Here are some lingering thoughts I have regarding your essays from the mid-years…
1. Time context: Assessment or Projection?
1. ‘Social media is the main agent of change in today’s world.’ How far do you agree?
2. Is science today as much about profit as improving the world?
3. Will technology really save humankind?
4. Consider the notion that Singapore needs to be willing to lose in order to progress.
Questions 1 and 2 are calling for you to make an assessment of what is happening in the world today; whatever you discuss in your essay needs to concern events and issues that have already happened or are still occurring today. As such, the use of hypothetical scenarios (e.g. if there…then that…) , recommendations or suggestions are irrelevant for such questions.
Questions 3 and 4, on the other hand, are calling you to make a reasonable projection of the future. Talking about the future does not mean you can go all hypothetical and generic in your discussion. Instead, study current trends, events and issues and make reasonable suggestion of what will happen or what should happen in the future (sounds like PW?). Based on what we have seen technology do so far, will it save us eventually? Although Singapore has progressed till now on a mentality adverse to losing, will we need reconsider that mentality in order to achieve maximum progress in future?
2. The question of importance
A student insightfully remarked to me how Cambridge doesn’t seem to ask pro-con questions. I couldn’t agree more. GP questions are not isolated studies of a particular subject or topic, nor are they asking you describe and explain your encyclopedic knowledge to us. GP questions always concern an ongoing issue in the world, and issues in the world always concern a context. Consider the following questions:
‘Traditions have no place in Singapore.’ Discuss.
‘Advertising is unnecessary.’ Comment.
Whether it concerns importance, purpose, necessity, ‘place’ or need, all suggest roughly the same frame of issue:
Does the society really need it?
It’s not about it being good or bad, positive or negative. It’s about whether this thing, whatever it may be, serves an essential purpose or function in society that nothing else possibly could. Consider the three arguments below:
1. Advertising is necessary for companies because it helps them market their products and increase profits.
2. Advertising is necessary for companies given given how it is most effective way for companies to market their products to a mass audience and thus, ensuring better sales and profits.
3. Given how there is increasing competition between firms today and how the average consumers is presented with myriad choices in goods and services in this capitalistic society, advertising is an essential means of marketing for companies to try and promote and differentiate their business and products to a mass audience in the most effective way to gain consumer awareness and in turn, ensure sales and profit.
Notice how bringing in context helps to make the argument more compelling? ‘Necessity’ or ‘importance’ is always relative to both the (1) unique abilities of the thing and (2) unique needs of the context.
3. The ‘one greatest cause’…
Just a short note on question 8 on social media. Many students planned their arguments by thinking about social media and its functions and abilities first. Essays tended to sound like factual articles describing the use of social media today.
What went through the minds of most students was:
1. What has social media done?
3. Hmmm…is social media really that effective?
What you really needed to think about was:
1. What are significant developments in the world today where social media was/is an agent and
2. What were the possible agents? (e.g. technology, people power, education, government leaders etc.)
3. Compared to these other agents, was social media the most important one in effecting the change? Why?