I get this query many times over the past few years from desperate parents. Their children has not been doing well for Pure Sciences in school, and the school has repeatedly advise their children to drop to combined science (or it could be a sudden bombshell by the school, as experienced by some parents).
Like many of the questions, it really depends on the child. What are his/her ambitions? How hardworking is he/she? Is he/she motivated to score? How did he/she do for the most recent exams?
But before we consider those, let us first consider the differences in the syllabus, the short term consequences and the long term consequences.
The syllabus content of combined Physics is about 75% of Pure Physics. Similarly, combined Chemistry is about 75% of Pure Chemistry. So a student who drops from Pure Science to Combined Science studies lesser things (about 25% lesser). Lesser stress it may seem.
But… do consider that this same student has now dropped from two subjects at the O Level to merely one subject.
So instead of studying 100% for each Pure Science subject, the same student studies 150% for Combined Science. What this means is that the student studies more content for less grades.
Short Term Consequences
Upon dropping, most students will feel an immediate sense of relief. Combined science papers are generally easier, so students dropping from Pure Science will generally score better. Apart from that, the bell curve may also be more advantageous, because students who took combined science early on are generally students who are weaker in science.
But is it really better for your child to drop to combined science?
One consideration is that by dropping from two subjects to one subject, your child will be putting all the eggs in one basket. There’s only one science subject now for his/her L1R5 (if your child does not take a 3rd science). Instead of focusing to score A for a single Pure Science subject with 100% content, your child has to focus and score A for a Combined Science subject with 150% content –> that could be a lot more work.
Long Term Consequences
The most immediate longer term consequence is JC/Poly courses. By dropping to combined science, the number of courses/subject combinations for your child might be limited. To go on further, this may lead on to not being able to qualify for the university course that your child may wish to take in the future. In a way, your child’s future choices are being limited early on in his/her sec 4 life.
Personally, I also think that dropping from Pure Science to Combined Science without deeper analysis of your child’s strengths and weakness, ambitions and interests, is teaching your child to give up easily the moment failures are encountered.
Deciding if your child should drop to combined science
Here are some factors to help you make a decision:
Firstly, is your child bad at both sciences or just one of the science?
Let me share with you the story of one of my ex-students. This student was scoring very well for Pure Physics, typically scoring between A2 to B3 in school tests. If nothing goes wrong, he should be scoring A1 or A2 for Pure Physics in the O Level. Unfortunately, his Pure Chemistry was not doing well; he was scoring consistent C6s and C5s. The school advised him to drop both Pure Sciences to Combined Science to save his Chemistry.
In my opinion, this is ridiculous. If my student scores A1 for Pure Physics and B4 for Pure Chemistry (O level grades are typically a little higher), his L1R5 would be the same as if he scored A1 for Combined Science. In this scenario, dropping to Combined Science severely limited his choices of JC and Poly courses. However, it benefits this particular school greatly as there is now one less potential B4 for the science department. This student scored A1 for Combined Science eventually for O Level, due to his extreme “strength” in Physics, having been trained by me.
Second, consider the difficulty your child’s school papers
Often, schools set exam questions that are tougher than the O Level. This makes sense as it would show that a school, being able to set difficult papers, “got standard”. Also, the school teachers might want the students to “wake up” and work even harder for their O Level.
In my years of teaching both the O and A Level Physics, I have seen O Level prelim questions that were taken without any edits from A level papers. In fact, one question from my own A level Physics paper was used in a few O Level Prelim Papers over the last few years.
Just a few years ago, I have a parent tell me this story. In middle of sec 3, her daughter was not doing well for Pure Physics. Her teacher assured the mum that he will be helping her daughter do well, hence there’s no need for tuition. Nearing the end of sec 3, the daughter was still not doing well. Again, the teacher assured the mum. This happened again in the month of March in sec 4.
In the month of June in sec 4, the teacher suddenly informed the mum that her daughter is too weak in Physics and was advised to drop to combined science. The mum was shocked; what happened to the assurance given over the past year? Desperate, she came to me for help. Upon discussion, I realised her daughter had a good memory, and was able to answer a number of Physics explanation questions logically. Her pitfall was in the calculations segment of the Physics papers, which was tough for most O Level students.
Since it was still June, there was time, and fortunately, I managed to help her daughter achieve a B3.
Third, consider the interest of your child to take up engineering or science related degrees in the future
Talk to your child, and find out about his/her ambitions and aspirations. Sure, it may be too young for your child to decide, but nevertheless, it’s always good to start your child thinking and pondering about his/her future.
Lastly, it depends on the time left to O Level.
My personal teaching experience is that the fastest I can help any student improve from D7s, E8s or F9s to at least a B3 is about 12 group tuition lessons; despite my extensive experience and qualifications, I’m no god afterall.
If your child is considering to drop from Pure Sciences to Combined Science, I hope this article gives you a balanced viewpoint. But in case you or your child is still undecided whether to drop from Pure Sciences (it’s an irreversible decision), feel free to leave your contact at our contact us page for more advice.