Poetry For The Perplexed - A Guide To The Incomprehensible.

This article is written for Lit students, so I’m making two assumptions: That you know what a Shakespeare is, and Since you know Shakespeare, you’re familiar with No Fear Shakespeare. These competencies are important, because in the following paragraphs we'll will be ripping apart the very bastions of literary genius. We'll spray-paint a huge I WAS HERE right across the centre. Assuming that’s not possible, though, what we’ll do is re-write them in…*gasp* plain language. Because no one likes an incomprehensible, artsy fartsy poem, right? So let's not waste time... 1. Does it matter? -Siegfried Sassoon Here's the original: Does it matter?-losing your legs?... For people will always be kind, And you need not show that you mind When the others come in after hunting To gobble their muffins and eggs.   Does it matter ?-losing your sight?... There's such splendid work for the blind; And people will always be kind, As you sit on the terrace remembering And turning your face to the light.   Do they matter?-those dreams from the pit?... You can drink and forget and be glad, And people won't say that you're mad; For they'll know you've fought for your country And no one will worry a bit.   Probably no one understands it all on first reading. What with the question-mark-dot-dot-dots and all. If he wanted to make a point, he could’ve said it directly, like this: It really matters if you lose your legs. Really. People are only kind that long. And it’s horribly difficult not to mind When everyone else comes back from hunting And they eat and drink in your face.   It really, really matters if you lose your sight. I have no idea what work blind people can find in post-war Europe. People are never kind. It hurts to sit on the terrace imagining What it looks like from memory.   Your dreams matter. But they’re all gone. You can drink forget and be happy For only so long. People start thinking you’re crazy Even if you’ve given, lost it all for your country. And everything’s horrible. Yup, much better now that only good’ol commas and full stops remain. And speaking of dreams… 2. Dreams -Langston Hughes Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.   This one’s already awesome. Short and sweet. The longest word only has two syllables. That is if you excuse the hifenated jargon. But hey, what’s the point of all those metaphors? Life is a barren field? It’s not like we’re all farmers. Are we? I’m sure we’re not though, last I checked we lived in the 21st century. Really, why waste words when he could’ve just said: Dreams are important. Yes they are. They’re really important. Hold on to them. Otherwise you’ll have a sad life. 5 lines did the trick. We’re on a roll. Now let’s tackle something harder… 3. Sonnet XVIII -William Shakespeare The Bard himself. Terrorising lit students since 1564. Can you imagine how his English teacher must’ve felt when he read this?... Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimmed; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st, Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. First things first: No one knows what a sonnet is. It sounds a like a cross between a comet and a clarinet. It’ll probably do well as a line of tennis apparel too. There’re a fixed number of lines in every tennis racket right? And seriously, thou art? That’s like so five centuries ago. Till date no one has any idea why we’re still studying such obsolete, perplexing poems which have no relation to modern living. Let’s modernise it a little, shall we? Rose are red, violets are blue. A summer’s day is lovely and hot, And so are you. In May the winds blow petals off flowers (if you know what I mean). Summer (holidays) passes way too fast. Sometimes the sun can be really scorching. But even the sun gets dark. And beautiful things usually decline Either by chance, or by nature, even if we leave them alone. But you are eternally lovely and hot. You’re really fair too. If you die everyone will be sad. Especially when your eternal hotness grows with time. As long as men live and see (which basically means forever), Your beauty lives in here and in me. Many romantic. Such feels. Observe how every dating trick in the book has been incorporated within. And speaking of beauty… 4. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening -Robert Frost Whose woods these are I think I know.   His house is in the village though;   He will not see me stopping here   To watch his woods fill up with snow.   My little horse must think it queer   To stop without a farmhouse near   Between the woods and frozen lake   The darkest evening of the year.     He gives his harness bells a shake   To ask if there is some mistake.   The only other sound’s the sweep   Of easy wind and downy flake.     The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   But I have promises to keep,   And miles to go before I sleep,   And miles to go before I sleep.   Here’s another great one with no words of more than two syllables. Simply brilliant. But he’s just describing a forest, some trees and a lake. There’s a horse somewhere too. And the only sense of a linear plot (which, clearly, all poems require) is when the bells ring and he moves on. This all sounds like a wonderful casual journey in the woods but why should we care? Perhaps if he said it this way: I’m in a beautiful forest now but sadly it’s owned by someone else. He lives in the village though. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. Luckily he won’t see me here so he can’t chase me out. Plus he’s missing out On the beautiful views here of the snow falling in his forest.   My horse probably thinks I’m crazy Stopping like this in the middle of nowhere. Probably other people will think I’m mad too Stopping between the woods and a frozen lake in The darkest evening of the year. But this only makes it so much more beautiful and surreal.   My horse rings his harness bells and wakes me up from my daydream It seems like he’s reminding me I’m making a mistake stopping here in the middle of nowhere. It’s so quiet. I can only hear The snow gently falling in the light breeze.   This forest owned-by-someone-else is beautiful. A silent, soothing darkness lurks. It draws me in. But there are so many things I need to do. So many things I must chase. And I’m already behind time. There are so many things I have to do before I can rest. There are so many things I have to do before I can rest.   Isn’t it wonderful how a little elaboration and removal of all poetic devices and metre makes things so self-evident and easily understandable? Off that, here’s the final one for today. Be warned…it’s madness. 5. The Jabberwocky -Lewis Carroll 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.   'Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!'   He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought -- So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood a while in thought.   And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!   One two! One two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.   'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.   'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.   Whatisthisidonteven…Of course, what else could we expect from the insane dude who gave us Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I mean, he’s the founding father of the genre known as literary nonsense (yes, this really exists).  Hardly flattering, if you ask me. And this jabberwocky thing, if a thing it indeed is, makes marginally less sense than rabbits with stopwatches rushing for circular ad infinitum tea. Cheshire cats and growth mushrooms – at least these have some real-life equivalents don’t they. I don’t know what kind of - substances - prompted this poem, but safe to say none of the following – brillig, gyre, wabe, frabjous, borogoves, mome, raths, outgrabe, jubjub, manxome, tumtum, uffish, tulgey…are actually words. Are they? I’m not even sure what words are now. Carroll here creates more words per line than Shakespeare. It’s probably impossible to rewrite this without entirely changing its meaning and significance. This only shows how absolutely incorrigible and worthless this is, doesn’t it?   The best I could do was: Behold a Jabberwock – a fearsome monster with jaws and claws (I think). Someone grabbed a sword. And killed it. Hurray. And one more thing. Here’s one of Emily Dickinson’s great writes: After great pain, a formal feeling comes – The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs – The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’ And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?   The Feet, mechanical, go round – A Wooden way Of Ground, or Air, or Ought – Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a stone –   This is the Hour of Lead – Remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow – First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –   Got that? That last part? As freezing persons…snow…chill…stupor…letting go…? Sound familiar?... Let it go, let it go Can't hold it back anymore Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don't care what they're going to say Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway. Kudos to Disney for helping us understand was Emily was trying to say :) Now that that’s over, I do hope you’ve figured out the actual point of what we’re doing. Although I honestly still have no clue what Carroll’s poem is about.

So I’ve Got My A Level Results. Now What?

I have a theory. The theory is that no one ever gets “the results they expect”. That is, except the top students who expect straight As and get them. The theory is that you either do better or worse than you thought you would. That when you get your results something actually changes. You say “oh…now I can actually apply for Medicine! Should I?” Or you say “looks like I can’t be a doctor anymore. Hope my parents don’t force me into Business.” The theory is that because we only take A levels once (phew), we can never really “expect” anything. Plunge litmus paper into acid. It turns red. Plunge litmus paper into acid again. It turns red again. We expect the next time we do this the same result follows.  But we can’t precisely expect something we’ve never experienced before and will never experience again. So on results day everything changes. Your result slip elevates you into the fabled realm of the elites. Or it vindicates two years of lost youth. Or it opens doors you never would have considered. Or it condemns you into the abyss of normalcy where your dreams vanish into vacuum. I have another theory. The theory is that the first one’s wrong. The theory is that because you can’t even “expect” any results in the first place, it’s impossible to do better or worse than you "expected". The theory is that you simply do as well as you did. In fact you already did that months ago, sitting in a cavernous hall filled with the hopes and dreams of people like you. Scribbling furiously in blue or black ink made up of the blood, sweat and tears of 18 years till now. It’s a historical fact as much as what you ate for breakfast. You tell someone important “these are my grades”. Never that “these should have been my grades”. So on results day nothing changes. Plunge litmus paper into acid. Acid is acid. Plunge litmus paper into acid again. Acid is still acid. On results day someone hands you a red or blue slip of paper. Acid remains acid. People look at the red or blue slip of paper and determine you. Let them. Acids and alkali react differently. If they all reacted the same way we wouldn’t need both as much as we do now. The theory says what matters is not how you did, but how you did it. Not what you did, but what you do. Will you say “This slip of paper declares that I’m not red enough. I will never be red enough.” Or will you say “The slip of paper claims I’m not red enough. I think it’s wrong. I’m going to prove it wrong. Even if it’s right, that only means the same thing – I need to be redder.” We carry this red or blue slip of paper with us for a while. It helps people who don't understand understand. It seems to change where we go. Then, we realise we’ve reacted. We’re not the same. That slip of paper no longer determines us. If it ever did. “So I’ve got my A level results. Now what?” The theory is that you knew the answer even before you could ask that question. Plunge litmus paper into new solution. Let's see what colours emerge and effervesce.

How To Choose A University, And What It's (Really) Like.

You’re at the hospital with a rare illness. The doctor looks…confused. He opens his mouth to speak, only, instead of explaining your situation and prescribing pills, he starts introducing every possible drug on this planet: paracetamol, domperidone, piritone, and ten thousand other words you never knew existed. Some from the US, some European, still others from exotic countries like Korea, even Thailand. Beyond that, an entire apothecary of traditional Chinese medicine. Some drugs from established, transnational firms like GSK, Pfizer. Others from smaller companies known for their special 'boutique drugs'. You have to decide which one's for you. Because you, apparently, know yourself best.  At 18 years old the typical student is faced with a similar if not more daunting decision. Unfortunately, where choosing universities is concerned, good ol’ trial and error just isn’t going to cut it. Because we know how absolutely overwhelming, costly, troublesome, annoying, and tiring uni apps can be, we’ve went ahead made the decision for you. Well, almost. Presenting owlcove’s guide to the uni-verse (uni...verse! haha!). Complete with real-life stories of university choices, experiences, and regrets aspirations. Read them, laugh at them, think about them, but at the end of the day, remember the decision is yours to make and yours alone. As with all decisions though, the first thing to understand is… What exactly are you deciding? A university represents different things for different people. If you want to take medicine, this choice could possibly decide the entire rest of your life. Someone inclined towards business may see a degree as a helpful yet optional stepping stone towards bigger dreams. For the aspiring accountant, a degree is mandatory. What you want will affect how you should decide. Other concerns like cost, emotional attachments, personal preferences, societal pressures, and even sheer impulse will inevitably factor in too. Beyond these personal and internal influences, external factors, how the university’s like, its faculty and teaching methods will clearly be important. This tangled matrix of differing and sometimes diverging influences doesn’t make it any easier to make such a tough decision. Luckily, all of this can be distilled, really, into one central aim - to match what you want and need with what the course is really like. More specifically, it’s about balancing the internal and external influences in a way which best suits your long-run practical, emotional, and educational interests. More into theoretical and thus boring exploration of decision-making later. First, the interesting part… What’s it like? I asked friends in a variety of universities, countries and courses two main questions: (1) Why did you choose what you chose? and (2) How’s it like? Their responses, which I have kept almost verbatim and supplemented with my own thoughts (in italics) at some points, were as follows: BTW: The following personal opinions may not be entirely reflective of the experience you will have and are not meant to speak for the respective schools either. These aren’t their actual names. Adam: Y2, male, Economics in London. No prizes for guessing which School: Choose the course you want before choosing the university. Certain courses like medicine, law, and dentistry have a limited list of recognized colleges you can apply to. For these courses studying overseas may affect your progression, but not necessarily, and it really depends. The main factors I considered to decide which school to go to were: UK versus US: There’s a lot to be said about the difference between the UK and US culture and experience, but I simply decided to go to the UK because I thought it suited me more. My parents were also inclined towards UK. Course quality: Specialty courses are also important because the same university can be really good in one subject but average in another. Simply because the university brand name sounds awesome doesn’t meant every faculty is equally good. City-life versus non-city life: The opposite of city in this case isn’t ‘rural’ because you won’t find most universities in villages or farms. A ‘city’ university is one that’s right in the middle of a big city like London, meaning you’ll be living next to financial and business districts. I preferred a city university because they generally offer more vibrancy, practical immersions and career exposure. A less city university is slightly more detached from the cruelty of the real world – the university usually constitutes the entire town. These universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, typical excel in academia and research. Costs: Living in the city can be really expensive though. Even if you have a scholarship, you may find yourself liquidity constrained in the short run (spoken like a true economist). Given how degrees are more and more like investments, it’s worth asking whether the costs are justified. And one last thing – I think applying early is really important. Actions do speak louder than words and few other things can prove your conviction to study that course in that university than sending in your application before everyone else. That doesn’t mean you rush through it though, only that you start working on it early. Jack: Y1, male, Law and Economics at NUS: Nothing really matters. What school you’re in isn’t anywhere as important as what you do there. But that assumes your school is of a decent standard, and may not be true for everyone – it wouldn’t work if you’re very reliant on school syllabi and structure. I knew I wasn’t. I’m a really bad person to ask, to be honest, because I didn’t really choose a university. I just went to one. Don’t follow my example. To me, since just about every course and university was equally exciting and equally useful, I figured I should just go to the most convenient one – the one I have a direct bus to from my house. Okay I exaggerate, but I really couldn’t justify going halfway across the globe for a degree either. Plus I knew I wouldn’t want to spend precious time of my youth restarting my life in a foreign country – I’d rather focus on doing more meaningful things (not that making foreign friends, washing your own clothes and cooking for yourself aren’t meaningful though – let’s just say I wanted to spend time on other things). And you’ll never ever get back 5 years of time not spent with family. There was also an internship I did sometime after A levels which showed me life as a lawyer could be interesting. I was really really lucky to get accepted the first time I applied to the school, and offered a scholarship too, so there really wasn’t any decision to make after that. Up till now I’m still not sure if I want to practice Law, but at least I know I wouldn’t hate it. I think quite some people in Law school are like me. I’d still advise you to go find out your options. At the very least I went for 2 university and scholarship talks. They were great because I was almost immediately turned off by every UK/US university there. I swear it’s me not them. So don’t think that information only helps you decide what’s right. Finding out what’s wrong is really useful too. I also applied to one extra university. That’s saying a lot, since I absolutely HATE applications. Truth be told, I found the SATS too troublesome to prepare for, which automatically ruled out all US unis. Convenient eh? Life as a law student is fun – the way marathons are fun. You keep running and running, it tires you out, sometimes every inch of your body wants to stop, but you somehow (have to) press on. Not everyone gets the top prizes at the end, but that really isn’t the point, and when it’s all memory you feel an indescribable sense of happiness – before you think about your next run. You’re pretty much working all the time, so much it starts to get hilarious. Like when you’re reading a page-long sentence from a case judgment from the 19th century and have no idea what it’s talking about. Or when you’re running through a list of 400 cases trying to recall what each one stands for. There’re really only two things you do in law school: 1. Read 2. Write. Those who do well will also 3. Think. It suits me because 1 and 2 are my hobbies. A typical week involves going for your standard lectures, tutorials and seminars. The main thing to note is that you have to prepare (read ahead) for them. It sounds hard, but when you realise reading on your own is really how you learn everything in uni, suddenly it seems a breeze because lecture or otherwise you’ll be doing it anyway. In fact if you’re well-disciplined and read diligently you don’t even have to go for (censored for public good). Tutors generally don’t assign any ‘homework’, except every now and then you get an assignment which basically is either an essay (you know what this is) or a hypothetical (they’ll tell you a story, and you have to argue whether there’s a legal issue there, and how it will likely be resolved by the court). And because it’s a professional course, there’s a lot of focus on practical writing. The stuff you do IS actually what you might do in your future job – research, office memos, mooting (or pretending you’re going to court). I don’t know about you, but after years of learning integration and differentiation and molecular structure for who knows why, this was a very welcome change. Of course there are always the more conceptual and less practically applicable mods, but it’s almost always a requirement of every academic course to have such content anyway. Steve: Y1, Business at NUS under the USP I chose business by elimination (and so did most people around me). I figured I needed to do something that involves working with or working on people - something people oriented, so I decided on business instead of things like engineering or econs. I think though for most people it’s because of the opportunities, or because you need a somewhat finance degree to go into banking related fields. I stayed in Singapore for studies because I’m not really convinced that overseas is superior. Feels the same to me. (Succinctly expressed, I asked no further questions.) As for how is business school like, I think people are very driven. They work hard to get their grades and build up their portfolios. People are generally smart, but more hardworking than the ‘genius’ kind who don’t work and still top the class. They’re also very pragmatic. The environment in general is very extroverted and outgoing, and there’s a lot of pride and showmanship around. That’s probably also because the more introverted people are sitting at home mugging their ass off (ie. accountants). So there’s quite a big divergence, but those who set the culture are party animals. To do well in Business school, although perhaps it’s true for other courses too, I think in general you need to be really versatile. You have to learn to work with people, speak up in class, plus be the mugger you probably were in JC. Time management would be useful if you don’t wanna sleep late, but I like to sleep late. Daily work really differs from week to week. Like if there’s a big presentation, we'll have to research and decide on a topic, take charge of sections, prepare slides, present and write reports. The whole process is about 2-3 weeks of gradual, spaced out work. OR 3 days of intensive last minute prep. It’s usually alright, but because we have 4-5 projects going on at once… If there isn’t a presentation, we won’t usually meet up to rehearse. Instead we’ll work through email and Google docs. Everyone loves Google docs these days For my scholar’s programme, in year 1 we take three 4 MC mods, 1.5 mods each sem. One writing mod and one quantitiative reasoning mod – that’s all on top of our usual degree mods. The 0.5 each sem comes from a year-long mod which is S/U so its kay. Both writing and quanti is damn heavy, especially writing. But it drills people to craft arguments in depth, and everyone feels that it’s very good although it is quite taxing and might pull down your grades. Then there’s the residential life part... which is quite chill. There’re no compulsory events or hall points. Everything is like do if you want to. It’s very student-initiated, and people just take turns to introduce activities they wanna do. There may be some peer pressure within the scholar’s programme, but I don’t really care about peer pressure. I guess people who are more competitive will be threatened since there’re lots of dean’s listers around, especially for FASS and Science - like every other person’s a Dlister (The Dean’s List is basically a list of the top 5-10% of students in the faculty by grades. You’ll learn about it soon enough if you’re entering a local university). Wright: Y1, Male, Law at a University College in London: (Because this was a verbose yet valuable piece, not surprisingly from a law student, I have refrained from editing it. I swear I only asked two questions.) Initially, my decision to study law was not founded out of passion, nor necessity, but out of a budding interest. I cannot say for sure that this interest was moulded and shaped by the expectations of present society, but I daresay that if I was born in any age, or any epoch where the legal service was perhaps not so relevant to Singapore, or the world, I would have chosen to do so regardless. I wasn't born with the concept of legal work burned into my head. Ambitions don't stay grounded, not do they remain uniform, they wax and wane, as feelings, and passion always do. I do not feel that failing to maintain a concept or clear idea of future profession somehow disqualifies you from said profession for lack of 'purity’. Such an antiquated understanding only persists in the minds of the deluded, for no one human is completely infallible. There were times I wanted to be a palaeontologist digging bones in Utah, a tribal chief, an oncologist in Mt. Alvernia Hospital... endless hopes and dreams and flitting fancies scurrying to and fro from many whispers of cloudlike realities. I love dreaming, but I became more grounded to reality. And professions, though excellent if compatible with interests, sadly serve first and foremost to bring home the bacon. Ever heard that having real passion in your work increases your creativity, productivity and your overall happiness? That is the ideal scenario, but most of the time it never materializes. Most of us go through life without ever reconciling our interests and our work, and it shows. The more fortunate of us have the choice either (1) to sacrifice our interests in the pursuit of profitable work, or (2) to forgo better paying work to pursue our dreams. Both choices have merits and shortcomings, but based on all the current self-help and feel good articles populating the internet, most people would be encouraged on a more 'moral' standpoint, to go with option 2. There is nothing wrong with that, and ultimately the choice is yours, for no one should be able to question your motivations, but for the sake of all your prospective law students, who keep feeling as if they have to come up with an excuse or impressive answer to shake the stigma of a money grubbing option 1, sometimes the best answer is the truth. The truth could be altruism, in that you wanted to help people through legal work - I know I did. Though people may argue that law is nothing about helping people, is it really fair to expect someone selecting a career choice to already know about the pitfalls and letdowns of real life work? It is a cruel reality and weird reasoning that individuals wanting to study law get discriminated for the shortcomings in the legal profession that they are somehow, inexplicably supposed to be aware of. No, altruism is indeed a very valid reason for going into any profession, even into the legal service, as if you want to help others, you want to help others, simple as that.  Though altruism feels mundane, and maybe politically correct, remind yourself that the concept behind every profession is the same one: of service. Every profession carries an economic value and a moral worth, offering a service to others for a salary is the economic part, but in some professions, the moral aspect of their work is much more pronounced and noticeable than in others. It is lamentable that our society somehow equates a higher economic value of your job with a lower moral worth, while failing to understand that sometimes, choosing a high paying job is a very moral decision in itself. For those who see going into the legal profession as a sacrifice of your interests and dreams, it is true that forgoing some happiness for monetary gain is a loss, but it is noble in its own right - who wouldn't want their family, or their future spouse to have an easier time in the future? You work more so they may work less, they may live more comfortably, it is easier for them to shoulder future burdens. One sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of his family - if that is not selflessness at heart, I do not know what is. Legal work is tiring, and offers none of the exultation and nobility accorded to some other professions, but I have never felt the study of anything quite as rewarding. It is worth knowing that at least, in our current confused and tentative state, we can be sure that we are doing something relevant and helpful, and that reassurance counts. What is it like? Legal studies is like a cup of tea - how bitter or sweet it is depends on much effort you put in. You can do the bare minimum, or go the whole way. It is possible to get your second-upper just putting in the minimal effort, which will give you a pretty good and balanced sip of social life. However, the best teas are seldom the sweetest, and it is often those who put in effort that end up the most distinguished, as in every line of work or study. It's easy to say, don't study hard, study smart, but when you're tossed into a field of studies that you experience for the first time, it is really difficult to pick out what to study and what is studying smart. The only good thing is that everyone is reset to a level playing field - anyone can succeed, as by virtue of the entrance examinations, the basic skills are all present, but as far as terminologies and knowledge are concerned, everyone is on the same foot. Therefore as with all things, good things come to those who are disciplined, and it is often those who work the most bitterly that end up with the strongest aftertastes.  And finally, don’t give up on your dream. From my own experience, even not getting an interview from NUS or SMU isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of options in the UK, and the only significant thing you have to worry about other than the grades is probably the LNAT. The LNAT is a requirement to enter most UK Law schools, but it should not be anything more than just comprehension passages - by virtue of you wanting to study law, it tests you on nothing you should not already have - nothing legal in terminology but just general ability. That said, it can still be prepared for, and remember to be very discerning in your approach to questions - answering an LNAT MCQ question is not clear cut, often it is choosing which answer out of five is the least wrong, or the most right, never clearly wrong or right. The questions tax your vocabulary, sentence structure, and to some extent general knowledge. Remember that though you may be accepted into law school, you do not change. I did not become any less smart when I was rejected by Oxford, nor did I suddenly become smarter when UCL gave me their offer. It is all in the state of mind, and being discouraged is our only fallibility. I learnt that when I came over: that nothing has really changed about myself except my perspective. So don’t become discouraged, and in the lead up to your decision to enter law school, let no one question your decisions or motivations, they are your own. Theresa: Y3, female, medicine at NUS: I chose medicine because it’s meaningful and fun, and the academic rigour builds character. Being able to meet, diagnose and treat patients is an honour and privilege. The academics are very much self or senior directed. As seniors always say, you can study as much as you want or as little as you dare. You won't be judged. Until you get to the hospitals and maybe your tutors and the smart students might. There’s absolutely no homework for year 1 & 2. Just mug mug mug. Or play play play. Whichever you choose. Year 3 onwards is a different world. Be prepared to study round the clock and give up even more things. The medicine community is extremely tight. By third or fourth year everyone would know everyone by name. They’re lots of chances to get to know people within the faculty like during camps, plays, overseas service trips and others. In other words, any gossip spreads fast. Your social circle will be redefined. Most of your friends will know the same jargon as you. Then one day at a gathering of old friends you suddenly find yourself having to explain every word you say. Medicine is consuming. Keeping friends is challenging. Making time for family is a very very conscious effort. Difficult, but not impossible. One great thing is, the friendships you make in medicine are probably for life. Seniors are awesome and always ready to help. And one last thing: your journey DOES NOT end at getting in. The plane hasn't even taken off yet. You can maybe- just maybe - start flying after 5 years. (That’s when housemanship starts). Marissa: Y3, female, Business and Accountancy double degree at SMU. My degree choices were almost a no brainer for me. It was natural I took that path with my affinity for numbers. I’d grown up in a very ‘finance’ family and my exposure to and interest in it started since young. I applied to UCAS, NTU and SMU, and ultimately chose SMU because they gave me a good scholarship. SMU’s a bustling city campus. Going to school can feel like fashion show every day – so for the guys, SMU’s just what you’re looking for!!! It also means you get lots of good food choices, although mostly you’d eat at the koufu or kopitiam near campus since food can get a little pricey. The transition from JC to uni was probably much steeper than from secondary school to JC, even though people tell you uni’s a breeze – it really depends on what course you do, where you’re doing it, and most importantly how you’re doing it. Suddenly you have to do everything yourself – planning what mods to take (even compulsory mods are left for you to allocate, and you have to make sure you clear them properly), what to do, who to take with, how much to study, and so on. Basically you become your own admin office. The most adminish thing you do is bidding for modules, which usually means researching past year prices, looking for people to bid in with for modules with group projects, finding the right prof who suits both your learning style and your…ahem…grade aspirations. The social life in SMU is pretty happening too. They’re lots of cliques who study, drink and club together all the time. For a unique person like me who doesn’t really club, it can be an interesting dynamic to be part of. And then there’s the world famous Class Part system, which more or less means everyone has to speak up in every class. The weightage differs from mod to mod, prof to prof, but can go as high as 20% of the entire grade. There’ll be people who can somehow answer all the prof’s questions, people who can’t but keep talking anyway, people who answer a few and then go entirely quiet after hitting the daily quota, people who repeat, attack, criticize, capitalize on others’ points – let’s just say social tendencies get magnified. It’s a mercenary system, yes, but as long as we are content to live in a world where numbers and grades are sovereign it’s probably the best way to motivate otherwise quiet students to stand up, speak up, and be heard. It really works. Mark: Y1, male, Engineering at UC Berkeley. I’ve always wanted to study abroad. If you ask me, as long as you have the financial ability to do so, the experience and network is well worth the cost. I’ll be honest though: Berkeley wasn’t my first choice. But it’s the top public university in the world, an amazing school for engineering, and located right smack in Silicon Valley. Plus, you can’t go wrong with the weather in California. I’ve just completed my first semester, and time has flown by even beyond what I had been mentally prepared for. The academics are as rigorous as they say, the people as crazy (I blame all those…uh…substances), the environment as invigorating. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the startup fever gripping Silicon Valley, what with every other student an aspiring entrepreneur. The networking opportunities here are immense – who knows if you’ll meet the next Mark Zuckerberg? However, being in a huge public school comes with huge drawbacks. The competition is intense, perhaps even more so than private schools. (The conventional wisdom that acing academics abroad is easy doesn’t always hold true.) Resources are limited, and many programs are underfunded. Talk to any student here and they will rant about how hard it is to get into classes – I personally attended a Computer Science class last semester more than 1,000 strong, even larger than the capacity of the school’s largest lecture hall. Sadly, paying school fees several times what your peers pay still doesn’t guarantee you anything beyond (if you graduate, of course) a fancy degree from an overseas university. You actually need to put in effort to fully attain that fabled overseas experience. It is especially easy to get lost in the crowd with a student population as large as Berkeley’s 30,000 students – if you don’t bother expanding your social circle, no one is honestly going to care. In fact, no one is even going to know who you are. In other words, you’re on your own – fend for yourself. While other Singaporean students will unsurprisingly form your initial social circle – I’ve grown really close to my Singaporean batchmates – I feel you need to take the initiative to break out of your comfort zone and expand your social circle further. I mean, you didn’t fly halfway around to world just to meet Singaporeans, did you? Be warned though: it’s not going to be easy, particularly if you’ve already settled into familiarity. But no one said anything was going to be easy. That is, except some deluded friends who will insist that Asians are too smart for everyone else. Now that the interesting part is finally over... Let’s try to make sense of it all. We’ve seen perspectives from different people, pursuing different paths, in different places. While they disagree on certain points – some’ll tell you to go overseas no matter what; some have no idea why people go overseas – there’s really one thing that’s always the same: everyone has their own, often compelling, reasons for choosing what they did. You’d notice the factors that influence decisions recur – environment, experience, culture, costs, personal and parental preferences, school reputation. But if everyone considers the same things, then why doesn’t everyone make the same decision? Why, instead, do they differ so vastly? It’s because of how much weight each person places on the same factor. For a socialite, school culture can be the main influence behind a decision, but for the socially independent academic that’s the last thing he’ll care about. We’ve also seen how scholarships and costs can make a huge difference. In making your own decision, you’d have to know which factors you’d value the most, the ones which hold the most weight. Like Security Council members, these influences can rise up to veto and defeat your entire resolution. Hence, start by asking these members what they want. If costs are your primary concern, quickly rule out the schools you can’t afford. Then apply the second most important factor and rule more schools out. At this point, you don’t have to automatically eliminate schools which you may not get accepted for – never let the fear of rejection stop you from trying. Eventually, the schools remaining would start to seem about the same, and that’s when you really have to slow down and consciously consider the merits of each, and think about which merits you value more. Sometimes though, you still can’t figure out what’s right. That’s why the final decision is usually one of the heart more than the mind, a leap of faith where you know you’ve done all you could and hope you’ve made the right choice. And one last thing – don’t keep your options open for too long either. In the days and weeks you spend deliberating between uni A and uni B, precious early application time is slipping away. We often think so much about the opportunity costs of choosing A over B that we forget the costs of not choosing either. Hope this guide helps, and all the best for your applications :)

We, The Young, Will Change Singapore

I was recently engaged in a conversation that reinforced the ugly glaring fact of Singapore's stifling culture, and all the people who have fallen prey, become dead, and are spreading the zombie virus. I forget it often because of the amazing environment I'm immersed in in school - people have started their own board game companies, national-scale NGOs and more; our debate and MUN teams clinch awards at international events even though we have no external coaches; we organise and start any club or event we want. Many of my friends outside school are doing what they love, whether it's financial consulting, game-coding or app-designing. They love what they learn and are forming opinions for themselves, rejecting some of what has been fed to them since young. I believe the stifling culture in Singapore will change with the young, because we haven't seen the struggles of the country like the previous generations have. We grew up with the gifts of education, full stomachs and a bed. See, Singapore was a third-world island with no resources or support, and we struggled, but soon found the formula for success, and triumphed. Since then, we've been on a roll, but the country is still clinging to this formula in desperation. It is never enough. A family-sized government flat in the suburbs can cost half a million dollars. A car is a couple hundred grand. And the older generations run on the fear that if we were to ever loosen our grip, we would plummet back to poverty, high unemployment, and struggles. They are too afraid to take a risk. After all, we already have the formula - why look for another one at the risk of plummeting? Maybe Singaporeans are blessed enough to have a foundation of relative material stability, security and educational access, but we're cursed when we are mentally bound by the culture and mindsets so prevalent now. I believe my generation will see that some things just aren't working like they used to anymore, and let in some fresh air. But we have to be brave enough to fight safe monotony. Do something we love and be great at it, instead of being content with secure mediocrity all our lives. This passion doesn't have to be the single focus from the start - you've got to have the money to pursue your passion sometimes - but we should never throw it away. Dive into whatever you feel passionate to build. I have extremely smart and talented friends who are utterly passionate about education and politics. They see the cogs in the machine that are now irrelevant, and are willing to invest their lives to change it. It's only when you do what you love that you will easily find the drive to be excellent. When I considered applying to Law schools instead of Literature courses, my mum said I was being ridiculous, I would be a terrible lawyer, and that I should stop trying to be someone I'm not. My mum took pure biology and pure chemistry in university when people felt higher education for girls was a waste of money. They said her course choice was silly, and that other than being a researcher, her career options were dead. Well, look at how far biochemistry and other related fields have come. Look at the companies that chase after her qualifications, and the places she travels to to give talks. "Do what you're passionate enough to become excellent at," she says, "and the jobs will come after you." Of course, another great hurdle is culture - mindsets about pursuing something that might not be the most lucrative or stable. This place is barren ground. But with time, water and stimuli, the fruits of passion and excellence can grow again. I believe Singaporean youths can grow up to become bolder people, people who take initiative and pursue their careers not only for material security, but also to live life. Unfortunately, we are still timid, aren't we? Playing it safe, letting the fear of authority form a path for us by eliminating doors, because that's the easy way. Letting others speak up in class because we fear getting something wrong or saying something dumb. Preferring to follow instructions, because thinking is hard. I hope enough of us will be willing to take the front seat. This article first appeared on my blog and has also been posted on The Online Citizen.

Why I'm Proud To Be Singaporean

It’s not every day that life throws you actual scenarios which let you practice the rarely useful (or so you thought) things you learn in school. But today was such a day. As this video (I've outlined the gist of it below, so you don't have to watch it) continues to win the hearts and minds of the uninitiated, I thought it would be meaningful to use this opportunity to illustrate how one might do a proper AQ, and why GP is highly underrated. Note that this article, in the spirit of the AQ, is meant only to critique the points and arguments made in the source. Critique means to support and to criticize, where warranted. It is not meant as a personal attack, nor can it ever hope to address and solve any social problems raised by the video. I am also aware that, as the “truthful”, “interesting” and “right” person that many commenters laud her to be, the speaker could not have intended her points to be subject to any form of academic, logical, or common sense scrutiny and yet left so many of her arguments painfully incomplete. More likely the video was meant as an expression of her own opinions and thoughts, made only more personal by her choice of presenting her ideas from the intensely private space of her own bedroom. Hence, it might be slightly unfair for me to apply her arguments through the razor of logic, since it was neither intended nor prepared for it. Nonetheless, I will do so. As the speaker says, “Deal with it”. In the 13 minutes long video which you would likely have watched, the speaker makes these points in support of why she is not proud to be Singaporean: 1. Singapore is no place for an Artist. The speaker begins by arguing that Singapore overly prioritises fields like medicine, engineering and law, since “everyone is going towards” these areas “because those are the highest paying jobs”. Because of this, there’s “barely any room” for alternate career paths. The premise that “everyone” only does medicine and law is difficult to defend, because, unfortunately, only a small number of people actually get to do these high paying jobs. A more realistic argument would perhaps include finance, business, and other alternate careers. Yet if we were to restate the argument more accurately as “everyone is going towards medicine, engineering, law, finance, accountancy, biotechnology, dentistry, and business”, it quickly loses much of its force. And for the record, not everyone is in these fields for the money. Admittedly there is an emphasis on sciences to the detriment of the arts, and this is an age-old argument that is difficult to deny. Having been through an Arts education (though of the Humanities kind) myself, I agree that many (often unjustified) obstacles do stand in the way of aspiring musicians and artists in Singapore. Yet the speaker seems to draw a false dichotomy between the two, as if emphasizing the sciences necessarily compromises the arts. It is, surprisingly to some, possible to encourage people to study medicine while simultaneously promoting the Arts through, for example, building a two theatres in the heart of Singapore’s financial district (specifically the Esplanade and the theatre in Sands). In other words, even if we admit her premise that everyone only does medicine and engineering, it doesn’t by itself prove her point that Singapore has no room for artists. And why should the country make room for you? A better argument would be that Singapore’s overemphasis on the conventional shines through even in the Arts, where traditional forms of drama and theatre take unwarranted precedence over untested forms like K-POP. But this is not the argument she makes. 2. Singaporeans are narrow-minded. There is a certain sense of irony in the speaker making this argument that I have to refrain from elaborating on in the spirit of this article. She argues that Singaporeans are narrow-minded because “a majority of Singaporeans would have just bought the headline news that our payment system is better than the minimum wage”. For starters, let’s just accept her definition of “narrow-mindedness” to mean “unquestioningly accepting”. There are, of course, many strong reasons why a minimum wage may be “better” than a payment system. She offers none of these reasons. Rather than make any sort of economic argument for or against the two economic policies, she offers a mathematical argument: mainly that an Australian waitress makes $1920 a month and a Singaporean waitress makes $768. Also, “to be fair”, based on the earning to spending ratio (which somehow addresses the difference in living standards), the Australian system is still “better”. If economic policymaking involves only increasing waitresses’ nominal salaries, then we would truly be overpaying whoever we pay to make these policies. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Any H2 economics student would be able to recite the problems with minimum wage polices. Amongst these are the resulting fall in employment opportunities and increased business cost. More simply, implementing a minimum wage means restaurants will hire fewer waitresses. So even in terms of making it better for waitresses and waitresses alone (how she seems to define “better”), a minimum wage may not do its job. A minimum wage would only be “better” if its benefits outweigh its costs. Admittedly again, we should not expect everyone to be educated in economics. But that does and will work against you if you choose to make an economic point. If someone stands up and points out that Panadol is useless, should he be expected to have a medical degree? By “don’t believe things you see in headline news”, perhaps she means to say “don’t believe things you see in headline news without thinking through it yourself”, because then she makes an excellent point. If I have to consciously disbelief everything in the newspaper, reading it would be a really interesting task. And for the record, don’t believe things you see on Youtube either, at least not without thinking about it yourself. 3. Singaporeans are not creative. Her third point is difficult to deny and I would agree that Singaporeans are nowhere near the most creative in the world. A key lesson here is that you can have the best point in the world and your argument can still be invalid. In support of a point which, frankly, didn’t need to be supported, the speaker argues that the education system stifles creativity. Effectively she argues extensively on the cause of the lack of creativity, without really explaining her main point, the effect of this cause. If she wanted to point out that Singaporeans are not creative, a more direct route would be to raise arguments showing how little we create. Granted, exploring the causes does lend some indirect support to her arguments. But even if education stifles creativity Singaporeans can still be creative. A more complete argument would have to draw the link between cause and effect. That is not difficult. Consider this argument: 1) The education system stifles creativity without exception. 2) Everyone goes through the education system and is completely affected by it. Therefore, everyone’s creativity is stifled. In place of the drawing the link as in (2), she offers anecdotal experiences from her sisters and herself. There is little need to comment on the appropriateness of such examples (note that this is only because I am assuming this to be some sort of academic piece rather than a Youtube rant. For the latter, it’s entirely appropriate and entertaining.) The speaker then argues that Singaporeans are just “homework robots” (which I concede) and “being book smart is kinda sad” because you’ll just “be like a majority of Singaporeans”. This argument actually holds some merit because she tried to substantiate why being homework robots is bad in itself rather than merely asserting it is. Unfortunately, the argument was not effective, primarily because being part of a majority does not necessarily mean something is bad. Nonetheless this sheds some light on why she wants to immigrate, because otherwise being in Singapore makes her just like a majority of Singaporeans (who are, y’know, in Singapore), and that’s apparently kinda sad. 4. Singaporeans are submissive. Her fourth point that Singaporeans are submissive was succinctly put and left little to be critiqued (which is sometimes the smart thing to do if you have nothing better to say). Still, her argument that “no one thinks out of the box” could have been further evidenced, and why being submissive is itself a bad thing that should make someone ashamed to be Singaporean remains unclear. 5. Singaporeans are not happy. I am extremely, extremely tempted to bring out that weird study Starhub shows us in cinemas before the movie starts to highlight that Singaporeans actually are happy. But I myself don’t believe that, and again she raises a somewhat valid point. The problems with her arguments, however, remain. In a rare but laudable attempt to justify why her examples from Australia and Taiwan are relevant, she could have gone further than to say it’s because she knows them best (so deal with it) and she’s only going to base her arguments on these countries. Because that’s akin to saying: “let’s ignore the possibility I could be wrong, alright…just ignore that…and HEY LOOK! I’M RIGHT!” Of course you are. Also, since she painstakingly reminds us of her ‘success’ in the K-POP arena, it was puzzling why she didn’t know Korea well enough to know the extreme focus on academics and the beaten path in that country.  She seems rather proud of her associations with Korean culture, which makes it hard to understand why Singapore’s focus on grades makes her not proud to be Singaporean. Even if we just ignore that¸ her creative use of suicide and murder statistics to show that Singaporeans are not happy is…rather creative. Suicide and depression statistics are indeed commonly used illustrate social issues in Singapore, and they actually do that job pretty well. While she could have left it at that, she makes a further argument that suicide rates being higher than murder rates shows Singaporeans are not happy. That implies, strangely, that if murder rates are higher than suicide rates, Singaporeans are a happy bunch. By referring to the low murder rates in Singapore the speaker, accidentally I presume, argues against herself by highlighting how we’re happy enough, for the most part, to not kill each other. 6. Singaporeans are not nice. According to the speaker, Singaporeans are not nice because they wouldn’t help others and Australians, by comparison, would. Here it seems the speaker has already stopped considering herself Singaporean, otherwise her relating how she helped the elderly person into the cab seems to defeat her own argument. Within the confines of this point she moves on to request that people do not drag her parents in (strange, because she did mention “Singaporean parents” in general earlier on the video) and that she’s an honest person who speaks her mind. Sadly, you can still lie if you speak your mind, especially if you’re mistaken about facts, or think illogically. She makes another curious declaration that she “will not be moulded by society’s demands because that is just ridiculous”. In the spirit of this article, I would have to stop at pointing out the inconsistency in the logic that “moulded by society” = “ridiculous” because she is, among the other things she does, speaking English. 7. Everyone just follows the rules. There is no freedom of speech in Singapore. In an argument, saving the best for last isn't always a good idea because you may have lost your audience by then to the weakness of your earlier points. In the concluding minutes of her video the speaker opens a can of tornadoes by asserting that freedom of speech does not exist in Singapore. The debate on freedom of speech has lasted, sadly, for centuries. It would not be possible to deal properly with it here. Suffice to say that, if there is no freedom of speech in Singapore, how did she ever manage to upload her video? Perhaps there will be people knocking on her door very soon. Ultimately, she asserts, and I have to respect, that she has her reasons for not being proud of Singapore. Yes, you are entitled to them, even if they aren’t very good reasons. She openly asks for reasons why we should be proud of Singapore, to which I reply: I’m proud of Singapore because, even ESPECIALLY after hearing what you say, I still have no reason not to be proud of Singapore.

Why All Interviews Are Secretly The Same

Interviews are that pesky thing standing between you and, supposedly, living your dreams at your dream university. They're when you realize you’ve lived for 18 years with cruelly little to show for it – especially when trying to convince a skeptical, middle-aged professor about your ‘arduous passion’ for medicine or how you’d ‘indubitably value-add to the vibrancy of the school’s pedagogical association’. Whatever that means… To help us all survive these rather interrogatory times, here’s a quick guide to tackling interviews. But before that... What’s an interview, really? Some say it’s a chat. To others it’s a trial. Some interviews are so intellectually intense they make A levels seem a piece of cake (Read: Oxbridge interviews). But despite the differences in how interviews are conducted, they really all have one simple aim: To choose the right and best person for the job. That’s right - it’s a selection process (surprise surprise). In other words, the fundamental question every interview needs to you answer is: Why should we pick you? They’re not interested in how smart/charismatic/philanthropic/passionate you are, nor even whether you were a school councillor, chairman of 3 clubs simultaneously and did five thousand CIP hours – unless all these somehow goes to show why you’re the person they should pick out of the thousands of other hopefuls. Therefore, when the interviewer says “introduce yourself”, he’s asking “who are you and why are you the best person for the job?” When he asks you to relate one instance where you demonstrated leadership and creativity, he’s asking, “are you creative enough for the job?” When he makes small talk with you and mentions the weather, he’s actually saying: “the right guy can converse intelligently even over mundane topics – can you?” And if we work backwards from this central question, there’re only two possible scenarios as to why people fail interviews, namely... Scenario A: You’re not the right person If A’s true, then congrats! Not getting something you’re not suited for is actually good for you. Just ask [insert name here], who went to [insert unsuitable university course here], totally regretted it, and ended up changing courses. But wait…what kind of lousy interview guide tells you to be happy you failed an interview? Well technically, if you weren’t the right person for the job, not getting chosen actually means the interview succeeded by producing the right outcome. And they all lived happily ever after. Except there are probably those of you who currently are not the right person but somehow still want it badly. Which, if you think about it, does not quite make sense, but today’s society where people ‘want’ things without really knowing why it’s a pretty common occurrence. If you happen to be one of these people, then what you really need to do is to become the right person, rather than focusing on interview skills and other related myths. This means you have to actually develop an interest for whatever you need to be interested in, become skilled at whatever you need to be skilled in, and do whatever you need to have done. For example, if you’re applying to medicine, it sorta helps if you took H2 Chemistry. An Ivy League hopeful do well to be able to point out the university’s city and state on a world map. Avoid also applying to a Design or Arts school without having a design portfolio. A common mistake is to think being ‘interested’ in or having a ‘passion’ for something is an inherent personality trait that we have to be born with. It’s not. Let’s face it: at 18, we know close to negative infinity about accountancy, engineering, business…heck at that age I didn’t even know the difference between universities and colleges. Saying you have an interest in any university course is pretty much the same as telling people you’ve fallen in love with a girl/boy you’ve never ever met and now want to marry her/him. You have to really understand and have experienced something to be passionate about it. Sadly, that two week internship where you learnt how to use the photocopier probably wouldn’t make you fall in love with whatever you’re doing. But having actually done that mysterious thing known as actual work makes you infinitely more believable when you waltz into the interview room trying to convince interviewers you know what you’re signing up for. The good news is, this means if you currently have zero interest for something, it doesn’t mean you will never be interested in it. I’d daresay you only think you wouldn’t like it because you don’t really understand it at all.  Granted it’s gonna take work, but as Randy Pausch awesomely reminded us, Brick walls are only there for us to prove how much we want something. If you wanna get through that interview that badly, you’d naturally not mind going through all that. If you do mind, then perhaps you don’t really want it that much. And because here we always go the extra mile for service, here’s the best self-improvement guide I’ve ever read (warning, expletives used for greater self-improvement value). Now that you’ve turned yourself into a square peg for that square interview, the only way you might still fail the interview is in… Scenario B: You are the right person, but can’t quite show it. Once again, congrats! Because you’ve gotten through the hardest part. Now all you really need to do is pray and with luck and some faerie dust you’ll somehow the find right answers to show how awesome you are the next time round. At least, that’s how it always feels, since painfully few schools ever teach how to handle interviews. But what if I told you the A level syllabus actually did teach us how to properly answer interview questions, without intending to? IF there is one thing you learn in GP, it’s how to answer questions. Heck, if there’s anything to be learnt from the entire A levels at all, it’s how to answer questions. With prepared, textbook, perfectly keyword spotting answers. If you’ve just finished A levels, you’re probably one of the best question answerers in the world right now. And why should interview questions be any different from written ones? Behold the almighty PEEL format. The heavens themselves illuminate upon its hallowed descent, and somewhere in the distance, but not too far away, comes the angelic laughter of many a GP student whose essay had once been turned to pure gold by the PEEL’s midas touch. Presently it lands authoritatively into the realm of interview answers, and once again works its magic, reshaping incoherent, unfocused attempts-at-answers into critical, evidenced, interview-owning assertions. Because you probably have no idea what I just said. The PEEL format (which I totally dissed here) can be a really helpful way of organizing your interview answers to better show you’re the right guy for the job. What’s also great is after 2 years of mental jackhammering you should already know exactly how it works, so you can apply it easily. Of course, thinking in the PEEL format is not something the average person does. For illustration purposes, a here’s an interview question I actually encountered along with a PEEL-ed answer I wish I had thought of at that time. After I said I had just completed my BMT, the interviewer asked: “Do you think the army is obsolete?” And if I was Albert Einstein for 5 minutes, I would've responded: P: While some of its training methods and equipment may be obsolete, I think the army itself is still very relevant today. E: People usually identify the army’s disciplinarian practices and corporal punishments as a thing of the past. These have mostly remained unchanged for decades, and some say these should be replaced with modern teaching methods. E: If military training methods really did not change since 1967, then they would really be ancient, but that’s not the case either, because nowadays even corporal punishments are highly regulated and administered in the context of supposedly ‘new’ training methods. They’re actually using laptops in BMT now. And considering how society is supposedly getting softer, actually corporal punishment may be getting more and more, not less and less, relevant. If you’re talking about the army in general, then all the more it is not obsolete. People think there’s no danger of war and that means we don’t need an army. But it’s because we all have armies that’s why there’s no danger of war. Or at least that’s what they tell us in BMT. L: So honestly I think the army is not obsolete and does not seeming to be becoming any more irrelevant. For best results, recall that the entire point of an interview is to determine whether you’re the right person with the right interests, skills, and knowledge for the job. This means your answer, should aim towards trying to highlight the aspect you need to highlight. In the example above my answer was more inclined towards demonstrating the ability to hold opinions contrary to popular belief. This is also known as ‘critical thinking’, which is something they look out for in law programmes. If you’re getting interviewed for accountancy, your answer could aim towards demonstrating how meticulous or organized you are instead. Sadly, none of us have close to half the brains Einstein had. Which brings me to my next point, that you should prepare certain answers and responses beforehand so you can organise them well. It’s impossible to foresee all questions, but because all interviewers invariably only want to know one thing, they really can’t stray far from certain questions like “tell me about yourself” or “relate one experience where…” That’s where having thought through your life story is especially important, because even if the interview questions don’t directly ask for it, it’s very likely you’d be able to draw on your past experiences to support what you say. If you’re really proud of that one time you won the Math Olympiad, or think that student convention you organized really proves how amazing you are as a person, then prepare a short narration of the entire episode and practice saying it.  One helpful guide to storytelling is the 2-5-1 rule, which simply put means to introduce the story and setting in 2 sentences, go through the entire body in 5, and reassert the point in 1. Note: I am not making this up. They teach it in Officer Cadet School #Reliable. And again because we always go the extra mile, here’s an example of the 2-5-1 in action: "In 2012, I organized the 56th Asia-Africa Model Conventional Student Leader United Sports Meet. This was an annual event where student leaders from across the two continents would compete and bond over sports. As chairman of the organizing committee, I was responsible for the planning and execution of the entire event. This meant overseeing communications between the 52 participating schools, ensuring the logistics were ample yet still fell within the $50k budget, and taking care of the safety of the 5000 participants on the actual day. One major challenge my committee and I faced was overcoming the language and cultural barriers between the African and Asian participants and getting them to bond. After some brainstorming, we managed to solve the problem by getting everyone to play a warm up game in which Asian students would try to guess basic African words like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ from the African students’ charades, and vice-versa.  The entire experience showed me how even the biggest events are invariably about people, relationships, and human interactions. I believe with such experience I will be able to successfully organize and execute even larger scale events with the university." Note: The above events are entirely fictitious. Any resemblence to people, characters and events is purely coincidental. It’s not a hard and fast rule definitely, but the 2-5-1 works because it sounds just right, neither too long nor too short (like the proverbial miniskirt), and forces you to get to the heart of the story as fast and efficiently as possible. You’d also notice that in the given example I tried to boast without boasting (see 4th sentence) and include a little ‘problem’ in the story to make it more engaging (see 5th sentence). And on this note, perhaps it makes sense to talk a little about... Lying In Interviews You probably think everyone does it. I think so too. Then there’s that fine line between exaggeration and outright deceit, and presenting facts in a certain way sure isn’t as bad as making them up. Thing is, you really only need to resort to such ‘interview techniques’ if you’re facing scenario A, not B. In other words, the only time you actually need to lie to get pass an interview is when you’re really not the right guy. You need to feed the system false information so it can produce the wrong outcome. This is also known as creating market failure, the negative effects of which I’ll assume you’re familiar with. I’d hazard a bet that most of us only lie or embellish the truth in interviews because we think everyone else does it. So everyone does it because everyone does it. That doesn’t make any sense at all, because whether or not we should lie in an interview should depend on whether it would actually help us pass the interview, rather than on whether other people are is doing it. Fear Of Losing Out (ironically, “FOLO”) means we do it without realizing it may actually work against us. For the vast majority of us who have consciences and eyes, it’s hard to be convincing when we’re lying. Add that to the typical skepticism that every interviewer (particularly if they’re academic professors) is bound to have, and you’re not going to get far with being unpersuasive. What you say is not as important as what the interviewers hear. It doesn’t pay off to go on an entire tirade about that one time you saved Rapunzel from the Pharoah of Langkawi if all it does is make the interviewer question everything else you said. In fact, if even 10% of what you say leaves an impression, you’ve probably already succeeded, so focus on getting a concrete, believable message across rather than writing a speeddating profile for yourself. To reiterate, interviews have only one purpose – to choose the right (read: best) person. If you’re not doing well in interviews you’re either not the right person or aren’t very good at showing you are. Depending on what exactly’s the problem, focus on doing, knowing, and saying what you need to do, know, and say to demonstrate and persuasively prove you really are the One. In the end, integrity pays, and getting rejected for something you’re not suited for may turn out to be the best thing that could happen anyway. Good luck! Disclaimer:  This article has necessarily been written in a generalized way to cater for the variety of interviews a potential reader may encounter. Some interviews may turn out to be entirely different, and owlcove takes no responsibility for any angered parents, lost dreams, death threats, or any other damages whatsoever arising from any use of or reliance on content herein.

What Life's Like (After A Levels)

It’s over and you are invincible. Just conquered the hardest test of your life. It all gets better from here, they said. And it does. You’re 18. What’s there to fear. You can drive now. Even get into Zouk after being checked. Now you reclaim those weekends spent with ten year series’. You’ve already planned everything in the painful weeks leading to the exams. This time, it’s having fun with a vengeance. Before you have to go to that other place. Finally, the food you wanted to eat, the movies you wanted to watch, the games you wanted to play, the friends you wanted to meet. Throw in a class chalet, or two, if your secondary school class still exists. But before that, maybe just one, two weeks of rest and letting it sink in. You’ve earned it, definitely, and no one can take it away from you. The sky’s bluer now. A month. Christmas and New Year and parties in between. It’s all been great. Maybe you should learn a new language, or how to play the guitar. It’s fun, but after awhile it’s not. Whatever, now’s the time for fun. Because if not now then it’s never. If you’re fast, you start learning to drive. At 20kph, it’s already thrilling. The power of adulthood taps you on the shoulder and you welcome it like a long-awaited friend. 25kph. Another month. You remember you have to go to that other place. You’ll find out more about it soon. Meanwhile, an internship or a job. Working for the first time! Long sleeved shirts, neatly pressed by Dad. The daily commute mixed with the fresh smell of Raffles Place coffee 30 minutes early to work. You look dashing in that new pair of leather shoes. After 18 years, you’re ready to contribute to this society. And it’s good. You don’t actually need to do much besides what you already do in school. How easy can it get? And you’ve learnt how to operate the photocopy machine. Useful stuff. 30kph and third gear. It’s February. Chinese New Year. Relatives you meet once every year. How do you feel about that other place? They ask but you have no idea. It’s impossible to know. Until you’re there. It looks…fine. You’re on a ferry now. How hard can it get? A pledge. With your life. You’ll be out in two weeks, you think. The food’s ok too. The only hard part that day was waving back at them. You remember something you learnt in school. About commas and exclamation marks and Mrs Tilscher and the sky splitting open and eating you up and you wish it really did now as you race up the stairs in a stiff pair of expensive boots you didn’t pay for but actually did. They cut into your feet but you have to run and run or else you have to run even more. The first time you run yourself along the coast you look across the channel between there and here and wonder why it has to be like this although you know the answer and how you just don’t want to accept that it really has to be like this. The view from your bed is the best you ever had because the quiet lights of the jetty and island opposite this island are right there and you tell yourself you will never understand the difference between what you supposedly are now and what you were then and will be in two years’ time. It gets better. The first time you run back home (in your mind, because you force yourself to walk) it seems things are all okay now. Maybe tomorrow when you wake up you will discover it was all just a dream or maybe it’s actually all over and this itself is the bad dream. Or someone comes and tells you it was all a very cruel yet well-executed practical joke and you don’t have to go back there. He doesn’t come. The second time you’re on the ferry was supposed to be easier but it’s the same. The same new feeling for the next two months as you learn how much you have to learn and for the first time learn how to kill someone, with good reason, when necessary, after having taken proportionate steps. One weekend Dad waits for you in the car and you cannot wait to tell him you’ve done exactly the same as he did twenty years ago except it’s probably very different now even though the bomb you used is the same. You don’t say anything but moments of eye contact transmit everything you wanted to say and reassure you you’re really doing this for something even if that something is just earning a right to look Dad in the eye having been through this as well. Sitting behind him on the TPE you can’t recall whether he had this many white hairs before A levels or if you just didn’t notice. Letters on a rainy day in a forest on an island. The first time in a long time you cried (in your mind, a lot more). Then it was finally time and you’ve never seen the park look this beautiful before as each step takes you nearer and deeper into the heart of a country you’ve pledged to defend. You wonder if you will be able to see the city in the same light again as day breaks and you march in with five thousand more yous and the smell of freedom and new uniforms soaked in old sweat fill a stadium already bursting with pride. A week. Then, again. When you go to that new place there’s no ferry ride but everything is new and unfamiliar and you wished you could have just gotten that other posting along with your friend. Should have indicated interest for that long ago. Anyhow it’s a new regime under new management and again you struggle to understand why it can’t just be for two months because two months alone were enough to twist the universe into this. You survive, somehow, although everyone does, somehow. December and life settles. 40kph. You’ve vocated. Then it’s a blur of exercise and exercises and duties and making it for the last bus and dinners with buddies, not friends, and knowing in years to come you’d be happy to see them again. 50 kph. The phone rings and you remember someone is waiting for an email about something you have to properly arrange else someone really could die. As things start to fall into place piece by piece the parts of you that had to be locked away somewhere you did not know by someone you still don’t know arrange themselves inside you again. They’re the same you you knew you were but put into this different you the parts don’t seem to fit. Fitting or not you’re just relieved they’re back again and you even speak with the same voice you had long ago. Once a sergeant had told you the first two months break you into bits so you can be reconstituted into what your country needed you to be. Maybe now you really are more of what you’re needed to be and that Friday as you leave your bunk you realise soon it will be all over and soon you will close this door for the last time and open another. A shiny crested plaque later all the memorabilia you’ve acquired from the past two years (did it really happen?) are going into a big black bag in the storeroom. Just so you’d remember it did happen the plaque goes into your room instead. Thankfully things are okay now and you can still count how many white hairs he has. In a few months who you were taps who you are on the shoulder and together you look for who you will be. You wake up and everything feels the same. Everything is the same. Except "What Then?" has become "What Now?" Note: This is not at all a factual recount of my own experiences, but an attempt at portraying the possibilities after A's. It was no doubt influenced by and skewed towards my own perspectives. Do take it with a pinch of salt (especially for girls, unless you're signing on).

Disconnecting...please wait.

Old newspapers littered the street. Cars which once sped effortlessly across interconnected superhighways sat empty, motionless in perfect alignment on either side of the road. A gust caught a mess of flyers and sent them airborne into the open windows of nearby houses. On each flyer was a picture of a perfectly rectangular, palm-sized object. A man holding such a palm-sized object sped effortlessly down the walkway, his gaze locked on the soft light emitting from the object he held in front. At the top right corner of the object an icon the shape of three parallel, curved lines flashed and flashed. The man continued walking, pausing every now and then when the icon grew brighter, then carried on walking as it faded into oblivion. One would almost think the object was a compass, and in some sense it was. And sometimes, it really did point the way. But not now, because the icon was flashing. The man with the palm-sized object entered a house. Two people were in that house, a man with a slightly longer, yet similarly palm-widthed object in his hand, and a woman who held under her arms a metallic rectangle resembling a file. The palm-sized man asked, are they getting anything here, to which the palm-widthed man said yes, but only a little, and he wasn’t sure how long it would last. The first man’s eyes lit up, and his gaze once again lodged itself into the object in his hand. The icon stopped flashing. Very quickly he drew some patterns on the object, and its surface came alive with symbols and words. Message received, from 2 weeks ago, said the object, and the man holding the object tried and failed to hold back tears. It was, after all, what he had been searching for all this while. A glorious moment. Then, before he could do anything more in his state of jubilation, the woman with the file let out a shrill, piercing scream. The palm-widthed man sighed. And the parallel-curved icon flickered, and flickered, and faded away, and flashed and flashed. The words on the object vanished, and it was like it had never been there at all. Oh well, said the man with the palm-sized object, onwards and upwards, and may the search end one day. As he left the house he was joined by his two new acquaintances, and together they individually found their way down the street with their compasses-that-were-not-actually-compasses. Purely by coincidence, or perhaps by fate, or both, for the two are not quite different, they found themselves headed the same way. A tall, elaborate sculpture loomed ahead, and would have proven quite a proud spectacle, sitting atop its grassy pedestal, had it not quite obviously fallen into disrepair. Long, parallel lines in the sky joined the triangular sculpture’s apex, which seemed to unravel itself into ten thousand smaller, adjacent triangles painted red, white, and black, dotted every now and then with irregular patches of brown. A tower, said the man with the palm-widthed object, if there’s any left it’ll be here. Wouldn’t you have known if there was, asked the other man. Not really, I was only here since yesterday, me and her, and we stopped by because the icon stopped flashing. Same here, said the palm-sized man. And the trio began climbing the grassy slope. Presently the woman found a good chance to speak, for the men were done with their talking, and quickly added, I wish things were like they used to be, and our icons were never flashing, but more like lighthouses sending out lifelines in the sky, guiding us, pulling us back to our docks. With this point the men disagreed, for it was their obligation, clearly, to push on and look forward, and not to allow the group to stay fixated on the comforts of the past, and even though they could not have said it better themselves both innately dismissed the woman’s nostalgia and reminded themselves to be a better man than that. As they searched for an appropriately masculine reply, the spotted another group of five individuals climbing the hill not far away. They carried in their hands rectangular objects of varying diagonal measurements. The man with the palm-sized object studied them momentarily, paying particular attention to their rectangular instruments. Big-screens, he concluded. Better to keep clear, added the palm-widthed man. And why should we, asked the woman. Because the big-screeners use it all up, you never get any when you’re near them. Really, asked the woman, and how do you know that. Because in the old days, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about -- one statement is barely waxing lyrical, interrupted the woman – let me finish will you, cried the man, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about, the company which made the palm-sized objects told us about the big-screeners. They don’t just use it all, no, worse, they’re the reason it’s all gone now, because it just couldn’t support screens that big. But the company making the big-screens didn’t listen, and continued telling the big-screeners it was alright to keep on using it all up, and the big-screeners, suckers of company statements they were, bought it all. One might think it wasn’t their fault, indeed the company was the mastermind, but ignorance, the man declared with a confident smile, is no excuse. And having finished relating a piece of solid history, which even considered counter-arguments before concluding with a witty maxim, and proven himself the most learned in the group, the man with the palm-widthed object scanned the other two for signs of admiration and respect, which very quickly, though a little too quickly, surfaced on the woman’s countenance, and the palm-widthed man suspected she was merely offering rehearsed patronage, but quickly decided it was better not to think too much about it and take a compliment as a compliment. Keeping their distance from the other group of individuals with rectangular objects, our group of individuals with rectangular objects reached the top of the hill and the foot of the tower. Eagerly they raised their objects to the sky, or more accurately, the apex of the tower, and waited. And waited. The icons flashed. And flashed. It must be those big-screeners over there, thought the man with the palm-sized object, and he stole a glance at the other man, whose look of disappointment mirrored his exact thoughts. The woman fell cross-legged onto the grass, ostensibly exhausted, but it was unknowable whether from the ascent or from other things. The men’s eye contact broke on the sight of the woman seating herself, and the palm-widthed man took it upon himself at that moment to drive the big-screeners away. The palm-sized man offered to help, without intending to help, of course, for it was customary, especially for males, to offer, and the palm-widthed man quickly dismissed this offer, much to the other’s relief, although such relief was likewise unwarranted, for it was equally customary to decline. After all, he was the one with the longer object. Which he left in the care of the woman with the metallic file before taking those bold steps towards the other group. You never know what those big-screens’ll do to you, he had said, but each step he took without his occasional-compass in hand was a step back into himself. Bigger screens, bigger screams, the company had told him, or, An extra inch is an extra pinch. There were also Big users, Small hearts, and, he struggled to recall, of course, how could I forget, All object to big objects. Ingenious, the man thought, as he considered which ones he would deploy. Then he was there, and the big-screeners regarded him for a moment, without his object. Looking for it too, sir, asked the biggest-screener. Yes, in fact I am, replied the man, and may I, kindly, request you and your group find another spot. Why, is there some of it here? Oh not quite, we were just, wondering, if, perhaps, maybe if your group left then maybe there’d be some. Why, you’re not one of those men with the palm-sized objects now are you now? And what if I am? Then you are the one who should leave immediately, sir. Well I don’t get why I should be the one leaving when you big-screeners are the ones who – At the mention of that tri-syllabic identification a gasp chorused from the group, and the woman amongst them seemed particularly offended, her large, accusatory eyes leaving her object to latch onto the palm-widthed man. Sir, said the man with the biggest-screened object, I won’t have you coming here and telling us so rudely to leave, even though I must acknowledge that you most likely have a palm-widdthed object, for that is no excuse. If, as you said, there’s nothing here, then we’ll pick up our objects and be on our way, but I’ll have you know it wouldn’t be on your request, nor have your insults worked in the way you hoped they would work. We’re all just looking for it, and you don’t have to resort to such means, even if it’s been weeks since you found the previous spot. It’s equally bad for us, sir. With that the palm-widthed man was annoyed. No wonder they say the bigger the screen the smaller the spleen. These people don’t even know they’re the cause of all this and they’re acting all rational and hello-sir-don’t-you-go-around-insulting-others and I’ll-have-you-know. Well I’d rather not know. Ignorance is bliss. But I’ll just have to put up with these big-screeners while they realise there’s nothing here anyway, why are they even bothering to stay. The icons kept flashing, and flashing, then the people with the big-screened objects picked up their objects and were on their way. Took care of that, said the palm-widthed man as he rejoined his group, now hopefully we’ll get some of it. They stared at the surfaces of their objects, so intently one might think they truly believed if they stared hard enough it might work. And to some extent it did, for no later than the instant the big-screened group reached the foot of the hill the icons on the palm-sized objected stopped flashing, the three parallel-curved lines shining steady and bright onto the trio's faces. Frivolous as this might be, we cannot quite blame the palm-widthed man’s immediately arising belief that, for one, asking the big-screeners to leave did do the job, and, for two, that his strong gaze and sheer willpower helped revive, for such is the nature of cause and effect, and who are we, mere narrators and readers of the events transpiring here, to decide whether such a seemingly tenuous link actually held? Better, for us and for them, to leave it to the simple adage, we’ll never know. For there was no stopping them now, anyway. The trio rejoiced in the deluge of words and symbols now propagating across their objects. There was a message from the palm-sized man’s wife, saying where are you, I haven’t seen you in such a long time,  I miss you, this whole system being down is really horrid, no one’s getting anything anywhere, we’re all nomads moving from one spot to another like it’s the only thing that matters, to which the palm-sized man quickly replied I don’t know where I am either, I’m at a tower, I miss you too, been walking for days just to find a spot now, and my best guess is I’m somewhere north of where we lived, gosh I don’t know how we’ll survive this it’s only been a month since it happened and look where we are now, tell you what, let’s meet at the lake, alright,  I’ll head there and I won’t leave till you’re there, I might not be able to get a reply from you now, so just head there and don’t leave till you find me, alright, I’ll be at the part of the lake where I took you out the first time, we’ll meet there, yes, I have so many things I need to tell you, in person, love. There was also that photograph on the woman’s file-object which displayed prominently a sumptuous breakfast, on which she added her thoughts of how important it must be now to continue having good breakfasts despite the horrid situation they were all in. The palm-widthed object, presently, displayed, far more curiously, a moving picture of another palm-widthed object, slightly longer than this current one, with words and more pictures dancing around the screen in alternating shades of gray. Then the words stopped dancing, and the icons flickered, faded, and flashed and flashed. Oh well, said the palm-sized man, I’m going to the lake, who’s with me. The palm-widthed man seemed not to hear his declaration. The woman shrugged her shoulders and looked at him. I need some more, the palm-widthed man concluded moments later, you go ahead, I’ll see what I can get from the tower. So the palm-sized man left, and the woman thought for a while before following along, saying she remembered what a beautiful view the lake offered. The palm-widthed man took no notice of her, his gaze again glued to the object. An hour passed and the icon kept flashing. Maybe up there there’ll be some, yes, there must be, the taller the better. As it went, the palm-widthed man held the taller, palm-widthed object in one hand, and began his ascent of ten thousand triangles with the other. And he climbed and he climbed, the rough, brown spots on the tower handy spots to grip on to with his one free hand. The taller the better, as the tower creaked and creaked.

The Average Student’s Guide To Literary Analysis

As well as Metaphors, Symbolism, and other Joys Of Life. This guide is composed for the average student, who: 1) doesn’t take literature, or isn’t very good at (scoring for) it, 2) hates the metaphor question in GP compres, and 3) thinks the smoke produced from lit essays may have been responsible for the recent haze problem. If this isn’t you, and you’ve been consistently scoring 42s/50s for your literature essays, then well done! This is no place for you. Run along now and do your maths TYS. For the rest of you who are still here, welcome to the plainest literature lesson you will have in your entire life, partly because this makes it way easier to understand things, and partly because this writer here did not go on to learn more about symbolism and onomatopoeia at the tertiary level. Ok, I promise that’s the last 4-vowel-in-a-row word I’ll use for today. Let’s get started. Literature is easy.  The only thing you need to understand is how literature is not about what is being said, as much as it is about how and why it’s said. If you get this, my job here is done. Because that is what took me about one and a half years to understand. And when I did, rainbows began to form in the post-monsoonal skies of my dark and stormy grades. Throughout your education from secondary school to JC, you, the average student, would’ve come to believe that pointing out what the text says is the ultimate aim of literature. Because after all, that does give you marks. When you were able to say Macbeth was about Hubris, Catharsis and Anagnorisis, or when you managed to weave the words parallelism and manifest destiny into your response to The Crucible, you got nothing but pr-A’s. Right? Unfortunately, just like that other thing known as ‘everything else you learn in school’, things are slightly different in the real world. Literature is not Shakespeare. It’s not Great Expectations about your Sense and Sensibilities to what the texts say. These are all pieces of literature, or, in other words, examples of it. Really, really good ones. So what then, is literature? It’s the study of how words work to say what they say, based on what words are used, in what order, patterns, structures, and even shapes. And also the application of this knowledge to produce more of such pieces of writing that involve the informed use of words. H2 literature, in particular, is focused on the How. For example, how does the phrase “as vulnerable as a donut in a police station” tell us in a comical way things about donuts, policemen stereotypes, and whatever is being called vulnerable? Or, in the preferred language of the exams, what are the ways in which the extract does what it does? When you go further, you’d realise that who wrote a piece, when it was written, and other details do matter. But that’s slightly beyond your syllabus. So you don’t care, do you? Now that you're really concerned about How words work... How Words Work – The Intuitive Don’t think about an orange fish. Oops, I guess you just did. Sometimes, words work in the most insidious ways. They occur to us intuitively and directly. Getting the meaning of a word is like getting the answer to 2 x 2. You don’t have to go through any ‘workings’ to arrive at the answer. And that’s great, because if we had to consciously re-construct the meaning of a word every time we heard it, we wouldn’t get very far with life. Now the problem, when our brains get ahead of us like this, is we don’t even realise we’re doing it. We think it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But it’s not, and writing it down can actually work wonders. Consider the opening line from Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." It’s pretty obvious what’s happening here. I’m guessing in your head now you’re standing at the fork in the road and seeing two different paths unfold. ‘Yellow’ somehow factors in. It may suggest a serene, serious feel, or even a cheerful, jubilant atmosphere. Repeat the line in your head. Let it bounce around the walls of your consciousness, and let the image in your head sharpen. So, how does the colour yellow affect your mental image? If there’s anything we can learn about the iPhone 5c, it is that colour changes the world. Colour, along with size, space, position and shape, is one of those things that ghost past our logical minds and conveys messages directly to our subconscious. If you think about it, it does not quite make sense that just because something’s yellow, it makes us feel a certain way. But that’s how it works. We classify things by colour. We link yellow with lemons and bananas, the sun, rubber ducks and other happy things. But yellow can also be sad – like the faded yellow of an old photograph. A yellow wood, in particular, seems more in line with a forest in autumn, fallen leaves everywhere. Yellow can be sad, happy, sombre, energetic, and so many other things. Now explain to yourself how the use of colour in Frost’s opening line advances its intended meaning. You may also want to examine the use of the past tense in the word “diverged”, and how it works together with the colour yellow. To encourage yourself give yourself 100marks for each question, cos that's what motivates us all anyway. How Words Work II - The Elaborate But sometimes, literature works in the exact opposite way. It presents you something like 101325 X 9001. Here is when you do need to go through some thought processes to arrive at its meaning. Consider then, anything from Shakespeare. Or, to make things slightly easier, the next line from Frost: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveller…" Here, Frost uses an expression quite foreign to everyday language. He forces us to stop and think what he actually means. Only after we rearrange the ideas do we understand what he’s trying to say: I felt sorry that as one traveller I could not travel both paths at the same time. This is the plainest way of saying it. But there seems to be something missing when we say it like this. To better understand such expressions, there is a simple ‘working’ you can perform: The first step is to look at the literal, surface meaning (called the ‘form’) of the words. Here it is simply that the traveller couldn’t simultaneously travel both paths while staying in one piece. Second, consider the effect of this literal meaning. What does the form imply? Do you see in your mind an image of this traveller multiplying himself into two? Put yourself in his position. Do you feel like two opposing forces are pulling you in different directions – each towards a different path? Use your five senses to guide you. Third, think about what meaning this image and emotion conveys. The idea that, if the traveller could, he’d split himself into two so as to explore both paths. Does it bring out a stronger sense of indecision, uncertainty, and maybe even frustration at the physical constraints of his situation? The poet is emphasising the traveller’s dilemma here. Finally, ask Why. Why does the poet choose to write this way? How is this better than or different from if he had called the forest green instead? Does it make sense? Does it help to convey the overall message of the entire poem or text? If your interpretation of a certain verse is inconsistent with the rest of the text, chances are you may be misinterpreting it. But it could also be the poet trying to bring about contrast. It is important to think about Why the poet tries to emphasise, downplay, mention, hide, or does whatever he does to what he’s talking about. Understanding Why also helps you arrive at the meaning in step 3. Bonus step: Write ALL of these down on your script. NOT just the meaning. Marks are awarded for workings aren’t they? For the average student who also takes GP: This is exactly how you should attempt a metaphor question as well: Form – Effect – Meaning. Note: If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, all you need to know for this portion is that words work in both slow and fast thinking, and you really need to write down all of those slow thinking processes in a lit exam. But you’re an average student. Average students don’t read such books. A Quick Demonstration Just so you were wondering how to apply what you've learnt. Because the average student typically doesn't care about application. Question: How does the expression “as smokey as a literature essay” work? Bad example: Simile and symbolism is utilised here to evince the cloudiness of a literary piece of writing, in that the latter is being juxtaposed with the concept of smoke, what is produced where fire, something that symbolises anger and power, exists, such that the writer illustrates the unclear nature of literary writing. This. Makes. No. Sense. What on earth is “the concept of smoke”? Simile and symbolism, concepts raised in the answer, have not been explained to show how they strengthen the meaning of the expression. The sentence is way too long, and not to mention fire is brought in for a spectacular over-reading. A quick rule of thumb? Write simply. You're not trying to copy what the author did as much as explain it. Good example: Smoke is a cloudy, nebulous entity that obscures vision. (form) In a school context, “smoke” is also commonly referred to as the act of writing as much as possible in an attempt to, literally, cover up the lack of substance. (form, put in context) By describing literature essays as “smokey”, the author likens the two (effect) and highlights how many essays are similarly obfuscated and unclear. (meaning) There may also be an association to how smoke in itself is gaseous and intangible (form), reinforcing the idea that literature essays often have no solid substance(meaning). When something is good, the merits are self-evident. If you’re reading this, congrats on surviving a full article on literature. Din’t think that was possible did ya? Me neither. Now the only thing left to do is re-read it a few times, let it all sink in, and start dominating the world with your newfound literary genius. And now, for the mandatory statement that ends all great lessons: Any Questions? (post them in the comments)  

We Make Our Own Luck

It has been a long while since I've penned an article, so here's me making up for lost time with a nice little read. For starters, here's a brain-teaser.  There was a man with a gun on his shoulder wandering in the wilderness. He walked 100 metres North, then 100 metres East, then 100 meters South before stopping. He then had the strange feeling that he had been here before. At this moment a bear wandered past and the man shot it. What colour was the bear? If one ignored the earlier story, answering this question correctly would be a matter of pure luck. Bears only exist in a few colours - black, white and brown. With no earlier consideration, and a small amount of luck, you'd pick the correct answer - white.  This question, however, like many we face in life, rewards the answerer for every bit of general knowledge he or she has. Though faced with the impromptu, the more well read a person is, the more luck is removed from the equation and the more a person increases his chance at solving the riddle.  A combination of geography (the poles), mathematics (vectors and displacement) and natural understanding (bear colors and habitats) is what gives anyone the opportunity to turn ambiguity into certainty. It is possible for us to manipulate events in our favor. There are two kinds of luck. The first kind is Opportunity, and the second is Phenomena. Opportunity defines our very actions, and every action we take defines future opportunities. In a tennis match for instance, Zhicong wonders if his serve will be strong enough to get by his opponent (Tennis serves often make or break matches). He wonders and prays for luck. His worry and anxiety, his nervousness, is defined by the amount of training he has put into perfecting his serve. Training for hours and weeks on end assures him of a faster, more skilful, and more powerful serve when the big game arrives. It gives him a buffer, a stabilizing effect against the unknown, against lousy weather, against his frayed nerves, and even though he can never fully account for every phenomenon that may befall him, the training and hours put in gives him the opportunity to win. And so he does.  As he wins the tournament, he is approached by a sports representative who gives him a new opportunity to play for his country in the national team. Zhicong is lucky, and luck is on his side. But it was through his own actions, training and his seizing of opportunities that his made his own luck first place, allowing him to win and seize future opportunities to get lucky. "Luck" can be manipulated in this way, through effort and will. And sometimes, the first form of luck is defined by the second. Sometimes we don't create our own luck, but gain the opportunity to do so through unforeseen phenomena and "divine intervention." Several prolific men rose to power inspired by circumstances they had no control over. One could say there wouldn't be a Stalin without a Lenin, a Che Guevara without a Castro, or even a Hitler without the treaty of Versailles.  Such prolific events were perhaps random tosses of the galactic dice. Had they not occurred, none of these powerful and influential leaders would have been able to come to the fore and seize success. Knowing how influential external phenomena is on our lives, sometimes we too feel that the world is too big for us to start anything or create any meaning. However, the key takeaway is that even though these leaders didn't start the fire, they took hold of the situation and created the opportunities for their own ascension. Random events always happen. In essence, to take advantage of random phenomena is also exploiting and creating opportunity. We only need a sharp eye to recognize that. The second kind of luck always leads back to the first, but only in the hands of someone ready and waiting to exploit it. But there is a flipside to all this positivity. If we make our own luck, then the inverse, that we make our own bad luck, it also true. If we don't grasp the opportunity, we are stagnating our resources and exhausting future opportunities. Those who do not understand how they are not fully employing their resources believe they have done their best, attributing their stumbles and failures to "bad luck." They often refer to such "bad luck" as "fate" - something beyond their control. This arises from poor understanding of potential actions, and their own capabilities. A person may be great at playing the piano, but may be misguided in trying to eke out a living playing concerts in rural areas. Similarly, a person may possess a fantastic vocabulary, but may be mistakenly trying to apply them in an area like Literature, where speaking clearly and concisely trumps flowery language. Understanding where to apply your strengths is often more important than developing that strength to begin with, and getting the areas right can help you be sure it was just bad fortune, and not your talent being wasted. Even those who were recipients of "bad luck" to begin with, the victims of phenomena afflicted by hereditary conditions like Stephen Hawking, or born into poverty like Mahatma Gandhi, can still make tremendous headways in the world. Even if you've been dealt a bad hand from the start, it is how you react to adversity that shapes your character and life. Right now the prelims are almost onto us. It is not too late. It's never too late. Turning ourselves around is not a mere option. It is our duty. Not a duty to better our schools nor beat our competition, but a duty that we fulfil whatever potential within us to its limit. And toss the dice ourselves. Now, impose this idea of you creating your own opportunities onto the oncoming examinations. Opportunity may knock, but we must first build a door for it to pass through. And how well this door is built will decide if opportunity knocks once, or many, many times.
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