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What to read first….

Here are some tips for the developing / beginning General Paper learner. Start with the Straits Times.
This is one of easiest ways to find out about the concerns of the day.
In fact, it might not be fair to the masses, including less privileged students, if the issues asked about in the exam were not easily accessible to them.

(So, it’s not entirely shocking then that the issue of beauty arises in the General Paper exam since the papers are full of slimming centre ads and promotional write-ups on doll-like Korean girl bands.
It’s not entirely shocking then that the General Paper exam has asked about the private lives of public figures since we have heard quite enough of Britney Spears, Edison Chen, Tiger Woods, philandering English footballers, Will&Kate and that one IMF chief – watshisnamegofindoutyourself.
It’s not entirely shocking that for this year’s General Paper exam, students are asked which is more important – democracy or efficiency in government – in light of our watershed local elections.)

Also remember that the Straits Times is government-linked. What this means is that the paper is inclined to raising the local and global issues, problems and changes that the Sg government wants the masses to be aware of. This has quite a direct impact on some of the questions that have been (or can be!) asked.

Note : Anything in the media is a construction i.e. facts or ideas interpreted by the writers, edited by their bosses, with other stakeholders in mind.
When I ask you to read the Straits Times, I mean, read critically
Some quick tips on how to critique :
– Read what’s in the article, but also think about what’s not been said.
– Are there any assumptions made ? Are these sound ?

– Are ideas presented with finality or are they presented as possibilities ?
– Whose views are included, and whose are not ? Where can you find out about the missing opinions ?) 
Click here for a sample critique, ironically, of the Straits Times itself 😛 .

In the end, use the Straits Times to set you off on your further investigation.
Then, you may actually see greater value in your other readings like Newsweek, the Economist etc.
Being a state-linked press means that some pertinent international concerns have been severely diluted in the interest of space, time, cost of production and politics e.g. the Somali famine, human rights abuses in Palestine. Your other readings are needed for you to have awareness and empathy for what goes in the world even as you study what directly affects your country.

You should read the Straits Times daily. This means getting hold of the hard copy (Those who cannot buy it may try looking in school or community centres – but no cutting these public copies, please) or paying a fee for the online subscription. The alternative would be to read (it’s the free local paper). If you have internet access, then Yahoo!Singapore does highlight some of the more sensational Straits Times reports (why only such articles? think about it …)

How then do you ‘capture’ what you’ve read from the Straits Times ?
Here are some ways.
You can keep clippings that you have highlighted so that you do not have to re-read the entire news report. You can document points in Facebook notes, or Googledocs, then share it with a group-study team or just keep it private. These can be edited and updated, even via your mobile device (as I am doing so now :P), with input from the latest news reports. Or you can blog it 🙂  🙂  :).
Know which method suits you best.

Please remember that for General Paper, as with many things, you only get as much as you put in. Hope all this helps.


Here is a sample of what you can do with an article :

1)Choose a significant article (Title : 10 percent of Singaporeans affected by mental illness)
– Is it a change or a problem ?
– Are there related new stories ? e.g. 6 deaths in 6 months at Bedok Reservoir

2)Draw out important information/ideas from the article
Depression is the most common mental illness here, with about 170,000 adults, mostly women, affected by it.
– others include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and alcohol or nicotine dependence
–  in line with global trends.
– Depression, which the World Health Organisation projects to become the second-leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020, affects 6.3% of people here. Half of these people will also suffer from a chronic physical ailment.
– high rate for OCD (3% of population), higher than in the US and Europe.
– Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health suggested both genetic and environment factors such as developmental upbringing and illness as causes.
– affecting adolescents & young adults in their 20s 

– National Mental Health Blueprint, launched in 2007. It comprises of initiatives to promote mental health, prevent the development of mental health problems, and reduce their impact. … … A first batch of 20 GPs have completed a graduate diploma in mental health and another 50 have been trained to manage mental illnesses.

3)Ask & try to answer the following questions, esp if the article has not already answered these for you
(sometimes, what readers write online about the article can also help you generate ideas, but please read these critically)

– Why is this a promising or troubling development, or what are the pros and cons of this development ?
– What caused this ? Can we manage the causes ?
– Can it be solved only to some degree / solved entirely ?
– Has enough effort been put in ?
– Do you think the suggestions proposed in the article workable / effective / sound ?
– What are the deeper underlying concerns that this problem points to ? (If it is a positive development, ask : What greater potential can there be ?)


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