The Straits Times
Jan 11, 2011
In two years, their English grades leapt from F9 to A1
It was all hard work, say Crescent Girls from China
By Jane Ng & Amelia Tan
Seven of Crescent Girls' School's top 11 students with 9A1s are from China. (Back row, from left): Zhuo Ran, Zhu Yichen and Zhu Duoduo; (front row, from left): Ying Jiani, Wei Qi, Wei Lu and Zhang Yumeng. All are 17 years old. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
A GROUP of China-born students at Crescent Girls' School powered themselves from F9s to A1s for English in just two years.
Asked for their secret, the girls, who failed English when they started out in Secondary 3 here in January 2009, said sheer hard work and determination made this possible.
And they did not work on just their English in those two years. All seven scored nine A1s in the O levels they sat last year.
Then again, they are obviously bright: They all found mathematics here a breeze because they were getting far tougher questions back home; science also presented little difficulty because they had covered Singapore's O-level science syllabus by the time they finished the equivalent of Secondary 3 in China.
They also found Higher Chinese easy, and most of them chose to take Chinese literature as their humanities subject.
But English was their Mount Everest. It was one of the reasons they were placed in Secondary 3 here - to give them a year to work at the language - though by age, they should have been in Secondary 4.
They made the most of their catch-up year: They worked on comprehension passages daily, memorised essays and invested more than half their total revision time on English.
In fact, one of them, 17-year-old Hangzhou native Ying Jiani, pushed herself by taking English literature, too.
She is the only daughter of an engineer father and architect mother, and started weekly English lessons at age five.
Despite her headstart, she got an F9 for her first English test in Secondary 3.
Unfazed, she set herself to work, with her teachers' help and endless patience being instrumental in her mastering the language, she said.
Her first literature assignment required her to analyse a passage. She managed only eight out of 25 marks - what she called 'sympathy marks'.
'I thought I understood the passage, but somehow I couldn't put it into words,' she said.
To be sure she would never be at a loss for words again, she made herself write at least one essay and work through a comprehension passage every day.
In the run-up to her Secondary 4 preliminary exams and O levels the following year, she stepped this up to two essays and two comprehension passages a day.
To bolster her command of the language, she joined Crescent's English Literary, Drama and Debates Society.
'I like English. It's a beautiful language. I also like American movies and music,' said the student, who is now eyeing a place in Raffles Institution.
Cedar Girls' Secondary's top scholarship holders from China, Wu Fangling, 18, and Han Rui, 17, also said it was pure hard work that netted them their sterling results.
Fangling, who got nine A1s, said she put in seven hours of study time daily after school because she needed extra time to adjust to the curriculum and to brush up on her English.
'I was used to the system in China. I knew how to study and do well, but I had to adjust to a new system here. I also knew that I had to improve my English, since all subjects are tested in English.'
From the start of last year, Fangling and Han Rui, who also scored nine A1s, started writing two essays a week on their own accord for their teachers to mark. On top of that, they read widely and jotted down difficult words.
Fangling, who managed only a C5 in English in her Secondary 3 mid-year exams, puts down her lightning progress to her willingness to use new words she had learnt from her reading and in conversations with schoolmates.
'My classmates would tell me nicely that that is not the way to use a word. I didn't mind. You won't learn without trying,' she said.
Crescent Girls' principal Eugenia Lim said this drive is something she looks for when she interviews candidates for scholarships given out by the school.
'I look at whether the student can succeed academically and adapt to life here,' said the school head, who takes in more than 20 students from China each year. She believes they add to the school's cultural diversity and inspire local students to believe that top-notch scores are achievable targets.
Some principals point out that being a year older than the rest of their classmates may be a reason the China students do well, but others say the steely drive they have is not always seen in Singapore students, regardless of age.
Tanjong Katong Girls' vice-principal Marilyn Chia said: 'They tend to be a year or two older, so they are more mature,but I think the larger reason is they are committed to doing well here.'
Her school has two students from China aged 17, who each scored nine A1s.
Cedar Secondary vice-principal Dawn Lee added: 'They were taking a chance by coming to Singapore, since they were already doing so well in China. They want to make the risk that they took worthwhile and are determined to succeed.'
Catholic High principal Lee Hak Boon noted that when these students are being interviewed for school places here, they often parrot memorised speeches along the lines of 'I want to come to Singapore. It is a beautiful country and it is economically strong'.
But in two years, their command of the language becomes fluent because 'they put in so much effort on their own. Some even read English dictionaries'.
Singaporean students who were interviewed said they are impressed by the grit of their foreign schoolmates, and some regard them as role models.
Cedar Girls' student Kashmira Jirafe, 16, who scored nine A1s and is among the top Indian students, said: 'I feel guilty sometimes, seeing how hard they work. But they remind me that I have to work hard too.'
She added: 'Some of my classmates and I ask the foreign students for help in maths and physics, and we help them in English.'