“HOW are electrons arranged around atoms?” I remember asking my Chemistry teacher when I was younger.
This, like many other enquiries similarly silenced by “that’s too deep for you to know”, was left unanswered.
With these questions in my head, I could not fully appreciate Chemistry then, and viewed it as just another subject where memorisation was key.
It was only when I studied Chemistry at the Singapore-Cambridge A-Levels did my perspective change.
Under the guidance of my sarcastic, matter-of-fact tutor, Mr Ong Jiun Hoe, I acquired the fundamentals of atoms and molecules, and learnt how different atomic shells had varying energy levels and therefore different bonding energies.
I discovered the principles of ionic equilibrium and how the solubility of a substance was calculated.
I learnt the laws behind organic reactions and how the use of different temperatures, pressures and catalysts aided in the synthesis of specific compounds.
Besides teaching the already rigorous syllabus, Mr Ong often went a step further to introduce us to underlying concepts behind key ideas.
Although the extra information sometimes left us scratching our heads in befuddlement, I appreciated how he tried to make us understand the logic behind, rather than merely memorise facts. Only then did Chemistry make sense to me.I came to see how Chemistry explained and connected almost everything in the physical world, from the air we breathed in to the food we ate, deconstructing seemingly complex substances into fundamental components.
Laboratory sessions were even more fun. My favourite experiment involved measuring the rate of a reaction using the titration method. It required ultimate precision, speed and very steady hands.
The level of challenge was directly proportional to the level of satisfaction gained after a successful experiment. Therefore, despite having scalded my hands with the Bunsen burner and broken several test tubes, I still looked forward to laboratory lessons.
My passion for the subject led me to attending extra lessons in preparation for the 2021 Singapore Chemistry Olympiad, where I eventually clinched the bronze medal.
I went on to take Higher 3 level (H3) Chemistry – a subject involving more in-depth study and advanced content – in my second year of junior college.
Touching on molecular orbital theory, spectroscopy methods and advanced organic reactions, H3 Chemistry allowed me to further indulge in the beauty of chemical reactions while strengthening my logical, systematic thinking.
Learning Chemistry certainly deepened my understanding and appreciation of the physical world. More importantly, it enabled me to develop a logical mind guided by reasoning.
Facts are not to be memorised; they are to be understood and reasoned, until all the why’s and how’s are satisfied.
If Chemistry was my compass within the physical world, then English Literature was my map for exploring the immaterial realm.
Literature exposed me to a multitude of cultures and societies across historical periods.
William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure shed light on the political and legal aspects of Elizabethan society while Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice dealt with the intricacies of the hierarchical, patriarchal Regency era.
Literature also allowed me to explore the “mind and self” – how one’s thoughts, emotions and identities were developed and affected.
I learnt through Shakespeare’s Hamlet that while its general theme concerned the complexities of revenge, it was the subtle language choices and staging decisions that revealed a character’s emotions and mindset, as well as Hamlet’s struggle with his contrasting identities, which warranted the play such great recognition over the centuries. Through the close reading of texts, I cultivated a more analytical mind and trained myself to consider a single line from varying perspectives.
I practised using quality evidence and skilful structuring to make my arguments increasingly persuasive. I indulged in the creative nature of literature and luxuriated in its timelessness. Having grown up in an environment which viewed examination grades as the determinant of success, I loved how Literature provided the space for creativity and exploration, where I would not be reprimanded for not giving the “right” answer, because there was none.
Literature helped me gain confidence in my independent thinking, despite – or rather, due to – the subject being full of grey areas.
Studying Literature exposed me to a very different social circle, one that comprised openly emotional, sarcastic and sensitive people. I recently completed my A-Level Literature journey, having learnt that there was much more to life than materialistic success, that the human emotion, thought and experience were infinitely rich, and that Shakespeare was quotable in almost every scenario. For me, Chemistry and Literature merge the best of both worlds. I am now guided by strong logical and rational thought, while also being aware of nuances and differing perspectives. These subjects prepared me not only for examinations, but for life itself, and I am all the more thankful for it.
Jeslyn, 19, a Malaysian student in Singapore, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For more information, go to facebook.com/niebrats.
Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.
1 What are your favourite academic subjects and why? In what way do you think the subjects prepare you for life? Share your views with your activity partner.
2 As you read the article again, blank out 10 verbs. Then, exchange your copy with a partner who has also picked 10 verbs to be blanked out. Now, fill in the blanks on each other’s copy. (You do not need to use the same verbs that had been published). When you are done, go through each other’s work. How many suitable verbs did each of you get right?
The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.