“The gift of confidence is one of the best things a teacher can give.”

It is usually by the month of July that most of my students come to me to ask for help, this being the time that coincides with the release of their MYE (Mid-Year Examinations) results. If their results are unexpectedly below their expectations, my students can lose their confidence and become stressed about A levels being just around the corner. Some of them may want me to lend them a listening ear or give a word of encouragement, while others seek advice of what to do next.

Mr Yeo conducting a lesson on Vectors in his best handwriting.

Personally, I always believe that the gift of confidence is one of the best things a teacher can give. If I can create a plan that helps to restore their confidence, then I’m sure they will be back on track and get that grade they’re looking for.

I remember when I was still a student at Hwa Chong Junior College, I was struggling with both my Mathematics and Further Mathematics. I was losing confidence, as I could never score better than a “S-grade” for any of my math papers. Not to mention that, being in a top school, everyone around me seemed to score effortlessly. I started to feel defeated, and subconsciously accepted the fact that I was just not as smart as everyone else. Three months before the A levels, I started to panic because my MYE results placed me at the 10th percentile of my cohort. I was helpless, and I knew my parents couldn’t afford to give me private tuition.

I wasn’t ready to give up yet: I knew I had to depend on myself to figure a way out. So, I locked myself in my bedroom and came up with a plan with three simple steps, one that I knew I was going to be able to commit to until the actual A level date.

I have been sharing this 3-step plan with many of my students enrolled in the A Level mathematics tuition classes at The Annexe Project and seen countless students benefit from it. Most importantly, it’s helped them gain back their confidence and eventually get that “A” for mathematics at the O-levels and A-levels.

“I believe that to score for Mathematics, it’s all about practice, practice, and more practice!”

Create a Weekly Roster

The first step I took to get myself back on track for the A-levels was to create a weekly roster and religiously follow it until the actual A level date. I carefully planned all of my activities for every hour slot from Monday to Sunday, which I then repeated every single week. These activities included school lessons, meal breaks, consultation times with my tutors, and revision time for each subject spread evenly throughout the week.

Knowing that I needed “little carrots” along the week to keep my spirits high, I made sure I included time slots for things that mattered to me throughout the week. That included activities such as 2 hours of uninterrupted family time on every Sunday, an hour of catching my favourite TV programme on a Friday evening, an hour of reading my favourite comic magazine on a Wednesday evening, and multiple 30 minute slots of running and physical activities throughout the week to take my mind off studying for a bit. I kept track of every single minute of my life during those three months, even the time I spent taking a shower!

The key to succeeding on this first step was accountability and commitment.

Many students love to plan but end up failing to deliver due to a lack of discipline and commitment. So, when you create your own solid plan, first make sure it’s achievable. Then, put up the weekly roster to your wall, or anywhere that can be easily seen, and follow it strictly. Every now and then, I like to sit down with a student or two and go through the roster they have planned, sharing my stories with them. This is really the time that I enjoy being a teacher the most, because whether through mentoring or teaching mathematics, I enjoy the personal relationships and bonds I have with my students that last even after they graduate from The Annexe Project.

Do the TYS (Ten Year Series) Weekly and Pen Down Your score

While my classmates cracked their brains over challenging questions given by my math tutor or mugged over prelim papers from other top schools, I decided to focus on the TYS instead. I told myself there was no way for me to achieve an “A” in the actual exam if I cannot even score for a past year A level paper. With that in mind, I would complete a math paper 1 and math paper 2 from the TYS within the given time duration each week for 3 whole months. I would then mark them with reference to the suggested solutions provided and give myself a score for that year’s paper.

I remember the first week, having barely passed both papers, I penned down my scores on a chart pasted on the wall in front of my study desk. I did this because I knew that this score could only go higher from there. Eventually, I saw my TYS scores heading slowly but confidently towards an “A” grade.

Before this second step can take you to the next level, I want to emphasize to all students out there that when marking your TYS papers, always make sure you understand all the solutions thoroughly. If you have doubts, go back to your lecture notes, find a reliable friend, or seek consultation with your tutor. While it can be tempting to take the easy way out by convincing yourself that it will never appear in the coming A-level paper, you don’t want to let even one question go past without understanding it.

I believe that to score for Mathematics, it’s all about practice, practice, and more practice! The simple of approach of doing TYS within the allocated time duration brought about such a significant change in my students’ grades that I started “The Astro Program” at The Annexe Project ten years ago. Students who sign up for this program sit for a math paper each week, mark their own papers, and then attend my consultation class. In the class, I go through every part of the paper that they have trouble understanding even after looking through the solutions. This program has exceeded my expectations with the vast number of success cases I’ve seen in all these years.

Spot Two to Three Case Studies Per Topic

“Spotting” was a word most of my tutors frown upon. However, it was the last step that I believe got me an “A” for both of my mathematics subjects at the A-levels. When I was revising for the topic of Vectors, there were so many possible types of questions that could be tested, and I was running out of time to be familiar with all of them. Hence, I decided to focus on only two to three popular case studies for Vectors, and I familiarised myself by gathering questions of the same case studies and repeatedly going through them. This approach helped me to move through the chapters at a faster rate, because there was really no need to understand every single line in the school notes. I also realized by doing the exact same questions repeatedly over a period of time, I was better able to remember the sequence of solving the next time I saw a similar question.

I’ve seen time and time again that spotting for each chapter is a method that can accelerate the speed of revision for the A-levels and in turn boost a student’s confidence. Therefore, every year three months before the A-levels, I will personally spot every chapter for my students and put them through a crash course that covers from the first to the last chapter, followed by having them sit for a mock examination. During this crash course, we spend the first fifteen minutes of each lesson doing a mind-map and recap of all the formulae and concepts of that particular chapter. I then highlight to them the two to three case studies that I have spotted for the chapter, and they start doing my prepared questions for the next hour or two. Before the end of the lesson, they are given a fifteen-minute quiz in which they will be challenged to apply what they have learned during the past two hours. Because they have been practicing the same type of questions during the lesson, they gain the confidence and ability to remember the steps to tackle my quiz question.

This three-steps approach to prepare for A-level Mathematics in three months may seem too good to be true, but like any other aspect of our daily routines, success can only be achieved if there is a clear plan. No matter how simple the plan may seem to be, it’s important to be focused and stay committed to the plan.

As the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew has once quoted, “If you want to reach your goals and dreams, you cannot do it without discipline.” I firmly believe that discipline is the key to success for every student, and I hope that Mr Lee’s quote (which is on the wall of my very own classroom) will always serve as a gentle reminder to both my students and me alike.

The Astro Program and the 3-Months Crash Course for the O and A-levels Mathematics are currently on-going at The Annexe Project. Click on the following links to find out more:

  1. O-level Additional Mathematics Crash Course
  2. A-level H2 Mathematics Crash Course
  3. Mathematics Tuition and Astro Program Details