In the past half a year, you would have been adapting to the school compound, the teachers, the syllabus, and, of course, the peers. Like all our seniors before us, the current batch of 2020 has gone through these changes – along with the new normal that we are slowly getting used to. All of this may seem overwhelming and daunting at the moment, but successfully adapting to this change is also part of life. However, your journey in JC may be made easier if you learn from the lessons experienced firsthand by your seniors, namely, us.
However, as a struggling Arts student who scraped through a promotion status, I do find myself relatively unqualified to give advice on how to “succeed” in JC. With a less-than-ideal academic track record and a severe lack of work ethic, however, I do believe that I am more than worthy of giving advice on what not to do in your first year here in Victoria. Hopefully those of you who can relate to my experiences can gain some insight on the structure and rigour of JC life, and use what I’ve learnt from some of my mistakes to elevate your own Victorian experience!
In my opinion, there are 4 main things that can critically damage one’s academic performance in JC. All of them have large impacts, and hence shouldn’t be taken too lightly even if you won’t be taking A-levels this year. They are:
Yes, this might seem like basic, textbook advice for anyone at any age. It’s always easier for somebody to say “don’t procrastinate!” than for them to actually carry it out. As basic as it is, though, it is still an important point to keep in mind, particularly whilst adapting to the style and structure of the JC curriculum. If not kept in check, procrastination will most definitely become the bane of your academic life, and here’s why.
“I do assignments the night before (or the day on) its due date! I have a messed-up sleep schedule because I can only bring myself to get off Youtube/Netflix/Instagram and start on my work after midnight! I always manage to get it finished and handed in with decent quality, though, so I don’t bother changing the way I handle things”, you might say.
Though this may be true, remember that the ends don’t always justify the means. The cost of procrastination is typically multiple sleepless nights (where you end up regretting your life decisions by 3am). This lack of sleep then affects your ability to concentrate in school, and you end up going home to take a nap. You wake up at 9pm, stressfully procrastinate your work until 12, and the vicious cycle repeats. Needless to say, this cycle is detrimental to one’s mental and emotional wellbeing in the long term, and definitely takes a toll on you after a year.
A tip that helps when I’m in a slump is to break down your task: ask yourself why you find a particular task so daunting or unappealing, and work on assuring yourself that it won’t be as bad as you think it will be. This way, you can get started and find yourself getting into the flow of completing said task. If that’s too difficult, I find it helpful to procrastinate productively – put off completing one piece of work by doing another that’s easier or more interesting. Starting is often the most difficult part of being productive, but most times all you need is to get one thing done for you to want to keep going.
A lack of self-discipline
This is closely related to the previous point, as it’s likely that if you’re a serious enough procrastinator you might lack self-discipline as well. However, the two are still different enough to exist independently and pose distinct problems.
In JC, self-discipline is equally as important, if not more than it was, in secondary school. With the lecture-tutorial system being new and unfamiliar to you, it might take a while to adapt fully to different lessons taking on different structures. My advice for you (sadly, based on personal experience) is to take responsibility for your own learning from the get-go, before your unwatched lectures begin to pile up, and you find yourself behind the rest of the cohort in multiple subjects. JC life is hectic, and you might find yourself and your peers getting busy with CCA and other commitments. It’s typically at this juncture when we’re the most busy that we begin to cut ourselves some slack and tell ourselves, “this lecture isn’t that important, I’ll watch it on a day I have more time” and never get back to it.
Of course, striking a balance between your well-being and your academics should be a priority. It’s okay to take a break when you know you need one, as long as you remember to finish what needs to be done. Most people, myself included, struggle with the latter. Something I’ve noticed that sets apart some of my friends, who tend to perform better and get more sleep at night, from myself is what they do in the pockets of time in between classes. While I’m usually taking a nap on the table or playing games on my phone, they’re watching their lectures or working on their homework. It’s this consistency and stability that gets you through the year without as many painful nights wondering why you torture yourself with your poor decision-making skills. It’s time I learnt from them and I hope that you can too!
Becoming indifferent to failure
If you’re like me, you’ve experienced failure (especially academically) many, many times. If you haven’t, it may be advisable to prepare yourself mentally for it. It’s normal for some students’ grades to drop rather substantially upon entering JC, and that’s alright, as long as effort is put in to learn from these mistakes and do better the next time around.
The problem starts when you begin treating failure as your new normal, when you put in less effort into your homework and assignments because “I’m going to fail anyway”, because it can’t possibly get worse if you’ve already hit rock bottom – so you seek out rock bottom yourself. It’s a defence mechanism: by not putting in effort you lower your standards and expectations for yourself, you can never be disappointed no matter how badly you do. You can always give yourself excuses and assure yourself that if you had put in more effort, things would have been different. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
Well, not really. Sometimes ignorance is just ignorance, and it’s better to realise that sooner rather than later. The hard truth is that it doesn’t really matter how much potential you have if you can’t show it in your work, because what you put on paper is all the examiners at Cambridge can judge you by. Comparatively, tutors in JC give less assignments that will be marked and returned, making each one more important in honing your skills and answering techniques – particularly in essay-based subjects like GP, Economics, History or Literature. Though it’s easy to get these assignments done if you don’t put in much effort, chances are you’ll do badly on them. Then, your feedback would center on how you can get from an S to a C, instead of from a B to an A, for example. Essentially, getting too comfortable with failure means you won’t find out where your actual weaknesses are before it’s too late.
I’m still working on combatting this mindset myself! It’s easy to get disheartened by failure, but something that helps is recognising that putting in effort isn’t a bad thing, and neither is failing. We’d all like to be the person who barely puts in effort and reaps good results, but objectively we can’t all be them and that’s fine. Your focus in school shouldn’t be on comparing yourself to others, but instead getting to understand yourself through each assignment or test and finding out which studying methods work best for you. This process requires time and effort- especially when you have to fail to find out what doesn’t work- but you can’t win if you don’t play. Take each failure in your stride as a part of your learning, but don’t settle for the bare minimum and strive to do better with every experience!
Having read all this, it’s natural to feel a little scared or apprehensive about what lies ahead. However, remember that some of the challenges I faced in J1 are a result of my personal decisions and relationship with studying! As such, with the right attitude and work ethic, many of these problems can be avoided altogether in your time in Victoria. Even with these lows, my experience in VJ has been one of the most fun and fulfilling times of my life – I’ve met many close friends that I can’t wait to spend my second year here with, and I’m sure you will as well!
Nil Sine Labore, and good luck!
Lim Shi Ning, 20A13
Media credits (in order of appearance):
Lim Shi Ning, 20A13