NUS academics

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

Studying at NUS was very different from in Manchester. As I study physics, the department in Manchester is large and at NUS it is tiny, so the differences might be larger for me than other courses. It is a general thing though, as far as I understand, that coursework is heavily weighted at NUS in all faculties. If there are a lot of students in a class it is marked by a bell curve. This means that to get better marks other people need to do worse than you. While this protects students against hard exams, it can also create a study culture where people are not willing to help each other. I in no way experienced this, but I heard stories about it from friends in other faculties.

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Science library. 15 minutes before it closes they play classical music to chase people out.

During first and second year 5 or 4 of my classes were set and I could only choose 1 or 2. Going on exchange I had to try to find replacements for the third year courses, which was hard as I was recommended only 4 courses per semester and none seems to map during the first attempt. I managed to map most of it I think, though I still expect having to do some catching up in September. 4 courses was the perfect amount for me, quite a lot of work, but I still found time for travel and other fun things. About half my courses were level 4000, which is mainly for year four students, the honours year at NUS.

Adjusting from exams being 95% of my final mark to about 60% was a challenge. Suddenly midterms were a thing and homework assignments had to be taken seriously. In the beginning it felt like a constant exam period, but it did also take some pressure off final exams. I really didn’t like it, but now I recognise that I have learnt to work more consistently and I hope I can bring that back to Manchester.

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One lecturer even had “well done” stamps.

What I liked the most about the academics was the class sizes and professor student relationships. I came from huge lecture theatres with almost 300 students to group rooms with 12 to 25 students. It felt like being back in school, but it made it a lot easier to ask questions and engage in the class. I’m not used to lecturers knowing my name, but now one of them has even written me several references. My favourite lecturer gave demonstrations in class and gave us a tour of all the labs in the department. For that module we were given a sample of a solid in the beginning and through the semester we had to go in different labs and perform experiments with advanced and expensive equipment to figure out what the sample was. I don’t think the same assignment would be possible in the large classes I’m used to.

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My sample in a VSM, Vibrating Sample Magnetometer.

There are many study spaces all around campus. Utown ones are busy when the libraries are closed on Sundays and during public holidays. I recommend the Medicine library which is open 24 hours everyday. It’s also right by to the foodcourt in the hospital. The science library was my favourite and was never too crowded, but there are study spaces everywhere so you should try as many as possible. That way you can make your way around the different campus food courts as well.

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Fish soup in the hospital food court.

You will probably hear about a very intense study culture. While it is true that Singaporeans study hard, it’s not a frightening thing. In my experience, staying in school and studying is also a social thing. As most students live with their families in flats, their homes are not a natural place to hang with friends. To get a place in hall a second year the students have to be heavily engaged in student activities, as it is very competitive. As a result most of them are part of 4-6 clubs, and their afternoons are not free to study. You find a lot of people studying at night. Most local students also take at least 6 courses, compared to my 4 courses it’s not strange that they have to study hard. I definitely recommend studying at NUS, it requires some work, but is still very manageable.

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