Reading to learn
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Homeschooler Profile on 7 Apr 2010.
More and more homeschoolers in the country are turning to O Level as the preferred pathway to college and tertiary education. 17-year old Brian Tan sat for his exams last November and outshone many of his peers. The point is not that Brian did well, but that homeschool is no obstacle to education excellence. Above all, it also demonstrates that whatever homeschool methodology/philosophy or curriculum one subscribes to, being educated at home provides a child the necessary space for nurturing right attitude and inculcating a reading habit, both of which are foundational to future success. A big thanks to Brian and his parents Boon Long and Cynthia who also added their two-sens to the Q&A regarding exam preparation.
Tell us about yourself and your homeschooling experience.
My name is Brian and I will be 18 this August. I have been homeschooling since Standard 5, i.e. 11 years old.
I liked homeschooling as there was flexibility in my schedule. It was always a holiday during my birthday and my family took holidays during non-school holidays, avoiding peak periods. I’ve enjoyed homeschooling which has made education fun. Spending loads of time with my younger brother and parents, I’ve become close to them and my parents are always at hand when I need advice.
Being an art and reading enthusiast since young, I used much of the break time between studies to draw (by hand and on the computer) and to read. I was read to (when younger) and I read a lot of good literature as part of my homeschooling. I also studied at my own pace.
Did you feel left out socially?
I have been involved in many activities that allowed me to socialise. There was Sunday School, my church Care Group, a Junior Public Speaking Club, Art classes, ice skating classes and badminton (both formal training and socially). I’ve been and am still actively involved in Royal Rangers (an international Christian uniformed group) with lots of activities including camping, hiking, canoeing, first-aid, Christian Service, Community service, various hobbies and opportunities for leadership. At 13, I joined the church Youth Group. I also helped in Sunday School.
When I was 15+, I attended a tuition centre for about a year to prepare for my O level and IGCSE. I also enjoyed the socialisation and learned more of the problems and issues faced by my peers. I also made friends in my church Bible Knowledge classes that I attended for 2 years.
Why O Level, and not SAT?
My parents say that the O Level exam is more widely recognised especially in Commonwealth countries. Local private universities normally advertise a “minimum of 5 O Level credits” as entrance requirement. SAT is mainly recognised for entry into US universities but they also accept O Level qualifications.
How many subjects did you sit for and how did you prepare for your exams?
I sat for a total of 7 subjects: Art, and Bible Knowledge (O level); and Math, English, English Literature, Business Studies and Economics (IGCSE). You could say preparation for English and English Literature began ever since I homeschooled using the Sonlight curriculum and some Singapore workbooks. I switched to IGCSE materials in Forms 4 and 5.
I’ve always used Singapore Math, but in my secondary years I switched to Counts 1-5 and the IGCSE text. For Business Studies and Economics, I started preparation when I enrolled in a tuition centre for about a year.
Prior to the Bible Knowledge exam, I attended my church weekly Bible Knowledge classes for 2 years. The classes actually prepare students for the SPM Bible Knowledge paper but I stayed because it was quite close to the O Level syllabus – Luke & Acts. For Art, I had a teacher for a year who helped me prepare for O Level Art.
I was in the tuition centre until the last 4 – 5 months before my exams. I consolidated my preparation at home by attempting a lot of past year exam papers, read examiners’ reports and comments to get a good view of what the examiners look for.
Your results came out early this year in January. So how did you do, and what’s your next step?
I obtained 7As. In the IGCSE, I obtained As for Business Studies and Economics and A*s for Maths, English and English Literature. In the O level exam (where A*s are not awarded), I obtained As for Art and Religious Knowledge.
My next step is to enrol at the One Academy in Bandar Sunway to pursue my passion in Creative Arts and Design. I’ll be doing a Diploma course in either Multimedia or Animation before going to one of their affiliated overseas universities for a degree.
How would you advise other homeschoolers to prepare themselves for their exams?
O Level /IGCSE normally require 2 years of preparation. I would recommend some tuition classes especially in subjects one is weak at, or where parents are unable to help. The 2 years could consist of a mixed bag of home school and tuition classes.
The tuition classes will also be a good transition from homeschooling to college life as one will be exposed to group discussions and group dynamics.
Finally, intensive practices of O level/IGCSE past year question papers, reading mark schemes, examiner comments and reports a few months before the exams help a lot.
However, homeschoolers should get a good grounding prior to the last 2 years before sitting for the O level /IGCSE.
Pre-O level/IGCSE preparation:
- For Maths/Add Maths, a good program is Singapore Maths from Primary until Form 3 (e.g. Singapore Maths Counts 1-3 or other Singapore Maths texts).
- For the Sciences (Biology/Physics/Chemistry), any Primary program will do but try to do Singapore Science for Forms 1 and 2 or the UK’s equivalent (Cambridge Core Bio/Physics/Chemistry).
- For English/Literature/History, the preparation program is a lot more flexible. Sonlight’s Core curriculum is excellent.
- For Economics and Business which are generally study subjects, homeschoolers should not find these a problem if they’ve acquired good reading/comprehension skills.
- For O level Bible Knowledge, do attend, if available (and normally free of charge) BK classes for SPM students conducted by churches. Syllabus is 90% similar.
Generally, a good base in homeschooling – “Learn to read and then read to learn” – will give homeschoolers the ability to learn independently in the later years, with some guidance from parents/tuition teachers.
Top Pix: Brian holds forth at a debate
Bottom Pix: Brian (left), Mom Cynthia (centre), and younger brother Kevin (right) agree that homeschooling is fun
Related posts on homeschoolers and O Level
…….and a related post on developing a reading culture at home