Key term: “Too”

28 06 2013

Key term: “Too”


The Secret To Being Memorable And Persuasive

31 03 2013

The Secret To Being Memorable And Persuasive:

Cut the adverbs?

14 03 2013

According to Stephen King, The Adverb Is Not [Our] Friend.

11 11 2012

Progress in GP

Disclaimer: this is very much a work in progress…

Introduction to Thinking

Key writers: A. C. Grayling, Julian Baggini


  1. The birth of celebrity
  2. Why we need heroes and villains
  3. Commerce = culture?
  4. Sport – no longer a game
  5. Media saturation and technology
  6. What is art today?

Key thinkers: Neil Gabler, Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Benjamin, David Hume

Life Examined

  1. Why study?
  2. Why school?
  3. The arts
    – On writing
    – On performance
    – On craft and architecture
  4. The sciences
    – Science
    – Mathematics
    – Economics and statistics
  5. Technology

Key thinkers: Ken Robinson, John Dewey, Immanuel Kant, GWF Hegel, Thomas Kuhn, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, George Berkeley


  1. What does it mean to be moral?
  2. What does it mean to be responsible?
  3. Rights and liberties
    – The right to our own body (e.g. abortion)
    – The right to equality (e.g. homosexual marriage, women in the workplace)
    – Animal rights
  4. The…

View original post 251 more words

How (not) to paraphrase like a Sir.

19 07 2012

Check out the comments for more attempts at excessive paraphrasing.

GP iPhone apps

3 04 2012

1. gp@mjc

A friend recently introduced me to a GP app by MJC (search the app store for gp@mjc). What I like is that the articles an snippets of information are organized according to your typical GP topics. I did find that it took a while to load though, and some snippets didn’t come with links to full articles. However, it’s the only GP-specific app I’ve seen, and I think it’s worth checking out. Thanks to Ling for the tip!

2. pulse

One GP-relevant apps that I absolutely love is ‘pulse’. Since a then-student recommended it to me last year, I’ve been hooked (thanks Darren!). The app allows you to subscribe to your favourite news sources, but what I like even better is the option to subscribe to top stories within certain fields. For example, if I subscribe to the top science stories, pulse will compile only the biggest stories (rather than just give me everything and make me figure out which stories are more important) – ideal for time-strapped students (and teachers).

3. intelligent life (by The Economist)

I’ve loved The Economist since the time I was a student, and this recently-acquired app is definitely set to become one of my favourites. I must thank my colleague, Gerard for the recommendation.

4. Flipboard

Recently recommended by Derek, this app reminds me of pulse, so I like this for most of the same reasons I like pulse (see above). I also quite like the layout and look of this app.

Have a favourite app that you find useful to GP? Feel free to share your favourites in the comments below!

The taxonomy of logical fallacies

26 03 2012

Logical fallacies fascinate me. Which is why I was particularly excited when I came across this gem today – it attempts to classify logical fallacies in a neat taxonomy. Check it out here.


Compile your own list of fallacious arguments from the newspapers, magazines and comments on any online forum that you encounter.  

GCE ‘A’ Levels 2011: A reflection

22 03 2012

It’s been about three weeks since the release of the GCE ‘A’ Level results. I’ve been putting off writing this post, thinking that over time, additional insights and realisations will emerge from revisiting the results. I think it’s been long enough now.

The following observations express simple correlations and patterns that struck me – whether any of them prove an actual causation is debatable, especially since my sample size isn’t particularly large, and due to the many other factors involved that weren’t (and can’t) be taken into account in my analysis.

I tried to avoid creating correlations based on the results (i.e.  working backwards from the grades and ‘assigning’ strengths retrospectively). Instead, what my analysis did was to look for correlations between strengths that I had previously identified, over the course of 2011 (the year leading up to the A levels), and the actual results that students achieved. What struck me was this:

Personal voice and style matters

When considering the students who achieved an A grade, the most striking thing I noticed was that there was a strong correlation between having either personal voice, or a distinctive (but effective) style.

Of the students who I felt had personal voice or a distinctive (but effective) style, 50% achieved an A grade.

Some of the students who I felt had personal voice / style, unfortunately, lacked some key GP skills. After removing these students from the list, I found that 75% of those students got an A. In other words, of the students with solid GP skills and personal voice / style, 75% of them achieved an A grade.

Does this mean that one cannot get an A without personal voice or style? No – because 19% of the students who got an A were those who I hadn’t identified as having personal voice.

So having personal voice did not necessarily result in an A. Neither was it true that one couldn’t get an A without personal voice. However, a strong correlation was apparent, which leads me to believe that after mastering the basics of GP, it really is worth the effort to invest in finding your own voice and style.

A few other observations (some, retrospective):

Read, remember, practice, apply. Several ‘A’ Level essay questions had been covered in class, either in terms of the topic (e.g. Prejudice & Discrimination), or in terms of having done a very similar question (e.g. the place of books vs. The place of newspapers). Students who studied these topics, practiced essays on these topics or applied good arguments previously discussed in class tended to do well (A/B grade).

Master all the skills, not just the more common ones. Of all the school-based exams, the one with the strongest match between top students in that (school-based) exam and top students in the ‘A’ Level 2011 was the one where the Comprehension paper tested the same skills that came out in the actual ‘A’ Levels. In the 2011 ‘A’ Levels, there was a relatively higher proportion of language use and figurative questions (compared to previous ‘A’ Level Comprehension papers). The school-based exam that best matched this type of paper was also the one where there was the closest match in top scorers for both exams (school-based and ‘A’ Levels). So to be safe, master all the skills, including the ones that appear to come out less often.

Get help if you’re struggling. Miracles are rare. Students who consistently performed poorly in school exams tended to do poorly in the ‘A’ Levels. In other words, if you have been consistently doing badly for GP, get help soon. 

Language: Proper nouns; choice of vocabulary; show, don’t tell

8 02 2012

Grammar isn’t the only thing that affects your language grade – between two scripts of similar grammatical competence, there may still be differences in the language mark awarded. With language, there are many features of good writing that you may encounter, and chances are, not all of them will be appropriate to your style of writing – or the style that you’re aiming to achieve. The trick is to read widely, take note of different styles of writing and different techniques used, and most importantly, to try them out and figure out what works best for you.

This post considers three techniques that I find useful – the use of proper nouns, choosing appropriate vocabulary and using imagery.

Consider the following introductory sentence:

Every day, millions of people throw their empty plastic water bottles in the bin, wrecking serious damage on our environment.

Proper nouns

Substitute nouns for proper nouns instead:

Every day, millions of people throw their empty Evian and Fuji bottles in the bin, wrecking serious damage on our environment.

Choice of vocabulary (that you already know)

There’s definitely value in improving your vocabulary – but that’s another issue. This technique involves working within your existing vocabulary, considering synonyms that you already know, and picking the one that best conveys your point.

Every day, millions of people toss their empty Evian and Fuji bottles in the bin, wrecking serious damage on our environment.

Show, don’t tell (general vs. specific)

The idea behind this technique is to paint a picture for your reader, and help your reader really ‘see’ what you’re saying. It often involves being more specific about what big, general ideas mean, and what (in this case) ‘wrecking serious damage on our environment’  looks like.

Every day, millions of people toss their empty Evian and Fuji bottles in the bin. Not only does this fill our limited landfills at an alarming rate, their consumption spurs demand – often in countries thousands of miles (worth of transportation pollutants) away from the producer.


Look at any of your previous essays or any written work that you have done (introductions are good places to start). Edit one paragraph by incorporating the three techniques mentioned above.

The double absolute

13 01 2012

I always advise students to disagree with an absolute term, because that typically makes for a more convincing essay (explained here and here). However, I used to get stumped by this absolute question:

Can poverty ever be eliminated?

While following the abovementioned advice and arguing against the absolute (arguing that it can be eliminated) is definitely possible, I felt that it was equally (if not more) convincing to agree with the absolute and argue that poverty can never be eliminated.

When discussing this question in class, I would explain that there are always exceptions in GP, and this is one of those exceptions to the “always disagree with the absolute” advice. However, when a similar question came out in the 2011 paper (“Can prejudice ever be eliminated?”), it became obvious that it wasn’t an exception – it’s just a slightly different type of absolute question.

Both questions are actually “double absolute” questions.

The double absolute question has two absolute terms, both having different directions. Agreeing with the question means that you will agree with one of the absolute terms but disagree with the other. Likewise for disagreeing with the question – you’re agreeing with one term, but disagreeing with the other. Since either stand means you’re disagreeing with the absolute, the advice holds – angle your argument such that you’re disagreeing with the absolute term. The only difference is that you have a choice as to which absolute term to disagree with, and in the process, you can’t help but agree with the other.

To illustrate:

Can poverty ever be eliminated?

STAND 1: Yes, poverty can (one day) be eliminated
(Disagree with the absolute “never” (agree with “ever”); agree with the absolute “eliminated”)

STAND 2: No, poverty can never be eliminated
(Agree with the absolute “never”; disagree with the absolute “eliminated”)

Can prejudice ever be eliminated? (GCE ‘A’ Level 2011)

STAND 1: Yes, prejudice can (one day) be eliminated
(Disagree with the absolute “never” (agree with “ever”); agree with the absolute “eliminated”)

STAND 2: No, prejudice can never be eliminated
(Agree with the absolute “never”; disagree with the absolute “eliminated”)


This post on the ‘absolute’ question has been updated to include the ‘double absolute’


Choose one of the above questions and write one argument for each stand. For both arguments, angle your argument so that the focus is on disagreeing with the absolute. For example, for STAND 2, your argument should emphasise that you are disagreeing with “eliminated”. Avoid emphasising that you are (by virtue of the double absolute) agreeing with “never”.