Youths share what it is like preparing for national exams during COVID-19

The switch to home-based learning and online classes has disrupted study preparations for national exams.

Low Jia Ying

Published: 29 July 2020, 7:22 PM

There’s nothing Singaporean youths dread more than the national exams.

But for students sitting for their exams this year, COVID-19 has presented them with a new set of challenges.

From Apr 8, schools shifted to home-based learning (HBL), where students had to attend classes online. Tuition centres were also closed as part of circuit breaker measures.

While students graduating this year have been allowed back to school full-time since Jun 2, they have had to grapple with a disrupted school term and adapt quickly between online and offline modes of learning.

With the national exams coming up in a couple of months, we caught up with four youths to find out how their preparations have been amidst this pandemic.

Having to deal with distractions at home during HBL

Letisha Deng, who will be sitting for her ‘A’ levels at Raffles Institution, had to contend with the noise from other family members who were home for most of the day.

“It gets hard sometimes trying to find a quiet place to study at home. Both my parents are working from home now, so with all their conference calls, and my grandma cooking in the kitchen, it gets a bit noisy and it’s hard to focus on my online lectures,” said the 17-year-old.

Finding a quiet place to study may be difficult for those with parents and siblings working from home during COVID-19. PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREA PIACQUADIO VIA PEXELS

Family members were not the only distraction for students at home.

“It’s harder to focus. I get tempted with my computer games at home but at school I don’t have that problem,” said Lucus Yap, 16, who will be taking his ‘N’ levels at Manjusri Secondary School.

Adjusting to an online format for two months

Although HBL was seen by many as disruptive, some found the online learning experience better than expected, such as Ryan Teo, who is sitting for his ‘A’ levels at Tampines-Meridian Junior College.

“With lectures now being recorded, it’s a lot better for me. I can go back and rewatch certain parts, whereas in a physical lecture if I don’t pay attention I will miss whatever the lecturer said,” said the 18-year-old.

Some were also relieved that they could get more sleep because of HBL.

Letisha said: “I actually like this arrangement. I live 50 minutes away from school, so not having to wake up early and spend time travelling anymore was really nice for me.”

However, not everyone had an easy time adjusting to these changes.

Ankita Gupta, 18, who will be taking her ‘A’ levels at Raffles Institution, felt that the switch to online classes was difficult, as she found that picking up concepts in a physical classroom was easier.

“It was so much more immersive because my teachers would arrange some activities or group work so that we could understand lessons. Online classes are mostly just watching a video or reading a textbook, and it’s harder for me to absorb concepts this way,” she said.

Not having the hands-on learning experience was hard for some youths to get used to. PHOTO CREDIT: ANNIKA GORDON VIA UNSPLASH

Lucus also struggled initially when his tuition classes shifted online.

“It was troublesome getting help from my tutors. Usually I would just point out which questions I needed help with but now I had to show them over a webcam or send a photo over which just made things complicated,” he said.

Feeling unprepared for the upcoming exam

Graduating students, like the youths we spoke to, have returned to school full-time. But this change has not necessarily meant that they are any less stressed about the exams, especially for some like Ankita who have gotten used to working from home.

“I prefer being home because school can be a stressful environment to be in. I sometimes cry when dealing with the stress, so talking to my sister about my feelings and watching shows with my friends helps,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ryan is grateful that the exam syllabus for all subjects has been reduced for this year.

“There’s less to study for now but I still don’t feel prepared. But I don’t think anyone does. My teachers have also been helping us with extra consultation slots so I hope I can cover what I need to before the exam comes,” he said.

Support from teachers, family and friends

Despite these challenges, these youths were thankful for the support they received.

Lucus said: “My teachers have been very encouraging during this period, always making sure we are coping well and holding extra lessons after school.

“My parents also go out to get ten-year series for me to do and make sure I have what I need to study for my exam.”

Youths shared that their teachers have been especially helpful, by making themselves contactable online for consultations and questions. PHOTO CREDIT: ANNA SHVETS VIA PEXELS

Likewise, Ankita shared that her family members have been very supportive during this time.

“In a way COVID-19 has made things a bit better at home because my sister, who used to stay in a dorm at university, is now at home and I can approach her for help with things I don’t understand.

“My mum would tell my other family members not to make noise near my room too,” she said.

Some shared that not being able to meet up with friends to relax took a toll on their mental well-being during the HBL period, but were thankful that they could connect with their friends online to get each other through this tough time.

“A big part of what made school fun for me was my CCA. It was hard for me because I didn’t have these things to take my mind off studying anymore.

“But my friends will always encourage me. Like if we’re on a Skype call studying and I want to laze in bed they’ll tell me ‘Hey get up let’s study!’. It’s nice that we have each other for support,” said Letisha.

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