O-Level | How to Study Smart for O Levels?

How to Study Smart for O-Levels


Reuniting With My “Old Buddy”

Being a marketing creative at Spring College International (SCI) for my first internship this year, my superior tasked me to do some content research on GCE O-Level Examination such as what this national examination is about, who is eligible, what is the current syllabus, rules and regulations… I thought to myself that “how hard can this be?” since I was an O-Level participant myself 3 years back. I was more of the expert than anyone in the room for being the most recent applicant of the O-Level Examination.

Click-clacking in the oddly loud Logitech keyboard that even I could hear through my already-booming music, Google quickly sorted through to serve me with the most relevant link – the SEAB website. Surfing the site smoothly like an Internet pro (like how all Generation Z’s should be), it did not take long to find the title GCE O-Level under one of the tabs.

I was 10 minutes into reading 11 font-sized PDFs before reality hit me with a realisation of how unfamiliar my “old buddy” was… 4 years of my teenage life spent to earning that important piece of paper with several numbers and alphabets on it.

What the? (z.d.). [GIF]. https://www.three.co.uk/hub/wp-content/uploads/giphy-downsized-large.gif
What the? (z.d.). [GIF]. https://www.three.co.uk/hub/wp-content/uploads/giphy-downsized-large.gif

Good Ol’ Reddit

I did not believe it was only me who did not knew this many things about GCE O-Levels, so I went to hit Reddit up — a discussion forum that many students love to share their thoughts on. Searching Reddit like how I searched Google, the relatable experiences and familiar questions I had as an O-Level student came flooding in as I scrolled the feed — filling my heart and mind with all the fond (and not-so-fond) memories.

A post, Please don’t do what I did caught my eye, poking my interest in what the author had done during his/her O-Level phase. By the end of the post, I found myself laughing because that was exactly what happened to this young, clueless, average student here (me) — except for the fact that I never finished over 130 practice papers in total and I did not redo papers (mind you, I get bored too easily to redo question papers).


But the part where I finished all my papers before all my friends and way prior to O-Levels? Totally relatable.

Relatable. (z.d.). [GIF]. https://c.tenor.com/UbUkoi73booAAAAC/dr-house-relatable.gif
Relatable. (z.d.). [GIF]. https://c.tenor.com/UbUkoi73booAAAAC/dr-house-relatable.gif

Study Smart, Not Hard

Sounds familiar? Because that’s what every article, blog, or piece of advice everyone gives; and mostly because it’s the truth, so hear me out.

Now, it sounds easy to say work smart, but how exactly is “smart”? Here’s some ways:

  • Space out your study sessions

Remember when I said I finished all my practice papers way earlier? Yes, don’t try that. It’ll leave you exhausted and unmotivated. Unless you want to end up like your senior over here, I suggest you to plan out your study sessions. Here’s a tip: start with the hard stuff. It’s not hard to understand why.

Harder knowledge = more time, energy and effort needed to absorb

I was never a pro in the theory aspect for Food and Nutrition subject. Despite the colourful illustration on the book and an amazing teacher to guide me on the subject, I never got the hang of it. Continuously getting back a sad grade on theory test papers for the whole of Secondary 3 did not motivate me either. I knew I couldn’t let this sad situation continue any further, so I started to study bit by bit.

It slowly became a habit to pick the book up every once in a short while, feeling the weight of it (and its knowledge) and aimed to learn something before I shut the book. So, it felt like a fun fact to know something “nutritional” and learn some science behind the food. The only difference is that you just need to keep it in your brain so you can put those knowledge to good use in O-Levels.


But did you know? You lose almost half of the information you learnt within an hour of learning it. Let me pull out some graphs for your benefit:

[Forgetting Cuve]. (n.d.). https://intelalearning.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/learning-myth-1-ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve/
[Forgetting Cuve]. (n.d.). https://intelalearning.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/learning-myth-1-ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve/

Sadly, this is how the human brain works. Thanks to all the great researchers who did the experimenting, now we have an excuse for our forgetfulness. To overcome it though, I’ve also pulled out another graph:

Reviewing curve. (z.d.). [Image]. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Florian-Schimanke/publication/261952026/figure/fig3/AS:667596047269891@1536178709388/Alteration-of-the-forgetting-curve-through-repetition-according-to-Ebbinghaus-1885-and.png
Reviewing curve. (z.d.). [Image]. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Florian-Schimanke/publication/261952026/figure/fig3/AS:667596047269891@1536178709388/Alteration-of-the-forgetting-curve-through-repetition-according-to-Ebbinghaus-1885-and.png

As seen, you just need to review your materials often enough to actually retain the information in your brain. You see, even science is telling you not to rush it. Pace yourself and the study materials out, you’ll find yourself doing a better work over time. I just wished I had someone to tell me this often enough.

  • Apply what you learn to real life situations

This works surprisingly well because now you have a reason to make use of your knowledge even when you’re not studying (a win-win to your revision and your life, no?).

When I was trying to get a hang of Food and Nutrition theory in my Secondary 4 days, I annoyed all my peers by telling them what nutrients there were in each of their meals and what they were still lacking. It also helped me with looking out for signs of malnutrition or eating disorders for those around me. You’ll one day thank yourself for remembering these — because I did.

  • Know your study space

Where do you feel most productive at? At home? In school? At cafes? Libraries? Take time to figure out. Personally, I love private studying areas with not a single soul or not-too-busy cafes for the white noise. Which place does your brain click most with? Everyone is different, just make sure you’re not too comfortable that you fall asleep.


This is such a huge thing for us students — or honestly, everyone. To all the night owls out there surviving with 3-5 hours of sleep, pay more attention from here onwards. My parents were super strict on number of hours I slept, so I did not face problems like not being able to focus well. In fact, I felt that having sufficient sleep played a major role in understanding the subjects I was learning and performed better at test papers and my extra curriculum duties.

Students without enough sleep have been proven to be more prone to health problems and have trouble concentrating and doing well academically.

But what if I just can’t sleep? As ridiculous as it sounds, it has become increasingly common in the younger generation to not able to sleep early and wake on time (excluding medical conditions like insomnia). We spend our time on our phones in bed and don’t feel tired until 1:00AM (or even later for some of us). Here’s some self-help pointers:

  • Read your study materials

Works like magic (personally). Set your devices aside and genuinely try to focus on studying the subject. If you end up with a 30-minute recap session — great. Most of us would yawn within the first 5 minutes.

Just to make you feel all fuzzy inside. Milk is also known to have sleep-promoting nutrients like magnesium. If you have problems sleeping when you consume diary products, chamomile tea would be a great alternative.

Deep In Thought

Looking back, I am not sure what I would have done different. Should I not have focused so much on the national exam and spent some time with my family and friends? Would my results be better if I wasn’t busy rushing practice paper after practice paper and instead paced them out? 1 thing I’ve learnt from all that grind is that to give yourself sufficient rest.

I did sacrifice a lot of family and friends time for studying, and it did make me feel deprived of social interaction. Yet, nothing hits as hard as not having enough rest. I could consider myself lucky to face the burnout just before preliminary exams, so I had enough time to recover for the real deal. After the ordeal, I was so worried to face another burnout that I made sure to never study past midnight and constantly took breaks throughout the day.

If I could advise my 16-years-old self, it would be to cut yourself some slack. Being a natural overthinker did nothing to help with my stress level and I was unable to maintain any sort of work-life balance during my O-Level phase. The stress accumulated over time before it can crashing down on me all at once. There are several ways to balance work and life; from only doing tasks in the workplace, to planning your tasks ahead to ensure a steady pace.

It puts a smile to my face to understand SCI’s system and the teaching plans they have for the students. While the students are studying hard in preparation of their examinations, the teachers and management team do not neglect the children’s wellbeing to rest and have fun when it’s time. There are planned class activities for learning to take place outside the classroom setting and to enjoy themselves! I have also read several student blogs, one in particular by XiaoSong, a Chinese international student studying O-Levels and how his weekend plans look like. It is definitely heartwarming to see students enjoying their time in Singapore while working towards their goals.

Being Part Of The Team & The Takeaways So Far

Even as a final year polytechnic student (who should have mastered the skill of work-life balance after such a scary experience), I struggle to find time to have fun. Intern life at SCI also brought me a break from my hectic study schedule; going to work on time, getting off work on time, only doing work during working hours and in the workplace, and more. Slowly, I come to appreciate the time I have at work and off-work.

Now, I am able to go to work fully energised and be clear of my to-do list everyday instead of constantly thinking of it even after working hours; like how I did for school. Being in SCI is an eye-opener to an educational aspect that I never explored. I now understand better that behind every students’ success, there is support from the team of teachers, peers, and their family. It is inspiring to see every successful case and I genuinely hope all students of SCI are able to attain their goals!

Moving forward, I hope to continue contributing to the team and hear more stories about the growth of the students and their successes!

Author: Tan Jia Xuan


[o levels] please don’t do what i did. (2021, January 18). Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/SGExams/comments/kzo7gj/o_levels_please_dont_do_what_i_did/

Blog. (2020, November 3). Mummy Wee Blog. https://mummyweeblog.com/my-blog/

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