Interested but unsure about NUS PS?

Following the recent release of A’s, there’ll obviously be people looking to decide whether they want to study Political Science in NUS Arts. Of course there’s the usual stuff and all, but since it’s something I know a bit about, this post might be of some help to them.

The Trigger

For writing this post. Was browsing through the usual A Lvl results thread and saw the majors that people were interested in. Not many were interested in PS, but for those that were there weren’t any replies. So I thought it’s easier to just make one post and direct them all here, and they can follow up with any questions as necessary.

Answering Questions

First from this guy: Aside from the question about getting in to FASS (just try, should be can based on those grades), follow up question was about how one is tested for exams.

Most finals are…yea. There’ll definitely be an essay (with the exception of one mod I’m doing this sem, but that will have to wait for the review :p), and the rest of the marks are distributed in other sections.

So here’s a rough breakdown of examination methods/components used:

  1. MCQs (Very, very rare in PS. Especially finals, they can sometimes comprise half of a midterms paper for some mods though).
  2. ID questions (Expected to define, explain, elaborate and give an example of a particular term or concept. Usually worth 5-10 marks, expected to write about 1 full page (single sided) per question. Low hanging fruit.)
  3. Short essay questions (Expected to answer the question, not really an opportunity to demonstrate independent thinking but to show that you know the arguments for and against. Usually they don’t ask you to take a side in this. Approx 15-25 marks, maybe 3+ pages to 4.5 for a decent answer.)
  4. Long essay questions (This is where the A’s are distinguished from the A-‘s. Can make or break your paper depending on the weightage, usually they’re more heavily weighted. Also where you take a stance and argue (or compare/apply theory to reality, depending on what the question asks). Approx 40 or 50 marks per question, easily 6 pages for a decent answer.)

Most tend to do something like (2-20%, 3-30%, 4-50%) or some variation to even out each component’s weightage for the final paper, but yea it’s mostly essay. MCQs are super, super rare for finals.)

Expect those that did Arts at H2 to have some writing advantage (iirc Arts at A’s is like 3 or 4 essay questions in 2/3 hours, so they’ll def have to think and write fast.), but it’s not something that can’t be overcome if one is used to writing quickly.

Question about QET (qualifying english test) was already answered/can be googled, so no point answering. But it’s just once before school starts and if you fail you gotta do English mods that add to your workload but don’t give you credits. It sounds irritating, but it’s to make sure you can keep up with the “better”/superior argumentative/English skills of your peers so you don’t screw up so badly at midterms/finals.

Next question from this presumed lady: What we learn in Pol Sci and what we get to experience, what jobs we can get.

Before I go into my experience, here’s the ‘please read before asking’ bit. If you’ve read through all of them and find it bland/uninformative then sure, otherwise I’m pretty sure it’ll be helpful to those that have general FAQs.

General Answers/Recommended Actions

  1. Read what the official website says. Including the ‘Reading PS Modules for Undergrads‘, I can’t stress this enough. It’s quite dated but it’s still relevant.
  2. You want to know what jobs we get? Check out the official prospectus.
  3. Don’t trust it? Google around and see what turns up based on the experiences of others.
  4. Take the Intro to PS mod (or crash one if you don’t want it to screw your CAP) if you’re considering majoring.

So now that I’ve gotten through all that, let me answer her three questions.

Q: What do we learn in Pol Sci?

A: We learn about the State. Different from the government, the State is a concept used to distinguish between society and other states (hence the phrase state-society relations, you don’t say government-society relations). Functions of the State, actors within the state, states as actors within a structure etc.

There are four subfields/spheres within PS that you’ll know of if you had read the stuff above: Public Admin/Governance & Public Policy (Commonly known as PA/GPP among PS students), IR (International Relations), CP (Comparative Politics) and PT (Political Theory).

  1. PA/GPP is about how governments and the State functions and deals with, well, social/public policies.
  2. IR looks at how states interact with each other (how and why they act) and concerns defense/foreign policy.
  3. CP looks at domestic politics (with a slight international bent) and is broader in its scope (anything from social/public to defense/foreign policy.) Usually more of the former than latter though. As its name suggests, expect to do a lot of comparing between countries (why Japan and India are both democracies but their domestic politics looks different etc)
  4. PT looks at normative concepts of what the State should be, and here it draws heavily on Political Philosophy. It doesn’t concern policy directly, just that it argues that some things should or should not be the case.

A half-accurate joke I use to explain PS to my non-PS friends or juniors interested in PS is as follows:

“PT is what things should be. Then you go to PA and realize how screwed up things are, you go to CP and you realize how screwed up other countries are. Then you see in IR how everyone doesn’t know what they’re doing and you lose all hope/faith in humanity.”

I can’t deny that one tends to be a bit more cynical after studying some things in IR and looking at world suffering (and not doing anything about it x.x) but that’s for another post xD. And as a mentor of mine once said regarding PA:

“In theory there is no difference between theory and reality. In reality you learn the difference between theory and reality.”

But yes, that’s a general gist. If you want more specifically, check out my reviews for past PS modules (and random assorted mods) I’ve done: They contain download links to my lecture slides and stuff. Browse through it to see if it’s interesting. Different modules have different workloads, Profs and content, so obviously its hard to generalize.

Q: What do you get to experience?

A: You get to experience the joy of reading through approximately 100+ pages of reading every week (say it’s the usual 3 major 2 non-major mods and 40 pages of reading/mod=120 minimum per week. Expect to average 150 pages in Y1S2 to Y2S2, then it just gets more and more and T.T). If you do your readings regularly, that is (and please do: it’ll be really painful rushing them all before finals and you can’t work on your essays if you don’t know the theories/concepts.) Also no readings done = hard to contribute in class to get your tutorial participation marks, which do comprise part of your module’s grade.

In short, readings are the lifeblood (so to speak) of getting a good grade in your module. And besides, if you don’t care about grades and just want to learn, how can you learn without reading the actual course material? Lectures aren’t going to cover every reading, usually they skim through 10% of its content and you’re left to clear the other 90$% yourself. Some cleared it before the lecture (keeping up with readings), some clear it after (want to know where to focus on/no time), some clear it during Recess and Reading Week (one week of self-study prior to midterms/finals week) and some don’t clear it at all (good luck to them.)

You get the fun of explaining to others that studying political science doesn’t mean you’re going to go into domestic politics. Especially during CNY. Of course one also has to make the decision whether they’re interested in it for themselves, but by and large most non-uni/non-Arts students will link political science to domestic politics.

You get the fun of rushing through essays. Expect to write a fair bit – nearly every PS module I’ve taken has an essay component (term paper, not the finals I was talking about above). They slowly scale up from 1k to about 2.5-3k words, then for your thesis (if you’re doing one) it’s max 12k words. So yea – get a couple of monitors for easier citation/referencing when typing out your essays and expect to be working on several essays at once on a regular basis.

But maybe that’s the gritty reality. How about the fun part?

You get to experience a sort of “prestige” one gets when they tell others what they study. I’m not sure why this is the case (in my experience I thought it was a ‘PS students are 2nd class Law students’, but that doesn’t make sense because PS hardly intersects with law), but most non-PS students will look at you with like a ‘wah this guy/girl is up there.’ It’s gotten to the point where I prefer to tell people I’m just studying ‘science’ and when they ask more about what science I reluctantly say ‘political science’ and wait for the effect to occur.

Not for everyone, mind you. But I’ve not seen this happen for those I know in Soci/Geog/His. I think there’s one for Econs too since it’s seen as the most mathy (honestly it should NOT be in Arts Fac, it has so much math it belongs in Sci Fac imo) and Econs students are usually pretty zai because of their cohort size, but yea. This false “prestige” does happen.

You also get to experience what it feels like to read through things quickly. Of course with so much reading done…you’ll see a 100 page book and think ‘hah, I could get through that in a week or less knowing that I read so much on a regular basis for school anyway.’ Reading stuff basically won’t matter that much to you.

You also get to study about things you’re super interested in, whether it’s PMCs and drones or about how society should work. Was Marx a misunderstood genius or some nutty old dude? How about communism, what’s the logic behind it and does it differ? Why do wars happen between some countries (India and Pakistan/Israel and its neighbours) and not others (U.S/Canada)?

Stuff like that – if you’ve ever been interested in them as GP topics back in JC, you’ll actually enjoy reading through it and seeing what some of the brightest minds have thought up. And then you get to think about what your response will be. So it’s pretty cool.

Maybe one last ‘fun’ part: You are generally quite flexible in your career opportunities within the Civil Service. Assuming you get decent grades (I’d recommend 2nd upper, CAP>4.0), you can go to pretty much any stat board or ministry. Maybe not the specific ground level work (I’d imagine MSF or the ministry in charge of social work hires SW grads), but at a middle management or whatever level you can shift around if you’d like. Some specialization of course does happen (no Econs – Econs ministries probably will go for an Econs grad over you), but by and large…you’ll have good flexibility. Since as another of my peers remarked about why they did PS:

‘It seems to be the most versatile major. You learn a bit of history, a bit of Econs and a lot about politics.’

True, Global Studies does give you more breadth. You get to do mods from Geog, Soci, PS and a few other majors. But some in PS prefer more specialization instead of doing random modules from everywhere (mitigated to an extent since to major in GS/GL (the major’s initial  would be Global Studies but the module code is GL for some reason), you need to pick one theme.) Also PS doesn’t have a language requirement like GS does, so that helps those that aren’t confident in their language abilities.

Q: Jobs attainable?

A: Prospectus is accurate. Of course you can get any job that isn’t specialized (med, law, eng etc), but if you’re talking about those that use your knowledge/degree….teaching (tuition?), defense, foreign policy (competitive though), home affairs, etc. Basically you’re looking more at public sector than private sector.

Private sector would be something like…maybe banking. I heard banks hire just about anybody. But yea, compared to an Econs grad you’ll have less private sectors open to you, but you get some degree of flexibility in public sector at least. That’s why most grads tend to go into Civil Service – brave/unconventional ones go to NGOs and stuff. Maybe a few go into academia.

I’d say ‘worry less about jobs, just go in and study hard and get the best grades you can’, but I also understand that for some the job motivates them more than the degree itself. So based on what I’ve mentioned above and your own research, just find out what seems interesting (talking to your relatives/friends that work in that sector will help as well) and see whether it’s something you’re interested. Also there’s like internships – apply and use them to scout out a workplace before deciding if you want to work there.

Q: Got a question that wasn’t covered.

A: Contact me via…idk, somehow. There should be some options available on this blog or something, you can even drop me a Youtube PM if you’d like. Or Reddit.

Best of luck! And maybe by the time you’re in, I’d have graduated, but it’s alright ;), you should be fine~


2 thoughts on “Interested but unsure about NUS PS?

    • Hi there,

      I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with the prospectus for lit grads – maybe some others who have done lit as a major and graduated can weigh in on this comment about what they’re working as. Off the top of my head though, some jobs seem more suited for PS grads than others because of the background PS might give one (although if one did a minor maybe that could be ameliorated to some extent) – a lit major might have similar writing skills to a PS major but what they’ve been studying for four years is fairly different. So you wouldn’t hire a PS grad to teach literature and you might not hire a lit grad to do something where a basic knowledge of PS concepts is required.

      Of course some jobs don’t require a specific major (HR, marketing etc) but there are others where one can actually apply or practice what they’ve learnt for a few years, so that’s a possibility. If one wishes to apply what they’ve learnt practically, it’s worth asking how one can practice literature then, and be paid for it. Maybe delving into the arts scene by writing scripts or being a social media manager could also work out.

      Regardless of your choice, best of luck deciding which to stick with. Also do use the option for minors to do mods you’re interested in without necessarily majoring in it.


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