How To Do Well in O-Level Humanities

This is another article that we have contributed to Popclub Magazine for the March/April 2016 issue.

Now that the 2016 O-Level examinations are over, another batch of students will be taking the place of their seniors, and worrying about the upcoming year in 2017. In view of the latest syllabus change (which is a major overhaul) of Social Studies, this article will be a useful first guide to all worried students out there, especially those who did not do well in their Sec 3 prelims.


A solid result for Pure/Combined Humanities subjects is critical for O-Level students. The stakes are even higher for Science students who usually have only one Humanities subject which has to be factored into their L1R5 score - a determinant of their eligibility for post-secondary education at junior colleges. Many students fear Humanities subjects because there is no one correct answer unlike Mathematics or Science questions. Some parents believe that for subjects like History and Geography, all the students need to do is to memorise the content, and become perplexed when their results turn out mediocre. For Humanities subjects, content knowledge alone is not meaningful and those with a weaker command of the English language will also have trouble understanding the questions or expressing their thoughts.

So, are these students doomed to fail? There are ways in which a student CAN do well, and even ACE, their Humanities subjects. Follow our SMART tips:

  1. Setting a study plan: Students may study hard (often equated to hours) but it is not effective if they do not set a learning plan. A learning plan includes prioritising subjects/topics, setting learning objectives, allocating time and identifying resources. Students often avoid subjects they are weak in, but they will reap the benefits of constant practice of answering questions from examination papers from various schools or past O-Level examinations. With practice, the student becomes more adept at interpreting what is required in the question, organising their thought processes and clearly structuring their answer even under stressful examination conditions. This is a common reason why students find source-based questions difficult.

  2. Mindmapping: To do well, a student not only needs to have a strong argument but must also support it with valid examples. Mindmaps are useful in breaking down huge chunks of content and highlighting the relevant facts so students can quote the valid examples to strengthen their responses. Mindmapping or note-taking reinforces one’s memory. Although it is a difficult skill to master, it is possible with practice and help from experienced teachers.

  3. Answering the question: This sounds simple, and yet so many students do not understand the question requirements and therefore cannot answer to score high marks. Examiners do not usually deliberately write confusing questions, but they may change the angle or nuance of how they ask a question. Students who memorise “model essays” will be tripped and students who clearly understand the question will be able to provide strong answers and earn high marks. Concise responses that answer to the question will score. A lengthier answer that does not meet scoring criteria not only wastes time, but will also not get high marks.

  4. Reading widely: Nothing beats reading when it comes to improving language skills and general knowledge. For subjects like Social Studies, it is also important for students to understand sources of material, what happened in other countries and apply it to the Singapore context. A good grasp of general knowledge will also be handy for A-Level General Paper.

  5. Finding the right Tutors: For weaker students, the guidance of an experienced and dedicated tutor is even more crucial because they can break down even abstract concepts in an interesting manner, to help students truly understand and be able to apply their knowledge to score the maximum marks for any type of questions.

In conclusion, doing well in O-Level Humanities subjects is not impossible. Nevertheless, like any other subject, students will still need to put in the time and effort to ensure academic excellence. The key is to study SMART, not study HARD.

Humanities Hub is currently holding Sec 3 to Sec 4 bridging lessons for English and Humanities subjects. Please call us at 6264 2236 or 9661 9760 to book your seats now!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square