Life@Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar – A-level

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 Naturally boarding school may sound like an unnerving idea to many. Vague notions of having to live away from home for the very first time and to become independent in such a short span of time certainly sound daunting. The reality of things at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ) is far different.

Let’s look at some of the general aspects of KTJ as a school before focusing in on the aspects that would interest you as an A-Level Student. This article won’t focus much on the facilities and specifications of the school as you can glean all this information from the school’s website. What I will attempt to do is to provide you an insight from my point of view as a student in KTJ’s Sixth Form.

Students are assigned a boarding house, which is where they will stay for the entire duration of their course. There are 4 boys boarding houses and 3 girls boarding houses, along with one junior (Form 1-3) boarding house. Students in the Lower Sixth will often share a room with another person while most Upper Sixth students will get a single room. Most students love their boarding house and build strong bonds with others within the houses. It will also represent the sports house that you compete in throughout your time at KTJ.

Classes at KTJ start between 0800-0830 depending on the day and consist of eight 40 minute lessons. Students in the Sixth Form will have a number of periods depending on their subject choices as well as the intake that they join. Students in the January intake generally will have less free periods as the teaching has to be more compact due to the shorter duration of the course.

Meals are served in the dining hall daily. There is breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Both Asian and Western cuisines are served during the 3 main meals and a vegetarian option is always available. There is a daily panini station with alternating fillings such as chicken and lamb. On most days there will be a noodle station serving local favourites as well as a grill on alternate days. Sunday is an exception where brunch and dinner are served. A typical brunch will comprise of things like pasta, roti canai, salmon steak, lamb, croissants and many other options. If you still find yourself hungry, there is a ‘Tuck Shop’ open at night during social hour (2045-2115) where you will be able to purchase additional food. All the boarding houses also have a limited pantry where you will be able to make simple things like instant noodles and soups.

The following paragraphs will mainly be relevant towards students who will be in the Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth forms while they are undertaking their A-Level course.

  1. The Academic Life

A focus on academics forms an integral part of the KTJ Sixth Form Experience. A combination of CIE A-Levels and EDEXCEL A-Levels are available at KTJ. Students will typically take between 3-4 AS Levels with some choosing to continue on with only 3 subjects for the A2 Level Examinations and others sitting for all 4. A broad combination of subjects is available for example; Mathematics, Further Mathematics, History, English Literature, Economics, Chemistry, Physics, Art, Music, Biology and Geography. The subjects are generally organised into ‘blocks’ giving students the ability to have numerous diverse combinations. If you’d like to know more about the combinations I’d recommend you visit the following link: http://www.ktj.edu.my/userfiles/ktj/Sixth%20Form%20Subject%20Choices.pdf The teachers are extremely dedicated at KTJ and go the extra mile in ensuring that students are able to excel in their chosen subject combinations. There is a dedicated Sixth Form computer room with printing facilities that oftentimes comes in handy when one is revising. The CIE Examinations are offered in both the Summer and Winter sessions whereas the EDEXCEL ones are only offered in Summer. During the weekdays and on Sundays there are two ‘prep’ sessions which you are supposed to use to study productively. These are extremely beneficial as they get you into the habit of not leaving everything to the last minute and ensuring that you do something productive daily. I have found that they greatly relieve the stress that is felt as the examinations approach as you have done most of the necessary revision weeks in advance. Science practicals are usually held weekly in preparations for the practical component of the Science A-Level examinations. There are dedicated laboratories for each subject that are fully equipped.

  1. The Social Life

The social life at KTJ is an interesting one mainly due to it being a boarding school. You are able to get to know your friends much better here since you spend the whole day with them hence forming the very tight-knit community. The vast number of clubs, sports and societies allow you to meet many people with similar interests and build lasting friendships. Sixth Form Students are allowed day outings over the weekend and will have to return to school before a stipulated time. It’s undoubtedly different from other schools as you won’t have the freedom to leave school whenever you wish but this has never been an issue for me. You will always find something to do as a result of all the activities that are planned, something that I will elaborate further in the next few posts. It really helps you in preparing for your future at a university as you learn to interact with people of all ages in the boarding houses and throughout the day. An induction program is also organised for all students entering the sixth form to introduce them to the school and introduce them to their course-mates.

  1. Extra-Curricular Activities

The opportunities to involve yourself in ECAs is immense at KTJ. From wall-climbing to public speaking and debating to golf, KTJ has it all! There are numerous clubs and sports that meet up daily during the fixed ECA slots from 3.50-4.50pm and 5.00pm – 6.00pm. It’s a great opportunity to pick up new skills or even take your skills to the next level. There are numerous fields that facilitate hockey, football, rugby and basketball. There are even opportunities for students to start their own clubs should if an activity they are passionate about is unavailable at KTJ, recent examples being volleyball and an Anime club. It’s definitely indispensable in achieving a holistic education. There are frequent inter-house competitions not only in the usual sporting events but the Arts as well. ‘House Singing’ and ‘House Drama’ are events that many students look forward to. If you’d like to know more, just visit KTJ’s YouTube page! Some of the main sporting events include the Cross-Country Run, Swimming Gala, Athletics events, Interhouse Rugby, Football and Hockey. There’s a never ending list of available opportunities to pursue at KTJ and if you do indeed come here, make sure you take full advantage of all the opportunities at KTJ. There are also excellent leadership opportunities in KTJ, be it the Sixth Form Committee, Prefects’ Board, Student Council, or the BOD of the societies and clubs. All of these roles will be very beneficial to you as an individual in honing the skills that you are required to equip yourself with in life. My personal favourite societies are the KTJ Debate Union (also the current CollegeLAH Director’s favourite) and Forensics Society!

  1. University Application Support

I can’t comment on the application support that students experience while applying to the US, Canada and Australia as I haven’t undergone the process myself. Focusing on the UK applications, KTJ has a dedicated Sixth Form Team that will assist and advise you throughout your time in the Sixth Form. Representatives from universities such as the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and University College London (UCL) have visited KTJ over the last year to provide information to prospective students. It’s a unique opportunity for you to be able to communicate with the universities that you are looking forward to applying to as it gives you the option to resolve all the doubts and questions that you have. There is a great level of support in helping you get to university not only from your teachers but your seniors as well. They have undergone the applications process and are in a great position to be able to advise you not only on university choices, but also with wider reading for your subject choice. There is often practice for university admissions tests such as the UKCAT and LNAT Examinations. Guidance is also provided to individuals who are required to submit additional forms as part of their university application. Besides that, mock interviews are organised for students who have been invited to an interview, usually for Oxbridge. Starting this year, the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is being offered for those taking their A-Levels.

KTJ is not like a school to me, it’s way more than that. It’s like a home away from home. The best way for you to gauge a school would be to come for a tour and see it first hand! I do hope that you consider applying to KTJ for your A-Levels and that you will enjoy it like I do. There will be an Open Day coming up on the 27th of February 2016 for those of you who’d like to see more of the school. Check out the KTJ Facebook Page for more details; https://www.facebook.com/kolejtuankujaafar/


Imran Debating

Imran Mateo joined the Sixth Form in KTJ in 2014. He hopes to pursue a degree in Law in the United Kingdom. You are most likely to find him at a Debate Competition.

Life@MCKL – A-level

MCKL

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Methodist College Kuala Lumpur. I’d never even heard of it until my next door neighbour attended college there in 2012-13 while I was in the last two years of my secondary school. Looking back, I have no idea why I so confidently decided to do my A-Level at MCKL. The minute I heard about the college and talked to my neighbour about it ONE TIME, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to go there, which is really strange, seeing as there were so many places in Penang to do my A-Levels (YAS, Penang lang here!). It’s not as if I fell in love with it or anything mystical and fanciful like that. There was just a sort of resolution in mind. “Yep, MCKL, I’m going there.” Though I suppose if I was forced to come up with reasons as to why I was so sold on the idea, I’d say the scholarships and Christian environment were what appealed to me most.

So there I was, completing an application online to a college I’d never set foot in. This very helpful chap from the Admissions and Counselling Department helped me through the process, as we emailed back and forth.

One really coolbeans fact about MCKL is that they offer loads of scholarships. I was applying for the 100% tuition fee scholarship which required I get 8As for my SPM*. The best part was, I could secure the scholarship using my forecast results, and later, even if my actual results were poorer than my forecast, I wouldn’t lose the scholarship. Another great thing about MCKL scholarships is that the CGPA for maintaining the scholarships isn’t too insanely high. For the 100%, I was required to maintain a CGPA of 3.2. And finally, the scholarships are not limited to a select few! Almost everyone in MCKL comes in with a scholarship of some form. As long as you apply early enough, and you have the required results, MCKL gladly provides you with a scholarship!

When the time came to go to this mysterious MCKL, I felt very homesick during the first weekend. It was before my college orientation, and I was all alone in KL. My housemates hadn’t yet moved in and I knew no one in MCKL (my neighbour had just graduated from AUSMAT the semester before). But after that one weekend, college started, and it was a whirlwind of meeting new people, joining too many clubs, absorbing all these new subjects (I took Math, English Literature, Psychology and Law),  taking part in community projects and basically having a crazy, good time!

Generally, MCKL is known by outsiders as the goody-two-shoes college for nerds. We clearly resent that and yet there is a grain of truth in that caricature. As a college founded on Christian values, MCKL does regulate rules a bit more strictly than most colleges. There is a dress code that we must adhere to, but frankly I think all of us love the upside of how we don’t feel pressured to dress up to go to college. It’s not unusual to see people in sweatpants, baggy t-shirts and messy buns. This might not be for everyone, but for me, an 18 year old girl who had no idea how to put on a dot of makeup, this suited me perfectly!

Extracurricular-wise, MCKL has a pretty wide range of clubs and activities. In my first semester, I very wisely (ha ha) joined the Music Club, Debate Club, Model United Nations Club, Latin Dance Society, Pre-U Society and the Christian Fellowship (CF). Along with that, I had to complete a Service Learning project, in which my group chose to raise awareness about modern day slavery. (Through this project, I gained the friends that would stick with me throughout the one and a half years of A-Levels. There’s really something about understanding the human struggle that made us stick together!) In my second and third semester, I cut down on my activities and chose to focus on serving in the CF, where there were tons of opportunities to get involved. In MCKL, most students go through the same process of being spread very thin in the first semester, and then focusing on one or two clubs in their remaining semesters. In my opinion, it’s quite logical, as then you’ll know, having had a try, what you really want to invest your time in.

Another extracurricular activity that really impacted me was the running of the Orientation Camps! Every student has to attend a camp in their first semester and this is the time where students really get to know their classmates and also people from other programmes. As campers, obviously the camp was thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. However, the great thing about the running of these camps is that they didn’t stop at the end of our Orientation Camp (OC). We got the chance to apply to become facilitators in the OC for the next intake. With that came the responsibility of planning the entire camp with 11 other students. After being a facilitator at camp, learning so many fundamental things, I became a historian during the next cycle of camps, eager to learn more. The student services staff of MCKL gave their best during those camps to make sure that we didn’t leave without learning something, but ultimately, whether we learnt or not was up to us. Even after I’d graduated, I returned to OC as the lead coordinator, to try and impart some of what I’d learnt to a new batch of facilitators, but at the same time, I myself learnt how to allow them to make their own mistakes. These OCs played a large part in what I took back from my time in college . (This can be seen by how long the paragraph is when I meant to only write two sentences about it! Hehe)

With all the fun and challenges of everything else, my studies also must be spoken of! I had the blessing of having a number of dedicated lecturers, both young and old. I cannot speak for the entire academic programme, ‘cos I really think it depends on your lecturer as well as the amount of work you put in, but I can say that the academic side of things was never a cause of real concern for me. This doesn’t mean I got straight As all the time-far from it-but I never had a real worry about it. We had monthly tests for every subject, so that kept us from falling behind. And we also had very challenging trial papers which drove us to glue ourselves to our books and past year papers during the time leading up to the actual exams.

One thing I was amazed by at MCKL was the willingness of the lecturers to go out of their way to help students. It is perfectly normal to walk around MCKL and see lecturers helping students in their free time, going through the curriculum, running extra classes, and sometimes just buying them an ice cream or a drink to catch up with them and make sure they’re coping okay. Their humble service was an encouragement to me, personally, as it was at MCKL that I decided to pursue English and Education so I could help as they did.  Also, the university placement staff were very effective at helping us students get our act together and apply for university. Without their constant pushing and encouraging, I doubt so many MCKL graduates would have ended up at all the top universities that they have.

One final thing I must share was what it was like living in the college-provided accommodation with the other students from outstation. I was blessed with great housemates and roommates (I had a total of 22 housemates over the span of my 1.5+ years there. This is an unusually high number!) who taught me a lot about living together and bearing with one another’s good times and bad habits! There were obviously squabbles and fights along the way, and way too much crying in bathrooms together (maybe not so much for teenage boys lah!), but I’d say we all grew stronger because of it. There was also the amazing feeling of being a part of a larger community of accommodation students , taken care of by our amazing wardens, who  looked out for our physical and also emotional needs. If you’re afraid of leaving home, don’t be. Some things will never be fully appreciated until you leave (*cough* Char Kuey Teow *cough*).

From start to finish, my time at MCKL was incredibly fun and meaningful. I made many friends, in both fellow students and staff. I learnt so many new things and I’m still trying to improve myself daily from what I’ve learnt. By God’s grace, I also managed to get A-Level results that enabled me to receive an unconditional offer from the university of my choice. Clearly, I cannot guarantee that you will love MCKL as much as I sincerely do. The idea of this kind of college might not appeal to you in the least, and that’s fine! But if you’re interested in a not-so-huge college, where you can learn both inside and outside of the classroom, supported by a truckload of people, consider MCKL. There’s hardly a better feeling than belonging to the small community, where you might not know everybody, yet

you immediately grin at that ‘stranger’ wearing the MCKL shirt, and you feel like you’re coming home every time the train pulls into KL Sentral and even after you leave, these three simple words can still put a nostalgic smile on your face,

Veritas Vincit Omnia

Truth Conquers All

*The requirements change rather regularly, so do check the website for the latest info!


Cat Bakewell

Catherine Bakewell is a 19 year old, half-English, half-Peranakan, ‘hybrid’. She is enjoying her gap year, teaching English and gaining extreme patience from waitressing! She did her A-level in Methodist College Kuala Lumpur and loved it so much that she stayed on for 3 months to intern in their Marketing Department. Promoting MCKL proved to unite both her love for MCKL and her gift of the gab 😛

Life@TCSJ-Cambridge A-Level

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College – the time I discarded my school uniform to immerse myself in enriching education, wearing an attire of my choice, that secreted the maximum amount of my brain juice. The time I evolved into an adult and took full responsibility of my educational life. The time I hiked up my pants to my chest, put my shoulder to the wheel and started taking control of my life to walk the path of success. And so began my journal of ‘Things I never did – but would probably have helped me if I did’. I say the word ‘probably’ because although I did not carry out the above, at least not to my fullest potential, I would say that I’m quite satisfied with where I ended up – UCL – not the best but a world of good fun. But my university life is another story, the objective of this article is to share my college experience with you all, with the hope to give budding college-goers an idea of what college can be, only if you’re willing to listen of course.

In retrospect, I began college with an absolutely horrendous attitude. Coming out of a private secondary school and being constantly ranked as one of the top students, I was insufferably stuck-up, incredibly obnoxious, ashamedly sheltered and with a nose held so high I was almost bending backwards. I stepped into college thinking it was going to be a breeze. I mean, sure, the lecturers warned that the difficulty jump from SPM to A-level would be a culture shock but teachers said the exact same thing about the transition from PMR to SPM, didn’t they? Now, just to clarify, by no means am I belittling the Malaysian secondary education system. Instead, I’m putting my honest perception of the difference in difficulty gap and technical knowledge required to succeed in secondary school as compared to A-level. Sure, swallowing textbooks whole and regurgitating them during examinations might help one achieve good grades in A-levels but then again, it might not. Thorough understanding of the course and subjects do, no two ways about it. I do not mean to scare anyone off, I am merely emphasising and underlining the necessity of constant self-study to obtain commendable grades in A-level (at least for me, but of course I do not intend to commit a fallacy and generalise the bright minds that make up the Malaysian student population).

However, I digress, the real point of this article, as mentioned above, is to draw attention to what made my college experience so fulfilling. Besides being fussy and picking only subjects I enjoyed (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Economics) I also immersed myself in extra-curricular activities. No longer was I confined to the typical secondary school societies which were mostly limited to sports and chess. At college, they encourage you to pursue your passion and develop your interests, whatever they may be. Needless to say, I went wild. I signed up for at least 8 different societies, with the intention to excel in every one of them. As naïve as I was idealistic, I soon found out I might as well drop out of college if I were to take all of them on. After much deliberation and consideration of opportunity costs and where my interests really were, I opted to be active in two societies. These two societies were the Animal Huggers Society and Taylor’s Badminton Club. Now, I can hear your sniggers and snickering starting. Badminton was fine but Animal Huggers? Was that a joke? During my tenure, it happened to be the biggest non-sports society in my college. Impressed yet? Well you should be! I always enjoyed telling my peers that I was the Vice President of the society because their disbelief made the work we did that much nobler.

I conducted regular visits to the PAWS Animal Shelter in Subang with my team of committee members and a limited number of volunteers to tend and care for the homeless dogs, cats and rabbits that were constantly brought to the shelter. By ‘tending’, we walked, fed and bathed the animals as well as cleaned their living areas. Now, this experience was so eye-opening because I couldn’t visualize the living standards of the animals before this. Even before entering, I was hit with a stench that made my eyes water. The animals were covered with faeces, cramped together and had skeleton bodies. It was indescribable to see their eyes light up when we arrived, each one of them begging for attention and tenderness. I was hit by a hurricane of emotions as I took all of this in. From the most vicious hound to the puppy cowering in the corner, each animal there had a story. Either dropped off by owners who couldn’t care for them anymore, rescued from abusers thus making them more violent and untrusting towards humans or dumped at the side of the road, the stories were all heartbreaking. Honestly, I was so grateful to have been able to visit the shelter as I was able to get a true glimpse of reality, which ignited a desire to work towards a better world, something I am adamant on achieving.

Onto happier matters, I was the Assistant Organising Chairperson for the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities’ (MAPCU) inaugural badminton tournament. Although this competition was a longtime tradition for this umbrella body of private colleges and universities, I say ‘inaugural’ because it was the first time my college ever took on the challenge of holding this prestigious event. Now, the only events I’ve ever organised were those secondary school occasions where minimal effort was required from students and teachers were the main powerhouses driving and shaping the event. With that said, the MAPCU badminton tournament was heavily student-led by the committee team and was a world of difference as compared to high school. I won’t bore you with the specifics nor the details but what I will do is present to you two major learning outcomes which contributed to my steep learning curve through college. First of all, managing the expectations of different stakeholders and ensuring to never over-promise any single party was a new experience. We were fully accountable for our interactions with the different participating educational institutions and no teachers were standing behind us to mop up our mess if we made one. Next, I became increasingly thick-skinned (for better or for worse). I had to source for sponsors and it was only natural to get shot down by most of the companies you approach. Initially, I was embarrassed, hurt and ashamed every time I was rejected but as time went on, I matured, understood that it was not in the company’s interest to sponsor such an event, and carried on. As cliché as it might sound, this experience truly helped me cope with rejections in different endeavors I undertook following this event. Truly, there were a myriad of other skills I obtained such as how to be a better team player, time management, people management, the list just goes on, but if I had two main takeaways from my role it would be as stated previously.

College life paints a different picture in everyone’s mind. Following my high school education, I was looking forward to a more challenging but also more flexible lifestyle. Now that I’m in university, I see it as a stepping stone to cultivate new skills that, moving forward, will define your university opportunities and experience. Although I had a ball in college, if I could turn back time, I would have done so much more. I would have participated in external events, took advantage of college networks and spearheaded new initiatives for the societies I was a part off. I’m not here to dictate your college experience but to simply give you an insight of what you can expect during your college education and how to make the most out of it. Talk to people, learn from them but always remember to take everything you hear with a pinch of salt. I hope that this article managed to give you a bit of an idea as to what college life is all about. All the best!


Mah Jun Kit

Mah Jun Kit is reading Chemical Engineering at University College London, Class of 2018, and is passionate about animal welfare, environmental health and, of course, good food. He enjoys the thrill of outdoor activities and relishes engaging in intellectual discourse. He is loves meeting new people so if you see him on the streets, don’t be a stranger

Pre-U Subject Choices for UK-Bound Students

Earlier this year, the Russell Group published their 2015/16 “Informed Choice” pamphlet, accompanied by a video, explaining the value and importance of taking facilitating subjects as a dominant part of a student’s Pre-U subject choices. These facilitating subjects, e.g. the sciences, history, maths, further maths, languages, English Literature and geography, as the lobbying group for the 24 research-intensive universities characterised, open up a wide range of options for university entries and career choices. Indeed, across the Russell Group universities and more specifically the top echelon of this group e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, facilitating subjects go far more than mere “opening up wide options”. Their “preferred subjects” reflect their umbrella group’s facilitating subjects, albeit with more restrictions and are seen as subjects to rigorously formulate the skills necessary for different courses at their universities. LSE and certain colleges of Oxford and Cambridge openly publish a list of preferred and non-preferred subjects. Generally, non-traditional ones such as accounting, business studies, sociology fall into the latter group. Indeed, reading the Russell Group’s “Informed Choice” pamphlet and watching their videos will immediately kick this question into your mind – “Why does this seem so aloof of the Malaysian context?” Very clearly, “Informed Choice” is meant for the British audience. Malaysian schools/colleges are shaped very differently, likewise the subjects they offer and the normative biases that parents, peers and teachers tend to have.

 

Where should I start?

Generally, you will have to consider three things – the prerequisite subjects that your preferred courses have, the preferences your universities/courses have and whether or not you will be able immerse yourself into the joyous journey of learning the subject. While the first two are technically important criteria that you should never forsake, the last one tend to be underrated. I cannot stress how important that is, given that you will be spending more than a year studying that subject, dedicating your soul to the devil just to go to university. You might as well just murder yourself over a subject that you will enjoy.

Let’s deal with the bits where you’re faced with a Hobson’s choice i.e. the first two criteria are relatively simple to fulfil. Go on to the websites of the courses that you are applying to and take note of the required and suggested subjects. For instance, Physics at Oxford requires applicants to have studied Maths and Physics at Pre-University level and likewise, Medicine at Edinburgh will require Chemistry and Biology. In the “Informed Choice” pamphlet, though insufficient and inadequate, there is a generalised list of prerequisites for commonly applied courses. These are essential subjects that you must take to be considered by your prospective universities.

Figuring out which subjects are not preferred by your course also follows a similar approach. Though most universities will not make it explicitly clear that they don’t prefer certain subjects, Cambridge and LSE definitely publishes their own non-exhaustive list. Nonetheless, their list generally applies to the other Russell Group universities, having all collectively expressed that they prefer at least 2 facilitative subjects before releasing their first series of “Informed Choice” guidelines. There are, however, caveats regarding this. The most competitive courses and universities tend to prefer applicants not to have any “soft” subjects e.g. media studies, accounting (even for accounting applicants), law (yes, for law applicants as well) at all. Keep in mind that while not all non-facilitative subjects are soft subjects, all soft subjects are non-facilitative. Indeed, there is hardly any strict definitions of what soft and hard subjects are but the generic implication is that hard subjects formulate the core skills that are useful in undergraduate study rather than specific skills that soft subjects tend to train. Another generalisation that you can take note of is that traditional subjects such as economics, the hard sciences, maths and the ones in the list of facilitative subjects are also considered to be hard subjects. Moreover, there are some statistical backing to this preference. In 2008, Durham University ran a study on the relative difficulty of different A-level subjects and there was an obvious trend that across all 5 statistical models used, “traditional” and facilitative subjects tend to be harder than otherwise. Though more than half a decade ago, deviations hardly were significant across years.

The last bit is fairly straightforward at face value, choose the subjects that you will actually enjoy. Of course, if you’re eyeing on the more competitive universities e.g. Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial, look only at the traditional/hard subjects. However, considering the different circumstances UK-bound Malaysians can be in – being enrolled in a college/school with limited, bundled subject choices, restricted by IBDP requirements or simply limited by the choices available via STPM/Matrikulasi, this is a tricky question to answer.

 

In the foreseeable future, accessible Malaysian schools/colleges are probably not going to teach subjects like Latin, politics, geography, history and classical studies. And you have just told me that I shouldn’t take accounting, business studies, law and a whole lot of subjects that are bundled together. Just what subjects should I take?

Indeed, unless you have the luck and privilege of being admitted to the more resourceful schools such as KTJ, KYUEM or ISKL, your choices of subjects will be restricted. For one, elite schools like these offer almost every traditional subjects there is, including A-level Geography, Music, History and IB French, German etc. If you are in schools of this sort, you don’t have any problems. Just choose the traditional subjects that you will enjoy and are related to the course that you want to further your studies in. Elsewhere across the board, the hard sciences and maths are often bundled together in for A-level, Matrikulasi colleges and STPM schools. The problem begins for students who wish to take on the social sciences/humanities in competitive universities. Often, traditional humanities/social sciences are bundled together with non-traditional ones e.g. “English Literature, Sociology, Law”, “Economics, Maths, Accounting, Business Studies” for A level, “General Studies, Accounting, Economics and Maths” for STPM.

Under these restrictions, it is important to recall that the social sciences and humanities often don’t require a stringent traditional social sciences/humanities subject combination at pre-university. History degrees don’t even need history as a prerequisite and would see English Literature as an indication of having the sufficient skills to cope with such a reading and writing-heavy subject. Likewise, economics only required maths. Given that, it is perfectly fine filling up the rest of your subject spots with the sciences or any other available traditional subject. Keep in mind that if you are not eyeing at the most difficult universities, it is alright to take the bare minimum of 2 traditional and/or facilitative subjects that the Russell Group universities collectively prefer. Given that, a subject combination such as “Economics, Maths, Further Math, Physics” will work for economics, accounting and similar subjects while “Maths, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature” seems adequate for law, history and accounting.  It is unlikely for IB students to face this problem, making it almost uniquely one for A-level, Matrikulasi and STPM students.

For the latter, where schools tend to be inflexible and under-resourced in terms of subject choices, it is perfectly fine writing to the universities themselves when applying, explaining the restrictive circumstances you are in. Of course, it is unreasonable to make someone who wants to apply for a history course to take a full “Sejarah, English Literature, Ekonomi” combination where that combination is unlikely to exist except in the more resourced urban schools. Likewise, expecting a Matrikulasi student to take that subject combination is also unreasonable given that it doesn’t exist. On top of explaining about the circumstances you are in to the universities, your UCAS personal statement should then be able to immensely display your academic potential in the course that you are applying. In that case, just take whatever that’s available to you e.g. “Science Stream” or “Accounting Stream”; it’s another Hobson’s choice.

 

Wait, just to be clear, you’re saying that even if I want to be a lawyer, accountant or business manager, I shouldn’t be taking law, accounting and/or business studies if possible? What about taking economics and business studies together?

The short and perhaps, grim, answers are yes and no respectively.

As explained earlier, the three subjects listed in the first question i.e. law, accounting and business studies are soft subjects. They should only be taken, at best, an additional subject. For applicants to the most competitive universities, just avoid them. Lawyers don’t need to do law at A-level (I doubt this subject is an option for other examinations). In fact, building the core analytical and writing skills via a mixture of essay subjects e.g. Literature, History, the social sciences and/or the hard sciences tend to be more preferable at university. Likewise, building up the quantitative, analytical and thinking skills via a mixture of traditional social sciences, mathematics and hard sciences would be more preferable and helpful.

For the second question, economics and business studies are considered to be overlapping subjects. However, economics is a traditional subject while business studies isn’t. Given that, you should either take economics and ditch business studies or take business studies as an additional subject and ditch economics. Generally, however, where economics is available as an option at your school/college, taking business studies isn’t a wise option. For instance, LSE explicitly has this preference.

 

Just what if I have no idea what do I want to study at university?

That then depends on the extent of uncertainty that you have. We will use a scale with 3 spectrums here – “I can’t decide between studying course A and B”, “I know that I want to study something in, per se, the humanities but I have yet to settle on a particular course” and “I have absolutely no idea”. Notice that this is a more in depth dilemma for A-level students given the immense options that they have. For IBDP, STPM and Matrikulasi students, choosing your subjects along these principles will do.

For the first one on the scale – “I can’t decide between studying course A and B”, it shouldn’t be highly difficult to take up subjects that fulfil the needs of both courses. Of course, this is under the assumption that there are some significant differences between them e.g. PPE and Medicine. Notice that these two are rather extreme but it is not impossible to take up, for instance, Biology, Chemistry, Maths and also History; of course, taking physics as well would be good and it is unlikely that your uncertainty will persist for more than 3 months, whereby thereafter you can drop the more unrelated subject. For more similar choices such as PPE and Economics or Chemical Engineering and Physics, incorporating the needs of both subjects won’t be difficult e.g. English Lit/History, Economics, Maths and Further Maths fulfil the former while a standard Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths combination works for the latter.

Moving up the scale and we find ourselves in a situation where a student only managed to narrow down to one particular field. The key idea then is to take up traditional and facilitating subjects within that particular field. It is perfectly fine going cross-disciplinary e.g. a mixture of social science, humanities and sciences as long as the field that you wish to be in is reflected in your subject choices. Applicants who might be set on the social sciences but unsure of which particular course to further their studies in might be interested in taking a quantitatively analytical subject e.g. maths and economics, coupled with another more qualitative one e.g. geography to cater for the less quantitative-centric social science courses. On the contrary, while it is generally normal alright to apply for the more maths intensive science subjects e.g. Physics, Engineering with a full natural science with maths combination, that is hardly optimal. The best solution is to decide as soon as possible, preferably within a 3-month period.

Lastly, for the “I have absolute no idea what I want to further my studies in” students who will have a seriously difficult time figuring out which subject combination will be best. The issue with most standardised qualifications is that your options are generally restricted. As per mentioned earlier, you should be deciding as soon as possible before finalising your subject choices, optimally within a 3-month period of starting your course, so that you will be able to catch up with the work done by your possibly new classmates. Generally, in terms of subjects, the idea is to have a mixture of subjects from different fields. Although conventional wisdom is that taking a pure natural science plus maths combination opens up all doors, that isn’t necessarily the case. Most of the humanities and some social science courses will want to see indication of academic writing and reading capability, from which subjects like English Literature, History and the Languages can indicate. Given that, start off with a mixture and then narrow down your course choices and Pre-U subject choices as soon as possible.

 

So is this the holy book that I must follow?

No, this article is entirely advisory and based on the team’s research, experience and access to various sources of information.


Written by: The CollegeLAH Team