Discursive / Argumentative Model Essay #1

Teenager Pondering

What are the problems faced by teenagers in our society? How can these problems be overcome?

Someone once told me that adolescence is the most wonderful time of a person’s life. As a 14-year-old, I have to say I do not feel that wonderful. Teenagers are supposed to be leading a wonderfully easy life: full of fun and free of stress. Their sole responsibility is to study hard, which according to adults, is a simple task. However, living the life of a teenager is not that easy. Some of them would even describe it as a horrendously awful experience that they can do without. Here are some problems that confront adolescents today.

As society becomes more competitive with each passing year, teenagers face increasing pressure to excel. Even from a tender age, they are loaded with tons of assessment books. They are drilled to work hard and long, with their well-meaning parents breathing down their necks to make sure that they do well academically. As a consequence, many of them are brought up to fear failure; they must not let their parents down. To make matters worse, some parents are known to impose their unfulfilled dreams and wishes on their children. Woes betide teenagers if they are unable to live up to their parents’ high expectations. Their parents will reproach them and even make deprecating remarks and endless comparisons between them and the neighbours’ children. Eventually, arguments break out and the relationship is strained.

In school, teenagers are faced with immense mental strain. Assignment after assignment, project after project – life is one big cycle of schoolwork. Many students often feel like “walking zombies” memorising and regurgitating all those mathematical formulae and historical dates. As if all the schoolwork is not enough, they are constantly bombarded with tests and examinations. In addition, they are expected to excel in extra-curricular activities like sports and music, causing them to undergo added stress.

The hectic education system leaves teenagers little time for social activities and hence, greatly hinders their personal development. Some of them may become reserved, to the extent of being anti-social. Their primary concern is to score distinctions; what becomes of their social life takes a backseat. This kind of thinking eventually filters into adulthood, which explains why many adults put more emphasis on establishing their careers than on starting a family.

When teenagers cannot withstand the demands of this modern society, they turn to their friends for support. Peers are an important influence on behaviour during adolescence and teenagers often find it difficult to resist peer pressure. While peer pressure can have positive effects on teenagers when they are inspired by their peers towards positive behaviour such as volunteering for charity, it can also affect them negatively. This is because peer conformity among teenagers is commonly linked to episodes of adolescent risk-taking like underage drinking and smoking, shoplifting and drug abuse as these activities usually take place in the company of peers. Therefore, when teenagers associate themselves with bad company, they may engage in risky behaviours and become juvenile delinquents.

Some teenagers also face problems with their love lives. Boy-girl relationships are becoming increasingly common among teenagers. Curious about many things, teenagers are more than eager to try them out. Though not without good effects, these infatuations have their negative consequences. Whilst a relationship may help to alleviate the stress of schoolwork, it in turn gives rise to emotional pain when it fails to work out.

The complicated stresses and strains that teenagers face can be quite unbearable. How then can they make their teen years a fun-filled experience?

They can do many things such as planning their time between work and play wisely for a start. They can also share their problems with a counsellor or even their parents. Having regular communication with their parents will ultimately lead to better understanding. Furthermore, a harmonious and cohesive family is a safety net that will provide emotional support when they need it. As for friendships, teenagers must bear in mind that they are vulnerable to peer pressure and exercise caution when they make new friends. Similarly, when it comes to affairs of the heart, they should deliberate over entering into a relationship with the opposite sex to avoid unnecessary heartaches. Only when they become more mature and responsible should they seriously think about a romantic involvement.

Finally, teenagers should note that the various obstacles they face are there for a good reason. As the aphorism goes, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” Once teenagers learn how to cope with each and every problem, they will be stronger and more able to deal with the challenges ahead. Although adolescence may not always be smooth-sailing, it is still a very special phase to be cherished.

Secondary 3, 2010, English Tuition

Attention 2013 GCE O-Level Spongers

OMG! The big day has arrived! Tomorrow, you will be collecting your results and we would like to wish you the very best! Don’t forget to call us to brag about your success! 🙂

Happy Holidays from Sponge ME

Yes! We made it through yet another year! Now, it’s time for us to take a well-deserved break. 😀 Please be informed that we will be away for the holiday season from 9 Dec 2013 to 3 Jan 2014. Here’s wishing you a wicked Christmas and a smashing New Year! See ya in 2014! 🙂

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for Maths (Tip #5): Check Your Answers

Maths Tip - Check Your Answers

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

As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” I cannot agree with it more. However, avoiding CSMs (Careless Stupid Mistakes) can and will never be 100% full proof – you know and accept this. That doesn’t mean you resign to it without first putting up a good fight. If Plan A fails, there is always Plan B. A backup plan will ensure you keep CSMs to a bare minimal – it’s called checking your answers!

You may be thinking that you barely have time to check your answers, let alone finish your exam papers. Yes, that may be true especially if you lack practice. However, if you make it a habit to carry out intermediate checks as you work through your maths problems, you will realise that it is a lot more time efficient compared to checking only at the end.

For instance, if you had to navigate your way across the great oceans using nothing more than a compass – would you only check your compass once at the end of the journey (provided you get there in the first place), or would you be checking your compass intermittently throughout the journey to make sure you are on track? Checking your answers is based on the same logic. By placing so-called mental check points throughout your working steps, you will be able detect an error early, rather than when it’s too late.

Of course, exactly how to check and where to check is a topic best left for another day. But in a nutshell, you should be equipped with a set of ‘check tools’, namely the Sanity Check (good for making quick sense of numerical answers), the Reverse Check (good for checking algebraic manipulative errors) and the Loop Check (good for quickly checking solutions by means of substitution) and learn how to use them effectively. There are also ways to make use of certain features available on the latest approved scientific calculators to double-check not just arithmetic, but also algebraic and statistical calculations.

Once again here are the 5 tips to avoid careless mistakes for your GCE O-Level Mathematics exams:

  1. Do NOT Skip Steps
  2. Know Your Tendencies
  3. Watch Your Units
  4. Keep It Neat
  5. Check Your Answers

I hope that you have found this series of posts educational and have realised that though CSMs can’t be entirely eliminated, they can definitely be suppressed with a high level of success and anyone can learn how to do this. All the best for your exams! 😀

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for Maths (Tip #4): Keep It Neat

Maths Tips - Keep it Neat

By Leon, Private Tutor, Sponge ME, Maths Tuition

I know, some of you may be thinking: “This is not a tip! Everyone knows that if you are neat, it’ll help reduce careless mistakes. I just write the way I do. I know it sucks, but I can’t help it!” I hear you. Firstly, I’m not asking you to change your handwriting. That will be somewhat impractical (especially for math) and too steep a mountain to climb. What I’m suggesting is that you make a few adjustments to the way you present your mathematical solution, i.e. in a more organised and consistent manner.

So, besides making sure your ‘a’ doesn’t look like a ‘9’, or your ‘z’ like a ‘2’, the key is to find a standard format that you can easily apply over and over again for the various topics in mathematics. A standard format typically consists of the following 3 steps – (1) state your equation, (2) substitute all known values and (3) solve for the unknown.

At the end of the day, the main purpose of adopting a standard format is so that you have a familiar and reliable set up which you can consistently repeat with little effort. This will allow your mind to fully focus on solving the actual mathematical problem at hand. If done well, it will definitely improve your overall neatness and reduce the likelihood of careless mistakes.  Hooray! Yet another one bites the dust! 🙂

And last but not least, Tip #5…

Mixed-text / Descriptive / Reflective Model Essay #2

I am who I am today - Eleanor Roosevelt

Who are you? Describe the people, places and experiences that make you who you are today.

Former First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” I agree with her as the choices we make in life often define us and determine our destiny. Apart from that, there are also other important factors that make us who we are today. In my sixteen years on earth, a few people, places and experiences have made a profound impact on me and influenced my outlook on life.

A person who plays a significant role in my life is my older brother, Andrew. He is special. Born with one less chromosome, he has problems with learning and speech, which makes it difficult for him to be independent. Currently, he attends a school for the intellectually challenged, learning basic skills such as simple arithmetic. At home, he sometimes throws tantrums in an attempt to get attention, and these episodes may occasionally be violent. As his brother who has lived with him for so many years, I have grown to be more tolerant of his random outburst. I love my brother dearly and I try to spend as much time as possible with him despite my busy school schedule. Personally, I feel that I am more mature than others in my cohort as I had to step up to be the “big brother” and help to take care of Andrew from the tender age of three. I am who I am now because of Andrew and I feel very privileged to have him as my brother.

A place I visited last year has also shaped me as a person. It was a small, impoverished village in Cambodia. The trip was part of my school’s community service project and I was there with two teachers and all my classmates. To be honest, I got a rude shock when I first arrived there. The place was practically made of sticks and stones. It also lacked basic facilities such as clean water pipes and sanitation. It was hard for me to get used to the living conditions there as my life back in Singapore was worlds apart compared to the shed where I stayed in for a week. Nevertheless, I took it in my stride and worked like a Trojan, repainting the only school there and even mending a leaky roof. In retrospect, my trip to Cambodia really opened my eyes to the outside world and allowed me to see how fortunate I am to be living in an urban and affluent city like Singapore. In the past, my life was rather sheltered and I was blissfully ignorant of the many hardships in this world. Now, I am an adolescent with a social conscience. I will always remember Cambodia fondly and I hope to go back for a visit in the near future.

Finally, an incident that happened nine years ago has profoundly affected me and made me who I am today. It was a typical Saturday morning and I was at a grocery shop with my mother. Back then, my parents were very strict and they forbade me from eating sweets except on special occasions. However, being a young and simple-minded seven-year-old, I furtively grabbed a handful of candies from the shelf and hid them in my pocket. When we left the shop, I felt elated that I had gotten away with the theft. Upon reaching home, I went to my room to feast on a few candies and kept the rest in my pocket, which I soon forgot. The following day when my mother was doing the laundry, she found the remaining candies and immediately questioned me. I lied that I had picked them up on the road. Needless to say, she did not believe me and demanded to know the truth. As her big eyes were boring into me, I was scared stiff and confessed my crime. She then dragged me back to the grocery shop and insisted that I apologised to the grocer. To teach me a lesson, she even suggested to the grocer to alert the police as I must pay for my mistake. Thankfully, the grocer was a magnanimous man and I was forgiven on the spot. Since that fateful day, I have learnt that stealing is wrong and that our actions must always square with our conscience.

To conclude, I am who I am today because of the above person, place and experience. I am grateful for them as they have taught me valuable life lessons and moulded me into a better person.

GCE O-Level, 2014, English Tuition

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for Maths (Tip #3): Watch Your Units

Maths Tips - Watch Your Units

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

Another culprit is using the wrong units, i.e. the Unit of Measurement (UOM) in calculations. This frequently occurs in questions or problems involving rates or quantities such as speed, distance, time, money, and measurements of weight, length, etc.

The likelihood of a UOM-related CSM (Careless Stupid Mistake) increases when you do not use units in your working or statements. In most cases, students trivialise the importance of UOMs and in some cases totally ignore it. Hence, it leads to mistakes. The best way to become more acquainted with UOMs is simply to use them in your calculations or mathematical statements.

In my maths tuition classes, I break down common GCE O-level maths questions into specific types or categories in order to sensitise my students to the ‘warning signs’ (among other reasons). And when they detect ‘trouble’, they immediately become prudent and convert all rates and quantities to the same units before attempting to solve the problem. Yet another CSM crushed! Woohoo! 😀

Tip #4 is on its way…

5 Tips to Avoid Careless Mistakes for Maths (Tip #2): Know Your Tendencies

Maths Algebra Pattern

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

Having tutored many students over the years, and helping them to prepare for their GCE O-level Mathematics and Additional Mathematics exams in Singapore, I can’t help but notice certain patterns of occurrences, i.e. that everyone (myself included) has a tendency or inclination to make a specific type or types of CSMs (Careless Stupid Mistakes).

For example, some students tend to make what I call copy or transfer errors, i.e. they copy down the question wrongly, miss out a variable or index here and there, or transfer a sign wrongly from one step to the next. Others tend to make simple operational errors like adding instead of multiplying and the list goes on. The point is –  it’s likely that you will be more prone to making a specific type of CSM, and honestly sometimes all that is needed is a conscious effort and think “Aha! I’ve made a CSM doing this before, I better be more careful this time round.”

But of course, this only works if you are first aware of your own tendencies. In my maths tuition classes, I’ve developed specific exercises to help hasten this process of self-awareness. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a comprehensive collection of typical GCE O-Level maths questions intentionally littered with the most common CSMs. The goal of the exercise is to spot the CSM and make the correction. It’s a simple yet effective way to discover and weed out common CSMs in a more proactive manner.

Tip #3 coming right up…

Narrative Model Essay #1

Japanese Soldiers March into Singapore

War

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…