There are so might sites online about studying and publishing/distributing notes that ERPZ.net seem to be getting pretty redundant. We've so far been operating on a one-man show kind of way despite having multiple authors (who are mostly non-contributing to be honest). Scott seem to do the same as me when it comes to blogging except I guess he does it better and categorizes stuff in better ways than me. He publishes eBooks (some of them free) as well! And that is quite an inspiration given that I'm hoping to write a PW Guide soon - check out our Facebook page where I challenged myself to finish the book before we reach 1000 likes. Not such a tall order since there isn't that many likes yet but it does put pressure on me especially when I'm studying for exams this period.
Then there is Notes Academy, which was featured on Straits Times going the 'open source' style where they mostly curate and moderate while waiting around for kind people to contribute notes. That's not so different from me as well since I've been asking for contributions for some time and we've gather some stuff from kind souls here and there. But then they are a radical departure from the way we moderate content so strongly that contributions are slapped with our site logo before being uploaded though we've made exceptions now and then. I guess the fact that Notes Academy is a little more O Levels oriented means that I'm not exactly in direct competition with them anyways. The fact they've got a team to do all that work is admirable though.
Of course, who can forget Open Lectures who have just revamped their site. They're a pretty geeky bunch with quality content (clearly carefully produced and curated), which is on the other side of the spectrum compared to Notes Academy. I don't really know where ERPZ.net sit at anymore. In any case, a potential criticism that can be levered on them (and also relevant for me) is their content is skewed towards Economics probably because they've more of their team dabbling with that area. They definitely need to gather more MOE scholars who're not planning to break bond (ie. not doing 'practical' subjects like Economics or Engineering but dealing more with Literature, hard Sciences).
For those who thinks publicly available stuff are crap (or that there are no goodies in freebies), there is Darryl, who is taking the more exclusive 'coaching' path for studies. He offers quite a fair bit of coaching content and has worked a bit of money into building and putting together his entire suite of 'formula'. The thing is I believe it's suitable for people who actually looks up these stuff and have a more or less keen desire to excel - not someone who believes in shortcuts, simply one who believes in doing things smart.
Having said all that, the future of ERPZ.net is wondrously uncertain. All my notes might end up somewhere like Notes Academy and I'll continue blogging random ramblings while perhaps doing some eBook writing. Or maybe the site will become something all together different. There are ideas to crowd-source for ideas on what to do but I'll have to come up with proposals first. But for now, my exams comes first...
Once again, it's the PW season and ERPZ is doing its part to make lives easier for students. We've taken a look at the two questions this year; both are related and rather similar, with 'Choice' being a more specific version of 'Access' and they can be approached with the frameworks we've laid down in previous years (here is last year's and here for more stuff).
Aim: This project task encourages you to consider the issue of access and suggest ways in which access could be improved for a particular group of people.
Task: Identify an aspect of life in any community where access to a service or resource is a problem (eg: access to natural resources, education, healthcare, housing, etc).
Explain why the problem exists and its impact on the community concerned.
Draw up a plan to eradicate or reduce the impact of the problem.
As usual, we want to break down the question and tackle the problem in manageable, bite-sized bits.
- What kind of service or resource may not accessible to everyone?
- Why is it a problem for the community involved? Is it a basic need not met or simply a want?
- Why does the problem exists? Is it due to poverty, government do not provide it, too expensive even for the middle income etc?
- What specific group of people might be plagued with such inaccessibility? How does it affect them? How serious is the impact of this inaccessibility? Does it lead to other kind of problems?
- How should you go about to eradicate or reduce the impact? Simply provide it to the community concerned, or other issues ought to be considered?
Any real world examples of methods that tried to reduce the problem?
Aim: This project task encourages you to consider the importance and impact of choice in today’s world and to suggest ways to help people make more informed choices.
Task: Identify an area in which people make choices that affect the wider community (eg: in consumer goods and services, leisure, politics, economics, etc.)
Explain the positive and negative aspects of those choices and their impact on the community.
Suggest ways of informing people about the wider impact of their choices with the view to encourage and/or discouraging particular choices.
And, here are some questions we want to ask ourselves:
- In what area do people make choices, and the outcome of their choice have an impact on the wider community? For example, people elect a particular person as president, and the chosen president will implement policies that affect the whole community.
- Why do people make choices in that particular area? (eg: to better their lives, satisfy wants)
- How do people make their choices? Do they research, and go through some thought process before deciding?
- What are the positive and negative aspects that results from making those choices, and its impact?
- What are the ways to help people make more informed choices that improve the community as a whole?
I'll try and come up with examples of potential project tasks but then again, if you face issues with coming up with ideas, there's plenty of ideation tools around and you can always check the PW page for more advice and guidance.
In the previous entry, I promised that I'll come back to this topic; I mentioned something about a counter-intuitive phenomenon when it comes to learning:
When everyone is reading their textbooks and preparing for exams, it would seem somewhat unwise to be reading some other popular Economics books or even the Bible. Yet as a student captured in this whole paper chase, one needs also to realise that there is little value in re-reading what one has been reading for practically the whole year. Combining the content learnt with newer, obliquely relevant knowledge improves your associative memory and can remarkable enhance the ability of questions to trigger knowledge you've already acquired previously over the term.
Drilling yourself can create an 'instinctive' reaction but damage proper association in our memory. Your understanding of things becomes locked in a fixed sequence, a sort of linear series that does little justice to the true underlying logic of the subject matter. Knowledge and the actual connections within information is often networked, in the style of a web; much like a wikipedia entry with lots of linked stuff here and there. You cannot study things in a set sequence unless the specific topic involves simply a sequence of logical steps that is almost necessarily unidirectional. Even when there're steps in sequence, as long as you can move in different directions and jump between steps, a web-like structure of studying would better aid learning.
Mindmaps and tables are incredibly useful methods of organizing web-structured information. Of course, when I suggest tables, I was actually thinking of multi-dimensional ones broken up into sets of 2-dimensional tables. It is the same as the sort of summary you find in the resource section of our site. And the unique feature of web-structured information is that having more information and holding more knowledge actually helps you to retain new things/ideas even better.
Anyone who had the chance to read Joshua Foer's 'Moonwalking with Einstein' would realise that their traditional notions about mental capacities are completely mistaken. Your mind is not a closet that runs out of space after storing too much stuff; rather your mind doesn't lose the ability to store stuff - it simply loses the ability to retrieve things when you fail to catalogue it properly when trying to memorise it. You don't have to try and master the techniques he mentioned and be a memory champion in order to ace your exams but it does help to pick up a tip or two about the implications of these memory techniques that the mental athletes use.
Storage & Cataloguing
I'm using rather machine-like terms but the mind is something wonderfully organic and obviously defies machine logic. It appears to act like a machine while being way more flexible and powerful without requiring too much resources (ie. efficient). When studying, nothing is more important than focus and concentration. There's some things that can be picked up quickly within a short span of time, then try to spend short, focused units of time on them and then take breaks. Others requires long amounts of less intense concentration but lots of practice - and you should know what to do by now. Still, take breaks.
During these breaks, read a book, look at things around you and relate the things you learn to your life. Pay your bills and think about your finances; go online to shop for stuff and think about the signals behind those prices; hunt for bargains near your home and consider the consumer surplus vendors are trying to extract from you when using two-part pricing. Don't compartmentalize what you learn from your life. It's kind of nerdy/geeky but whatever, human progress by putting knowledge into application and not knowing things, storing them into paper manuscripts and placing them in a library. Economic progress at the cutting edge are made in industries, businesses and market exchanges, not research laboratories, academics offices or think-tanks.
Those thoughts and stuff you learn from the books you read helps to anchor the ideas you've acquired; they do not distract you from the main point unless you wander too far yourself. More importantly, they are more useful anchors than the pointless information that Joshua Foer has to remember in order to have a set index of the cards. These additional information you acquire forms a natural index for you to organize the information in your mind.
When your eyes are tired, try listening audio versions of the things you're trying to learn; when your ears are tired, try writing notes from the textbooks or organize the information in a different way (when you do that, you're interpreting them in your own terms). At the same time, you're engaging more sense to help you remember the information. Your mind not only remembers the abstract ideas but associates the muscle fatigue, the movements of your eyeballs across the pages, or the sounds you hear, whether it's the voice of the lecturers, the tones and pitches, the emphasis and such. All these meta-information helps to enhance the anchors in learning and provides a denser web for more ideas to cling on to.
Recall & Retrieval
Now during the exam, you realise that when the question comes, it triggers you to recall the information that has been acquired, sometimes with a little adjustment, that your mind makes quite smoothly. Other times, you need to locate what it is that you need to retrieve before acting on it. The actual pathway of recall is usually more bizarre than we'd like to imagine it is. The thought process could go like:
What is this (concept)? I remember I read it (somewhere in this textbook). I remember I was in my room when reading it. Ah yes, I was sitting on my bed then, and after that particular reading I went to get tea for myself. Oh yea, and I was thinking about how the distribution of the quality of the tea would come from the 'ensemble distribution' when they are sampled somewhat randomly even though the quality of the tea might be simply directly correlated with the packet that comes before it. Ah, so the ensemble distribution is the potential limiting distribution for the variable following the random walk process at any time 't'.
Obviously 'tea' and time 't' does have some sort of audial association but I shall not go into that. Even if you don't know what the concept mentioned above is about; you get my drift about how seemingly unrelated stuff can help you in the process of your knowledge retrieval. They need not be directly related but they help when at the point of studying, you constantly make mental associations between the things you learn and the things you're doing, or engaged in. Explaining to friends about the ideas and challenging each other's understanding of the concepts helps immensely.
When it comes to learning, it pays to understand the organ we're using to learn so that we can trick it into doing what we need it to.
Once again, another batch of students are encountering Project Work for the first time in their lives and fearing for it. I'm looking into the two questions and providing a bit of guidance on how to go about tackling them much like what I did for the students last year (here and here).
This year's question follows the standard PW format; which goes by the 'research-then-implement' structure. The point is always to get you to study a particular issue/topic/area and then make use of your findings to design an implementable plan with specific actions. Likewise, both questions are usually similar or overlapping to a certain extent. They are quite general as usual and allows much room and space for creativity - something we Singaporeans seem to be mocked for lacking.
The Eureka Moment
This project task encourages you to explore the world of invention and/or discovery in a particular field and then use your findings to benefit the community
Identify an invention/discovery in a particular field (eg. in science and technology, medicine, transport, design and construction, consumer goods and services, etc.) and show what its impact has been.
Suggest how your chosen invention/discovery could be adapted to meet a need in the community.
This first question deal with inventions or discovery and obviously you have lots of them to choose from; select something you're interested in and with information available, preferably something that has been implemented somewhere or tried out and you can use the results of the trial to justify your plan. I would advise you to start off with identifying the invention/discovery before trying to think of a need in the community to be met by it. Starting with the need could be challenging. Once you've got your invention/discovery; ask yourself the following:
- What are the impacts of the discovery/invention?
- What is the original motivation/intent behind the discovery or invention?
- How is it applied in the real world? Does it solve a problem, improve on an aspect of life?
- Who does the invention/discovery help? Where and when was it used?
- Is there any side-effects, unintended consequences, dangers?
- Can the invention/discovery be adapted to a similar community in Singapore or around us? How can you reduce any risk that comes with applying the invention/discovery? What kind of difference can you make with this adoption?
Something interesting people might want to look into is that of robots; I recently took notice of this invention, 'Paro the seal', which is a social robot designed to accompany elderly. It could meet the need of an ageing population with lonely elderly folks perhaps. And Sherry Turkle voiced some concerns about this.
Now we move on to the next task option.
Waste Not, Want Not
This project task encourages you to consider the issue of wastage in a particular area and to suggest ways to reducing such wastage.
Identify an area (eg. of any natural resource, money, time, food, opportunity, etc.) where wastage takes place and show the present and future impact of such wastage.
Draw up a plan to highlight the problem to a specific group in the community and suggest ways in which they might reduce the wastage.
Now this task deals more specifically with a kind of problem. Still, wastage can be on anything so there's much scope for exploration. 'Wasted opportunity' alone can practically be anything. Choose something that can be wasted but that waste can also be salvaged or put into some other better use then the way it is used now.
- Why is it wasted at present? How does this waste arise? (Eg. Banana peels waste emerges from consumption of bananas)
- How is the waste currently treated? Ignored/Disposed? Used but not efficiently?
- Is there any residual value in the waste? Does the waste actually have value elsewhere? (Eg. Cow dung might be waste to the cow but fertilizers for the farmers)
- Is there a mechanism for us to bring this residual value from one party (the one who wastes it) to the other (the one who needs it)?
- Is there any cost involved in this transfer? Can we design a mechanism for that specific group in the community who can make use of the waste?
- What would be the impact of reducing this wastage? Who benefits and how can the impact affect the society at large?
Being based in London for my studies now; I could suggest looking into expired food and consumer products in supermarkets. You could do a project to survey the wasted perishable food that are disposed by supermarkets (like fresh vegetables, fruits, microwaved food, sushi, baked items, etc) every so often. And then a solution could be something like what is used in British supermarkets; that is to reduce the prices of these goods as they approach expiry date so that the supermarket can clear the stocks while recouping some of their cost and reduce wastage at the same time. I have not seen this in supermarkets in Singapore so it might be worthy to look into this.
Please try not to end up copying the suggested ideas because if you can see this post, a thousand over other students or more would see it and your tutors too, would be able to see this set of guidance and possibly use it for their class.
All the best!
You should realise by now that EoM requires that you pick something scholarly to evaluate. Many students seem to be under the impression that news reports are authoritative sources for scholarly research but the fact is they're only useful for establishing public sentiments, or facts but not so much when it comes to trying to qualify opinions. Say for example, the Straits Times article titled "Malaysia's Worsening Brain Drain" (see link) written by the Senior Regional Correspondent, Leslie Lopez, appears on first instance to be useful for looking into the 'social conflicts' in Malaysia. Nevertheless, a JC PW supervisor would advise you against it.
As a matter of fact, PW is a preparation for the kind of research work you've to practice for many fields in the social sciences or business after JC. The newspapers are a good starting point to identify ideas or other materials that are related to your subject of inquiry but not the end in itself. In other words, although Lesile Lopez is a senior regional correspondent of ST, his job is not really to study the relationship of the different races of Malaysians. It would be good that you can find out more about this brain drain that he mentions, check if any research is done in this area, or any statistics is gathered and use them as your EoM material. Those are scholarly stuff, done by people who are indeed studying that area or one aspect of the area you're looking into.
In the EoM, you're supposed to first establish the reliability of the material, then explain its relevance by citing its value to your project. For the topic of conflict, the material you've selected may be helping you to understand the 'causes' of the conflict or its 'effects'. And ultimately, its value should ideally be reflected in the use of its information in your Written Report. You can do this to the news article as well but its contribution to your WR would be quite minimal.
It's slightly more than 12 hours to the first examination I'll be taking in university, at the London School of Economics. I am probably not excited enough about it given that I'm still typing away on my computer and fiddling with my website when I really should be studying. Fact that all student should recognize at this point of time is that you should get rest and be mentally prepared for the papers rather than try to cram more stuff into your mind. It is a time when you start considering the difficulty of the challenge that you are taking on and preparing yourself mentally for it so that you have the capacity to handle it and to accept it when there are areas you simply cannot conquer at the moment. Expectations management is as important as forgetting your expectations altogether and focusing on the moment.
Besides being constantly reminded of the dangers of not panicking during examinations, we are informed that we must expect examinations to be difficult - and that the teaching staff of LSE are proud to say that. I pointed out in my personal blog that LSE includes the following statement in their document on examination procedures:
Please note that examinations are intentionally difficult, and feel more so under the pressure of timed conditions. The cachet of LSE degrees, in the eyes of other universities and employers, is at least in part based on the School’s rigorous academic standards. You should not therefore be surprised when your examinations feel more difficult than the previous years’ papers from which you have been revising. Examinations may contain questions that surprise you and that are unlike past examination questions. This is intentional: the examiners want to test that you have understood the material well enough to cope with new types of problems. Though challenging and difficult, the examination will also be fair. – Examination Procedures for Candidates 2011
Yet, I'm sure every year, the examinations still 'surprise' students in their creativity in terms of design and questioning methods. This is because, for a typical student with experience over the past 15 years or so of examinations have always walked into examination halls having done piles of past year questions. These are often an accurate reflection of the questions that will be coming out in the examination. The scope for creativity in question-setting haven't actually been exploited in those cases. At LSE, we are constantly informed that this will not be the case and we should really all be mentally prepared for that. This is a good thing because it reflects challenges we face in the world. Problems are not exactly problems when you already solved it before and know exactly how to approach it. My Mum says issues always crop up when she is the one using the computer. Fact is, I do often encounter those 'issues' but they are not exactly 'issues' to me - I navigate through them like the waking up ritual (rubbing eyes, folding duvet, checking time, heading to the toilet). A decent university knows that they should not be testing you with how to run through routines (that might even already be second nature to the brilliant students).
And it is these surprises in examinations that can make us proud of ourselves when we manage to overcome them, and when we manage to achieve some decent results out of it. At this point of time just before the paper, for those who feels they are still inadequately prepared: accept that no one is ever perfectly prepared for examinations. Instead, focus on making yourself ready by familiarising yourself with the examination procedures, the things you've to do for the paper and getting enough rest. As our undergraduate tutor advised in her email addressing the undergraduates of the department:
I do urge you, no matter how ill-prepared you might feel - to get really and truly enough sleep, not to try to cram, and to have a rehearsed routine for avoiding panic if you find an exam harder than you have ever faced so far in your life [...]
You actually need more sleep if you have not studied steadily because you will need to be in good control. There is almost nothing you can cram that will compensate for not having good reaction time and that ability not to loose your perspective.
I do find this to be brilliant advice and I'd urge anyone reading this to do the same in the time towards the examination. And life, more often than not, moves on during the moments when you stay calm. Time freezes when you panic. So if there's anything in the paper you realise you don't know, keep calm and carry on.
After spending 15 years in education, I spent a brief two and a half year or so working (2 years in the military and then 6 months in the private sector). I returned to education after that; almost completing my first year of education since the hiatus. So I guess I know a thing or two about studying, or at least learning. Of course, everyone have different styles of learning but from my experience with people around me (who have mostly done remarkably well in the education system back in Singapore), studying/revising for school work almost definitely involves some form of active 'doing' rather than passive stuff (like plain reading).
The trick to absorbing new materials and learning in general is to involve as many senses as possible. This is a concept I explored a while back in 'Remembering Stuff'. It is then, more sensible to draw mindmaps while reading, to do underlining, annotations, taking notes while going through materials. When I go through my Economics notes, I often have to try deriving the equations myself because if I don't walk myself through the equations using my own interpretation of the logic of the theory, I will never be able to internalize the materials. This true for all the hard sciences (granted, economics is not exactly a hard science but when it comes down to the equations and formulas, we can reasonably assume it takes on that slice of nature of hard sciences).
But what about social sciences and humanities? It helps to draw mindmaps, basically to make connections between things that are studied. And the best part about mind maps is that it allows you to make many different complex connections. Although at the end of the day you might not actually find the stuff you drew particularly useful, the mindmap is really more of a tool to pin down your thinking of the connections than a visual representation of the actual concepts (especially true when you're doing revision) so it's fine. Getting in the mode of 'doing' activates your kinesthetic self and enlist the help of your muscles to 'remember' stuff for you. It's not that the muscle cells helps you to remember stuff but that the motor neurons help to provide another channel by which the new material enters your brains.
All that busyness also keeps you engaged and focused, especially if you're like me, dozing off easily as I stare at my materials. So for those who are studying out there, preparing for examinations, plainly trying to be consistent, don't waste your time staring blankly at your notes. Take some action and learn something.
I noticed some reader searching 'Conflict' on ERPZ already! It's the Task 2 of the PW question this year and seeing my entry on 'Risk', you naturally think I've prepared something for conflict as well. Well, perhaps. I'm laying down the guidelines for 'Conflict' in this entry.
As usually, the two PW question themes for each year are quite closely related and I remember when I was working on mine - the project we've chosen is so versatile it actually fits both of the themes and we had to decide which one it matches more nicely. That sometimes have to do with reading the requirements of the question carefully. In this case, 'Risk' requires you to provide a guideline for risk-taking while 'Conflict' requires a guideline for resolution.
I personally find this more tricky than 'Risk' because conflicts may sometimes be resolved not because of any external force or a specific path that any party takes. It can be resolved by the changing nature of the conflict, the balance of power of the two parties in the conflict. In my studies of the Cold War, that's exactly how it worked out. There was a gradual but steady shift in the dynamics of the conflict as it progressed. The periods of Détente may not have done as much to end the Cold war as the exhaustion of Soviet Union's ability to sustain growth.
This project asks you to show how an understanding of conflicts may be of help in resolving conflicts in the future.
Identify one conflict (in politics, education, human interaction, etc.).
Explain its main causes and analyse the positive and negative effects which resulted.
Suggest how lessons learned might help resolve fututre conflicts.
Once again, there is a whole load of cases and examples out there for conflicts and their resolution (and also conflicts that dragged for ages and fail to be resolved; eg. Arab-Israeli) so just take your pick and then try and analyse them carefully. Think about some of these points:
- Analyse the conflict by classifying the factors contributing it (you can follow the political scientists method of arranging them into 'agency', 'structure' or 'idea' factors).
- Examine the agenda and intentions of each sides of the conflict. Question their interest in the continuation of the conflict.
- Investigate the trend in the unfolding of the conflict; did it escalate at any point; is there a climax; at each stage, what might be the key to the turn of events (use counterfactual reasoning).
- What are the effects of the conflict on other parties/stakeholders? Did it help push them to take action to resolve or fuel the conflict?
- What are the aspects of the conflict that each side controlled and how did this impact on the eventual resolution?
- Once again, combine these parts to obtain a mindmap linking all these ideas and then identify the key characteristics of the conflict, then carefully select the actions that might have led to resolution. It might be important to identify the sort of conflict that your guidelines can resolve because I believe that it cannot be generalised to all conflicts. If you want to come up with a truly general guideline, it'd be so abstract that people have no idea how to execute it; it's going to be just 'common sense' that add nothing to our knowledge.
Like the previous PW guidance, comments are welcomed though students should not expect me to be guiding them on their specific projects.
I guess it's the Project Work season again and it'll be worth your while to check out our PW page for some generic advice. This year, I'm glad to be able to offer some of my personal take on the question and the potential ideas and approaches. This could possibly the most useful piece on PW that ERPZ can offer for this year.
I shall first tackle Task 1, 'Risk'; it is not too tough and usually, PW questions are given so that you have a lot of room to explore different things. Which is wonderful.
This project task encourages you to took at the idea of risk and then show how risk-taking might affect people.
Choose one example of risk-taking (in history, business, environmental studies, science, etc.), show how the need to take specific risks arose and analyse the positive and negative effects which resulted from the actions taken.
Suggest how lessons learned might be used to guide similar risk-taking in the future by individuals and/or groups.
There is a whole load of cases and examples out there for risk-taking and risky behaviours so just take your pick and then try and analyse each of the cases carefully. Ask yourself some of these questions:
- What are the impacts of the action taken?
- What is the agenda of the risk-takers?
- Think abt how the risk-taking has been coordinated.
- What're the aspects within their control and how did they manage these aspects?
- What are the aspects they couldnt control and how they take actions to cover up down-side risks or prevent undesirable outcomes?
- Use all these different parts to piece together the lessons and come up with a sort of 'guideline' or training programme
Comments are welcomed though students should not expect me to be guiding them on their specific projects.
I was working on my articles when I discovered, amongst my documents, a half-completed Economics Essay guide I was preparing for my tuition students. Apparently I didn't finish it though parts of it consists of what I've already taught to those students. I took some time to finish it up, recalling the content I had intention to include when the idea for such a guide hatched a couple of months back while I was still in Singapore. Obviously, having already been through the A Levels, my students won't be too interested and so to make this work useful at all, I'm publishing it completely free on ERPZ!
I briefly thought of including a list of essay command words but this list seemed good enough and I think students can find such information online pretty easily. My focus is more on presenting ideas about essay writing that is normally not covered in school or quickly glossed over despite their importance.
Hope the students of Economics for the A Levels next year and the upcoming years would find it useful. Meanwhile, here's a Happy New Year to all readers in advance!