5 Fallacies About Studying For Humanities Subjects

1. It is ALL about memorising

So many parents have asked us, “Don’t they just need to memorise the content to do well in [insert Humanities subject]?” and we have had to disabuse them of the entrenched, but mistaken, notion. Maybe that was the case 30 years ago, when all a student needed to do was to memorise dates, events and even concepts to score reasonably well in tests and exams. However, the study of Humanities subjects has changed significantly in recent times. Currently, there is a strong emphasis on critical thinking and application skills where questions are no longer straightforward and require students to first understand what they are asking for, and then for them to provide the examiner with a good analytical answer, backed up by evidence (which is where content usually comes in).

2. If your English is good, there will be no problems doing well for Humanities subjects

While it is true that a good command of the English language (or Chinese language if you are doing China Studies in Chinese!) will definitely help a student when it comes to writing essays, just simply being good in writing is not going to help much if the student does not know what to write and how to write it. Understanding and remembering the content is one step, analysing that content to answer the question is the most critical step.

3. All you need is to follow “Model” essays

In our world, there is no such thing as a “model” essay, like having a single perfect answer to a mathematical equation. This is not to say that we cannot learn things from good essays of fellow students, such as how a good well-thought out argument flows, an engaging writing style, etc. However, regurgitating “model” essays tend to make students complacent to the point that when they read a similar question, they will immediately fall back on the “model” essay that they have memorised, but failing to spot the slight changes in the examination question which actually require a totally different answer.

We would prefer to put it this way: that there are “Right” answers, but no “Model” answers. There are many different ways to write the “right” answers and scoring well for them. The key is to be flexible, and to adapt to any type of question that gets thrown in your way.

4. Learning Humanities is a waste of time as the subjects have no real life applications

We will, of course, humbly beg to differ. There is a copious amount of literature out there, including on the Internet, on why it is so important for everyone to have some knowledge of the Humanities.

The study of Humanities is, in a nutshell, gaining insights into the human condition, whether it be through poetry, history or economics. Only by understanding the human condition, learning from our past mistakes, can we continue to build for the future.

For more on how Humanities has shaped the Singapore landscape, and its value in a practical context, do have a read on the following article:


5. There is no way you can do well if you are not naturally “inclined” in the Humanities

While each person has his own unique gifts and inclinations, even the most science-leaning student will be able to do well for the Humanities if he/she wishes. Although most answers are not in black or white, and the content can seem overwhelming and haphazard to a regimented mind used to proper structures, there are ways to arrange the information so that they make sense. Skillful teachers are able to guide students to construct a scaffold in which they can utilise the content in the right way. Learning how to think critically is like flexing a muscle – the more you use it, the better it will be. Just like in science and mathematics, practice makes perfect. The results will be even better if the student is able to enjoy the whole learning journey.


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