17 July 2017

It’s 1.04 a.m. and I’m just dropping by for a quick post.

I had really strange energy today – and by “today”, I of course mean yesterday; before midnight. At first I was ruminating over by choice of major in university, wondering if I was really satisfied with my current choice. Specifically, I was seriously considering taking up veterinary medicine since I love animals and have always been anchored by compassion. It’s definitely not the first time I considered veterinary medicine as a serious option.

But I knew there were obstacles, like how I would have to go overseas to do that course – bringing back all the anxieties I previously had about studying overseas, and the major hassle of a million administrative matters, and funding – and that there was an entrance examination. I even went to look at sample papers and felt so demoralised by the fact that I’d forgotten most of the concepts involved – concepts I’d previously learned in Junior College. This dwelling on the negative got me really down and gloomy, feeling inadequate and worthless, like any major I chose wouldn’t be good enough. I also felt lousy about the sacrifices I’d potentially have to make if I did choose to go for veterinary medicine – I wouldn’t get to study medicinal chemistry and English literature, my current majors which I’ve been so excited about.

But that energy shifted really dramatically.

After continuing more research, I realised that a lot (most, even) of veterinary medicine courses are postgraduate courses, and that they require science degrees like chemistry and bio-medicine as prerequisites. That would mean I could keep my current majors and study them in NUS (the National University of Singapore) to get my Bachelor’s degrees and continue studying in Australia or the United Kingdom later on. These possibilities got me really excited and even hyper. Yeah, I was really jumpy and manic. I had trouble focusing on studying for my Chinese speaking exam (which is later today). But it felt good to have such high and optimistic energy for once in a long while.

I’m particularly excited about Melbourne and Sydney, but Cambridge is still my darling. Things are still taking shape, of course, and even if I’m set on a particular university, I’ll only be applying in a few years towards the end of my undergraduate studies.

Here and Now

Right now, I have smaller stepping-stones to try not to fall off. As I mentioned earlier, I have a Chinese speaking exam tomorrow, the first of about eleven language exams I’m taking this year. There’s also three other Chinese papers, four German, and three French.

All this high energy today got me feeling very pumped up and psyched about preparing for these exams. Ideally, I’d like to feel that way all the time, since I love language so much. But admittedly, it can get very tiring and demoralising. When you’re neck-deep in French grammar and find yourself unable to cough up the rest of a sentence, you can’t help but feel depressed and very, very fatigued.

That’s why I’m trying to ride this sudden tidal wave of good vibes to get things in order. I’m thinking through all the different things I need to do to prepare for each of the components of the exam. This year is a very different ballgame because there’s so much more to learn. In 2016, I took ‘O’ Level English, Chinese, and French. I was sure I could do the English standing on my head, and for French, there wasn’t much to study since, as I mentioned before, they don’t really ask much of you in the ‘O’ Level French paper. Chinese took the biggest toll: since Chinese is a local language, their expectations are very, very high – on par with English, I would say.

This year, it’s ‘O’ Level Chinese and German, and ‘A’ Level French. I’m still relatively new to German, so there’s a lot of knowledge I need to nail down well. The same applies to ‘A’ Level French because now we’re dealing with real, concrete social issues. You can’t go into the exam room with grammar and generic vocabulary – you need real substance, cognition, and issue-specific terms at your fingertips. On top of that is Chinese: I’m pushing myself harder this year because I really hope to get an A grade. I’d be elated to have an A2, but I dream of an A1 still. I got a B3 in 2016.

So Much to Learn

As I was saying before, I’m consolidating all the different things I have to do to prepare myself for each language. I did something like that for my actual ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level exams while I was in school, breaking down my learning into units in a “syllabus”. This time the syllabus is conjured up by yours truly, so that’s a bit of a challenge, but it should be fine. A plan will help me no matter what, especially when it’s crunch time.

For Chinese, I’m going to study the entire secondary school syllabus using spaced repetition, as well as three guide books which give content about social issues and phenomena that are often raised in the exam. That sort of guide book is very popular in Singapore, where students are always spending a lot of money to load themselves up with comprehensive resources to help them study better and faster. I have to study idioms too. There’s tonnes of those in Chinese and they are used far more often than English idioms. I have a book that helps you learn them by telling the idiom’s entire etymology as a short narrative.

German’s a bit more complex. I’ll have themed vocabulary lists and a list of collocations, since German prepositions are so fussy (in my opinion). I’m going to list out twenty compositions to space out over the next three months to practice my writing skills too. Collocations from these compositions will go into the above-mentioned lists. At the same time I’ve been compiling verb lists that I plan to study (intensively to memorise past participles and such) and practice making sentences with.

French is a bit like ‘A’ Level English (which they call General Paper). I’m going to compile essay questions by theme and think through the relevant vocabulary items I need. Then I’ll practice writing arguments and elaborating on them, like what you essentially have to do in the essay component. I’m going to write out one full essay a week too. From the comprehension passages I’ve been doing, and news articles I’ve been reading, I’ll extract all the new and useful vocabulary to study and internalise. I also have to manage my time well to make sure I spend enough time working on my script for the speaking exam.

This Thursday or Friday, after my three night shifts, I’ll go down to Kinokuniya in Orchard to look for some audio materials to help me practice my listening skills in German and French. Those are probably some of my weakest points right now, since I haven’t listened to much spoken French and German.

I’ve got my work cut out for me and there’s a lot to get through. While typing the three previous paragraphs, I did get a bit overwhelmed, but this is exactly the kind of grinding and struggling I have to get through if I want to make something of myself. No pain, no gain, right? I just need to keep my spirits up, stay disciplined, and focus on my end-goal.

How sweet the fruits of this excruciating labour will taste when I’m done!


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