How to Win the NTU Star Wars… and other FAQs

What’s the average grade for module X / FYP?

Assume all modules, including FYP, follow the bell curve. This means that your performance is graded relative to how your cohort did, rather than the absolute score you got on your assignments/exams. Let’s say you got 40/50 for a recent test. It’s a 80%, but if the cohort average is 45/50 then you’re unlikely to be getting an A for that test.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is normal_curve-1ftn8yh.gif
pictured: a representation of the normal distribution, or the “bell curve”.

The next question you might have is: how many % of students get a certain grade? Well, nobody knows, because it is not disclosed for obvious reasons. My PERSONAL guess (so don’t quote me to the office) of the grade proportions are:

  • 15-20% of students will get any A (A+/A/A-).
  • 70-75% will get any B (B+/B/B-).
  • 10% get C and below or dabao.

A further EXAMPLE to illustrate. Referring to the diagram above, most students will get a B+/B (the blue regions). A smaller proportion of students will get A- and B- (e.g. the red regions). The smallest proportion of students will get A/+ and below B- (yellow). So on and so forth. Again, this is only an example.

Suffice it to say: the average is a B+. You are most likely to get a B+. “But I am a genius and work really hard,” you lament. Sure – you’re still most likely to get a B+, based on the principle of regression to the mean. My estimate is a B+ because I notice most people around me in HASS graduating with a Distinction, which is a cGPA of 4.0-4.49. It may also be a B in certain courses. Finally, note that a minority of modules (smaller classes?) may be exempted from the bell curve. Nothing’s ever for certain in this murky bureaucracy.

There’s a variant of this question that I also get: is the bell curve steep? Huh? Bell curve differs meh? I don’t know. I assume all modules are curved in the same proportion. Surely there must be some guideline, or students in different schools would be graduating with different proportions of honours.

For more information, see this post written by the incumbent NUS President Prof Tan Eng Chye for an illustration of how the bell curve grading system works.

Is X course/module competitive? (Or: what’s the vibe of the course?)

Yes, it is. It is competitive. I mean, what answer were you expecting? Students fight tooth and nail every year to secure a spot in your course at NTU, NUS, and all the other universities. Why would you think that it would get easier after you’re admitted? But that doesn’t mean you have to be [only] a slave to the rat race. Make the best of your time by focusing on discovering yourself and pursuing what you love.

Do you have Past Year Papers to share?

Past year papers of all courses in NTU can be accessed here (under E-Resources). If it’s not available there, it doesn’t exist. To the NTU Psych students reading this: the Psychology programme does not provide PYPs. Thank you.

Are NTU and NUS different? Which one should I choose?

Nah, not to me. Tbh I bet people couldn’t tell the difference between a NTU and NUS student, ceteris paribus – they’re “functionally equivalent”. (Fun activity to try the next time you’re in a group interview – “Guess the Uni!”) The biggest inter-university difference comes with SMU imo, because students there are trained to make themselves heard. You might hear some casual comments like “NUS is more rah rah” or “NTU is more laidback” but dig a bit more and you’ll find that there are no specifics to these statements. The two universities are more similar than different. But which university do the really outstanding students pick, you ask? Neither – they’re overseas in the US or UK under government scholarships ASLDJSKFJS

Pick the course that you’re more interested in, not based on the abstract “culture” of the school. See my NTU vs NUS Psych post for a comparison of the two programmes.

Is Uni as stressful as poly / JC?

Uni is like Poly+. Same thing at a higher difficulty. More stressful, because the cohort has been further “pruned”. To underestimate the poly students in uni is to make a mistake. We’re very good at what we do, or we wouldn’t be here, because the bar is higher for us.

I feel like JC is a long-distance marathon while Uni is closer to a series of sprints. I think the stakes are higher for the A levels because you basically only have one chance to make it or break it. In Uni you arguably have multiple chances, and the system is a lot more flexible than people give it credit for (e.g. S/U, dabao, 1st sem invulnerability). Not sure about the stress, but JC students are free to leave their comments below.

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