Archive: October 2013

Narrative Model Essay #1

Japanese Soldiers March into Singapore


Ah Hua was thrown to the floor and before he could even reset himself, more kicks and punches were delivered on him. He yelped in agony as blood oozed out from his mouth. Nonetheless, that did not stop the savage attack. In fact, his captors seemed to take pleasure in his pain and laughed at him. Shutting his eyes, he tried to detach himself from the harsh realities of war, in a distant place with Mei Xiang, the love of his life.

15 February 1942 marked the beginning of the darkest days in Singapore’s history. Military forces of the Empire of Japan occupied the tiny island after defeating the British troops. Many innocent Chinese who were suspected of being anti-Japanese were subsequently detained by the Japanese Secret Police known as the Kempeitai and thrown into prison, where they were subjected to brutal punishment for acts they never remembered doing.

Ah Hua, a reporter with the Nanyang Daily, was one of the victims. He was arrested because he had previously written an article on the Japanese invasion of Nanking. However, that was not the worst thing that happened to him. It was the fact that he had to be separated from his beloved wife, Mei Xiang. The couple had just tied the knot but before they could even indulge in each other’s love and comfort, they were torn apart.

The four bitter years behind bars were a total nightmare for Ah Hua. The prisoners of war suffered dreadfully and many died a slow and painful death. Ah Hua was often beaten by numerous men and put through all kinds of experimental torture that never failed to surprise him. Cruelty was no match for the barbarous treatment that those heartless creatures had prepared for him. His battered body cried in pain and exhaustion while his mind played tricks on him. Nevertheless, he endured everything with stoicism, mentally fighting to stay alive. The reason was simple: Mei Xiang was waiting for him. The couple had made a promise to stay faithful and committed to each other forever and Ah Hua could not bear the thought of making Mei Xiang a widow.

Then, the moment that Ah Hua had been hoping for arrived. The war ended and the colonial masters were back to reclaim their ‘property’. With the Japanese gone, all the prisoners of war were set free. Still bearing the scars of his four-year captivity, Ah Hua was not quite familiar with the freedom he had suddenly regained. Nonetheless, he was overwhelmed by happiness that his ordeal was finally over.

Immediately, he search everywhere for Mei Xiang. Bombs had devastated much of the island, making everything almost unrecognisable, but that did not deter him. He walked miles and miles, scanning his eyes around all the unfamiliar places. Weariness pulled him back but the thought of his beloved wife kept him going.

Night fell. The full moon looked like a shiny dime in the dark blue sky, casting its pale light over the quiet neighbourhood. Ah Hua was walking along a narrow alley when a little boy bumped into him. As he bent to help the child up, a couple who seemed the child’s parents rushed over and apologised profusely. One of the voices struck Ah Hua. He looked up and recognised the mother of the child at a glance. She was none other than Mei Xiang.

“Ah Hua!” Mei Xiang gasped in astonishment.

The moment was frozen as the two stood still, speechless by the awful truth that lay ahead of them. Before Mei Xiang could utter another word, a crestfallen Ah Hua turned around and limped away. Tears stung his eyes as all his hopes began to crumble away. He felt betrayed and saddened that Mei Xiang had forgotten their promise and moved on with life. Nevertheless, he could not bring himself to blame her, knowing that it was a love not meant to be, a love destroyed by war.

GCE O-Level, 2010, English Tuition

Personal Recount Model Essay #1

Singing on Stage

Write about an occasion when you had to step out of your comfort zone to complete a task.

While waiting for my turn, I tried to calm my nerves by doing mental sums. Nonetheless, instead of helping me to relax, it only contributed generously to my great height of anxiety. I was out of my comfort zone and was a nervous wreck.

“The next contestant is Annette Lim from 3B. Please give her a big round of applause!”

My heart skipped a beat when I heard my name being called. Biting my lip nervously, I strode onto the stage gingerly, my hands clammy from perspiration.

“God, please help me!” I prayed desperately.

However, when I saw the countless pairs of eyes staring at me, the rubber band of stress in me snapped.

It all happened about two months ago. I was in the girls’ changing room belting out my favourite song when my music teacher walked in. She commented that I had a mellifluous voice but I did not think much about it. The next thing I knew, she had signed me up for the Teachers’ Day Singing Contest. When I first learnt about it, I was flabbergasted and protested immediately.

I had always been an awfully shy person who disliked any form of attention. I hardly spoke up in class or participated in group activities. Thus, it was not surprising that my history teacher of two years did not even know my name. Being in the limelight stressed me out, so asking me to perform on stage in front of the whole school was as good as telling me to jump off a plane without a parachute. The thought of it caused me severe emotional distress. I refused to come out of my cocoon and began to conceive a believable excuse to wriggle my way out.

“I can’t do this. I have a throat infection,” I floundered in a trembling, almost stricken voice.

“Stop giving excuses, my dear. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone to complete a task? You have the talent. You just need to have faith in yourself,” my teacher said in her usual affirmative voice.

She then showered me with many words of encouragement. Eventually, I decided to give the contest a shot as I did not want to let her down.

Standing on the stage, I looked at the audience with mute horror. The music had started playing but I could not utter a single word. An irrational fear overwhelmed me, causing my heart to palpitate so fast that it might just leap out from my mouth. I had never felt more nervous and embarrassed in my life before. How I wished the ground would open up and swallow me.

“Calm down! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” I psyched myself as beads of perspiration trickled down my forehead.

I took a deep breath and asked the judges if I could start again. Perhaps out of pity, they agreed readily. The familiar music played once more. Shutting my eyes, I blocked out all negative thoughts in my mind and sang my heart out. To my surprise, the audience were so blown away that they gave me a rapturous ovation. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I walked off the stage. Although I could not see my own face, I knew I was glowing in delight.

In the end, I came in first for the contest. Frankly, winning was not that important to me as I was just glad that I had listened to my teacher and stepped out of my comfort zone. That said the prize was definitely an added bonus.

GCE O-Level, 2011, English Tuition

Mixed-text / Descriptive / Reflective Model Essay #1

What is your idea of beauty? Describe some people, places and objects that you think are beautiful.

According to Confucius, “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” This is because beauty is a subjective concept and people all have different ideas about what is beautiful. As such, beauty cannot be measured by any absolute standard. However, we can all agree that beauty comes in various forms. It can be a person, a song or even an everyday occurrence like the sunset. To me, beauty is whatever gives joy like the following person, place and object.

A beautiful person I know is my mother. At 46, she does not have a face that can launch a thousand ships. Instead, she is rather plain-looking and seldom puts on make-up. She also does not carry a stunning figure or wear fashionable clothes. Nevertheless, beneath her ordinary exterior lives a beautiful soul. As a physician, my mother has a clinic where she treats all kinds of patients. Besides that, she also makes frequent trips to the nearby hospice to care for those who are bedridden or terminally ill. However worn out she is from a long day of hustle and bustle, she always attends to each patient with a heart-warming smile. She will also rush home every evening without fail to cook for the family and spend quality time with us. I think my mother is really beautiful because the true beauty of a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the love that my mother selflessly gives and the care that she lovingly shows that make her beautiful. Such beauty does not fade but grows with the passing years.

A place that exudes great beauty is my homeland, Singapore. A tiny island off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore has prospered and developed very rapidly since its independence in 1965. Today, the young country is a highly urbanised city that is full of charm and character. It also boasts a stunning skyline and one of the best places to look at it is the SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort. Although I have been to the observatory deck several times, the spectacular views of the island city never fail to take my breath away. This is indeed a beautiful country and its beauty can be attributed to the tremendous drive and dedication of the people. Singaporeans are highly motivated but in our pursuit of success, we remain a caring nation with a strong community spirit. I believe this spirit will continue to grow in the heart of every Singaporean and make this country an even more beautiful place to live in.

An object that I think is beautiful is the piano that stands proudly in my living room. The piano has been with my family for three generations. Although it looks old and has a broken pedal, it can still play melodious tunes that touch the soul. Whenever I play it, I would be reminded of my late grandmother who taught me how to play my first song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. She was a superb pianist who played with deep emotions, and thanks to her, I have great appreciation for music. This piano is my most treasured possession because of all the beautiful memories it brings back. I hope that it lasts for many more generations and that my grandmother’s love for music lives on in the family.

In conclusion, beauty comes in multiple forms and everyone interprets it differently. To fully appreciate beauty, I think it is not sufficient to see it. We must feel and be affected by it.

Secondary 3, 2012, English Tuition

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for Maths (Tip #1): Do NOT Skip Steps!

Maths Tips - Do not skip steps

By Leon, Private Tutor, Sponge ME, Maths Tuition Singapore

I believe many have heard maths teachers and tutors say over and over again: Do NOT skip steps! As a full time maths tutor myself, I say it too (guilty as charged), but only after convincing my students that it is absolutely critical that they do not skip steps in their working, especially if they are aiming for a distinction in both their E and A Maths papers, especially for A Maths.

There are in fact several reasons for not skipping steps, but pertaining to CSMs (Careless Stupid Mistakes) it is perhaps the best way to avoid arithmetic errors (i.e. operational errors when adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, etc.) and algebraic manipulation errors (i.e. expanding, simplifying and factorising) which are perhaps two of the most common types of CSMs out there. The probability of making a CSM goes up significantly when doing arithmetic operations or algebraic moves in your head, rather then penning down your steps. For those who don’t practice enough and lack mechanical fluency, the likelihood of making a CSM increases even more.

You may think you are saving time by omitting working steps, i.e. you equate fewer steps to less time, when in actual fact this is a huge misconception and worse still you do so at the expense of accuracy. Why? Well put it this way, writing down fewer steps does NOT equate to thinking in fewer steps.

This brings me to my main point: the reason why CSMs arise from skipping steps is simple – you’re trying to do too much mentally at one time. It actually takes a lot less effort and yes less time to just pen down each thought, i.e. one methodical step at a time. In other words, you can achieve both speed and accuracy by taking small quick steps, rather than taking large slow ones. The trick is to breakdown your mental thoughts into smaller, easier to manage pieces by penning them down fluently. Developing this one good habit alone can do wonders! 🙂

Stay tuned for Tip#2…

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for GCE O-Level Mathematics (Intro)

Maths Tips

By Leon, Private Tutor, Sponge ME, Maths Tuition Singapore

So what is the crux of it? Frankly, careless mistakes can be a real pain in the butt for every student dealing with mathematics. I know I was plagued by it in my early secondary school life (more about that another time), but fortunately I found ways to suppress this infamous silent killer I call the CSM (Careless Stupid Mistake). For some, it may cost them to miss out on a distinction. For others, it may be tipping them from a pass to a fail. Whatever the case, there is indeed hope for the inflicted! 🙂

The truth is we are NOT perfect. Nobody is (as long as you’re human). Everyone, including teachers, academics and yes, even mathematicians all make mistakes. A book written by Alfred Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann, entitled “Magnificent Mistakes in Mathematics” captures and characterises this imperfection that exists in even the best of us. World renowned mathematicians such as Pythagoras, Galileo, Fermat, Leibniz, Euler and several others have had their fair share of blunders, falling prey to making mathematical mistakes. So don’t beat yourself up about it too much. Neither should you shrug it off and say that is can’t be helped. There is a way, but like any worthy cause, it requires effort.

The first step to dealing with CSMs is to realise and accept that they can never be entirely eliminated, but in most cases can be avoided or minimised. The next step is to gain awareness of the most common types of CSMs out there and what your own tendencies are. Don’t be surprised that just from this level of awareness, some initial improvement can be made.  However, to successfully keep the most common CSMs at bay requires more than theory (for those out there looking for a quick fix, I’m sorry to say that there is none). Having said that, it is not difficult! I repeat – it is not difficult! It just requires you to put into practice what is taught in class so that you can develop good habits that will replace your bad ones.

Stay tuned as I reveal 5 useful tips to help you conquer the dreaded CSMs. To be continued very soon…