Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Subject Combinations

The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A-level) examination is an annual national examination taken by students from junior colleges, centralised institutes as well as private candidates. Junior colleges are also known as Pre-Universities colleges that prepare students for University. Therefore a significant part to choosing the right jc subject combination would be to find out the admission criteria to your preferred universities. Junior College can be hectic, since a large amount of content is squeezed into 2 short years and more often than not students also have CCA commitments. It is therefore important for you to carefully consider and choose your subject combinations wisely.

Compulsory subjects to take

Before delving straight into how to choose the subject combination that best suits you, it is of paramount importance to first explore the compulsory  jc subjects to take. Usually, during JC orientation, the dean of the school will give an in-depth presentation of the various compulsory subjects and streams which incoming students can apply for. But it does not hurt to read up a little given that JC works a little differently from secondary school.

Firstly, the H1 project work is a mandatory subject for students taking the first year of junior college. Project work grading is based on the final written report as well as a 10 to 15 minutes presentation. This subject is a vital one as it hones students’ ability to work efficiently in a group, in the process learning how to manage differences amongst team members.

The H1 General Paper is also another compulsory subject which JC students have to take unless they decide to opt for H2 knowledge and inquiry. It is a subject of significant value since General Paper (GP) is not only a test of current affairs but more importantly, an understanding of one’s place in the world.

Additionally, H1 Mother Tongue is compulsory for students who did not obtain a minimum of D7 in Higher Chinese during O Levels. The exam will take place at the end of J1.

Besides the above compulsory subjects, all JC students will have to take up an additional 4 subjects, which can be either 4H2 subjects or 3H2 and 1 H1 subjects.

Know what you want to pursue in University and their subject prerequisites

The first step would be to know your strengths and subjects that you are more inclined towards. The pace and rigour of A levels is very demanding since subjects in A levels are much broader and more in-depth than subjects taught for O levels. Having a rough idea of future career plans and being aware of your strengths are key. That way, elimination would make the process of choosing your subject combinations much faster. I will talk about choosing the various subject streams in a separate point later! We can all concur that the final objective of junior college is to ultimately enter a university course of your desired choice and interest.There are different admissions criteria for each course. For instance, if you are intending to apply for a Science course (such as Life Sciences or Chemical Engineering), the prerequisites include H2 Maths and at least one H2 Sciences. I would highly encourage prospective students to take a look at Universities course subject prerequisite to have a better understanding before making an informed decision. Students intending to apply for universities overseas should also check the subject prerequisites of their desired majors since it may differ from that of local universities’ requirements.

However, it is perfectly normal to be unsure of which course to pursue in Universities because a lot of people face the same issue. If that’s the case, a wise decision would be choosing subjects that allow for more university course options. It is highly advisable to take Maths, either H1 or H2 as most courses in Universities require a pass or a good grade in Maths. Chemistry is also another subject which students intending to apply for Science majors or Medicine must take. It is a requirement for almost all the science courses. However, many students struggle with Chemistry due to its concepts being technical and difficult to grasp. As such, an option would be to engage tutors through tuition agencies in Singapore in order to have a stable foundation. Knowing the subject prerequisites of courses you have in mind is important for decision making since it can greatly narrow down your choices and speed up the process.

Choosing which stream you are more inclined towards

There are 2 general streams which most people are familiar with, namely the Arts and Science streams. The Arts stream would require students to take 3 Arts subjects and 1 Science subject while the Science stream would require students to take 3 Science subjects and 1 Art subject. Examples of Art subjects would be Economics, History, Art, Geography, Music and English and Chinese literature. On the contrary, Science subjects would include Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Computing.

A tip when choosing which streams to go into is to be aware of your interest, strengths and capabilities. Both streams are no doubt equally challenging and possess the same kind of academic rigour. Science subjects are usually heavier in content and require consistent practice and revision. This is not to say that Arts subjects do not require practice, but they are more essay based and students need to evaluate critically on top of memorising facts, especially for subjects like Geography and History. As such, knowing where your strengths lie is key to excelling in Junior College. Having gone through O levels should be an indication of your strengths and weaknesses. While it is true that Science stream allows for more versatility, it would be an arduous 2 years for students who are more suited for the Arts stream and vice versa. Afterall, your A levels rank point is still a significant factor in determining entry into University, hence it’s always wise to think twice.

Hybrid combinations are also possible

Some students might have interest and passion that lie in both Arts and Science subjects. Fortunately for them, there are hybrid subject combinations in which you can take 2 Science and 2 Arts subjects. This allows for more flexibility when planning and gives the students autonomy to choose subjects that they are confident in. Back in JC, I took History instead of Economics, making my CMHE subject combination a hybrid one. Personally I feel that while hybrid combinations provide the flexibility when choosing subject combinations, there are also cons to it. The disadvantages of having a hybrid combination would be that of irregular timetables (having large gaps in between periods and having to end school late) since it deviates from the norm. As such, that can be a point to take into consideration. However that did not deter me from dropping the idea of a hybrid combination as I was motivated to do well for History since it is a subject that I am passionate about.

That being said, not all schools encourage hybrid combinations or accept subject combinations of your choice. It is important to check with your school on the eligibility of your combination.

Common subject combinations in JC

So you may ask, what are some of the common subject combinations? For students inclined to taking the Science stream, common combinations include BCME or PCME (Biology/Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics). Likewise for the Arts stream, common subject combinations include HELM, GELM (History/Geography, Economics, Literature and Maths). These subject combinations are perceived by many students as a safe choice given that the subjects are a prerequisite for most courses.

How the grading systems work in JC

Of course, parents and students alike are most interested in how the grading systems work in junior college. Each H2 subject carries 2 academic units while H1 and H3 subjects carry 1 unit each. The A Levels go by a rank point grading system and your total rank points will be based only on all your 3 H2 subjects, 1 H1 subject, General Paper and Project work. However if you are taking 4 H2 subjects, your lowest H2 grade will be replaced with H1 ranking points. Below is a detailed breakdown of the ranking points.

  • A grade is equivalent to 20 rank points for a H2 subject and 10 points for a H1 subject
  • B grade is equivalent to 17.5 rank points for a H2 subject and 8.75 for a H1 subject
  • C grade is equivalent to 15 rank points for a H2 subject and 7.5 for a H1 subject
  • D grade is equivalent to 12.5 rank points for a H2 subject and 6.25 for a H1 subject
  • E grade is equivalent to 10 rank points for a H2 subject and 5 for a H1 subject
  • S grade is equivalent to 5 rank points for a H2 subject and 2.5 for a H1 subject
  • U grade is equivalent to 0 rank points for both H2 and H1 subjects

Using this ranking system, you would be able to calculate your total rank points based on the grades you received.

Final words and advice from an A level graduate

Junior College is the epitome of sheer hard work, consistent mugging and daily revision. An advice from an A level graduate would be to make decisions that best suit your passion and interest. I have witnessed many peers blindly following others since they find it hard to make a decision. They blindly conform to parents’ wishes or choose the streams that their friends have applied to. We should remember that everyone is born different and we all have our strengths and shortcomings. Understandably, it is challenging to make an important decision at this juncture, hence research is vital to provide that background before you make a decision. Alternatively, approaching seniors, teachers or even reading opinions from websites like Reddit can provide great insights to help you tide over the decision making process. With that, I wish you all the best in the journey ahead!