University Freshman: Year 1 Semester 1

(Wordy post ahead)

PLEASE READ: Please direct all questions to the comments section below so that they will also be visible to other prospective students. Do note that I will not be entertaining any NTU-related enquiries through e-mail from now on. Thank you for your understanding!

Phew! I finally got the time to blog now that the semester has officially ended! Actually my last paper was 2 weeks ago but procrastination got the best of me as usual 😛

Anyway I hope I am able to document every semester at the end of it because this is probably my last education stage if I have no means to further my studies financially (unless I decide to join the teaching force, that is!). And hopefully it’ll give a very good insight of University life especially for those who are gunning for a spot in NTU.

If you have followed my stories on University application, you would have figured that I had missed out on orientation camps or other freshmen activities planned way before I was admitted. That did not bother me since I am not a camp person to begin with, so even if I had the chance to go, I’d most likely not attend as well (haha). But to be honest, I was a little jittery when I went to school for the very first time for an orientation programme because I knew no one there. And to make it more awkward for me, the orientation started off with a lunch reception, so imagine my horror when I discovered myself surrounded with cliques who knew one another from camp. But I knew the feeling would be temporary, and I was right!

I forced myself to mingle (man I’m amazed at myself sometimes). I took some food and attempted to look for a table with a space big enough to fit me in. Unfortunately each clique was rather big so many tables were fully occupied! But then I found a table that had only 3-4 students.

“Can I sit here?” I asked.

So took the seat after getting approving nods from everyone at the table. Then one of the girls (a senior just there to mingle with the freshmen) there spoke.

“Do you know one another?”

And surprise, surprise! All of us shook heads! I count my lucky stars! Apparently I was at a table with.. how can I put it? Rejects? Nah, just people who never went for camp! That was how I made my first batch of Uni friends 😛 Very impromptu right? Oh and also at that table, I know one from Singapore Polytechnic too! But 2 years my junior 🙂

So you don’t need to go through torturous days of camp to make friends. In fact I never went for orientation camps in my entire life, haha! If you are thick-skinned enough, you should be able to make friends during orientation programmes (and group projects) too!

The first 2 weeks in NTU were a blurry mess to me but I figured everything out all on my own without the help of any seniors. I practically read up on STARS, STARS Planner, AUs, subject exemptions for Poly graduates and other NTU jargon when I’m at home most of the time because it is just so different in Poly! Now I have to be fully responsible for my timetable and the planning part of it really takes up a lot of my time -_-

Because I understand the pain and confusion freshmen go through during their first semesters, I shall compile a detailed list of what to take note of for the benefit of (potential) NTU freshmen who have no one to seek help from! 🙂

1. Add/Drop Period

The first 2 weeks of the semester are the second most important period (apart from exams period of course!) because that’s when you have to register for courses and apply for exemption of courses (if you are from Poly like me). The former is also what we call the Add/Drop period because you are able to add courses to your timetable and drop them if you don’t like them subsequently after attending the lessons! You can do so during these 2 weeks without any penalty and after which, any courses that remain in your timetable would be your confirmed ones throughout the semester. To me the Add/Drop period is like 2 weeks of trial lessons, hahaha! I once wrongly registered for a Translation class without realising that it was conducted entirely in Mandarin! I was in a state of shock throughout the 1.5 hour-tutorial and immediately dropped that course when I went home. But do bear in mind that lessons are conducted as per normal during these 2 weeks, so do not have the silly thinking (like me) that the lessons would be all introductory during this period! Hence it’d be good if you read up on the previous weeks’ lecture notes or watch recorded lectures before turning up for the next (and your first) one so that you know what’d be going on in class. If there are no recorded lectures (or if you do not have high perseverance level to watch the 1.5-hour long video), it would be better to print out the powerpoint slides.

I am sure many have heard of NTU’s very own STARS Wars, right? Basically it’s a system (named by NTU students) whereby courses are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis, so the fastest fingers always get their desired courses. However with effect from this academic year (I think), courses are now allocated randomly on a daily basis (hence the name is now Add/Drop instead of STARS Wars hahaha!). So it does not matter if you are the last to register the courses on that day because ultimately the system would CHOOSE by drawing lots -_- You only know if you get the course(s) after the Add/Drop system closes for the day, perhaps around 10pm, through e-mail. I personally prefer STARS Wars though because response is immediate.

2. Planning your timetable

Prior to that, students usually plan their timetable first and then attempt to add the courses on the first day of the Add/Drop period using the STARS planner with just a click of a button. The list of courses on the planner (which you can select directly from) are not exhaustive as some may be left out, so I’d usually refer to this list which has a more comprehensive description of each course. If I like what I read, I’d copy the course code and paste it into the empty field. If it is a valid code AND is offered in that semester, you should be able to choose your preferred time slot (i.e. index number) under the drop-down menu after clicking “Plan” (unless there is only one available time slot). Otherwise, the drop-down menu would not show anything! Also ensure you have fulfilled the prerequisites (if any)! Usually Poly graduates are the only freshmen to have fulfilled them in their first semesters 😛

I took 6 courses in Semester 1 and it was quite manageable (apart from having to take 5 papers). So I guess 6 (18 AUs) is the norm? And just because NTU offers foreign languages as electives for free like that, I wouldn’t recommend loading your timetable with more than 1 foreign language because 1 I already cannot tahan. It really takes up a lot of your memory space!

3. Your pre-allocated courses by the school before Add/Drop period

If you are a freshmen, you would already have certain CORE courses allocated to your timetable so that you won’t begin the first week of school with no classes to attend. You can check what courses you have been registered for here (under Print/Check Courses Registered) and they should already be reflected on your timetable before your orientation programme (so that you can use it as a common topic/ice breaker when mingling around LOL SERIOUS). Of course, you may drop CORE courses and take them again in another semester. But I wouldn’t do it in exchange for non-CORE ones la.

4. Course exemptions for Poly graduates

So anyway back to course exemptions for Poly graduates. The deadline to apply for exemptions is NOT on the last day of the add/drop period. If I remember correctly, it should be at the end of the first week or in the middle of the second. You have to download a form from the WKWSCI website (if you are going there. Otherwise it should be on your faculty’s website?) and submit it to the in-charge via e-mail. It can be done even before the first week of school and of course, you can also submit the hard copy to the office. But before submission, you’d also need to contact your Poly course coordinator and request for a course syllabi to be sent to your school as well (or to you if possible) because they’d need it to determine if you can be exempted. Oh and not forgetting all your Poly transcripts! Don’t ask me why they need the copies again… Do be sure that you had attained at least a B+ for that module you are matching against!

I tried matching  my Poly modules with the list here (only Year 1 and Year 2 courses though) and I was eventually exempted from 8 modules (4 of which are CORE) worth 24 AUs. The maximum number of AUs you can exempt from is 32 but subjected to approval. But even so, I went all out and tried to match as many modules as I could because there is no guarantee that I’d be exempted from all! What I didn’t know until 5 weeks ago (-_-) was that this course exemption exercise is not restricted to courses just in WKWSCI. In other words, if you have gone through a Business module in Poly for example, you can also match it against a Business course in NTU which would eventually be your exempted elective! Sigh, I could have exempted from more courses if I knew about this earlier! Because all exemptions have to be done during the first week of your first semester 😦

EDIT (6 May 2015): With effect AY2015/2016, polytechnic students can only be exempted up to 12 AUs (instead of 24) for GERPE/UE type courses only. In other words, you can no longer get exempted for CORE modules even if you have gone through something similar in Poly. [source]

5. Academic Units System (AUS) and other NTU jargon

Also, exempted courses are not graded and would not be included in the computation of your cumulative GPA. But the AUs tagged to your exempted courses will be awarded to you 🙂 However do note that you’d need at least 69AUs of graded courses AND 128AUs in total to graduate! So you cannot exempt like shiok only (actually it’s also not possible since the max is 32AUs, LOL)

With effect AY2011/2012, all Year 1 students admitted to the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information will adhere to the following curriculum structure. CS students MUST complete a minimum of 128 AUs (CORE- 47, Major PE/CORE Elective- 24 AUs, GER-CORE – 12 AUs, GER-PE/GER- Electives – 15 AUs and GER-UE- 30 AUs).

– WKWSCI website

  • CORE are compulsory courses required to satisfy programme requirements. To know what the CORE are in WKWSCI, click here by concentration or here by year of study! Technically the CORE in Year 1 are CS2002 Information Literacy, CS2005 Speech and Argumentation, CS2006 Visual Literacy and Communication, CS2008 Fundamentals of Research. The other CORE are GER-CORE which are also CORE to us la somehow.
  • Major PE/CORE Elective are courses for specialisation in a particular degree programme (e.g. journalism). You can also refer to the two lists I’ve hyperlinked above pertaining to this.
  • GER-CORE are courses relating to Communication Skills (CS0201 Foundations of Communication Studies, CS0204 Basic Media Writing), Singapore Studies (CS0203 Media in Singapore) and Environmental Sustainability (CS0900 Communication Strategies for Sustainability and Social Changes)
  • GER-PE/GER-Electives are courses that can be outside of WKWSCI but has to be one of the sub-areas of studies – Art, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS), Business & Management (BM), Liberal Studies (LS), Science, Technology & Society (STS).  In other words, you need to have at least 1 GER-PE from AHSS, BM, LS and STS categories. You can find out the categorisation from the STARS Planner!
  • GER-Unrestricted Electives (or just UE) are ANY courses around NTU, such as foreign languages and other japalang courses which may interest you. Some courses can be opted as either GER-PE or UE. It’s totally up to you!!

6. Getting to your classes

The best way, I swear, to familiarize yourself with the school is by getting lost. I get lost everyday ALONE on the first 2 weeks because NTU is so damn huge (but after awhile it doesn’t look that huge anymore), getting caught in the rain and subsequently late for my class, missing my stop, alighting one stop earlier.. Wow, hahaha

But of course, you should do some research at home first, like finding out where the nearest bus stop is, where the classroom is nearest to, so on and so forth. Maybe give yourself 30 minutes of buffer time. And if you are really lost, ask any passers-by! These are times you really shouldn’t bother about people thinking that you’re a freshie because really no choice ma!

The next thing to know is the shuttle bus service around NTU which is VERY VERY useful for days which you have classes all around NTU and walking would take like 15-20 minutes? There are 4 shuttle buses (including Weekend Rider) in the school and one of them goes to Pioneer MRT station but because it’s to the train station, the bus does not go to every bus stop in school to prevent overcrowding! More details on the shuttle bus service here (it looks less cluttered and more user-friendly on mobile but if I’m not wrong, the stops are not sorted in order on mobile). Not forgetting that the service is free………….. Okay not really la, you pay through your school fees.

7. NTU culture

Another difference in culture between Poly and NTU is probably how we identify/call the courses. In Poly (not sure about the others), we call the modules by their initials (or rather, acronyms) like for example, we call Mass Media Research MMR for short even though they also have module codes tagged to them. But hor, in NTU I don’t know why everyone likes to call the courses by their code number, like CS0900 Communication Strategies for Sustainability and Social Changes, they call it 900? Why, is it because the acronyms are too long?? Being mathematically and numerically-challenged, I find it so difficult to adapt. Even freshmen automatically get this habit after awhile. I once tried to identify to someone a course by its acronym and all I got was a blank look, followed by a “You mean 2005?” a few seconds later.

Also, don’t expect scoring rubrics for projects you are tasked to do, because THEY DON’T HAVE THEM! 😦 So sometimes you really don’t know which part of the project to beautify and put in more effort on because you just don’t know how the marks are allocated. Oh well I guess NTU just wants its students to put in effort for every single thing la!

8. Using clickers

NTU is so cool we have to use clickers in some lecture theatres. I’m lying it’s not cool. I actually hate it.

Anyway every freshman is given a clicker (together with your matriculation card) just in case you’d need it la. But it’s on loan. HAVE TO RETURN ONE once you graduate!! So I really don’t know why some people go and bling it..

How to use the damn clicker:

If you’ve been to any NTU lecture theatre, you would see some numerical digits printed on a white paper pasted near the projector screen. That is the channel of the lecture hall. You have to set the channel first before you can respond through the clicker:

  • Press and release the “Ch” button (“GO” for the older model).
  • While the light is flashing red & green, enter the 2 digit channel code (i.e., Channel 1 = 01, Channel 21 = 21 and so on).
  • After the second digit is entered, press and release the “Ch” button.
  • A steady green light should appear. If not, repeat steps 1 to 3

NTU Clickers Website

Then comes the next and final part which is not mentioned anywhere! WALAO Because of this I lost 25% of my marks for one of my courses which required clickers!! I am so so pissed. More details later.

So to respond through the clicker, you just have to press the button with the number that corresponds with the option number of the answer! THAT’S IT! JUST ONE BUTTON. IT’S SO EASY BUT I DIDN’T KNOW. You know what I had been doing? I followed the same steps as channel setting! Actually how would anyone know!? GRRRRRRR.

9. Getting your textbooks (or required text)

I won’t say that it is compulsory (unless your profs decide to be difficult and test you on the content of your required text) to buy textbooks if you pay attention in class and jot down notes diligently, but they will definitely come in handy when you do your revision. University textbooks, especially for specialised subjects like Art, Design and Natural Hazards, are hardly ever available in the school’s bookshop (used to be Yun Nan Bookstore until mid 2014. Popular has since taken over). To get them, you often have to place an order with the shop and the books would only be available in a few days’ time. Sometimes it could take weeks.

However, textbooks are mostly very expensive because they are not like your secondary school books that are written and printed locally. They are authored by renowned experts and a lot of them are imported from somewhere far away. But I don’t find it worthwhile to spend so much on something that you’d only use for one semester. The solution? Get a photocopied version (some campus bookstores may do it discreetly but you gotta find out which yourself), find an online free version or buy a second-hand one. Before you do so, do ensure that the book is in the correct edition.

Here are some platforms which students use to sell their textbooks:

Carousell (app)

If you can afford to wait, sometimes even sites like Amazon would offer your textbooks at a relatively lower price.

10. S/U option

If you find yourself doing not so well for courses you have added and confirmed, you can exercise your S/U option (which stands for Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) on them! Once you have converted them to S/U grading, you will only be graded S (if you pass or even if you get an A) or U if you fail or if I’m not wrong, get below a C? These grades will not be included into your GPA so it’s like you’re taking the courses for fun (but still must pass la otherwise you’d have to retake I guess and it won’t look nice on your transcript). But of course good things come with a limit. You can only use this option 4 times in your 4-year course (and 3 for 3-year). 😦

This option is available 2-3 weeks before your final paper so you’d have plenty of time to consider and evaluate after getting your marks for your first few quizzes for example! Otherwise, you can still decide after sitting for the paper as the declaration period lasts ’til the final examination week. Read more here.

With effect from academic year 2014, freshmen can automatically exclude up to six courses for Grade Point Average (GPA) computation, if they do not attain a pass for their first attempt in their first year. They will retake the exams for those exempted courses and the grade for the second attempt will then be used to compute the student’s GPA. These changes were made to ease the freshmen’s transition into university. [Source]

11. Bus 179/179A

I thought I have to add this in because like many freshmen, I didn’t know the difference between 179 and 179A when I was in my first semester. All I knew was both buses go to NTU from Boon Lay interchange.. so, what’s that ‘A’ for? Seeing 179A buses drive past and refusing to stop despite getting flagged down at the bus stop opposite Pioneer MRT station never failed to puzzle me. It happened too many times to be ignored so one day, I took out my phone and Googled it on the spot.

Apparently, bus 179A does not stop at any of the bus stops outside NTU, hence making the journey faster especially during the morning rush hour (9.00am classes) when almost every bus stop is packed with people waiting for the bus. Thus, you can only board 179A from Boon Lay bus interchange (just 2 berths away from the 179 queue, on the left near the exit) but the service is only available until 9.30am. Any time later, you’d have to take bus 179. This service is not available during weekends, public holidays and NTU holidays.

Do not be alarmed if you see terribly long queues for bus 179A in the morning because it’s really not as bad as it seems. With the surprisingly high frequency for 179A and its amazingly short intervals (one behind another), be rest assured that there’ll be enough buses to carry everyone in the queue! So don’t be deterred and join the queue for 179 instead which is a really stupid decision because it’s such a waste of time.

Having said that, bus 179A does ferry students from the campus to Boon Lay bus interchange during the evening peak hours even though they don’t pick anyone up from the interchange itself during that time. Likewise, they skip all the stops outside NTU and go straight to the interchange. So, please ah, don’t be a suaku and press the bell for the bus to pull into Pioneer MRT bus stop. Everyone immediately knows that you’re a freshie if you do that and trust me, it’s super embarrassing.

* * *

Okay now let’s talk about what courses I took in Semester 1! Some courses.. really ah. I must WARN you all first before you register them. Don’t say I didn’t tell you guys! (-_-)

1. AB0603 Business Gone Green (UE)

This is a course from Nanyang Business School and a CORE for business students. The best thing about this course is that it’s NON-EXAMINABLE! So it’s purely graded based on your coursework which include 2 essays, 2 group presentations and other individual tasks. This is a relatively new course and I was in the pioneer batch! Because it’s non-examinable, I really didn’t pay much attention in class honestly (also because the lessons were super profound) and I just relied on the seminar notes when doing projects and I did okay! 😀 The class was fantabulous, full of energy and so-ever enthusiastic and I made a couple of friends from there. All groups tried so hard to make their presentations creative and interactive so there was a stiff competition! I actually added this course LAST because I wanted 6 courses and this was the last option. But I never regretted my decision!

2. BU8301 Fundamentals of Business Law (GER-PE, BM)

Let me just say that I loved this course so much (even though I may not get an A) because the content is so interesting and the professors are really engaging (with the exception of 1….). I have learnt so much from this course to the extent that I’m even applying what I’ve learnt in real life! I believe this is one of the more beneficial courses which really teaches you something. This is also a rather relaxed course because the final grade is dependent just on your class participation (20%) and your final paper (80%). No projects and no presentations! Just do your tutorial diligently every week and volunteer to answer them in class and you’d get your A+ for class participation! 😉 Oh but some tutorial groups replace their class participation with group projects (as in every week one group is assigned to present their answers for a tutorial and in my opinion, that’s super hard to score). However I believe the weightage for the final paper is a little too much ah.. So that’s one bad thing about it. But it is an open-book examination 😉

3. CS2023 or COM223 Publication Design (Major PE)

This is a course supposedly only for second year students because there is a prerequisite! But because I am exempted from the prerequisite course, I was allowed to take this. This is a very project-intensive course which uses InDesign very heavily, as well as a little bit of Photoshop. There is homework every week and 3 assignments spread out across the semester. The last assignment is a group project which involves creating a 20-page school newsletter. So.. perhaps take this if your design skills are not too bad? And even though there are design tutorials, you really need to do your own reading and research too because not everything will be taught in class! Oh and a Macbook is really recommended for this course because you’d be taught how to create eBooks using a software that can be only installed on Mac unless you don’t mind going back to the lab to complete your assignment. The final paper is also an open-book one!

4. DV2003 History of Graphic Design (UE) – S/U

I have a love-hate relationship with this course. Love because I enjoyed doing the group project and I am very sure I did pretty well for that. Hate because I flunked all my (pop) quizzes and I dislike the professor’s teaching style! No lecture notes would be provided and you would be expected to pen down the key points the professor said from scratch (and I am not very good at this). Because it’s conducted in the school of Art, Design and Media (and also its students’ CORE), I feel so overshadowed by their overwhelming knowledge in art. NOW I KNOW WHY I DON’T DESERVE A SPOT IN ADM. So as you can see, I didn’t do as well as I expected so there goes my first S/U option. The final paper is in essay format and requires a lot of memorizing to do well. Kinda reminded me of Social Studies..

5. ES8001 Natural Hazards, Climate Changes and Society (GER-PE, STS) – S/U

Whenever I tell a non-NTU student about this module, I’d always get a positive response because the name already looks cool on its own. But looks are definitely deceiving because I hated this course from the very first lesson. I couldn’t catch up on the lecture (it is a once-a-week, 3-hour lecture which covers 2-3 topics every time) because when I joined the class on the third week, it was already on the SEVENTH topic. There would also be in-class clicker quizzes worth 25% of the overall grade at the start of the lecture (so if you’re late, you’re dead) hence you would need to spend at least 1 hour watching online lectures before going for class. It was so time consuming and despite feedback from students, they still refused to change the structure of the assessment! Moreover, I wasn’t very familiar with the clicker so somehow my response for the first 5 quizzes didn’t get recorded and I got ZERO for them. Informed the course coordinator (or rather, his assistant) and was promised a solution but until now, I have not heard from her. I even followed up with her during my recess week and I even went up to her during lecture to voice my concern) and she assured me that she had not forgotten about us (apparently it wasn’t only me who was wrongfully marked zero). But it seems like she has indeed forgotten about us! -_-

There is no way you could understand the lesson without watching the videos because the notes were all pictorial with little to no text. -_- And don’t expect this course to be like the Seconds From Disaster documentary because it is NOT. It is so dry and technical. Can you believe that my very first lecture was on tectonics or measuring of earthquakes? :\ Calculations are totally not for me man.

There are 2 papers for this course – one mid-term and one final paper. Mid-term has a weightage of 25% and the final one 50% with 100 MCQs. Yes, even though the exam questions are all in MCQ, they can be really tricky too :\

But as much as I hated this course I couldn’t drop it because my first class was after the Add/Drop period 😦 So I had to S/U this! I’m probably the only freshman to have S/U two courses in her first semester!! But even though I had already S/U this, I probably will not even get an S 😦 Sigh, *fingers crossed*

6. LS9001 Spanish Language I (UE)

I wanted to continue with my French study but was denied the chance because I missed the placement test (couldn’t take the lowest level because I already learned a little of French in Poly). My next choice was Italian but because it was a highly popular course I couldn’t get it in the end. Thus I settled for Spanish, and I never once regretted my decision! I enjoyed the lessons (1.5-hour, twice a week class) so much that time passed so quickly when I was in the class. I really liked my Spanish teacher because she is engaging and really cares whether you understand what she teaches. Her name is Arancha (her real name is longer than this) and she usually teaches  the Tuesday and Thursday 12pm/1.30pm slots in case you’re wondering 🙂 There are in total 4 levels of Spanish language offered in NTU but they are still not enough to prepare you for DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language) though.

Knowing a little of French really did help me grasp the Spanish language better because they are rather similar. But because it is a completely foreign language altogether, you’d really need to spend some time practising and memorising vocabulary for example otherwise you would be lagging behind in class. But even though I like the language, I don’t think I did well for the final paper because the comprehension portion of it killed me. :\ You’d be tested through an oral examination (25% weightage. You and your partner have to converse in Spanish in front of the entire class and it was very stressful HAHA), a listening comprehension (10% weightage), 2 bring-home assessments (10% weightage each) and 2 test papers (total of 25%, one of which is the final paper) which cover Comprehension, Vocabulary, Grammar (conjugations) and Composition.

And that’s about it!

In less than 2 weeks’ time I would be getting my final grades for this semester (will be looking at my mail all the way in China) and I am really praying hard for a Pass for my Natural Hazards course! I have been hearing a lot about the bell curve and its horror stories but I am not a victim of it yet. Hopefully the bell curve does more good than harm to me 😦

Ok I really hope this post has benefited you in one way or another. Do drop me a comment if you need to know anything else not mentioned here! 🙂

Read also:
University Senior: Year 4 Semester 1 & 2
University Junior: Year 3 Semester 1
University Sophomore: Year 2 Semester 2
University Sophomore: Year 2 Semester 1
University Freshman: Year 1 Semester 2