General Paper is a compulsory H1 subject for all Junior College students in Singapore. The subject aims at developing critical inquiry and thinking skills for students. This “free thinking”/ “opinion-based” paper makes it different from other subjects.

The subject comprises of 2 components: an essay component and a comprehension component. Both components test students’ abilities to synthesize a good knowledge of current affairs and writing skills.

How then does one create a strong foundation for acing General Paper? Fundamental attributes are important to ace in any subject and it applies to General Paper too!

So what are these fundamentals? We share with you below some simple strategies to help you ace General Paper.

Read . . . Read . . . Read

Given the complex and comprehensive knowledge you need for the subject, it is essential that you read or watch widely both print and multimedia material regarding current affairs.

The latest news and developments relating to politics, economics, culture and technology should feature as a regular component in your daily reading. 

Based on my experience in teaching General Paper, useful print resources online includes the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] website and The Conversation website. Both sources provide substantial content information on global and regional issues that can be easily referred to in your essays as examples. 

For multimedia sources, I find the talks on the Technology, Entertainment and Design [TED] website to be highly useful for students of General Paper.

The concise [usually 15 to 25 minutes length] talks on a variety of issues provide additional up-to-date ideas and concepts on topics relating to General Paper. The speakers in these talks are also experts in their relevant fields [such as economic policies, technological innovations and human rights advocacy]. In their talks, these speakers often introduced key concepts and phrases that can be incorporated into your essays for more for sophisticated analysis.

Beyond the issue of grades, the process of developing good reading skills in General Paper will shape your thinking capacities. General Paper is thus more than an academic subject. It is critical life-skill for the challenges of university and working life after Junior College.

Have An Opinion . . . On Most [If Not All] Things

Consistent reading of developments on global, regional and national issues is an important foundation.

However, it is not sufficient to just read and not think. One has to form opinions based on the reading since your essay and the application question component requires rigorous debate on your part.

In my teaching experience, the best scripts in General Paper always feature independent and insightful opinions given by the students.

However, having an opinion is not the same as being opinionated. The former shows an informed view of the world while the latter merely conveys a series of wild assertions rarely supported by facts.

With thorough reading, you will have built up a sufficient body of knowledge and notes on your favorite topics within General Paper [such as population issues, the latest government policies on the economy, the debate on genetically modified foods, etc.]

You will then be able to weigh carefully your own stand on the matter.

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Having your own opinion, supported by these facts and information, will enable you to write your essay with deeper conviction.

Having your own opinion, supported by these facts and information, will enable you to write your essay with deeper conviction. The ability to consider both sides of the issue and then develop an appropriate stand on the more valid perspective will provide balance and empathy – the defining qualities of critical thinking – to your essay.

In short, you need to read to think and – more critically – think on what you read.

Practice Makes One Perfect

Wide reading and forming insightful opinions can be the first and second planks of your strategy to acing General Paper.

While one can gather information and also form substantial opinions on diverse issues, transmitting all these into an 800 word essay [in approximately 90 minutes] or a 400 word application question response [in approximately 30 minutes] during examinations requires that final critical component: practice . . .

Practice of the subject, especially through consistent and progressive exposure to examination conditions, helps develop your intellectual resilience to function under the high mental pressure of timed examinations.

For the essay component, this can be achieved through the following steps:

  1. On a fortnightly [every two weeks] basis, review the past 5 years of the A-level papers and essay questions.
  2. Select from each year at least 2 questions to practise.
  3. Apply or use the ideas, concepts and examples from your topics of choice in your practice.
  4. Try to complete the essay within the timed element of 90 minutes. For students starting out on this practice regime, you may want to give yourself an additional 10 to 15 minutes for the first few practices and then progressively reduce your timing to the exam conditions of 90 minutes.

For the comprehension component, you may want to develop progressive practice as follow:   

  1. Practise the past 5 years of the A-level comprehension paper.
  2. In each separate practice session, time yourself in 20 to 30 minute intervals.
  3. Each 20 to 30 minute section can focus on one element of the comprehension paper such as the short answer question, summary or application components.
  4. Once you have carried out such isolated practice at least two months, you will want to deepen your practice by completing a full paper within the 90 minutes time-frame given in examinations.

The writer Mr Augustine Chan is a GP specialist teaching at Distinction Tutorial School. He was awarded the Certificate of Honour for Inspirational Mentorship by the former President of Singapore His Excellency S R Nathan. To find out more, do speak with our friendly Distinction Tutorial School personnel at Enquiries@distinctiontutorial.com or call us at 6258 6791.

The article, 3 Important foundations to Ace GP by Distinction Tutorial School is also featured on Bishan Tuition Centres.