RJC 2008 Promos P1 Examiners Report

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					        Examiners’ Feedback for JC1 Promotion Exam Paper 1 (2008)

Qn. 1 Consider the impact of new media on the lifestyles of young people today.


A large proportion of candidates shot themselves in the foot from the beginning by
incorrectly defining “new media”. Although “new” is a subjective term, it seems clear that
TV, movies, radio, newsprint and books are not new, having been around for several
decades at the least and centuries at the most. Candidates could not, then, receive
credit for answers which focused exclusively on these traditional media.

What we were looking for instead were media that have become popular within (for the
sake of argument) the last ten to fifteen years - or perhaps within the lives of the
candidates taking the exam.

Two notes on the word “media”. First, “media” is properly a plural noun. These days it is
increasingly used as a singular, so you may do this if you prefer. However, your usage
should be consistent. Second, most candidates seemed to be conditioned by the term
“mass media” to consider only broadcast communication. This is fine as there are still
plenty of options to discuss. But narrowcast media (such as mobile phones, above) are
also an option here.

Possible Areas of Discussion

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but all are new media, and all have
interesting possibilities for argument.

1) The internet
     Blogs
     Email
     Podcasts
     Digital radio
     YouTube
     Messenger services
     Second Life and other virtual reality experiences (see also computer games,
     Digital distributors, such as iTunes and eMusic

2) Mobile phone-related services
     Text messaging
     Video calls
     3G mobile internet

3) Computer games with realistic graphics (otherwise they’re not really new)
     “Sim” games (e.g. Sim City, Civilization IV, etc.)
     “Sandbox” games (famously the Grand Theft Auto series)
     First person shooters (e.g. Doom, Half-Life etc.)
     Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (abbreviated to MMORPGS,
      e.g. Everquest, Warhammer Online)
Sadly, the majority of scripts I marked dipped only briefly into this large pool.

Possible Arguments

Having considered the definition and possible areas of discussion, what arguments
might be valuable to this essay? I will list some below but will do so only skeletally, so
bear in mind that what you read here would need fleshing out with illustrations and more
sophisticated arguments.

      New media are often interactive. For example, hypertext is a very different thing
       from printed text. So the young people of today are no longer passive consumers
       - they have a say in how they receive the information they are seeking.

      This may possibly lead to young people being less able than their parents to
       digest large amounts of information. For example, rather than reading a full book
       and following its extended argument, young people may click on 20 different links.
       Critics call this a “dumbing-down” of youth culture, and there may be some truth
       in it. However, young people are likely to be better at rapidly grasping and
       assimilating different types of information than their parents are.

      Other examples of interactivity include “sand-box computer games” which allow
       the player a great deal of freedom in how they interact with the virtual world. In
       his book Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven Johnson argues that these
       encourage creativity on the part of the player, who is forced to respond to a
       strange environment and pick up its rules with little prompting, and also to use
       the environment and the tools they are given to create or colour their own
       experiences, not necessarily following the story laid out by the game’s designers.

                                      *       *       *

      New media are pluralistic, with low barriers to entry and no requirement for
       professional ethics. Anyone can have a blog. Many people get most of their news
       from blogs. Is this news credible? And is it biased? Currently, the American
       electoral campaigns are characterized by camps of supporters who do not seem
       to share even the most basic assumptions, nor do they believe the same facts.
       New media, then can be a polarizing force. Consumers of new media can feel
       that the reality should suit their expectations rather than conforming their
       expectations to reality.

      On the other hand, this can be democratizing. Content is no longer firmly
       controlled by major studios (in the case of film) or record labels (in the case of
       music). With the internet, there exists the potential for young artists to find a
       small but dedicated audience to sustain and (interactivity, remember) enrich
       them. The days of superstars may be numbered. YouTube and, to an extent,
       eMusic are forerunners of this phenomenon. Everyone now can be a writer, a
       musician, a filmmaker.

      Fusing interactivity with plurality, we nowadays see home users creating mod kits
       for computer games, tweaking the experience to suit themselves and like-minded
    players. Many game companies (Maxis, Firaxis, etc.) actively cater to their
    modding communities, building user-friendly programming tools that gamers can
    pick up and use. Young people nowadays often expect to have creative
    ownership and customizability of this kind.

   Also fusing interactivity with plurality, we have Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of
    choice for the young. Although critics point out that Wikipedia can be unreliable, it
    is remarkable how often it works and how rarely malicious or self-interested
    users attempt to undermine the system. Young people today believe, it seems, in
    collaboration - that the knowledge of the many can be greater than the
    knowledge of the few. To navigate this world, which is of course subject to abuse,
    young people today have to learn how to tell good information from bad. And
    they are developing the tools to do so: check out Wikipedia’s submission
    guidelines, especially its helpful definitions of fallacious or misleading arguments
    such as “weasel words”.

                                  *       *      *

   Increasingly, new media are portable and ubiquitous. Young people expect to be
    able to access information and entertainment anyway through their laptops or 3G
    mobile phones. With this portability and ubiquity, the need for young people to
    remember things has gone. Why remember the date Columbus discovered
    America when you can Google it? Critics see this as a great loss symptomatic of
    a society that has lost its respect for facts and the discipline required for mastery
    of a subject. But others argue that since education need now not concern itself
    with drilling facts into young minds, it can free itself develop the skills of young
    people - to develop adaptability and analysis rather than rote learning.

   Portability and ubiquity have other implications for education. With
    videoconferencing it is now not necessary to be in the same room, building or
    continent as your teacher. As technology improves, this has possible implications
    for vastly accelerating the rate of improvement of education in the developing
    world - they may no longer need to send their students overseas at great

    Critics argue that without face-to-face contact in education, something essential
    is lost, but they often struggle to articulate what exactly - especially if
    videoconferencing is limited to small groups. An emotional connection? The
    empathic experience of learning? Perhaps the older generation feels this loss
    because they are not as comfortable as the young in communicating in this
    manner. Arguably, the young, having grown up online, see it as their native
    habitat and are able to operate in it effortlessly.

   Which raises the question: When is a friend not a friend? Answer: When he’s a
    Friendster. Social networks have expanded vastly with new media, but virtual
    friendships can be much shallower than flesh-and-blood ones. Does this mean
    that young people don’t know what friendship really is? I would argue that they
    are able to tell the difference and manage both types appropriately, but you could
    go the other way…
                                 *       *      *

   Another issue related to the ubiquity of new media is privacy. Essentially you
    people don’t have it any more as, between them, YouTube and blogs have
    systematically dismantled it. Do young people mourn its loss, or do they
    celebrate the transparency that new media provide?

                                 *       *      *

My arguments are becoming more open-ended now because I am trying to
encourage you, the candidate, to consider the arguments for yourself rather than
taking my word for it. That, if anything, is the essence of new media.

There is huge scope in this essay, and I’ve tackled only a small fraction of the
possibilities - though hopefully enough that you could expand my material into a
good essay or two. But there are some areas I would avoid as shallow, kneejerk
reactions or reactionary clichés. We’ll take a look at some of these now
(unfortunately I got rather a lot of these).

What to Avoid

Western Influence

I am British. So is your A-level examiner. So reading, time and time again, that the
West is solely responsible for the moral decay of otherwise upright Singaporeans get
very tiresome very fast.

There is certainly an argument to be made about Western cultural saturation with
regard to new media, but you need to be very, very careful with it, not just to avoid
offending your examiner, but because such arguments stereotype literally billions of
people. If really must tackle this argument, make sure you have a through grounding
in the traditional philosophies of each hemisphere. But you’d have to go so deep into
this area to make it worthwhile that you probably wouldn’t have much time for any
other points.

Sex and Violence

You, the candidates taking this exam, are the “young people” that the question
speaks of. Are you really all gun-toting psychopaths with a penchant for extreme
pornography? I like to think not. And yet I got several essays talking about how
young people are all going on killing sprees thanks to the influence of videogames (a
la Columbine and Virginia Tech).

Again, there is a workable argument in here, but be aware of two things.

First, everyone else will have done this point too. You might as well choose
something more interesting. And second, you can’t take isolated instances of
extreme violence and expect me to infer that they are representative of today’s
young people. I have met lots of young people, and none of them ever killed me. So
if you want to cover this, you’ll have to go into how new affect not just the extremely
   damaged individuals in the above examples, but also how they affect the average,
   well-adjusted teenager.

   And, while I’m at it, if I have to read another rhetorical question like “so was the
   invention of the internet really worthwhile after all?” I swear I will set fire to the exam
   paper. It may have its drawbacks, but of course the internet is worthwhile! If you
   don’t think so, go and live in a cave.


   Another argument that always comes up in technology questions is that we are too
   dependent on technology. I am never convinced by this. We are also dependent on
   water and air, but this is not a problem unless our water and air go away. The same
   is true for technology. It’s possible to put forward an argument that addiction to
   technology has ruined young people’s quality of life or that the expectation to be
   always online has destroyed the work-life balance - but, as you can see, these are
   subtler ideas than “we are too dependent on new media”.

   General Pointers

   The best essays were those that seemed to recognize that the young people in the
   question are not some immoral, exotic, psychotic molesters, but are just the same as
   the people writing the essay. These essays then examined how interaction with new
   media on a daily basis has opened new horizons for today’s young people - horizons
   that were closed to their parents. They examined how the new ways that information
   is structured affects how people perceive the world. And, finally, they managed to
   discuss the downsides of technology without making it seem like the world was about
   to end.

Qn. 2 “A country’s sports medals have no value when they are won by foreign
talent.” Do you agree?

Essays tended to fall into one of two opposing views: either complete dismissal of the
discomfort felt by some about mercenary attainment of medals, or overly emotive,
personal opinions about how valueless such medals are for Singaporeans. It would have
been helpful to first discuss what kind of value a country’s sports medals may have, and
then explore whether winning such medals through foreign talent diminishes that value:
    - Value to a country:
           o Benchmark for future (local) sports talent development
           o Motivation for local sportsmen/women
           o Greater attention being paid to sport within the country (funding,
               resources, inspiration for younger generation to take up sport)
           o Greater attention being paid to the country on the international stages of
    - Value to individual athletes:
           o Pride in individual hard work, perseverance
           o Discipline and talent of individual athletes are not to be dismissed (adds
               to the value of sport as a whole)
             o Individual discipline and talent could not have borne fruit (sports medals)
               without other factors paving the way – e.g. sporting system in the country,
               the work of National Sports Associations (NSAs) etc.
   -   Value of pride and loyalty to a country: sport as a proxy for battle/ war with other
       countries; the country is united together to root for the “gladiators” in the field;
       hence the discomfort felt by people on so-called “outsiders/ mercenaries” in the
       field representing the country.
   -   Discomfort also because there seems to be an implication that native-born and
       bred Singaporeans are not good enough; hence the country has “failed” in its
       “war” against other countries when the medals are won by foreign talent.
   -   If the sole value of a country’s sports medals is to ignite patriotism for the country,
       then it may be problematic for the medals to all be won by foreign talent.
   -   Also, if the country only focuses on spending money on foreign talent and not
       developing the local sports scene, then the sports medals are really valueless.
   -   However, in promoting sport and developing a sporting culture and environment,
       the sports medals won by foreign talent have value.
   -   In addition, what is happening in the sports arena is indicative of the
       phenomenon of globalization and migration of talent, and is comparable to the
       situation in other fields. In other fields, the contributions of foreign talent are not
       diminished simply because they were born in the other country.

Generally, there was a fixation on the Singapore Women’s table tennis team, with some
essays focusing on this as the sole example for discussion. Most students also focused
on the Olympics without expanding the scope of discussion to include other international
fields of sport – e.g. tennis, football (World Cup), etc.

Qn. 3 Is it ever right for a government to become involved in the personal affairs
of its people?

Not a popular choice, about 5% of the candidates would have attempted this question.

Stand needed, as to the areas and extent that governments can or should be involved.

1. Personal affairs: decisions made or actions carried out by an adult or consenting

2. Government involvement: the degree of involvement may be minimal (libertarian type)
    or extensive (totalitarian type).

3. Grounds for involvement: can be based on the following:
o The ‘harm principle’ as explicated in J.S. Mill’s essay ‘On Liberty’.

           "The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over
           any member of a civilized community against his will, is to prevent
           harm to others."

o Paternalism, i.e. the prevention of harm to self.
o Behavior that is morally offensive to others (usually the majority)

Possible areas for discussion

     Lifestyle choices       (sexual    orientation,   marriage     partners,   compulsory
      schooling …..)
     Safety concerns (use of seat belts, sale of meat that has not been inspected,
      drugs not approved by the authorities...)
     Health matters (laws regarding smoking, sale and consumption of alcohol…..)

Qn. 4 How far is your country prepared for future crises?

Key words to examine in the question:

“How far” -            Candidates should determine the extent of the level of
                       preparedness of Singapore (or any other chosen country for that
                       matter) by clearly identifying and evaluating certain measures and
                       policies that have / haven’t been put in place by the government
                       instead of merely stating that it is / isn’t prepared. Having said that
                       however, this does not mean that candidates can get away with
                       the clichéd and extremely vague “to a large / small extent” without
                       explicitly stating what their reservations are.

“your country” -       At the risk of being condescending, candidates need to be
                       reminded that this is a clearly a response that requires specific
                       reference to and knowledge of one particular country instead of
                       talking about countries in general. Though the bulk of candidates
                       who attempted this question did not commit this grave error, the
                       very mediocre ones were very telling as they did not have solid
                       background knowledge about Singapore’s campaigns or perhaps
                       even motivations for certain policies.

“future crises” -      This part of the question explicit states that candidates are
                       required to discuss at least 2 crises (yes, many failed to recognize
                      that this is a plural form of ‘crisis’) that have a high probability of
                      occurring in time to come instead of merely regurgitating past
                      recounts of Singapore’s achievements in overcoming obstacles
                      the past.

Most candidates who attempted this question did fairly well with the select few
distinguishing themselves from their peers by introducing more pertinent concerns
unique to Singapore like that of a population suffering a below-replacement fertility rate
as well as a constitutional crisis instead of the more common ones like the threat of
terrorism, global warming, a health pandemic and an economic recession, which
admittedly would affect us in the future, but are also the concern of humanity in general
and thus are not incisive enough. The better candidates also went further to achieve
balance by not giving an overtly glowing review of Singapore’s policies and measures
and stated that our complacency, lackadaisical attitudes and perhaps sheltered
existence may be our very undoing in the face of such crises no matter how far-sighted
and well-informed our government can be and no matter how many drills and
simulations we are put through as the true acid test of our resilience is when the calamity
actually strikes.

Qn. 5 “Men make better scientists than women.” Do you agree?

This is one of the least popular questions and is helpful in sieving out the weaker
candidates from the cream of the crop. At first glance, this seems like a relatively easy
question – an obvious sweeping statement or stereotype that grossly undermines the
capabilities and intellect of women that needs to be redressed. Most, if not all,
candidates that adopted this stance found themselves treading down the same path of
explaining how even though there may be innate biological differences between men
and women, this does not necessarily mean that men are predisposed to excelling in the
scientific realm. Very often, these essays are supported by very sketchy understanding
of the physiological make-up of men and women and fall back on clichés and
stereotypes themselves.

A second way of approaching the question (though not one chosen by many candidates)
is to first delineate what characteristics a good scientist should possess and then
proceeding to use the set criteria on each gender to determine whether or not the
statement carries weight. Again, this isn’t the best approach to the question as the
candidates shoot themselves in the foot by making extremely politically-incorrect
statements inclusive of but not restricted to: “Males are rash, goal-oriented and like to
cut corners…and therefore cannot make good scientists”, oblivious to the fact that it may
very well tempt a male marker to cut corners and stop marking the essay then and there!

A minority (thank goodness) went the other extreme and agreed wholeheartedly with the
statement by citing honor rolls of renowned male scientists and by citing the deficiencies
and even extremely dated domestic duties of women in general, coming across as total

There is hope however, as the more astute (and less bigoted) candidates recognized the
quote to be a similar to what Lawrence Summers stated in his speech at the NBER
Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce on
January     14,    2005.     (The   actual   speech     can          be     found     here:

Given that his observations were statistically correct, these candidates excelled in
understanding that this is a question that required them to side-step or critique the
question somewhat and the discussion would then be about how knowledge of this fact
is immaterial and should have no bearing whatsoever on the way things work – we
should not deny women the right to an education in the Sciences. An appreciation and
illustration of the fact that equal opportunities may still not give us equal outcomes
basically forms the crux of their argument.

Trivia: Female candidates did far better than male candidates on this particular question.

Qn. 6 “Ignorance is bliss.” Is this good advice?

This question was not popular, and it was just as well, as many who attempted the
question performed poorly. They were appallingly ignorant about what “ignorance”
means (pardon the pun), and the essays were on the whole, disappointing.

Some flawed interpretations of ignorance are: selective memory, denial of evil, choosing
to ignore, for example, poverty or suffering (rather, that’s callousness), bad political
leaders who ignore the will of the people, and impose dictatorship, abusing their power
(that’s disregard of popular opinion). Candidates should also bear in mind that the
keywords “good advice” should be addressed in their essays as well. This was rarely

Ignorance should be interpreted instead as a lack of knowledge or information, for
example, about diseases and their causes (as seen in the tragic state of African nations
which are plagued by AIDS today, in part due to their people’s lack of awareness in this
respect), or the lack of information and early warning of impending natural disasters, for
example, tsunamis, hurricanes etc. Very few candidates had such arguments. Other
possible interpretations of ignorance which we would have liked to see (more of)
discussed in essays are: the lack of education/literacy (and how that hampers one’s
social mobility or prevents one from breaking out of the poverty cycle), lack of expertise
(say, in running a country, or in managing an economy).

There were also odd, bizarre arguments given as to why ignorance could be bliss, and
candidates appeared to have real difficulty in coming up with valid, opposing arguments.
One student pointed out that if we were ignorant of environmental degradation in our
pursuit of economic progress, then we would still be able to “industrialise freely”, instead
of making “painful cutbacks” on industrialization or development! Another argued that a
person who was ignorant of his character flaws would not have to go through a painful
process of self-correction. While that is, in a sense, true, such ideas are hardly
impressive to readers.

Nonetheless, ignorance could be blissful under certain circumstances. For example,
family members may choose to keep their frail, elderly loved ones in the dark about their
health condition, which may in fact help prolong their lives if they aren’t
emotionally/psychologically traumatised.
There was a dearth of germane examples too. Many resorted to conjuring up
hypothetical, improbable scenarios to make up for this inadequacy. One candidate
argued that if nations functioned independently and remained ignorant of the affairs of
other states, the world would be more peaceful, without any possibility of an arms race.
(How is this even possible in our globalised world today?) Candidates are advised to
select questions for which they have concrete, specific examples.

Qn. 7 “The only effective way to deal with dictators is to remove them by force.”

Question Requirements
Scope – The question is neither specific to current dictators nor specific to past dictators.
Rather, the question regards the concept of dealing with dictators. Also, students should
consider internal interactions (between dictators and their subjects) as well as external
interactions (between dictators and other governments).

Semantics – The statement is about dealing with dictators, not removing them. Effective
is the other key word – good essays will at least consider what results are desirable,
which ones are not, and how to achieve the former.

Logic – The statement is rather easy to disprove – one must only point out one example
of a dictator that was dealt with without force to demonstrate that it is not the only
effective way. Even methods as anticlimactic as waiting for natural death have been
used to effectively deal with dictators (Franco – although one might argue the extent to
which waiting was effective).

Degree of effectiveness - Given how easy the prompt statement is to disprove, good
students should have recognized the need to have a deeper thesis statement than
simply disagreeing (or foolishly agreeing) with it. Good essays evaluate the effectiveness
of various means, while great ones (this examiner didn't read any) would almost
invariably acknowledge that there is no single, simple "cookie-cutter" solution for
“dealing” with dictators.

Alternatives to force - Students in general recognized soft force (eg., economic sanctions)
and diplomacy (eg., the US building economic ties with China) as effective means of
dealing with dictators. Very few were so bold (and naive) as to outrightly agree with the

Common Problems
Many essays merely listed examples of dictators and how they were removed without:
  - considering that the question is not only about removing dictators
  - analyzing and comparing the circumstances of their removal

Essays also frequently cited figures who are not quite dictators (Putin, Chavez) without
sufficient qualification.
Qn. 8 Consider which sources of energy offer the greatest potential as substitutes
for fossil fuels.

Question Requirements
“Consider” does not mean that students can forgo a thesis. Though one could give
sufficient response to this prompt without a thesis, most students should have one to tie
the essay together, make it easier to follow, and keep them on track.

Breadth – Good students recognized that there is no current universal solution. What
might work for one region may not work elsewhere (eg., if it becomes more cost-effective,
solar power could become a viable energy source for people in equatorial and desert
regions, but probably not the Arctic, at least not year-round).

Criteria – Good students also recognized why we need alternatives and used those
reasons to set criteria for energy sources being viable replacements for fossil fuels.

Some Basic Facts (that were reported in erroneous form by students)
Fossil fuels – hydrocarbon fuels found underground, thought to have their origins in
decaying organic matter; includes natural gas, oil, and coal. Many students referred to
natural gas an alternative to fossil fuels.

Nuclear fission – breaking atoms (uranium or plutonium), releasing vast amounts of
energy; nuclear plants use the heat from fission to drive steam turbines (so they must be
near water)
   - nuclear plants today are much safer than Chernobyl (recent earthquake in Japan
       covered an area including 5 nuclear power plants, none of which melted down)
   - no permanent solution has been found for storing radioactive waste from power
   - students should address the political concerns of nuclear power – certain types
       of power stations can be used to enrich uranium or plutonium for use in nuclear

Nuclear fusion – fusing hydrogen atoms together also releases copious energy.
However, no method has been developed to safely and effectively harness this form of
energy. It would be naïve to through all of one’s eggs into this basket (as a couple of
students suggested).

Hydroelectric power – is not 100% environmentally-friendly. Disrupting the flow of a river
and creating a reservoir alters the composition of the river, covers land with water, and
disrupts the movement of aquatic animals up and down the river.

Common Problems
Thesis – Many essays simply lacked one. Many others resorted to a weak, vague,
noncommittal thesis something along the lines of, “The various proposed alternatives to
fossil fuels have both positive and negative impacts.”
Qn. 9 As society progresses, is there a need to remember the past?

Largely simplistic and/or limited in interpretation. Answers were largely about history and
what we can/cannot learn from it. Many scripts had only one point: we can and should
learn from the past, and this was usually followed by example after example, ranging
from Hitler to Mao to race riots in Singapore to ….

There was generally failure to engage with given phrase ‘As society progresses…’.
There was little or insufficient consideration of the implied problems or issues arising
from change and progress, especially rapid change which has the potential to
dislocate, bewilder, confuse, warp, distort, degrade, etc etc.

If the key phrase is addressed, the answer gets more interesting and on-task: we will
then ‘need’ to ‘remember’ ‘the past’, which is not just Hitler and his ilk but past shared
experiences, memories, good or bad, social heritage that identifies us as a rich, proud,
happy, etc society. These would help anchor society as we progress into strange,
fearsome or mysterious territory, or even an exciting and rich one; it would help steer
society into potentially positive territory, avoid pitfalls, use our growth dividends wisely,
whatever. It should give society, individuals or large groups, our sense of confidence,
and pride of place under the sun; it can help us not to slip into the dull monotony of
MacDonalism as globalization threatens to choke all with Starbucks or drown all in coca

In evaluating the ‘need’ answers may then go on to discuss the importance, the
necessity, the value, in recalling our social heritage, in reflecting on some ancient
wisdom, collective experience and collective memory, which may help resist worship of
all things new and shiny. This might help us cope better with social progress and do well
because of discernment (or even to thrive in it).

Question 10: “Fashion is for the frivolous.” To what extent is this true of the
fashion industry today?

This was not a popular question among the scripts marked. For those who attempted
this question, some had the wrong definition of the word ‘frivolous’ and that caused their
entire essay to head off-track; while others provided a narrow and limiting definition of
the key word ‘fashion’, restricting the scope of their argument.

The question requires students to really know what ‘fashion industry’ means and the
significance these two words have on their approach to the question. Unfortunately, this
understanding was lacking in most of the students’ answers. Students developed a large
part of their essays delineating the impact fashion has on people, as well as the various
‘functions’ fashion has apart from ‘frivolous’ purposes’, with little or no mention made to
the ‘fashion industry’.

A reasonable answer to the question is most likely to include a fair knowledge of the
‘fashion industry’ in Singapore and beyond, awareness of various fashion houses that do
treat the industry respectfully and provide examples to substantiate.

On the whole, students’ knowledge of the subject matter was considerably sufficient, but
not their understanding of the question. Their ideas were also rather disconnected,
requiring quite a lot of work on the marker’s part to connect the dots.
Question 11: “Children today are no longer able to enjoy their childhood.” Is this
true of children in your society?

This was a favourite especially among mediocre students who had an impression that it
was an easy question to handle.

Students commonly lapsed into providing a list of points on both sides of the question
without showing critical evaluation of the validity of the points raised, and adopting an
argumentative style in their answers. Even within the list of points, several of them were
sweeping generalizations.

An example would be how one student wrote that children are now so ‘wrapped up in
this virtual bubble that they have become withdrawn and unable to interact with one
another. They prefer to stay indoors with their PSP and they are losing the chance to
make friends with people.’ Students did not qualify their statement but hastily concluded
that ALL children have become withdrawn due to the virtual world. This statement is
clearly one that lacked proper thought put into it.

Other generalizations include students’ observations that ‘all parents pressurize their
kids, and all kids go for enrichment classes, etc’. Students ignored the fact that this
applies only to children whose parents can afford to finance those enrichment classes,
without considering the rest of the children population.

The weaker essays did not show understanding of the idea of an ‘enjoyable childhood’
and their arguments were example-driven rather than point driven. This is indicative of
poor argument construction in terms of the lack of a thesis statement and topic
sentences in their essays.

Students need to consider factors instrumental in determining an ‘enjoyable childhood’,
paying attention to the keyword ‘today’. Some possible factors to consider include the
providence of a safe environment for children, the freedom for children to choose what
they want to do, etc. Sometimes, a factor that may contribute to children not being able
to enjoy childhood (such as a structured routine) may also work the other way round as
some children do ‘enjoy’ structure. Students will have to be able to see the complexity of
the subject matter and express this in their argument in order to do well.

Qn.12 What is the value of literature in the general education of a person not
intending to be a writer?

There were very few candidates who attempted this question. However, those who did
so performed competently, and a handful produced excellent essays. Many who
selected this question obviously loved literature, as evident in their passionate defense
of the value of literature.

In essays of superlative quality, students could provide various, diverse examples from
literary works, which contributed to the interest value of their essays. Some oft-quoted
examples included Othello and the war poems of Wilfred Owen (no prizes for correct
guesses of why these examples were frequently cited!). Other examples included
Gulliver’s Travels, Oedipus Rex, Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, The Kite Runner,
Les Miserables etc. Rather unfortunately, Harry Potter books were mentioned too (I was
hoping they wouldn’t be as they are too frequently cited, hence stale).

Most candidates pointed out that literature helped one gain mastery of the language,
improve communication skills and fluency in expression. Others provided more
meaningful, pertinent arguments such as how literature enhanced one’s cultural
awareness, provided insights into human nature, helped one to develop emotionally,
such as growing in sensitivity towards others, and in empathy for the plight/suffering of
fellow human beings. A few made the keen observation that literature could help combat
prejudice and discrimination, citing Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as an example.

Those who did not perform as well for this essay either digressed in their discussion, or
did not provide sufficient examples to illustrate their arguments. One candidate
compared the practical benefits of science vis-à-vis literature; another made the
unnecessary dichotomy, in his discussion, between the study of literature as a discipline,
versus the personal reading of literature. Candidates should note that the question does
not refer specifically to the formal study of literature, so they should not impose such
needless constraints on their discussion.

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