How to Win the NTU Star Wars… and other FAQs

I get a lot of questions from juniors in NTU. But I only have so many hours in a day, so I made this FAQ which should serve to answer most of your questions. You can still contact me if you have other questions, though I make no guarantees about my response rates. I will continually update this list as new questions come along.

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How do I win at the NTU STAR WARS?

Here’s what worked for me (I got virtually every mod I wanted as an undergraduate).

Prepping for War

  • Split your modules into three plans.
    • The first two plans will ONLY have your cores and major electives. GER-Cores come under here too.
    • The first is your plan A, and you should populate it with your first-choice modules. Make sure they do not clash and that you do not have more AUs than you should have (people who hoard modules are trash). If you want to maximise your chances of getting the mods you want, consider selecting those with less popular tutorial timeslots. At least you’re in the module – you can swap indexes later.
    • The second is plan B, which contains the modules that you’re willing to settle for – there should be no overlaps with A. Plan B’s actually optional, because even if you lose the first round, you can play the waiting game to get all the modules you want eventually.
    • The third plan, the “essential afterthought”, consists of everything else – GER-PEs, UEs, or ICCs/BDEs as they now call it. Speed does not matter for these modules because ballotting, so just take your time to rank and submit after you’ve recovered from the initial shock of submitting Plan 1 and 2.
  • Use time.is – the STARS system is well-aligned with it.
  • In your free time or let’s say about 20-30 minutes before the actual war, practice holding the button from around XX:XX:55 onwards and release just as the clock turns to XX:XX:00. The system will indicate to you the time – if you’re in the “next minute”, you’ve succeeded. Practice releasing as early as possible while not being too early, because a mistake later during the actual bidding will cost you.
  • Sit really close to your Wi-Fi source, or use a desktop PC (those ethernet-wired ones). It worked for me, especially with the latter, but it might be a placebo effect.
  • Load up the page about 10 minutes before the actual timing and keep loading your modules in intervals of 30s. I am paranoid so I was loading every 15s LOL. This is so the page doesn’t expire by the time you submit your mods.
  • I read online that some people use two devices i.e. a computer and their phone to bid at the same time. I think that is hilariously dramatic and I did not need to do that, but whatever works amirite?

The What War?

  • When you submit Plan 1/2, another page will launch asking you to rank the modules. You do not need to rank the modules. Just locate and select the button at the bottom to submit.
  • The page may freeze. DO NOT close it. That’s what I did once when I panicked and I lost big time. Just wait, even though your heart wants to jump out of your chest and your mind is SPINNING.
  • … [processing] …
  • If you win, congratulations! No further action is required on your part. Do your little victory dance, submit Plan 3, and text your friends.
  • If/when you lose, DO NOT PANIC. Do NOT launch your email application in a fruitless attempt to complain to your school office – they will not be able to do anything for you at this point.
    • Speaking of which, keep an eye out for emails from your admin. They will usually be around to resolve any cohort issues (but not your individual ones, so don’t waste their time).
    • More slots for your modules are likely to be released periodically through the remainder of the day. Some say it is 5-10pm, but check back every 15 minutes anyway. It’s not as if you’ll be able to focus on anything else.
    • If you have a group chat with your coursemates, start posting your deets to exchange mods. First-come-first-serve!

The Aftermath

  • Contrary to popular opinion(?), THIS is actually the stage where I got most of the modules I wanted.
  • Sometimes I wrote to the office and pulled the 2nd major/exchange card (scientia potentia est, ladies and gentlemen).
  • Most other times I simply waited for the add/drop period and camped religiously at the STARS planner page. I would check back every 30 minutes or so waiting for people to drop the modules through the first and second week (esp. following the first lessons). I checked during class, outside class, when I woke up, before I slept. I usually got my modules by the end of the first week. Yeah so kinda anticlimactically, for me it was really just patience and persistence that sealed the deal.
  • I know some students write directly to professors, but it depends on the prof’s personality. I never used this method because I didn’t want to inconvenience others (the admin who has to accommodate extra slots, and the other students and professor who may have to bear the brunt of an overloaded class) and I don’t like it.
  • Even if you don’t get the modules you want, try something else and you might find yourself in for a surprise! I do have modules I regret taking (everyone does), and I can’t help but wonder what if I experimented and found something else in the process? You never know.
  • Be kind to your fellow peers and help them out. You never know if they might return the favour. People are more prone to helping friends when it comes to this kind of thing like swapping modules and all.

Check out my guide to NTU Psych Modules here.

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.

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.