F3 Students! Itâ€™s okay to be overwhelmed by all the choices ahead of you. But cheer up! Check out the advice below written by senior-form students, which will definitely come in handy if you are struggling with the choices or simply interested in knowing more about the different curricula and subjects. Good luck!
5A Michael So — DSE sciences It is never an easy task for you to confront 7 subjects and choose 3 of them as your electives next year, especially amid the uncertainties during the pandemic of Wuhan Pneumonia. You may now feel frustrated and confused probably because of a lack of support from your peers. Frankly speaking, I believe that only by thinking rationally can we take everything into account to become fully prepared to make the best decision. This is particularly important when everyone is panicking about his/her future. We only went through Integrated Science during form 1 and form 2. In September 2019, you might ask, ‘what are the differences among the 3 distinct science subjects?’ and ‘which science subject is the most suitable for me?’. After 6 months of studying, you may be able to identify some of their characteristics. However, what is the whole picture of science, and more specifically, physics, chemistry and biology? So far, concepts like heat capacity, latent heat, reflection and refraction (or lenses) were taught. The reason for heat and optics to be included in the syllabus of form 3 is how the related phenomena can be easily observed, and how you can easily understand the concepts embedded in them. However, much more imagination is necessary when you are studying topics like force and motion, wave motion and magnetism. When dealing with related exam questions, you are often required to think directionally, for instance, the resultant direction of force when two forces ‘add up’ together, the resultant form of wave when two waves ‘merge’, and the direction of magnetic force when a current passes through a wire in a certain direction. These questions may be very different from those that appeared on the exam paper in January. While some of you may be anxious about the mathematics in physics, I am quite confident that most SPCC schoolmates are able to master the calculations in the subject. Just keep calm when you are encountering a graph or when you need to apply a formula. Chemistry is often regarded to be fun because of its experiments. The appealing chemical reactions may fascinate many to choose this subject as their elective. It seems that memorization is less necessary in Chemistry. In fact, a chemistry exam paper requires a relatively large amount of knowledge to be memorized. The major pros of this subject is that questions are mostly straightforward. This means that the more devoted to memorization and doing past papers you are, the more likely you are to meet the expectations of the marking scheme and obtain satisfying marks in the exams. The huge amount of information which requires memorization is what many distinguish Biology from Chemistry or Physics. However, comparing between Chemistry and Biology, which also require much memorization, the latter has a much larger variation of question. Phenomena and experiments which are out of syllabus are usually described in words or presented by graphs in the exam. Applying learned concepts, candidates have to deduce the answer logically for the
question, and ensure that it completely fits the marking criteria. Therefore, ‘memorization and dictation’ cannot guarantee a high mark in the public exam since each question has a unique context and marking scheme. On the other hand, as opposed to Physics, most concepts can be easily understood in Biology lessons. When you are struggling with the abstract concepts during Physics lessons, you may be pleased to go through the textbook in Biology periods. Then you may ask, ‘why did you choose these 3 subjects as your electives?’ A similarity drawn from these 3 science subjects is the clear, objective marking scheme. After you have completed a past paper, you can be certain about the expectations of answers, which means that you can judge whether your answer is correct on your own. After acknowledging your answer to be wrong, you can be clear about the requirements of the question, and strive your best to avoid making a similar mistake again. Moreover, a plethora of physics, chemistry and biology supplementary exercises are available in bookstores. After purchasing these exercises, you can complete them by attempting the questions and checking your answers with the marking scheme. Exposed to a large variety of questions, you can be more confident about the questions with different difficulty levels in the exam. Through doing exercises diligently, you can absolutely improve yourself independently. However, analysing the features of these electives is not enough for you to make a decision. Your mode of learning matters, and you always need to judge whether yours is suitable for the electives. When I was trying to determine my choice of electives 3 years ago, I constantly asked myself, ‘do you find the subject easy to learn?’. To judge it, you have to consider whether you are confident about overcoming the problems of the subject. For example, whether you will imagine well in physics, be flexible in answering questions in biology, etc. Afterwards, questions like ‘if I am capable of learning both A and B, can A guarantee me a better academic performance than B? can be helpful. For me, when I was struggling between physics and history, I compared the clarity of marking schemes and the availability of supplementary exercises of the subjects. Taking my mode of learning into account, which is doing exercises to have a solid grasp of the requirements of answers, I know that I can improve myself in physics to a larger extent, so that my future academic results can be better. In conclusion, if you can guarantee that you are able to surmount the barriers of the subject, and maximize its benefits in the future, it may be a suitable elective for you. Determining your electives is no longer arduous after you know the characteristics of these 3 subjects, as well as the way to logically make comparisons between your mode of learning and the subjects. Keep calm and carry on as Wuhan Pneumonia developed into a pandemic. Trust yourself, reflect on yourself, and think, so the best decision can be made.
5A Marvil Cheung — DSE sciences Being a DSE science student is never an easy task. As a student taking Physics, Chemistry and Biology, I believe what the curriculum demands from students are an interest in the subject as well as a curious mindset, along with determination. Different subjects have varying foci and demand distinct skill sets. Taking my electives as examples, Physics stresses heavily on mathematical manipulations and the ability to apply concepts to unfamiliar, complex situations (trust me, physics will become much harder starting from F.4), so you would like to think thrice before choosing Physics if you are uncomfortable with chunks of formulae and understanding complicated concepts. On the other hand, Biology requires more comprehensive understanding of factual knowledge (basically recitation) and question-answering techniques. Be prepared to look at marking schemes of past papers and practices extensively as well if you’re choosing Biology. As for Chemistry, though certain ideas might seem unapproachable at first, a good result is almost certainly guaranteed with sufficient drilling and practice. Apart from the choice of electives, I am sure some of you might be struggling between DSE and IB due to the infamous Chinese and Liberal Studies subjects in the DSE curriculum. Indeed, this was my perception towards these two subjects back in Form 3; yet after one and a half years, I would say they are not as insurmountable as you might think. For Chinese, given that you are aware of your own shortcomings, you can improve through extensive reading and extra writing practices targeting your weaknesses; as for Liberal Studies, though you might be intimidated by the humongous piles of notes distributed to you at first, your only job is to digest the content and reel out useful terms, concepts and examples. Equipped with concepts and questionanswering frameworks, you will be able to tackle the subject with ease. A final piece of advice I would give to those who might be struggling with subject/curriculum choices right now is to utilize the remaining of the class suspension period to explore your interests. Simply self-learn some F.4 topics (through online videos or reading textbooks in advance) of your desired subjects to see whether you possess the interest and skills needed, or chat with a senior to learn about the characteristics of each elective. After all, what matters most while choosing electives is passion and ability. No matter what path you end up taking, with passion and perseverance, you definitely can and will shine. Good luck!
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5H Gabrielle Luk — IB: my subjects I chose History, Economics and Biology. I don’t regret any of these choices, and I would choose the same subjects if I was given the chance to choose them again. History would be an interesting choice for those who are looking to pursue a career in the realm of humanities or law, because it trains up your critical analysis and essay-writing skills. Economics was a good choice for me (even though in F3 you don’t get a chance to really delve into the subject matter), and I would advise you to choose economics (and even Higher Level in the future) if you enjoy evaluating various government policies in the face of real-life problems in the market. Biology does involve some memorisation, but it isn’t as hard as one might expect once you attempt practice papers.
5G Boris Leung — IB ESS ESS: Environmental Systems and Societies/Bio+Geog/The subject nobody chooses/ Useless/What on Earth is this?? Hello F3s and welcome to ESS 101!! I am one of the four weird people who chose ESS in F5 this year and I’m here to let you know whether you’re going to be one of the upcoming weird people :) Excuse the informal tone and point form but here’s a list of attributes you might or might not need in order to nail ESS. 1. You care about the environment (obviously right lol) (You ponder what the natural world is like today and how the whole world works perfectly together to create the planet we know as Earth. You wonder what role do humans play in all of that. You feel really sad when parts of the environment are destroyed. You often read Wikipedia articles on ‘frogs’ and ‘oceans’ and ‘forest fires’ and stuff. You watch BBC documentaries. You follow National Geographic on IG.) 2. You enjoy being and having hands-on experiences in the natural environment (You like to go on field trips. You like to examine plants and animals as you walk past them. You stop and stare at ants when your parents are screaming at you for not walking. You hug trees. You like to do experiments involving living organisms and soil and water and other natural things you see around you. You are not afraid to come into contact with the environment (touching stuff).)
3. You are interested in and good at the causes and effects of events (This one is a bit vague. In ESS, everything learnt is strung together more directly than other subjects. As the course goes on you’ll notice a big web of events with everything interconnected to one another. It is important to quickly notice the reasons behind and the effects of an event so that you can add it to the big web and relate it to everything else. This is quite crucial to the ‘systems approach’ in the ESS curriculum (I’ll talk about this in the next section).) 4. You understand how different stakeholders think and feel (In LS you have analyzed the viewpoints of different stakeholders for many times. You’ll do something similar in ESS concerning controversies over environmental issues so it is quite important to be able to quickly understand all the sides in an argument as to analyze the situation.) 5. You are a fan of Greta Thunberg (Jk lollll it doesn’t hurt to be one but I’m not and I’m doing fine) Here are some highlights of the course so you get an idea of what it’s like :D 1. Systems approach (The course focuses on a holistic view of the environment, meaning how everything is interconnected. You’ll use the inputsprocessesoutputs method a lot throughout the course, and how one event leads to another. An easier way to put it is to compare it with the reductionist approach. Systems approach looks at things at a much macroscopic level while the reductionist approach is much more specific and specialized. Eg. Reductionist approach: Characteristics of shrimp. Systems approach: Effects of environmental factors on shrimps and impact of shrimps on the environment.) 2. Biotic part + abiotic part (The class will be split into two parts, with each part occupying half of the lessons. A biology teacher will be teaching the biotic part, and a geography teacher will be teaching the abiotic part. The biotic part focuses on living organisms (biosphere), their interactions with each other and their interactions with the abiotic factors of the environment (water, soil etc.) while the abiotic part focuses on water (hydrosphere), solid earth (lithosphere), air (atmosphere) and how they interact with each other to form the environment.) 3. Tons of terms to memorize (Evapotranspiration, infiltration, percolation, stem flow, drip flow and groundwater flow are some of the new terms in the ‘advanced’ or ‘cooler’ version of the water cycle. Maybe you already knew these terms and I’m just really dumb. But if you don’t, don’t let this scare you and don’t let this be the reason for not choosing ESS!)
4. Super small class! (Since ESS isn’t a popular subject, expect to have only a few people in your class. There is currently 4 people in my ESS class. A small class isn’t a bad thing! It feels really different and it’s easy to collect everyone’s opinion in class. You can voice out a lot more and discussions are more common than in other classes.) 5. Research research research (You will have to do a lot of research on all kinds of different real life examples both in class and at home (well they’re the same now due to corona) and present them in class. They are really good for fortifying your understanding and you can use them in your exams too.) 6. Activities and field trips (There will be a lot of activities in class to enhance your understanding of the topics. Sometimes you have to walk around the campus to complete the activities! For me it is definitely a new and fun experience and I got to do a lot of hands-on work. There will also be a couple of field trips each year, in which you either need to collect data in the natural environment for investigations, or learn about the different parts of the ecosystem.) 7. Overlapping?? (Yes, there will be parts of ESS which are exactly the same as those in Biology and Geography (I don’t study geography tho so idk). However I don’t think it is that much of an issue since it doesn’t only enforce your understanding on that topic, it also gives you an opportunity to look at the same piece of knowledge with different approaches and perspectives. Eg. Ecology is a topic covered in both ESS and Biology. ESS focuses on the interactions between all the different kinds of organisms, while Biology tends to look at the types of organisms one by one. AND you get to be really arrogant in Biology and say stuff like ‘I ALREADY LEARNT THIS LOL’ after you learnt the overlapped topics in ESS.) That’s about all the things I can think of in the time your SU president Ryan has given me. This is quite long but I hope all that information has made you think ‘wow! ESS is totally for me!’ or ‘omg! I hate ESS now!’ or other things I can’t possibly know. Anyway, hope that I have helped you clear your clouds about this weird subject and now you know whether you want to choose ESS. Have fun choosing your subjects!! If you have any questions about ESS or IB or your current existential crisis, feel free to pm me @borisleung22 (self-promotion yes why not) and I’ll answer ASAP!
5G Justin Lam — Why I like IB more? For me, choosing between the IBDP and HKDSE wasn’t really a quick or easy choice. I had a general idea of what subject electives I wanted to study - Physics and Chemistry - but beyond that, I wasn’t entirely sure of what was best for me. After doing some research and looking into the differences between the IBDP and the DSE, I decided to choose the IBDP over the HKDSE curriculum. From what I gleaned from seminars and online sources, as well as my own experiences in the past 2 years, I think that the IBDP focuses less on memorization of facts and more on self-initiated exploration of the subjects. IBDP students are expected to design their own science experiments, conduct independent research, and carry out a wide variety of non-academic activities in addition to their coursework. Whereas the DSE focuses heavily on the final examination, the IBDP places great emphasis on other assessments, such as the Extended Essay, Internal Assessments, and Individual Orals, which is a double-edged sword - some people may prefer to have their usual performance outside exams to be taken into consideration, while others may feel extremely stressed from the constant projects and essays. Personally, I disliked and still do - the idea of having most of my final grade being determined by a single exam, and I really enjoyed the idea of a curriculum focused on critical thinking and exploration rather than rote learning. Unlike the DSE, the IBDP also requires students to take a diverse variety of subjects. What this means is that students have to take at least one science subject and one humanity subject. While I appreciated the IBDP’s emphasis on well-roundedness, this was also something that made me hesitate when making my choice. As a more science-oriented student, I wasn’t especially interested in any of the humanities subjects, and I would be more than happy to study Physics, Chemistry, and Biology if I could. In the end, though, I realized that I was less interested in Biology than with the other two science subjects, and I chose Economics instead, because there were relatively more mathematics and statistics involved in Economics compared to other humanities, which made me more interested in it. Looking back, I think that I made the right choice. I especially enjoy the freedom we have in deciding our topics for our Internal Assessments and Extended Essays, and I’ve found that the IBDP has prepared me for future undergraduate coursework, especially for writing essays and academic papers. The IBDP isn’t necessarily for everyone - I recommend students to make their choice after carefully weighing the pros and cons of each curriculum and taking the time to understand what they themselves want.
5B Megan Chong & 5G Aimee Tsang — An Overview of Curricula and Subjects Choices Choosing subjects can be daunting, here we had come up with some advice based on our past experiences. Check it out! Trouble choosing subjects? What you choose as your electives will accompany you through the final three years of your secondary school life, so take time to consider your options and choose something that you can commit to. Here are some of the most important factors in our experience: The bottom line: choose something you like and love Unlike Form 3 where you get to experience a variety of subjects, your senior years will be more focused on your electives, so be prepared for an in-depth dive into your subjects. If you choose subjects you find unbearable, chances are that you will struggle in your studies, so do select subjects you enjoy! Consider your future career! For those who want to consider certain courses in university, remember to check out the admissions websites for any required subjects. For example, studying medicine in HKU requires Chemistry while CUHK requires Chemistry or Biology. This is a really important step as you need to take the relevant subjects to be eligible for your dream programme, so don’t be intimidated by the college admissions websites and find out more about what subjects you should choose! Choose something you do well in On a more pragmatic note, you should also consider what subjects you do well in. If you consistently struggle with some concepts or simply can’t understand the marking scheme, you might want to rethink about taking it unless you think you can improve in the next few years. After all, your public examination results are important for your university applications and constantly doing poorly in your subjects would lower your study satisfaction, so keep your abilities in mind as well. What about Economics? We know, you’ve only studied Economics for half a term and you now have to decide whether to take it for another three years or not, which is kinda scary. As current Economics
students in DSE and IB respectively, we’re here to share some of the things you should expect from this subject! In short, Economics is the study of what choices people and governments make in real life in response to various market situations. It can be a very useful subject in your daily life or if you wish to pursue humanities or business subjects at university, though most courses do not require it explicitly. For those afraid of difficult maths (like us), the good news is that Economics doesn’t involve a lot of difficult calculations! Economics is more concerned with how you interpret a question to apply formulae than solving mathematical problems. While both IB and DSE cover similar content, their exam focus differs greatly. The DSE exam mostly consists of conventional questions and MCs (these can be very tricky!) with a points-based marking system. There are essay questions, but they don’t require the same level of depth as those in IB and are more similar to long questions. As for IB, the examinations are essay-based. There are no MCs and only a few short questions included in data response questions. For Standard Level, you won’t need to do any mathematical calculations, however there are some simple mathematics calculations (the hardest is linear equation with 2 unknowns) involved for Higher Level examinations. If writing essays is a big challenge for you, you may want to consider taking DSE instead. IB vs DSE Choosing your subjects is nerve-wracking enough, but you have another big decision in front of you - IB or DSE? One thing you should keep in mind is that both curricula have their strengths and are widely accepted worldwide, so no one is more superior than the other. In terms of knowledge, there isn’t a big gap between the two, but the key differentiation is their learning styles and examination foci. Here are some important features of the two curricula! DSE: There are fewer essays in general and more conventional questions and MC, except for LS. Slightly fewer presentations than IB outside language subjects, but there are still plenty of group projects. Don’t expect that there are only spoonfeeding lectures in DSE! Group discussions are a big thing for Chinese and English orals - they make up your speaking exams.
DSE is a three-year curriculum, so it is more in-depth whereas IB covers broader topics SBAs (School-based Assessments) are the equivalent of IB’s IAs in DSE, and they are also challenging in their own way! For science subjects, you have to write lab reports within a time limit after completing practicals, but unlike IAs, the topic is given for you. For Chinese and English, the SBAs come in the form of reading journals throughout the year (English SBAs also include oral assessments). The SBA for LS is IES (Independent Enquiry Study), which is roughly the equivalent of IB’s EE where you select a topic to write an investigation report with a maximum of 4500 words. The good news is that unlike IB, some subjects (e.g. Maths and Economics) don’t require SBAs. SBAs can take up to 20% of your DSE subject grades, so take SBAs into consideration as well when you choose your curricula and don’t just think that the final examination is all that matters for the DSE! While there is no CAS in DSE, you still have your SAWs and you can opt to self-organize your programme! Despite not being compulsory, there are many opportunities for you to take initiative outside of your academics and ultimately it is up to you to develop yourself as an all-rounded student. Most international universities recognize DSE scores while US universities usually require SAT/ACT scores for both IB and DSE students, so don’t worry that studying DSE will lower your chance of applying overseas! Admissions offices take many factors into account, so taking a particular curriculum doesn’t give you an edge over others.
IB In terms of universities, contrary to popular belief, IB students are not at a huge advantage when you apply to overseas universities. Universities in the UK all acknowledge DSE scores and US universities require you to do SAT/ACT no matter what curriculum you take. But keep in mind that you cannot apply for universities in mainland China with IB scores, however you could apply with DSE scores and a few extra tests. You cannot have a pure science / pure humanities elective combination (ie. physics, chemistry, biology / economics, geography, history is not possible) Essay writing skills are VERY IMPORTANT. (On the brighter side, essay writing is different from creative writing, you won’t need a lot of flowery language and complex sentence structures, it focuses more on fluent expression of ideas and structure. In other words, you
don’t need to be excellent in english to be good at writing essays.) Most of the humanities subjects have essay-based examinations. For science subjects, the Internal Assessments involve writing elaborate investigation reports. Chinese and English examinations are very different from what you have been doing since Form 1. Examinations involve 2 papers where you write essay responses to two different tasks: a literary analysis to unknown text and literary comparison between two taught texts.
What is Theory of Knowledge? A subject where you think critically about how knowledge is produced (it’s a bit like philosophy). It is examined by an in-school presentation and an essay. Time management skills are extremely important. You’ll have to do Internal Assessments (IA) for all of your subjects. IAs make up 20% of our final IB score. For science subjects, it would be designing an experiment from scratch based on what you have learnt and writing a 12-page report. For economics, it would be a 750 words news article analysis. For languages, it would be your speaking exam. For maths, it would be a 12-page essay on a mathematical investigation related to the IB syllabus. On top of that, you’ll have to do a 4000-word extended essay on a subject of your choice, exploring topics out of the IB syllabus.
CAS: Creativity, Activity and Service You’ll have to participate in self-organised activities in all three of these aspects, as well as a CAS project where you’ll have to collaborate with an organization, so you’ll have to spend time on this apart from academics. For many of you, this is the first major crossroad you are facing in secondary school and this is not an easy choice to make. Regardless of your final decision, you will find three demanding but fruitful years ahead of you, with all kinds of opportunities for you to learn and grow. We hope this guide helped you get a better idea about the two curricula and the various subjects and that you can make a well-informed choice!