GP Tip: Extracting the gems from your school notes

This is the time of the year where many students start to dig out the piles of notes that they had conveniently chucked aside earlier in the year.  By now (if you are in J2), the amount of materials you have is more than enough to stack a good number of “skyscrapers” to form a nice city skyline on your tabletop.  Such a sight can be pretty morale-denting, to say the least.

The good news is that you don’t have to study all the materials in their entirety to do well.  More often than not, school notes are “over-comprehensive” – they contain background content, numerous case studies, long lists of facts and figures, commentaries and opinion pieces on issues etc. This is excellent for learning, but may not be ideal for exam preparation.  It is not surprising as school notes are meant to facilitate/trigger/aid learning in class.  However, the same set of notes can be an information overload if you are using them wholesale to prepare for the exam.*

*(Note: It is our observation that this is the case for many students.  While we recognise that there are those who will be able to read and digest all the content given to them, they are, from our experience, the minority.)

Here are some smart tips that can help you extract the gems from the school notes:

1. Be familiar with the range of issues you need to know for a topic.

A broad topic overview can usually be found in the introduction or content pages of the notes.  If not, you should create one yourself.  For example, if you are preparing the topic of Media, your overview should list all the sub-topics such as traditional vs new media, roles and functions, reliability and censorship.

In addition, you should also include the main issues/controversies in the various sub-topics.  For example:

Traditional vs New Media
– Is there a place for traditional media (e.g. radio, TV, newspapers) in today’s context?
– Is new media superior to traditional media?

– Can the media be trusted?
– Are we better informed now with new media?

This overview can serve as a check list to ensure that you covered all the necessary grounds for the topic.

2. Decide on your stands for the various issues.

While I do not encourage students to spot questions, I think it is very important to decide on the stands to take on the various issues.  Doing this will not only force you to consider and internalise the issues, but also save you time during the exam.  However, you need to bear in mind that the stands you have on the issues (e.g. whether you are for or against) may require some tweaking and rephrasing in order to suit the requirements of the question.

3. Prepare evidence that can support your stands in each of the issues.

Your school notes should contain plenty of examples, case studies and statistics.  But not all of them are neatly extracted and ready to be used.  It is useful to think about how you would explain the evidence, especially the more complex ones, and prepare them beforehand.

For example, you may have a commentary on how news have changed because of social media and the Internet.  Which part of it can you extract and potentially use for your essay? We suggest a simple 2-step approach:

i) Observation

The rise of news aggregators is a notable phenomenon in the contemporary media landscape. Through the use of algorithms editing, the former is able to better consolidate relevant content for users. As a result, many users prefer using these news aggregators because of the tailored and curated content.

ii) Evidence 

Yahoo News, Google News and Huffington Post, which are among the most popular sources for news, are some examples of such news aggregators.  In particular, Huffington Post consistently garners the largest digital audience. For example, they had more than 90 million visitors in December 2015, clearly outperforming the online sites for traditional newspapers such as CNN and Washington Post, both less than 80 million visitors.

Good GP preparation should allow you to feel confident about the topics.  When you extract the gems from your school notes (and even supplement them with your own), you not only create a set of study notes that you can use nearer the A levels, but also help yourself better internalise what you have studied.  Doing all the above takes time but it is a far more effective way in preparing for the GP exam than reading the notes from cover to cover.



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