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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

How to be an Academic Weapon Part 2: The English-based Humanities

Written by: Chong Qing Ya (23J01), Lim Sing Yang Stanley (23J16), Liu Xuanyi (23J19)

As we usher in the start of the holidays, we are sure that the J2s are feeling the pressure to consolidate content. 

For those of us who are taking humanities subjects, it may be daunting to face this pile of content that has been accumulating throughout these one-and-a-half years. Apart from the content, there are still argumentation skills and essay outlines that we have to grapple with…

What happened to our holidays…

Credit: Vincent Loy 

Do you feel overwhelmed by the thought of having to recap SO MUCH within such a short time? Well, don’t worry, for we have interviewed some seniors on their study methods! They have given us detailed tips that will hopefully guide you on how to revise most efficiently and improve your essay-writing skills for the English-based humanities subjects.

(Refer to our previous article How to be an Academic Weapon Part 1: The Sciences to read about the H2 & H3 science subjects!) 

Read on to hear from our seniors and learn from their wisdom so that you can become an academic weapon and make an academic comeback for mid-year exams and prelims! 🥳✨

Academic weapons are what we are meant to be 😎😎

Relatable, much? 😭😭

We’ll be addressing the subjects in this order:

  1. H1 General Paper

  2. H2 Economics

  3. H2 Geography

  4. H2 History

  5. H2 English Literature

H1 General Paper 

Interviewee: Spring Ashleigh Lin Yiting (22J07)

What are some tips you have for studying for General Paper (GP)? 

Paper 1:

Studying for GP can seem like the most daunting challenge given how broad the nature of the subject is. My tip for a subject like this is to simplify and make things easier for yourself —  essentially, be smart about your approach! 

Tip 1: Identify your areas of interest and strengths within the topics

Identify your areas of interest and strength in current affairs, or in writing in general: perhaps you’re more inclined towards technology or politics, so use that to your advantage! There’s a reason why there are twelve questions covering a good number of topics (do note that the new syllabus of 8881 only has 8 questions), and that is (sort of) to ensure that everybody can choose to write what they want. 

For example, if your foundational knowledge and interest in a topic are already there, then use them as a good stepping stone to further your studies: read up more about them in online articles, opinion pieces, etc., and as you do, pick up relevant terminologies and concepts. Subsequently, practise translating your thoughts into words, and your concepts into arguments. 

Tip 2: Be familiar with the frameworks of argumentative writing (structure, idea generation, question types)

GP is, at its very core, argumentative and persuasive writing. Knowing how to structure your essay well: the classic OA, Rebuttal, SA, OA, SA is pretty infallible. 

Also, make sure to memorise frameworks for idea generation such as SPERM/SPECTRAM or whatever you prefer. 

Here’s an example of a brainstorming framework with the acronym SPERM – the words that the letters stand for may vary based on which framework you refer to.

This brings us to consider the type of question you have chosen as well. If the question is broad-based like “‘Anger is never desirable.’ Discuss.”, consider the myriad of topics/disciplines it can potentially cross. This way, your essay will have much more dimension when you argue different aspects (e.g., the perspective of different stakeholders) of the same topic, than if you had simply argued dichotomously FOR and AGAINST with no regard for the disciplines. 

If the questions you like to respond to are abnormally philosophical (“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, how far do you agree?”) or terribly niche (“Consider the view that spending money on space travel cannot be justified in today’s world.”), then ensure you know your stuff and have good examples. 

Tip 3: Strategically build up your example bank

The previous tip is then a segue to…the need to build up your ammunition: have an abundance of examples at your disposal. I don’t mean memorising every relevant event/project/policy — again, be smart about studying. Once you’ve collated your arguments from preliminary studying, you should categorise examples that would support that specific point. For example, if the point is about how the media does more good than harm as it lends itself to social activism and justice, you should at least have 2 to 3 examples just for it. You can also consider how one singular example/case study can support multiple points so you can use it at various times and even for several topics. 

Don’t let a lack of examples hold you back! 

Credit: ZAcension

Paper 2: 

Paper 2 is really one big test of your comprehension skills and ability to paraphrase (aka the examiners analysing your vocabulary bank).

Tip 4: Familiarise yourself with question types

Know what the SAQ question types are and how to answer them (listen to your teachers in class). 

Tip 5: Practice, practice, practice!

Pull out your Ten Year Series and other school papers, do them, mark them (or ask your teacher to do it for you), and get feedback. Do it under timed conditions if possible.

Tip 6: Build up your vocabulary bank for the summary

Have a list of commonly used words in summary passages and, beside it, a list of their synonyms/paraphrased phrases and antonyms. 


Tip 7: Build up your knowledge of Singapore for the Application Question (AQ)

Drown yourself in all things SG for AQ, the values (e.g. filial piety), characteristics (e.g. paternalistic government) and features (e.g. little natural endowments). And in your example bank, make sure you have examples specific to Singapore!!!

These are simply a few of the most important (and very general) tips to excel in GP, and thus it is non-exhaustive. Keep working on it!

H2 Economics

Interviewees: Spring Ashleigh Lin Yiting (22J07), Anica Lo Pui Yee (22J14)

What are some tips you have for studying Economics?


Tip 1: Memorise!!!

There is no escaping memorisation in Economics, but the bright side is that memorisation is easy here, because of how logical and well-connected all the concepts are. One thing leads to the other, so you can easily regurgitate how expansionary fiscal policy (EFP) works or how the market fails due to positive externalities. 

Force yourself to know these things and how they relate to each other by heart. Help yourself by organising your content well within each topic (e.g. benefits vs limitations of a policy, definitions of terms, and factors). 

Manifesting some big brain energy

Credit: ImgFlip

Tip 2: Know how to adapt your content to the different questions

The difficulty lies in adapting your content to the information provided in the question. Contextualise accordingly to the case studies or the situation described in the preamble of the essay question. This is key to scoring well.

Practice drawing graphs and explaining with reference to them. Refer to case studies. Know how to structure your essays and be clear of all question requirements and mark allocations. 

Tip 3: Improve your time management

Time management is essential. Practise Ten Year Series questions under exam conditions, then seek consultations to clear doubts and get feedback. 

How did you study for Economics?


Tip 4: Pay attention during lectures and take notes!!

During lectures, I would take down tips and common question types highlighted by the teachers, and pen down relevant examples for the concepts in the lecture notes. 

Are you really sure you can remember just by listening…

Credit: ImgFlip

Tip 5: Consolidate your content

Thereafter, to consolidate my learning for each topic, I would make mind maps from memory after reviewing the lecture notes as a form of active recall. Nearing tests or examinations, I would use these mind maps as my revision notes before practising past-year papers or papers from other schools and consulting my teacher on my answers.

H2 Geography

Interviewee: Ting Ze Zhi Isaac (22J08)

How did you study for Geography?

I utilised the syllabus document to have a clear understanding of the content I needed to know. I then used the condensed notes given by the Geography Department to memorise examples and reinforce my understanding. 

What do you think is the hardest topic(s) in Geography? What are your tips for understanding these topics?

I think that the hardest topic for me was physical Geography. To better understand this theme, ensure you thoroughly understand the processes that take place physically rather than theoretically.

What was your favourite thing about this subject?

I loved learning about the reason behind environmental phenomena and how people respond to them.

Any tips for this subject in general?

Thoroughly study the condensed notes given by the Geography Department as it essentially contains all the information you need. Do start on the subject earlier as the amount of content tested is quite substantial. Lastly, don't be afraid to consult your teachers to clarify your doubts!

H2 History 

Interviewees: Anica Lo Pui Yee (22J14), Spring Ashleigh Lin Yiting (22J07)

How did you study for this subject?

Tip 1: Prepare arguments 

Anica: My favourite way to study history was to prepare different arguments for the topic we were learning. I would first use the lecture slides given to glean a bird’s-eye view of the topic and understand its key factors and arguments. Then, I would look for evidence and examples in the coursebook to build on these factors that were outlined during the lecture. 

As we went through essay questions in tutorials and consults, I noted down the common arguments used to support each factor and noted the “key” pieces of evidence that flow best together and support the topic sentence. During exams, this bank of arguments enabled me to feel more prepared and able to spend more time dissecting the question and organising my arguments, rather than fretting over which evidence to use or the coherence of my topic sentences.

What are some tips you have for studying History?

(Not mentioned) but Oversimplified (On YouTube) does cover some H2 History content


Tip 2: Try to remain optimistic :’) 

Go in with optimism, otherwise, you will not succeed because history will challenge your resilience (I can speak for a lot of people). You can memorise every fact and date but still not score well because history requires not just a wealth of content, but also a lot of skill. Memorisation is inevitable, you need to know your stuff, but knowing how to apply that stuff is a different story. 

Tip 3: Make effective notes 

Make notes that are bite-sized and digestible but also jam-packed with necessary details and statistics for easier memorisation. Specific timelines (down to the day) are necessary especially for SBQ, whereas broad timelines are important for essay questions e.g. the global economy’s ascents and descents. 

History notes and additional readings are infamously long, but you have to read them and sieve out the crucial concepts or data. Then, create mind maps or tables to organise your content under an argument. 

Tip 4: Be familiar with the frameworks for generating arguments

Know your answering techniques and potential overall arguments. Good frameworks will make you consider factors like the trigger, foundational cause, long-term or short-term, actors (local or international), the periods in which they were more relevant, degree of impact etc. Generate your arguments on such bases. 

Tip 5: Read model essays and learn from them 

Read model essays to know how to master the structure of essays. See what a good introduction entails, what PEEL looks like in Body Paragraphs (BPs), and how to write a brilliant L6/7 ending.  

And, never underestimate the power of good signposting. I swear Mr Chan’s favourite one to use is “With that said,...” 

Tip 6: Memorise and practise for Source-Based Questions (SBQ)

The “studying” element for SBQ is simple: You can never skimp out on memorisation. Sometimes you need details and concepts so fine that they are molecular. 

Assuming you have got the content down, the next step is knowing when and how to use it when contextualising the sources — and this takes practice! Practise analysing the sources, grouping them into supporting or opposing groups and evaluating their strengths or weaknesses in their claim. Provenance, authorship, time, and contextual knowledge must all be considered. 

Submit your groupings and rationales to your teachers and gather feedback during consultations; trust me, it’s super important that you do this. 

What do you think is the hardest topic(s) in History? What are your tips for understanding these topics?

Spring: The topic of Political Stability and National Unity in Southeast Asia was the most challenging due to the sheer number of countries’ policies, leadership changes, military and their respective dates and trends. It might be confusing and frustrating to understand initially, but what I suggest is creating specific timelines or tables for better organisation of information (if you remember better when everything is in chronological order) OR organising big arguments/concepts/theories and then finding the evidence to group it under. The latter worked better for me. That way, you can optimise your study time and effort, instead of painstakingly doing rote memorisation that may or may not get digested by your brain. Regularly doing essay plans is good practice to strengthen what you’ve memorised as well as you can train yourself to think of examples and facts, and there will come a time when it comes naturally! 

H2 Literature

Interviewees: Hong Liying Rie (22J06), Spring Ashleigh Lin Yiting (22J07)

What are some tips you have for studying English Literature?

Tip 1: Familiarise yourself with your texts

Spring: Know your texts inside out. That way, you get the most out of what you’re studying, and finding evidence will be a breeze. By the time of prelims/A-levels, I knew what quotes to use and where to locate them, not just in the chapter or act, but the page and line. This can only be achieved by spending a lot of time with your texts, focusing on the key parts, identifying literary devices and familiarising yourself with literary analysis. Doing so enables you to easily generate key arguments that are substantial and well-supported. 

Rie: Leading up to the A-levels, I went through my texts line by line to look for potential analyses that I might have missed out on.

Tip 2: Familiarise yourself with content

Spring: Read the notes the teachers give you — there is so much treasure to be found if you take the time to study them — and highlight important interpretations and concepts. Build up your literary vocabulary for the texts; they really come in handy. Be well-versed in literary contexts: this is the historical part of literature. Knowing what influences or inspires the writer’s work is so important and is key to explaining a lot of themes and messages in each text. Cambridge examiners will fall in love with you if you demonstrate such knowledge aptly!

How you want Cambridge markers to look at your script

Credit: Pinterest

Tip 3: Work on argumentation skills

Spring: Know how to write well. Avoid the common faux pas of narrating evidence and not unpacking them. Make sure every line ties back to your topic sentence/main point to avoid digressing. Concise, cogent language is the way to go. 

Rie: Already answer the question in your first statement. Don't get caught up in your analysis and realise only too late that your point isn’t clearly worded... (like me). 

Also, keep linking your argument back to the question keyword or thesis statement. You should be able to see a direct link between each sentence of your essay and the keyword or your point.

Your argument should not be one-sided. The examiners are looking for nuance, i.e. multiple

perspectives. Don't centre your entire argument around one character alone either!

Another thing to watch out for is the complexity of your argument. Identify the characters’ motivations and their resultant actions, along with the relevant psychological reasoning behind them and back it up with literary analysis. 

Also, take note of the flow of your argument. There should be a “storyline”, i.e. a gradual progression that begins with simpler points that build on each other to form more complex points at the end.

Always find a way to bring in the genre! E.g. Hamlet is a tragedy.

For Paper 3, it is important to truly understand and remember what the mind and self entail (e.g. private and public self, relationships, emotion, etc.) and link your argument back to it repeatedly. Lastly, write your introductions and conclusions appropriately according to the formats the teachers give!!! They can make or break your essay! 

Tip 4: Practise regularly and consult your teachers

Rie: I think it's also important to write essays (or at least essay plans) regularly, especially after prelims without a structured revision timetable. My friend and I also hounded the teachers for consultation at least once a week... Thank you Ms Marguerita Kwek and Ms Stephanie Chua for marking our 648274 essays and entertaining our stupid questions during consultations 😭.

It can be tough to get the hang of essays at the start, but don't give up! It's a very trial-and-error process, but you'll get there in the end. Also, go for consults if you have doubts to clear!

Consults were a lifesaver for me, and the Literature teachers are very nice!!

Tip 5: Study with friends!

Spring: Practise producing essay outlines with friends or teachers and you may realise there are so many things to write for just one question alone. Practise writing topic sentences and analysing poems together. The communal aspect of studying for literature enables you to learn much much more than if you have done it in solitude. 

What do you think is the hardest topic(s) in English Literature?

Rie: I wouldn't say that there's a specific topic or text, but perhaps more so regarding the skill sets for analysis. There can be a lot of room for misreading, especially for unseen texts when you're under exam stress. Personally, I also struggled with the text comparison-type questions.

What are your tips for understanding these topics?

Rie: Practice and consultations! Unfortunately, there's nothing else that can help... Skillsets take time to sharpen (hence the practice), but it's also important to identify the gaps in your skills (hence the consults). For comparison questions in particular, you can make a table of all the similarities between the texts that could potentially become points, and then try to apply those points in your practices.

What was your favourite thing about this subject?

Rie: I’ve always enjoyed literary analysis, and that's always been my favourite part – breaking down keywords, identifying the connotations and implications behind them, and relating those

influences to wider themes. (English Literature is the only subject that gives me the space to go

somewhat wild with my interpretations...)

Spring: Touching, reading, analysing, smelling and becoming best friends with our texts 🙂

Learning the five pieces of writing within those two years really gave me a chance to understand them to a greater depth, so much so that I could appreciate the ingenuity of their writers and learn about history and different cultures. It is always a joy to learn and study Literature because there is a certain satisfaction that comes with cracking the code to an unseen poem, writing the perfect topic sentence and also, exchanging literary insights with your fellow like-minded LIT students teehee!

Book sniffers be like 

Credit: Page Chaser

Now, it’s time for your Academic Comeback!

And that’s all the stories, tips and tricks in How to be an Academic Weapon: Part 2! After reading about all the insights from our seniors who have braved this storm and won, are you more inspired and clearer about the way ahead? Never give up on trying to understand, and always remember, that our teachers are always available to lend us a helping hand! JIAYOU!! 💪📢 

Do keep a look out for How to be an Academic Weapon: Part 3, where we will be covering tips and insights for the Chinese-based Humanities subjects, and some final general advice from our seniors!

Us after reading this article 🙏🙏😭

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