Taking your GCE ‘A’ Levels as a Private Candidate

Update: Every year I get people coming to this post either right before the A Levels, or right after they get their results. If you’d like to talk to me, you can email me at visakanv at gmail dot com, or tweet me at @visakanv.

Someone dropped by my Tumblr to ask me to write a post about my experience re-taking my A Levels as a private candidate.

Here we go.


If you want to re-take your A’s, the first thing you got to do is to register with the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. (SEAB). Go to National Examinations -> GCE ‘A’ Levels -> Private Candidates -> Online Registration. You can just click that last link to save yourself the trouble. Registration for this year’s A’s are closed. I believe I registered for mine in late March.

Choosing Subjects

When choosing subjects, you’ll want to check out the Syllabuses. I picked Mathematics, Economics, English Literature, and English Language and Linguistics. All of them H2’s. (And H1 General Paper.)

In JC, I had taken H2 Mathematics, H2 Economics and H2 History, and H1 Literature. (And H1 General Paper.)

I got B’s for H2 Economics, H2 History and H1 Literature. I got an S for H2 Mathematics. (And an A for H1 General Paper.)

I didn’t really study at all. I just sort of skimmed through everything. It’s easy to pass Economics, History and Literature without much effort if you can think and write clearly. Actually, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say that it’s the same for Mathematics- but you can’t improvise in Mathematics- you’ll have to have a thorough understanding of the language.

I’d say it’s the same for every subject, actually- every subject has its own language, in a way, and you’ll need to learn to speak it fluently if you want to score well. Maths is the most technical  or “different” of the languages… I’ll talk more about this in a later post.

I decided to do English Language and Linguistics instead of History because I didn’t really relish the idea of having to re-learn a whole bunch of history. I enjoyed learning it the first time around, but if I ever have a desire to learn history, I know where to look up the information.

I’ve always been passionate about language and linguistics to some degree, and so I thought it would be fun to try doing something I love. It’s a bit risky, though, because it’s a really young or new subject. The syllabus is vague, and I haven’t seen the specimen papers yet. Still, I imagine that in the worst case scenario I’m going to get a B. (The plan is still to get A’s.)

I specifically avoided taking any science subjects, despite my renewed passion for them. I would quite like to learn Physics, for instance, but it’s complicated- I’ll have to sign up for the practical paper and all that stuff. Messy. I’ll stick to writing, thanks!

Study Plan

I’m re-doing my A’s together with my friend and former band-mate, Adnin. It’s good to have someone else doing it with you, to keep yourself accountable.

I had sold off my graphing calculator after my A’s, so I’m borrowing one from my girlfriend.

I printed out all the syllabuses to remind myself of what I’m tested on.

I made a deal with a friend who still had his notes for Mathematics and Economics- I traded him some books for his notes, and more importantly, his old Prelim papers. I’ve been spending most of my time going through 2007 JC Prelim Papers for Economics.

I’ll be meeting up with a couple of younger friends who are doing their A’s this year, and I’ll be getting more recent prelim papers from them. I still need to get myself some ELL material.

I haven’t really started properly on Literature and ELL, because I’m fairly confident that I can get up to speed on those in a month if I have to. My strategy at the moment is to build my confidence by getting my Economics up to scratch, to practice my Mathematics at a foundation level (I’ve been watching Math lectures on YouTube and they are absolutely fantastic.) It’s already June, and soon it will be July. Throughout July and August I will be studying hardcore- it will dominate my time.

I have been deleting and removing distractions from my life. I have been decluttering my study space (this will get more dramatic as time goes by). I try to keep track of how much I study every day, and what I accomplished. (This will get more dramatic as time goes by.)

Feel free to ask questions- I don’t have the time to make this post perfect, so think of it as the start of a series of posts that will eventually be clear and useful as a collective. 🙂


Useful Stuff:

 Check the syllabuses of all the subjects you’re doing on http://www.seab.gov.sg/.  Print these out. Analyse them. Know them inside out. Tick everything you’re comfortable with and can answer easily. Focus your energy on everything you’re bad at.




I studied for Literature by…

  1. googling the books
  2. reading the summaries
  3. watching the movies (torrented them)
  4. looked up discussions and book reviews and forums
  5. THEN read the books and started answering questions.

Same for Linguistics. Borrowed a couple of library books, searched YouTube for videos. Immerse yourself.

Compulsory seating for annoying aunties

I wasn’t going to bother talking about this, but then there’s this beautiful picture that needs to be shared, so I might as well discuss both the incident and the commentary all at once.

The story is this- a girl (some say Ah Lian) was sitting in the reserved seat. A middle aged lady (auntie) asked her for it. Ah Lian gave up her seat. Auntie claimed that Ah Lian was giving her black face. Took out her camera, wanting to take picture. Shouting match ensued. Video was taken. Everyone enjoying the lulz.

I was reading another story about this cab driver who suspected he was about to be robbed and tried to take a picture of his would-be assailant… and subsequently got assaulted for it, pretty badly.

What is this obsession with taking pictures of people? I can understand if you want to discreetly take a picture of a cute girl or something, but why would you be so bo liao (brazen?) to take a picture of someone who’s obviously pissed off with you in some way? Asking for trouble, right?

And what is this frustration with eye contact or “black face”? I don’t get it. If you want to give me “black face”, go ahead, by all means. It’s your face, not mine. It’s not my problem. Why should I get worked up because you’re doing something stupid with your face?

Anyway- I wanted to talk about the picture, which I love, and lots of other people do, too- over three hundred shares the last time I saw it.

Why so popular?

Allow me to avoid being politically correct for a moment- I think we all share a common loathing of these aunties.

I don’t mean to say that all older Singaporean women are like this- just the noisy, obnoxious ones with the entitlement mentality. The image captures it beautifully- the loud prints, the umbrella, the handbag, the raised arm and the open mouth- these are the ones that are typically mean to service staff, smack the bus seats before they sit on them, and generally give out dirty looks wherever they go. They’re also probably the ones that like to compare children, to gossip and to generally be a bloody nuisance.

I like that this is going viral, I like that we seem to be reaching a critical mass where we collectively agree that this sort of auntie-ness is annoying and frustrating- so much so to the point where we don’t even really complain about it anymore, we just sort of accept it and poke fun at it. Aunties will be aunties. They are a part of Singapore.

If I had the time, energy and artistic ability, I’d write an entire series of comics with the auntie as anti-hero- immortalized now by the polka dot prints and the umbrella. The adventures of Auntie and Ah Lian. With guest appearances by Steven Lim, Aaron Tan and the like. Somehow I feel like they all contribute to the ridiculousness of Singapore, in a kinda good, funny way.

I especially like the reference to the MRT poster. Utilizing all these existing motifs instead of trying to create new ones. Art is inherently referential- you can’t create anything completely new and independent- you have to use existing ideas and put them through new things.

Wuthering Heights and the folly of vengeance

I choose to start with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, partially because it was a text that I choose to do when retaking my GCE A Levels, so I’ve analysed and digested it a bit more than most books. (It was sitting on my bookshelf for years, courtesy of my mother, and I had heard my secondary school Literature teacher mention it in passing as a dense and difficult book.)

CENTRAL IDEA: Wuthering Heights is about the destructiveness of selfish “love”.

A lot of Wuthering Heights is about the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, where lovers are separated by a family feud,  Heathcliff and Catherine are separated by their own selfish spitefulness towards each other, and their relentless one-upmanship.

Some people describe the book as “romantic”, which I find outright disturbing. I don’t believe that there’s anything beautiful about ‘love’ that is so consuming and possessive. It’s worse than parasitical- it destroys the host, and cascades outwards destructively. (I find myself thinking about Asian horror films, like Ju-On. Brr.)

“To say ‘you are just like me’ is just a way of talking about me.  The danger of desire is that it ‘tends to bring the object ‘close enough’ to be engulfed’ by the self, and consequently destroys the sensation of difference that generated the attraction in the first place. ” – Emmanuel Levinas

We cannot truly possess others- and we will never find satisfaction or fulfillment in doing so. We cannot subjugate others completely, as much as it might seem a “romantic” thing to do. It isn’t. 

Heathcliff and Catherine both badly needed therapy and emotional counselling. We’re looking at something vaguely Chris Brown/Rihanna-esque. Even at the heights of their passion, they speak of their own self-interest- I need you so much, because you fulfill me and my needs. I don’t actually care about your needs, your happiness, your well-being; none of that interests me.

Heathcliff even marries Isabella in a carefully plotted attempt to make Cathy suffer… Emily Bronte creates detestable, pitiful characters who spitefully destroy themselves and each other. It’s a beautiful work of writing, and to me, a warning against emotional blackmail and petty neediness.


“May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. “Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

“You teach me now how cruel you’ve been – cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you – they’ll damn you. You loved me – what right had you to leave me? What right – answer me – for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will did it. I have no broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you – Oh, God! would you like to lie with your soul in the grave?”

Wuthering Heights is not about love, it’s about selfish possessiveness, and how that destroys everybody and everything. Cathy and Heathcliff not only destroy each other, they take everybody else around them down with them- marrying people they do not love to spite each other, manipulating and hurting them, passing on their hatred and vengeance to their children… it’s a horrible sight to behold.