Life as a STPM (Physics-Chemistry) Student

STPM

Image Source

‘Hello there!’
‘Good morning Mdm. Nancy.’
‘Good day to you sir.’

That was basically the routine for me, every single morning of my life whenever I bumped into a teacher or the principal. Pretty straightforward and ‘old-school’ I would say, however for me, it is a courtesy and doing so is my pleasure. Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, life could be very boring for the past 5 years. Since the UPSR (Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah), I was admitted into Victoria Institution. For 5 years, I went through the highs and lows of my high school life and now I am in Form 6, taking the STPM (Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia) examination in the same school, Victoria Institution. It never hit me to take STPM until my grandfather shed some light on me about the STPM examination. After receiving my SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) results, I had three choices to further myself into tertiary education due to my shallow results, the UPU system, STPM examination, or private colleges. I took all three choices seriously. The UPU system is roughly a system whereby it gives SPM graduates choices to study locally either in Diploma or Asasi. The choices given by this system seems somewhat random because you will end up with courses that are not really related to your interest. I did not consider depending on the UPU system at this point. Leaving that behind, I found myself in a crossroad. It was either private colleges or STPM. It took me a month to decide which one was the suitable choice. Coincidentally, the STPM was having a change in format and syllabus. The change in format and syllabus made the older one obsolete. The older format was called the ‘Terminal System’, which was very similar to SPM format. The students were required to study for a year and a half, and by the end of the duration, STPM examination would take place. However in the new and revised format, in a year and a half, the students will undergo three short semesters, where the syllabus for every subject in STPM are separated into three parts. By the end of each semester, a major exam takes place. The average marks for three semester is calculated and that would be your CGPA. At first, this big change in format was a handful to take. But, after letting it to sink in, it made sense. The new format is very similar to the Foundation courses in the private colleges. It took me a while to think about it. I compared the financial cost for STPM and private colleges. I had a hard time comparing those two, checking Mr. Google for experiences in both fields. There was really a major difference in lifestyle, but the outcome was somewhat similar. The only thing is, STPM prepares you generally for almost any degree course. In contrast to that, private colleges offers a wide range of programs that prepares you specifically for the chosen course, resulting a narrow range of degree courses. At this point, I was not really sure of what sort of career that I will be taking, and my mind was kind of fuzzy at that moment. Confused and lost, it took mae one week to decide what kind of career that I am going to pursue. In the end, I choose to take up STPM.

I ended up choosing STPM, and decided to follow the Science stream. There is a lot of combination of subjects in this particular stream, the common one being the “Physics-Chem” and the “Bio-Chem”. The former one requires you to take Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics while the latter requires you to take Biology instead of Physics, plus the other two subjects mentioned after that. Upon making the decision, something hit me in the head. I was not good at Biology at all! So I took the “Physic-Chem” combo. A friend of mine, Lim Yu Wei, took an unorthodox combination which some might consider crazy. He took up Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. It is possible to take that kind of combination, however not recommended to the student since there are more than a handful of subjects to juggle. Our school allowed this combination, but it is rarely taken up by the students due its difficulty. Other schools which offers STPM mostly have these three combinations in the Science stream. That basically sums up the Science stream in STPM. When I think about it, the subjects that are offered in the Science stream are quite general, but the depth is quite deep. There is a lot more to be learn in STPM in comparison with ‘Asasi’ or Foundation. I was not quite sure about the reason behind this, however I guess it’s the standard that has to be maintained, even when there is a change in the format. The fact that STPM has a reputation of being tough, rumours arise like bubbles in hot springs and the biggest one is “STPM is going to make you suffer because it is hard.” This is not so true however. STPM is hard but it is totally up to the students to conform and suffer or to rise above that. It is a matter of technique that lets you through this ‘suffering’ examination. Other rumours pretty much revolves around the previous one, saying it is hard and unmanageable for a student at the age of 18 and 19. Personally, I think it would be better off that way because it will give a valuable lesson to those who take up STPM. In other words, you got to prepare yourself for whatever that comes your way. Despite of all the load that takes toll on STPM students, I can proudly say that we are a bunch of happy students. In contrary to common believe, we are happy students at heart simply because it is like high school all over again. Back in our uniform that we are not so fond of, reminds us again that we are still young. Life in the Form 6 is not as mundane as you think it is, very exciting, somewhat weird and sometimes dangerous. Very adventurous I would say, however because of this, the importance of our studies were temporarily stripped away from our brains, until the mock exams come.

Putting aside our happy yet silly lives, lets focus on what STPM is comprised of, the subjects. As a Science student, I took the ‘Physics-Chem’ subject combo and therefore I had to study Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and the General Paper. STPM is well known for its dense syllabus for each subject and with the new modular format, students were required to learn at a very fast rate. In the new format, the old syllabus is split into three parts to accommodate for each semester. This applies to every subject in both Science and Arts stream. Hence, we will not be referring to the materials that had been learnt in the previous semester. More like a take-and-throw routine, things that has been learnt in first semester would not be brought up in the second semester. Even if there is a relationship between the topics, it would be negligible. As I took up Elementary Physics, it is split up into three parts, Motion & Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism & Optics, and Nuclear Physics & Quantum Mechanics. So I would have done those three separately and I can tell you that each one is very dense and requires you to swallow it up within six months. A daunting task lies ahead of me and I was unsure if I can pull it off by the time the final examination claims me. Pretty much the same for Maths, Chemistry and General Paper. Talking about the final examination, the format for the final examination is very new to me as each subject has only one paper. Unlike SPM, each subject may contain several papers to sit, and each subject differs in the number of papers to take. The Science subjects in STPM, Physics, Biology and Chemistry has a common format. The paper is divided into three section, Multiple Choice Question Section, Subjective Questions Section and Essay Question Section. All three must be done within an hour and a half. This seemed very crazy, but if you focus and persevere, it is possible. By the end of the exams, our hands would be worn out since we are writing fast to save time. Because of this, I have to change the way I’m studying. Instead of focussing on the vast content of each subject, I focused more on the important formulas and the frequently asked questions. STPM may overwhelm you with the vast content, but don’t be disheartened. My advice is do 50 questions from each subject daily and time yourself. Consistency is the key. Be consistent and you’ll find yourself some space to breathe in the end. Sometimes, we are taken aback by the difficulty that we are facing and try to run away from it. Instead, face the truth, be determined and have the will to go on. Taking tuitions outside is advisable, but do not depend too much on it. Study often and you’ll get through. Sounds like it is going to be mundane, but the fact it is not. Don’t bend yourself to the books solely and lock yourself from the world for good. Be resourceful and smart, find questions from different platforms like A-levels, Foundation programs and Matriculations. From there, you will get a wide array of questions and answers. Use the internet and find papers from different states. That is how you could study in STPM, for the Science stream as well as the Arts stream. Honestly, the teachers are not going to feed you with the knowledge needed so you need to find your own way out of the mess. Do not neglect them however, because sometimes you need their help. I used to ask teachers for papers from other schools because it is in their field of knowledge. Utilise things around you to aid you in quest for success.

Up until now, I still feel that the Form 6 in schools in Malaysia is detached from the school organisation. Back in the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the Form Six were considered the eldest among the high schoolers. However now, it just seems like a far cry as the Form 5 is considered the eldest and the Form 6 is a separate institution. In Victoria Institution, the efforts of putting the Form 6 back into the school organisation is fruitful, events that were organised by the Form 6 were openly accepted and celebrated. During sports day, the Form 6 and the Form 5 are placed in a single category. The Form 6 integrated well with the school in Victoria Institution. Apparently, the Form 5 do not have a proper student council or a student body. Only the Form 6 does. From time to time, representatives from the Form 6 student council discuss about yearly events with the Form 5. However, due to the density of STPM, the Form 6 students rarely participate in Form 5’s huge event. The Form 6 students are often reminded to study rather than getting involved with the school activities. We are not forced to become bookworms, but to prepare ourselves for whatever is coming. This preparation and constant reminder kept us alive and will forever teach us a valuable lesson, which is to be matured. STPM graduates would normally end up doing a degree course in a private university instead of a public university simply because the chances to get into public university is very low. Appealing to them would be futile. Even if we got the offer to attend public university, the courses offered are always not related to us or our interests. Private colleges became our option in the end. Whether it be the private colleges or the public university that I end up in, the support from several dedicated teachers that I received is what I really like. Even though you are supposed to be on your own, some teachers would really help and push you till the very end. These teachers are selfless and would do anything in their power to help us students achieve a high CGPA in STPM. I would like to thank them and I am very grateful to have them as my teachers. Then again, even having such people to help us, the STPM exam papers needs to be revised. With the current format, the questions asked are very objective and requires you to read a lot. None of them piqued my interest in Physics, Chemistry or even Math. Everything asked was based on facts and nothing were subjective or opinion based. The “Subjective Questions” section in our papers does not prove its purpose and instead asked more factual question. With a little bit of opinion based questions in STPM, it would give us a little room for us to breathe and would probably spark our interest in our respective subjects learnt. I would be happy if they would do that.

Here I am, typing this essay on a laptop, expressing how I feel. To be honest, I feel grateful and happy to have done STPM. A lot of memories were made along the way and not to mention, the amount of silly things we did back then. It was a journey for me to reassure myself about what I was going to do next. STPM made me think maturely and it certainly did taught me one important lesson, to persevere and have determination towards your goal. Here is a thing to those who have made it to the last passage of my essay, do not underestimate luck and when you have it, use it to your fullest because that may be the last bit of luck you can ever get. I am not asking you to rely on it, rather make use of it when it comes. Always put effort into anything you do and seize the chance if you see it and don’t let it go! Think of this essay as guide to peer into and hopefully, it had helped to clear out a bit of things. I wish you all good lives and have fun along the way.


 

Abdul Aziz

Abdul Aziz bin Azman is currently a foundation student en route for a Oil & Gas Process Degree at UniKL. Hailing from the famed SKBD and Victoria Institution, Aziz claims that he might just be one of those “DotArds”, spending much of his holidays on DotA 2 and Warcraft 3 of top of the chess and reading that he does in between. Sparked by reading Stephen Hawking in fifth form, Aziz’s love for physics has now become unquenchable.

Advertisements

Life as a STPM (Arts) Student

STPM

Image Source

What subjects did you take and what were the possible subject combinations out there? Both in your school and any other schools that you might know of.

We are only allowed take up a maximum of 5 subjects and usually a minimum of 4 subjects. I’m not too sure about the possible subject combinations but I know it depends on the school you are enrolled in. My school, Victoria Institution only offered 5 subjects in the art stream; Pengajian Am, Pengajian Perniagaan, Ekonomi, Sejarah and Bahasa Melayu. Pengajian Am is compulsory for everyone including science stream student and in my school Pengajian Perniagaan in compulsory for art stream students.

What compelled you to take up STPM? How does one apply to study STPM at a school? Can you say anything about the common myths about STPM, in terms of difficulty, culture as well as any other that you can think of?

What compelled me to take up STPM? Hmm. Before this I have actually considered many other options such as foundations in arts and diploma in illustration and STPM was somewhat a last choice but my choice bounced back and forth. Back in high school, I am not a studious kid. I did not like what I was studying, I did not understand why do we need to take 9 subjects at once with one really unnecessary subject *I’m sure you can guess it*, and many more reasons. I scored just alright for SPM and it wasn’t worth for any scholarship but I was happy with what I got (: I was not exactly encouraged to take up STPM because there is a myth that you need to be super smart or a genius to take STPM but still I felt STPM was something that I was called for. So I went for it and ta-da I did amazingly well. I am not sure about science stream because I am from art stream, STPM is something anyone can score if you’re diligent and curious enough to study and be active in class. I loved what I studied except for one subject but it helped me tremendously in university. People have this mindset that STPM students only know how to study and that certainly isn’t true. We do know how to have fun and it is all about balancing out your life.

You do not have to apply for STPM if you are from a government school because you will automatically get a place at a school that offers Form 6 and is affiliated with your school.

Tell us more about the subjects that you took up, in terms of academic rigour, choice of content as well as examination style. What sort of revision and learning techniques have you adopted, and how that might have differed from form 4-5? What advice should new form 6 students heed from you?

I took 4 subjects; Pengajian Am, Pengajian Perniagaan, Ekonomi and Sejarah. I would say that all subjects are equally challenging and Ekonomi was the most challenging out of all. If you’re wondering, yes, all my subjects are conducted in Bahasa Melayu. These 4 subjects require insanely a lot of writing. We are also required to complete one assessment for each subject. It is known as PBS.

My batch was the second batch to go through the new system which is semester based system. Previously it was fully exam based. There are 3 semesters in total which means there are 2 semesters in a year. For all of my subjects, we are required to complete one assessment (paperwork) for each subject. It is known as PBS but some of my teachers call them ‘mini thesis’. I enjoyed doing them but the process was quite tiring because we are required to do different types of research methods for each PBS. I’m glad they introduced PBS because I can see how it helped me in university. We are taught how to cite using different citation styles and analyze data.

In Pengajian Am, we study about our country on how Malaysia functions (Semester 1), the policies and the constitution in Malaysia (Semester 2) and globally about what is going on around the world (Semester 3). We were also required to learn how to plot graphs from a set of question given. I find studying what we have learnt was not too bad but the essay part was quite frightening. I felt as though we were suddenly taught to think really hard whereas before that we were spoonfed like babies in high school. Reading is incredibly important to produce a good essay because examples were needed and level of maturity displayed in the essay is also crucial.

Pengajian Perniagaan (PP for short) is a subject I swore I will never retake. (Yes, we are allowed to retake any of our registered subjects after semester 3 no matter what grade you have) Why? Because PP is a full memorizing subject. No joke. We need to memorize the whole textbook. I struggled because I have a memory of a goldfish. The struggle does not stop there, we cannot blindly memorize it. We need to fully understand what we are memorizing because there will be a section in the exam paper where we are need to apply what we have studied. The questions are tough.

Ekonomi can sometimes be very interesting and sometimes, I will doze off studying it. We learn about Mikroekonomi, Makroekonomi and Ekonomi Malaysia. There are many graphs to analyse, formulas to use and applications of what we have learnt for essays. For me, I needed many exercises to improve because I am terrible with numbers, especially for the calculation part. I bought exercise books and did all of the past year questions. As for the essay, we really have to grasp the concept in order to do it.

Sejarah! My favourite among all. We study about Sejarah Dunia, Sejarah Islam and Sejarah Asia Tenggara dan Malaysia. Well, I would say, if you love history, you’ll love this but I wrote like mad woman during exam. I do not exactly remember which semester, we need to write 4 essays out of 6 choices and each essay needs to be at least 3 pages. This means 12 pages in 2 hours. There are 2 types of questions. The first is straightforward questions where we can basically write down what we read without much thinking and the other type is the opposite. We need to think thoroughly about the question.

Most of the time I do my own notes because I revise better through mind maps. For some subjects I have more than one reference book because different books have different examples and contents such as Ekonomi and Sejarah. Well, of course, do not  rely on only the reference book; read other books and magazines, watch videos, listen to podcasts and have an open mind. If you still do not know what technique you should use to study, google it. Not kidding! I tried many ways and mind mapping worked the best.

I also suggest to have at least one or two friends to study with and if you cannot study at home, go and explore different places to study such as the library and coffee shops. I study better outside as compared to at home. Not forgetting, listen to your teachers when they teach, it saves a lot of extra reading and understanding when you study. If you think your teacher isn’t good enough, find teachers outside (: I have also learnt that, no one can be fully ready for an exam. So, just do your best, do not stress yourself up and ace it.

Can you tell us more about the culture in an STPM school? How might it have been different or similar to Form 5? How integrated are Form 6 students into the Form 1-5 student body? Where do STPM graduates normally end up in? What of it that you enjoyed and what was lacking or lacklustre to you?

During my time, we still wear uniforms and I love my school uniform but now Form 6 students are not required to wear uniforms. The culture is quite similar to high school but we are given more freedom to chose a certain things such as forming our own clubs and the teachers are a tad different compared to high school teachers. In my school, Form 6 students have their own block so we do not mix with Form 1 to Form 5 students unless we join a body or society that includes Form 1 to Form 5 students. The culture in my school got me into culture shock the first day and I hated it but I end up loving my school and I can say I am proud to study Form 6 in Victoria Institution. In VI, there are insanely too many activities that we need to join but when I look back now, those memories are very precious.

I think there’s a lack of good teaching staff in Form 6 and the marking system/ answering techniques of some subjects are too rigid.

Usually STPM students will go to public universities (IPTA) and some will continue their journey in private universities or go overseas. It really depends on the individual. I personally went to a public uni because my course, Social Science majoring in Anthropology and Sociology is not offered in any private university. STPM is a also great platform for people who are unsure about what they want to study and it costs almost nothing compared to other options out there.

Most importantly, reflecting on your time studying STPM in school, how do you feel?

I truly miss Victoria Institution and my Form 6 life. I had a lot of fun with my friends and still keep in touch with them until today. Agreeing to go for STPM really changed how I look at myself and how God creates wonders in life.

 


Penny Wong

Penny Wong a proud KL citizen decided to leave home to explore a new city in Malaysia and hope to integrate arts and anthropology some day in her own way. Sipping green tea/latte, painting, reading and being creative are her favourite solitude moments. She is currently studying in Universiti Sains Malaysia and is a JPA scholarship holder.

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