Five Common Mistakes Made by Students for the New Social Studies Syllabus

2017 was the first year when O-Level students sat for the examination paper of the newly revamped Social Studies (SS) syllabus. While Humanities Hub's students performed brilliantly, with more than 63% of them garnering distinctions, many Sec 3 and 4 students continued to struggle with the more complex content and a new set of critical thinking skills which resulted in them scoring badly in school tests and examinations.

Written by our well-regarded in-house SS tutor, the following is an article on the Five Common Mistakes students make for the latest Social Studies syllabus.


Mistake 1: Not addressing the requirements in the questions.

For example, in questions like “How far do these sources agree about ...?" Candidates should know that the skill expected of them is "comparison" and if they start by writing that “The sources are similar because…”, then they are not addressing the requirements in the question. In the GCE `O' Level examinations, students should start their responses using the keywords in the question, in this instance, “Source A agrees with Source B…..”.

Mistake 2: Applying a formulaic approach in the answering of SBCS and SRQ.

Schools are major contributors to this mistake. Many students are drilled to memorise a certain formula in assessments and this has resulted in students wasting a lot of time thinking of how to answer the questions using the formula. A formula will only work if the genre of sources stay the same and not vary, which is definitely not the case in examinations. For example, to answer the `Why' question in SBCS, students are using acronyms like "PAMO" (Purpose Word, Audience and Message Outcome), or "AAAA" (Author Action Audience Action), but such rigid structures actually stifle their thinking. Similarly, in the SRQ component, "PEEL" (Point, Elaboration, Example, Link) has been used repeatedly and some have even used it to inappropriately apply to SBCS questions! We should not restrict their thinking processes by forcing students to respond to SS questions using a formula, which counteracts the original purpose of Social Studies which is to demonstrate higher order critical thinking skills.

Mistake 3: Heavy regurgitation of content.

2018 is the second year of the revised Social Studies syllabus, bringing with it 50% new skills. However, many educators continue to use approaches that have worked in the old syllabus which ended in 2017 (for Sec 5 students), which required students to memorise a lot of content. Consequently, many students are put off by the new coursebook which consists of 457 pages! It is no wonder they dislike the subject! Rather than memorisation and regurgitation, it is more important to sieve the main ideas in the coursebook and align them to the assessment outcomes in the revised syllabus. It is not the amount of content that one regurgitates but the selection of content to support their argument that gets the highest level of marks.

Mistake 4: Failure to plan an outline for both sections of the paper.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is simple to understand why you need to plan the answer before writing down your answers. But you will be surprised how many students refuse or forget to perform this simple task which will save them so much agony down the road. Just ask how many students who did not plan their answers if they could finish the paper!

Mistake 5: Not being realistic and acclimatised to examination conditions.

The duration of the Social Studies paper is 1 hour 45 minutes. In the revised syllabus, candidates must illustrate their learning by selecting content purposefully and strategically to hit the highest level of marks within the time constraints. One's response will be different if time was not an issue. The syllabus is for 16 to 17 year-olds and the responses should be judged based as such. Therefore, teaching in the classroom has often been unrealistic expectations for students to role-model after answers written by adults. Because of this, many students fail to keep time and are unable to finish writing their answers due to these unrealistic expectations.


For more information about “O” and “A” Level Humanities subjects please contact us at Humanities Hub Education Centre. We are conveniently located at 1 Coleman Street, The Adelphi #05-04A Singapore 179803.

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