At the tender age of 14, many of us were asked to make a decision that would determine our futures – what subjects did we want to take in Secondary 3? For 14-year-old me, the decision felt like a monumental one that would chart the course of our lives forever. It would determine what subjects or courses we were able to take at a tertiary level, what we were then eligible for in university, and later, our careers.
The decision is unquestionably a challenging one to make, but as someone who has been through it, this is my advice on what you should consider before making a decision.
My personal belief is that having an interest in the subjects you are taking should always be a priority when making your decision. While some students have the discipline to push through their lack of interest in a subject and still do well, I was definitely not one of them.
Since primary school, I’ve always known that I was an arts student through and through. I generally did better in my languages and humanities, and never had a particular liking for the sciences. Math, in particular, was my kryptonite.
While I was in what was known as an arts class in secondary school, I was still taking Additional Mathematics (A Math) and two Pure Sciences (Chemistry and Physics). This was partly because of how the school had structured the subject combinations, but I also felt pressured to take these subjects because of the notion that being good at Math and Science meant that you were a “better” student.
Needless to say, I struggled with the three subjects, especially so with A Math. I could never get past my sheer disinterest for A Math and even scored a dismal nine out of 80 for one of my exams. In the end, I found myself in the 1.7 percentile for the subject and eventually dropped it at the end of Secondary 3 – one of the best decisions I made.
The truth is, if the subject is something that you detest, it will likely reflect in your grades. I was a much more carefree student in Secondary 4 without the constant nagging in the back of my head that I needed to do something to salvage my A Math grades. It also gave me time to focus on my other subjects.
Choosing to study something of your interest, or even just something that you can tolerate, will help you become both a better student, and a happier one overall.
Your future education and career
For all practical purposes, the subjects you choose will have an impact on your options post-secondary education. For instance, taking science subjects in Junior College (JCs) often comes with a prerequisite of having taken these same subjects at the O-Levels. The same applies for some courses in Polytechnics (courses from the Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) tend to be more flexible in their requirements).
These prerequisites are often why taking science subjects are still highly recommended to students, especially for those who are unsure of what they want to pursue in the future. Oftentimes, the arts courses in JCs and Polytechnics do not have subject prerequisites. This means that students will be able to switch from a science course to an arts one quite easily, but the reverse is not true.
Admittedly, this will mean that taking science subjects will be the safer choice in this context and is definitely something that should be taken into account when making your decision.
Your results and the competition
Unfortunately, the reality is that choosing subject combinations is a free-for-all playing field, and many schools rely on students’ grades to determine which subjects they get. More popular courses like triple science (where students take Pure Chemistry, Biology and Physics at the O levels) will require better grades to get into due to the high level of competition.
While better grades will grant you the freedom of choice, this factor is not fully within your control. My advice is to take into account the school offerings, your interest, and practical considerations like future education options, and make the decision you feel is best for you.
Ultimately, this decision does NOT determine your future
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after trudging through 16 years of formal education, it’s that our lives are not set in stone. The decisions made at this point of your life will influence your future, yes, but it is not the end all or be all.
There are multiple routes that can lead to the same destination and while some might be longer than others, there is no right or wrong whichever path you take.
There are those who take on arts subjects throughout school and even in university, only to realise that they would like to pursue a career in the tech industry. They can then go on to pick up the relevant skills and do so. Similarly, there are those who study the sciences throughout their schooling years because it was the safer option, only to pursue a career in the creative industry once they have graduated. And while we do not recommend dropping out of school, there are school dropouts who go on to have very successful careers as well!
If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it’s that change is the only constant. So make your choice now based on the things you love and make the most out of your schooling life.
I promise, the future will sort itself out, whatever decision you make here today.