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How taking Combined Science Almost Ruined My Future

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How taking Combined Science Almost Ruined My Future

This story is a little personal – shows the struggles I faced when taking Combined Science, in the later years of my Education.

Since I was young, I had many distractions in life that detracted me from my studies – computer games, going out with friends too often and the likes; not spending enough time preparing for tests and examinations. Not having a tutor to teach the proper methods to study for examinations, I did not do well in Secondary 2. The addition of the many subjects (Humanities, Social Studies, Design & Technology, Home Economics etc.) did not help either, leading to me having disappointing results for SA2 in Secondary 2, pushing me to the lower end of the curve for the Secondary 2 Streaming Exercise.


Secondary 2 Streaming Exercise – Combined Science

The Secondary 2 Streaming Exercise happens at the end of Sec 2, which streams students into respective classes and subject combinations they will take at the O Levels according to their Lower Secondary Results and their chosen subject combination during the Streaming Exercise.

As a result of not doing well at the Lower Secondary level, I was only able to take either: 1 Pure and 1 Combined Science, or just 1 Combined and no Pure Science.

I was denied taking 2/3 Pure Sciences, as I had scored 49.5/100 (close to 0.0 percentile) for the Science End-of-year (SA2) exams in Secondary 2, one of the lowest in the cohort. I choose the latter, the Pure Science in my School was fixed to: Pure Biology, and Combined Science fixed to: Sci(Phy/Chem).


GCE O Levels, Unexpected Turn?

Somehow after seeing and understanding what 0 percentile for Lower Secondary Science meant in Sec 3, I focused and studied hard for my subjects that I will be taking for the O Levels. I engaged a Home Tutor, which strengthened my foundations in the subjects (Math, Science) and taught me effective studying methods, instead of just reading blindly.

I went on to do alright at the GCE O Levels, getting a B3 for English (L1R5 8). Seeing how I fared in the O Level system, and also not knowing what I wanted to do in the future, I chose the Junior College (JC) path. (See: 5 Things to Consider before Choosing Schools in 2019)

However, I was a little worried about moving forward – my JC subject combination and if I could cope with the jump from Combined Science(Phy/Chem) to H2 Chem – reading previous experiences online saying that “Difficulty of Combined Science (Chemistry) is Level 1, Pure Chemistry is Level 2, H2 Chemistry is Level 10”.


Junior College and H2 Chem, from Combined Science

For the O Levels, I had no interest in the Arts and only did Combined Humans(Geog/SS), so it is natural for me to go on to the Science stream in JC (3 Science, 1 Arts subject). With my subject combination in Secondary School being Pure Biology, Combined Sci(Phy/Chem) – I wanted to pursue BCME in JC.

I wanted to take BCME and then move on to get a Science-related degree, but that has since changed – seeing the prospects not very favourable in Singapore for Science graduates.

I entered a Junior College whose COP was 6 points at that time. However while choosing my JC subject combination, I noted that there were subject prerequisites: minimum subject criteria that I had to meet before I was able to take the H2 subjects – specifically for this case, H2 Chem.


I barely Passed the Minimum Requirement Despite an A1 – Almost Ruined My Future

The subject prerequisite for H2 Biology was: Pure Biology – B3 and above, while for H2 Chemistry:
Pure Chemistry – B3 and above, or Combined Sci(Phy/Chem) – only A1.

If I had slipped in studying or answering even one question in either a Combined Science Chem or Physics paper, I would definitely have not been able to take H2 Chem as I did not meet the subject prerequisite, nor my subject combination BCME (3 H2). I would have been forced to take other combinations – such as hybrid, 2 Science 2 Arts which would have been disastrous as I had no interest and originally did not do well for the Arts/Humanities subjects.

Taking H1 Chem for A Levels was also useless, as the subject prerequisite for most Science/Engineering degrees in NTU/NUS is a pass in H2 Chem, so taking H1 Chem was a huge no-no.


Do not take Combined Science for the O Levels

All the struggles and worries I faced in Junior College and after was because I took Combined Science.

My subject combination in Secondary 2 determined the subjects I took in the O Levels, which limited my choice of subjects in Junior College since it has subject prerequisites, afterall we would be taking the more advanced level of subjects than in Secondary School.
My subject combination back in Secondary 2 also had long lasting effects, affecting the courses I was able to enter in University – since I took Physics at only Combined Science level, I could not apply to ANY Engineering courses in NUS/NTU/SMU, as the prerequisite for these courses was minimum a Pass in Pure Physics, or a Pass in H1 Physics; both of which I did not possess.

My Secondary School also was partially at fault here, having bad subject combinations in the Secondary 2 Streaming Exercise which did not make sense: Pure Biology and Combined Sci(Phy/Chem) – it would be really hard to survive in Junior College.


Lessons I learnt

Moving forward, I struggled in H2 Chem as the learning gap from Combined Science to H2 Chem is huge – H2 Chem expects you to have some Pure Chemistry basics ingrained in you, which I did not have at that point. Which meant I had to start from the beginning, and catch up to the advanced level my peers were learning at.

I went on to do alright at the A Levels as well, getting A for H2 Chem, H2 Bio and H2 Math – not to mention the jump from Combined Science (Chemistry) to H2 Chemistry is very big, one has to be prepared for the load and stress of the A Levels that will be coming your way.

One major lesson I learnt is to be able to learn effective studying techniques and methods and built on my foundation with the help of a tutor (from a tuition agency), then maybe I would not have not struggled so much from taking Combined Science at the O Levels. Who knows how much my life would have changed if I had taken Pure Chemistry instead (or if I even would pass it at O Levels)!

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Miriam is part of the team that operates CocoTutors, a Home Tuition agency in Singapore. CocoTutors provides only well qualified and competent tutors for Home Tuition. You can try out our services at ( or by calling +65 9177 9055 directly.

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