An excerpt of a recent conversation between a student and a GP tutor (myself).
Student: Is there anything I need to take note of when I read newspaper articles i.e. the key points the writer is making or important evidence?
Tutor: Well, there is a higher purpose that lies above the exams in GP. And that is to develop your awareness and understanding of the world, of your own life. So when you read, yes take note of facts, figures, insights that help you understand this world and this life of ours. If it has significance to man, chances are it’s relevant to GP.
Student: I do read the newspapers daily but I find that whatever I read doesn’t really stick in my memory unless I have an interest in the topic.
Tutor: Ah, an important point. That’s why you should open your mind and heart to all the concerns of humanity, and see how they relate to your own life. Indeed politics, the arts, science, history, philosophy, globalisation, robotics, 3-D printing, climate change… they are all part of your life! They all change or influence your life in some way. If you see this simple truth, you will – like I do – have an interest in every dimension of GP and be able to retain at least some info on just about everything you read. Of course I have greater interest in some things than others and can remember some things better than others. We can focus more on our deepest interests, but we also can’t pick and choose what we learn too much, as sometimes in GP we have to answer a question on something outside our favourite areas (think AQ).
Student: I think one of the biggest challenges when I read the newspapers is that I can’t really contextualize the issue (esp if the issue has been reported in bits and pieces over a long period of time and I read an article on the issue only sometime in the middle or if it involves certain background knowledge on a country’s history etc). And very often I am put off by the large amount of outside reading I have to do to understand the contexts of these issues…
Tutor: Ah, well here you encounter another simple truth – GP, like any other subject, requires hard work! In fact even though it’s an H1 subject, one could argue that it’s more demanding than any other subject! It has a limitless curriculum because it’s about the whole wide world. Even as a GP tutor, I get exasperated sometimes because what I need to know is limitless! And it never ends.
But if we understand that GP is about life, then we will understand why. For is it not true that in life, learning is a journey that never ends? There is always something more to learn, another piece of the context/ jigsaw of life to collect and put in place – such is the beauty of life.
Such is the beauty of General Paper.
Student: I also often feel very lost when preparing for GP. I really don’t want to memorize arguments for GP, firstly because memorizing itself is soul-killing and secondly because I find that understanding is more effective than memorizing when it comes to GP.
Tutor: You are right!
Seek knowledge, seek understanding, sincerely seek to grow as an intellectual and as a person. And you will have that rich raw material you need to shine in GP.
The next issue is how to apply it.
Well, one way is to look through lots and lots of GP essay questions (my blog has a huge collection – look at the Menu up top). Essentially these are the questions of life, and you would be familiarising yourself with them. After that, think about them and try to tie the things you learn about in your daily life (whether through reading or experience) to these questions. This will help you to apply what you learn.
Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper.
To view tutors recommended by him, click here.
GP model essays here.
English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.