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“I thought you were an arts student,” is a phrase that I have often heard over the course of my one-and-a-half-years as a JC student. The main offenders have been CCA mates, teachers, and other people who don’t know me very well.
While it may not seem that way, this is a very bold assumption for them to make. Out of the fifty JC 2 classes in my school, there are only a total of five Arts classes. This means that the chance of any random student you meet being a science student far outstrips the likelihood of the same student being from Arts.
And after you adjust for the fact that arts classes have far smaller class sizes than their science counterparts, the already infinitesimal probability of any given student being an arts student shrinks to somewhere in the realm of the size of the banana cell fragment that I examined under a 400x magnification lens in my biology practical last Tuesday.
Because yes, I am a science student.
I joined the science stream for very pragmatic, very Singaporean reasons-stability, predictability, and muggability. My decision had nothing to do with a burning passion to spend my life squinting at stem cells through an electron microscope, and everything to do with my lust for a neat column of As on my ‘A’ level cert that would qualify me for my dream university course.
While distinguishing oneself in the Arts often requires one to possess skills in writing, understanding and analysis that are difficult if not impossible to train in someone who lacks the talent, any bozo armed with a Ten-Years-Series answer key and a team of private tutors can work his way to presentable A level grades in Science, or so the argument goes.
Many science-based university courses like Medicine and Engineering also have science subject prerequisites while no such prerequisites exist for humanities and social science courses, making Science the safer bet for someone who hasn’t decided what she wants to do in life yet.
Such was my thought process. The fact that Arts makes up only 10% of my school’s JC 2 cohort stands testament to the overwhelmingly ‘default’ status of science in our education system. Don’t know what you want to do yet? Choose science. Know what you want to do but afraid you won’t be good enough at it? Choose science.
But the myth of the Science stream being the default route to university is problematic. Promoting it as such to young JC students misleads them, harms their chances at excelling academically and results in unnecessary academic anxiety.
While it is true that there are no formal subject prerequisites for arts-related courses the way there are subject requisites for science-related courses in university, this does not mean that there is no advantage to studying arts subjects if you know that your goal is to study an arts-related course in university.
Oxford’s Jurisprudence admissions requirements page lists “a subject involving essay writing” under subject requirements as “helpful-may be useful in course”. This is a preference that is shared by Cambridge and LSE. Not altogether unreasonable, given that students in these courses will spend a lot of their time writing essays.
As a science student, I was disappointed to learn from an LSE admissions representative that none of the subjects I was currently taking (not even H2 Econs) could be considered an ‘essay-based’ subject. Yet, when I made the decision to join t…