blessed with a bunch a very committed and nice teacher and finally, my CCA for all the fun trainings and events that occurred. To all my teachers, I want to thank you for all that you have done for me, for equipping me well with the knowledge and skills needed for me to surpass the ‘A’ level milestone. Thank you for being so patient, tolerating all my incessant questions, especially Ms Tan and Ms Chia. Thank you so much!
Azhar: Honestly, thank you so much for the interview. I really hope it will inspire and teach tpjcians to do well for their upcoming exams. Thank you.
Benjamin: Sure, no problem. I hope so too!