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Failing promos in JC, am I going to fail A levels?

    A common question I get, “If I am failing promos in JC, am I therefore going to fail A levels too?”

    Failing promos

    Firstly, this is not the end of the world!

    For instance, a frequent observation after all these years of tutoring H2 Bio is the incredible variation of teacher competence across different schools. As well as the expected quality of answers in exams.

    A student may get an A grade from a H2 Bio exam in a school. However, if the script is remarked by another school’s teacher, it may return a U grade in contrast. Which consequently results in the student failing promos.

    One way to see this phenomenon is to look at the final grade in school versus the A level grades. If we see huge variations, this means that the school teacher grossly over or under-estimate the level of the papers/marking.

    So this most importantly shows an inadequacy at the school and not the student level.

    In contrast, many students blame themselves instead when they receive poor grades.

    My heart goes out to these poor students for all the stress they have to bear.

    However, don’t forget the opposite can happen! Especially for students who do well when their teachers grossly over-estimate their academic performance.

    Consequently, they may under-perform in actual exams.

    Failing promos: the school’s fault

    For example, when students send their exam scripts to me to help them break down their performance, I see egregious errors by the teachers.

    Let me bring up one such example in the following.

    failing promos question example

    This is an example scenario where the exam question was set by one JC in Singapore. The question asks for the student to give an evidence. In doing so, such an evidence can then support the scientist …

    In fact, my student correctly do so by dutifully giving the evidence. But see what the teacher do in response?

    Here the teacher penalizes my student who did the right thing because the teacher asked the wrong question.

    Let me correct phrasing of the question to reflect what the teacher want: Give an evidence AND EXPLAIN why

    OR, if the teacher is not interested in the evidence, then Give a reason why

    Moving on from the horrendous question, so how can you expect students to do well in such situations? And worst yet fault them for doing poorly?

    Failing promos: what can you do about it?

    Most importantly, instead of worrying about the meaningless promo grades, consider what you need to do right-away to improve.

    Since the school teacher cannot change, start looking out for tutors who are very familiar with the syllabus. More importantly, they show that they know exactly what and how to interpret exam questions.

    This way, you can get a proper dissection and approximation of your level of academic performance. In contrast to the vague and useless instructions from many school teachers like study harder.

    In addition, identify your errors.

    Likewise, ask yourself if these errors a result of carelessness or concepts that you don’t understand? Is it because of insufficient time? Or if it’s none of the above then are the questions very difficult instead?

    Therefore, each of these reasons requires a different ‘treatment’. And the Chinese say it best ‘对症下药’.

    Subsequently, the students in a bid to improve tries to study harder.

    Studying harder unfortunately will not make any significant difference. Because that is not the primary reason for the poor results!

    For example, a number of students spend too much time writing expansive answers. However, it’s unnecessary because they have already gotten all the points.

    Moreover, this wastes a lot time and they cannot complete the paper therefore losing a lot of marks.

    Consequently, in such situations studying harder will then be unhelpful for the student in gaining marks in exams.


    Hopefully with this perspective, you begin to get a clearer understanding. And therefore make impactful adjustments that will give you a leg up in exams.

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