An Interview with Emma Tan

Emma is an enthusiastic and passionate scholar who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a Degree in Arts and Social Science. Thereafter, she pursued her passion in teaching at the National Institute of Education (NIE). During her years in service, she also received the MOE Excellence Award and Outstanding Contribution Award for her dedication to teaching.

Emma believes in using modern and innovative learning tools and teaching pedagogies to engage her young learners. She is well-equipped in differentiating her lessons to cater to the diverse learning needs of students.

Emma is the author of O-Level History SBCS Guide & Practice. This book provides a comprehensive guide on Source-Based Question (SBQ) skills to prepare students for the examinations. This book consists of features such as a Step-by-step Answering Technique for SBQ, Topical Source-Based Case Study (SBCS) and Suggested Answers.

Today, Emma shares some tips on revising effectively for the History paper.

About your book

O-Level History SBCS Guide & Practice
  1. How should students use this guidebook to revise effectively?

As the national exam tests on critical thinking skills in addition to content, students will require sufficient practise for the tested topics and the appropriate answering techniques to score well.

The guidebook provides a clear approach, in a step-by-step manner, on how to approach the various question types such as inference, comparison, reliability, surprise, utility, hybrid and assertion questions.

The Levels of Response Marking Scheme (LORMS) which is used in the O-Level History marking scheme is provided for students to evaluate their own answers.

2. What else can students do to improve their Source-Based Question skills?

Work on content mastery! As the SBQ topics tested are closely related to the content of Units 2 and 3 (i.e. Stalin, Hitler – [Unit 2] Korean War and Cuba Missile Crisis – [Unit 3]), it is important for students to also have specialist knowledge of the content.

Practice makes perfect! Students should do sufficient practices related to the tested topics to expose themselves to a variety of sources, especially cartoon-based sources, which tend to be difficult to interpret and comprehend.

3. Can students prepare their own personal success criteria checklist for revision?

It can be tedious to prepare for the elective history exams due to the heavy content and emphasis on skills application. Hence, it is important to create two checklists, one for content mastery and the other for skills application.

As each student has their own weaknesses, it is important to make a checklist suitable that caters to their needs and learning styles.

Sample checklist:

Section A SBQ skills/question types:Progress:Section B SEQ contentProgress:
Inference Unit 2 Chapter 1: TOV + LON  
Comparison Unit 2 Chapter 2*: Stalin  
Purpose Unit 2 Chapter 3*: Hitler  
Reliability Usefulness Surprise Unit 2 Chapters 4-7: WWII in Europe and Asia 
– Chapter 4: Reasons for outbreak (Europe)
– Chapter 5: Defeat of Germany (Europe) 
– Chapter 6: Reasons for outbreak (Asia) 
– Chapter 7: Defeat of Japan (Asia)   
Hybrid Unit 3 Chapter 1: Reasons for the Cold War 
Assertion/Evaluation Unit 3 Chapter 2*: Korean War  
  Unit 3 Chapter 3*: Cuban Missile Crisis 
  Unit 3 Chapter 4: End of the Cold War 
*: Chapters tested on both SBQ and SEQ

4. What are some of the common errors that students frequently make?

Being too literal when interpreting the source. Always remind yourself that inference is not a test of your paraphrasing skills, but rather, your ability to interpret the source and make an educated guess with support from the source evidence.

Being too vague in your explanation is another common mistake. This happens when students pick a poor piece of evidence that does not allow them to explain much. This can also happen when students fail to clearly explain the quoted or described evidence.

5. Can you share more about the Level of Response Marking Scheme (LORMS) and how it impacts the students’ marks?

Given the time constraint during exams, it is important for students to understand how their answers are being graded against the LORMs. This allows them to be strategic and efficient during exams; writing the bare minimum and yet scoring a high mark.

While the LORMS can look intimidating, students should approach it like a game that comes with a hierarchy of progress. You start from the lowest level (Level 1), and you will strive to level up, to advance from one level of skill to another.

LORMS works just the same! The number of ‘levels’ in each question depends on the complexity of the question. For complex questions like hybrid questions, it requires students to demonstrate their knowledge/skill to advance to the next level (i.e. inference, cross-referencing and analysing the purpose of the source), and hence more ‘levels’ in the LORMS.

6. What else can students do to improve their understanding of History?

If you find the heavy content deterring, watch some YouTube resources related to the topic. There are many out there!

Make history bite-sized by doing mind-maps for every chapter. Check your understanding by getting your friends to quiz you, or try out Kahoot yourself!

About Yourself/Work/Expertise

  1. Why did you choose to teach History and Social Studies?

In a society that places a high emphasis on STEM subjects, one can’t help but to feel a sense of loss in the midst of hustling in this technology-driven world. And this is where disciplines like humanities can bring the ‘human’ out of us. History is not just about mindless memorising of past events. Beyond that, it involves the study of how people, governments and societies behave. I also find it interesting that History uses a range of methods and analytical tools to reconstruct the diversity of past human experience. The study and close examination of historical materials thus speak volume of the present.

2. Why is a good understanding of History and Social Studies important to a student’s growth?

The study of history helps with critical thinking that goes beyond simple problem solving. Students gain the ability to identify, assess and evaluate diverse interpretations and evidences. This is especially relevant in preparing students for the future workplace where employers hire those with effective oral and written communication coupled with critical and analytical reasoning to solve complex problems. Furthermore, understanding the past helps one to make sense of the present. Current affairs such as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war are unsurprising to those with a keen understanding of the past, as it stems from the historical events of the Cold War between USA and USSR.

 3. Can you share more about some of the innovative learning tools and teaching pedagogies that you use to teach effectively?

Kahoot is an effective learning tool to quiz students about their understanding of the content taught. It is a perfect tool for revision as it helps students to recall the facts they have learned during the lessons. Padlet is another effective tool to gather individual responses and thoughts. It works well for pair and group work, allowing students to consider perspectives of their peers and engage them by commenting on it.

Google Documents is extremely collaboration friendly too. It allows me to provide real-time feedback on student work and students are able to build upon each other’s ideas.

 4. How do you differentiate your teaching approach to cater to different students?

Given that every student has different learning needs (i.e. kinesthetic, visual etc), it is important to adopt varied teaching pedagogies. Role-playing, debates, and videos pertaining to the historical event are common strategies I use to engage my students.

 5. How would you encourage and motivate weaker students?

It is critical to be aware of the reason behind their poor results for the subject. Is it the content? Is it the skills? Or is it because of poor time management? You need to know what you don’t know, before you can start working on them one by one.

 6. Can you share some of the highlights or memorable moments that you have had from teaching?

One highlight I have was giving two months of intensive history lessons to a private O-Level candidate who had no clue about history and decided to take pure history for O-Level (he was a foreigner). His hard work and determination eventually paid off as he managed to attain an A2 for pure history!

7. Lastly, how can parents effectively support their children who are studying Humanities subjects?

Work together with your child by coming up with a timetable/revision schedule for their exams.  (Refer to the sample above).

Encourage them to watch historical documentaries related to what they have been studying! This allows them to draw connections between the past and present.

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