Exams and CAs

In an earlier blog post, I had mentioned that NUS has been progressively moving towards decreasing the weightage of final exams.


I thought it might be interesting to share this table which shows the distribution of CA-weightage across modules offered in AY2010/11. One-third of the modules have 100% CA, and more than half our modules have CA components of 60% or higher. 


Table on Number of Modules by Level in AY2010/11 and the CA Component


Modules with CA at 100%

Modules with CA at 80% to 99%

Modules with CA at 60% to 79%

Modules with CA at 40% to 59%

Modules with CA at 20% to 39%

Modules with CA at 0% to 19%


Level 1000








Level 2000








Level 3000








Level 4000

























There are however, some variations between the Faculties/Schools, as there are differences in the content and nature between the disciplines. The final exam weightage tends to be higher for the science and technology courses, than for the arts or humanities. In the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Business School, 70% or more of the modules have CA components comprising at least 60% of the final grade. In Faculty of Engineering, slightly more than a quarter of modules offered have CA components comprising at least 60% of the final grade (and for the Faculty of Science, the corresponding percentage is 33%). This is probably not surprising as intuitively, many are aware that presentations, group case studies and discussions have traditionally been part of the pedagogies employed at business schools, whereas exams are the traditional testing method for technical subjects like mathematics, hard sciences and engineering. 


Table on Number of Modules by Faculty in AY2010/11 and the CA Component


Modules with CA at 100%

Modules with CA at 80% to 99%

Modules with CA at 60% to 79%

Modules with CA at 40% to 59%

Modules with CA at 20% to 39%

Modules with CA at 0% to 19%


Arts & Social Sci



































Design and Environment












There is a place for exams, and in many level 1000 or 2000 classes, exams will remain as an important assessment tool. But for the level 3000 and 4000 classes, we are moving towards placing more emphasis on continual assessment.





  1. Actually, to go one step further. Since every PIs have research grants and limited space and limited grants etc, is it a good idea for a student to ‘pay’ and contribute to a research grant in order to do his own ‘UROPs” which can count towards his CAs?

    1. Personally I feel that a student is unable to afford ‘paying’ for getting a slot for research. Just look at the cost of buffer, cell lines, consumables, machine time etc, I do not think it’s feasible. From another perspective, if it is indeed possible, my heart goes out to poorer students who can get wiped out under free market conditions with rich payers.

      Back to the current UROPS system, the opportunity cost of doing an UROPS is high because research never guarantees one a successful endpoint. I would prefer UROPS to be lesser weightage so that it’s less likely to affect CAP scores. I would also add that not every student is inclined towards doing research. For those who are interested, PIs would consider attaching undergrads to a senior student during the summer breaks (with/without pay is a separate issue…).

  2. Hi, I have a suggestion regarding IVLE Workbins, which is directly related to learning in NUS.

    I think that IVLE workbins should be made accessible to all students, regardless of whether he or she is taking the module. Also, there should be an archive of material from past modules on IVLE made available to all.

    This allows students to learn more material on their own, without having to take the module. For example, physics students can learn some say biology, on their own, without having to take the entire module which may not be possible to fit in their timetable.

    I believe that this should be technologically possible. In case there is not enough storage space, a compromise could be made by making available the first 5 Mb of notes in the IVLE to all students.

    Currently, I note that there is already such an option, by bookmarking modules in IVLE. However, I believe the default option is that lecturers disable viewing of workbin material by students not taking the module.
    Hence, implementing this scheme may be as easy as changing the default option to “Yes, allow viewing of workbin by students not taking the module”.

    Thanks and best regards.

    1. You are asking for something extra from NUS without paying extra to NUS which is very unlikely to be possible, but I am totally agree about your proposal.

  3. Maybe for students who wish to learn more material on their own, without having to take the module, can opt to pay to NUS to have access to the materials.

  4. On the note of exams and CA, there is currently no system in place for students to review their submitted scripts and work. Personally, I feel that this hinders the learning process. How do you learn if you do not even know the mistakes you have made? The current system places too much emphasis on results, such that the learning process is severely overlooked. At the end of the learning journey, we will only know what are the grades we have received for each module, but we will never know for sure whether our method is right or wrong. Furthermore, we are unable to check whether our CA marks are correct and whether our scripts are correctly marked.

    As such, I would like to humbly suggest that a review session be organised so that CA work (even lab reports) and exam scripts can be returned to the students after they have been marked. The markers can then go through the work and papers so that students can reinforce their learning by understanding what they have done right and where they have erred. This, I hope, will help to add value to the learning of students and not let them walk away from the hallways of NUS with loopholes in their knowledge.

    1. Generally, I find they use academics as a screening criterion and nonacademics as a deciding one. However, some industries vary – the civil service is far more particular about grades than most, and sales far less particular.

      But in general, if your grade is below a certain band, your chance of landing that interview is exactly zero. Above that cutoff point, the impact of further grades is highly limited, and nonacademics will predominate in impact.

      To say it’s only 37% of the impact to me is inaccurate, as those who didn’t meet the academic cutoff in the first place aren’t even sampled within this 100% of applicants. It might be more accurate to say that outstanding academic accomplishments are not very useful relative to above average academic accomplishments… but without a certain basal level of it, no amount of charm or wit would get you that job at all.

      It’s like happiness and money really. The impact of salary on happiness is limited if we compare people with monthly salaries of S$10,000 and S$5,000 respectively. But below a salary level of S$1,000 you can bet that money has a very, very significant impact on happiness for those people – far more than most other variables in life. While we talk about how money can’t buy happiness and money isn’t everything, the people without it would instantly think “if it doesn’t matter to you then give it to me, it means a lot to ME”. Similarly, while the first class and second upper honours students discuss on the impact of education on employability, you can bet that there’ll be someone with the highest education level as N level thinking “shut up, if you don’t want your grades give them to me”.

  5. “But in general, if your grade is below a certain band, your chance of landing that interview is exactly zero. Above that cutoff point, the impact of further grades is highly limited, and nonacademics will predominate in impact.”

    Yes. Many organisations such as EDB, JTC, EMA and MTI need second upper honors to score an interview. However, if you have basic merit qualifications, you will have to settle for less and get a job first and then perform well in your job in order to get a job interview in EDB, JTC, EMA and MTI…… This is from my own observiation. I am a basic degree merit holder and managed to score an interview with EDB and MND after doing well in my previous job. Both these 2 organisations usually accept second upper honours and above. However, just that I couldn’t land a job in EDB and MND coz I fumbled during the job interview.

  6. How to deal with overly competitive classmates?

    Hi, this is a discussion relevant to the topic of “Exams and CAs”, how to cope with overly competitive classmates in NUS — classmates who like to constantly compare CAP, brag about how good they are, and make the learning environment overly competitive.

    Anyone with useful tips please share it here, and I am sure it will be relevant and useful to other students.

    1. Spend time with other people. Personalities are hard to change at this point of time, but it’s not hard to change who people you associate with, as opposed to changing the people you currently associate with. There are plenty of students with better mindsets out there, you just need to look.

  7. Volunteering during summer vacation (May-July holidays):

    This is not directly related to exams and CAs but still related to NUS in general.

    I was thinking that if there were to be a volunteering opportunity for students to help the needy and less fortunate in Singapore during the May-July holidays, that would be a good program.

    Not every student are going for internships or holidays, and I believe that there are many good-hearted NUS students around who are willing to help out for three months but not able to find an avenue.

    Non-profit volunteer organisations can tie up with NUS to recruit students for volunteering purposes. It can be entirely altruistic, without monetary or module credits. I believe that this can lead to a substantial benefit for both NUS students and Singaporean society.

    According to an article featuring Prof. Ling San (from NTU), while working towards a PhD at the University of California at Berkeley more than 20 years ago, he was inspired by his professors and coursemates who helped out in soup kitchens, to help the down-and-out here.

    It is amazing to read about such things, and it would be good to have such an activity in Singapore.

  8. Dear Prof,

    I thoroughly appreciate the fact that NUS is moving away from final exams as a means of assessment. While the movement towards CA to encourage consistent learning is heartening to know about, I cannot help but wonder if there is any difference between a CA assessment and a final exam if much of the CA component is dedicated to in-class tests.

    I unfortunately fall into the category of students who cannot perform under timed conditions. It is one thing to complete the paper but another to finish it well when the limitation of time is placed upon the student in the context of a test of exam. To be honest, if a module is 100% CA and 50% of that constitutes an in-class test, I really do not see the difference in classifying the module as a 100% CA module seeing how half the grade is still dependent on final test.

    I wonder how many modules in NUS move away from tests and exams altogether and instead uses alternative methods to ascertain a student’s capability in a particular module. Essays, class presentations, class participation and projects, which are already in place as assessment means are better ways of gradings students especially in majors whose eventual work scope will rarely entail having to produce work under a strict time condition. It will also allow students time to ponder about the best way of approaching the assignment, and even perform some trial and error to decide best method–aspects of learning which a 2 hour paper would not provide.

    Nonetheless, I am still glad to know of the departure from the stressful make-or-break final exams but think many students will have a more fruitful learning experience in NUS if timed assessments were done away with altogether.

  9. Hi Provost,

    I saw this website via Facebook and thought it’d be interesting to share.


    Below is an excerpt:
    “Hello, my name is Alvin Wang, and I’m 21 years old. Recently, my application to pursue a degree in Computer Science at National University of Singapore was rejected. Disappointed I was, but as Sir Charlie Chaplin puts it, “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” So this is me, bitten once and asking for more. Stick around, help me with my appeal by giving me a thumbs up and sharing this page if you like what you see! Thank you! ”

    What do you think? 😉

    1. I like the attitude of Alvin Wang, especially the part about:

      “But I knew I had to do something, not because I think I am better than anyone. I am not, but it was never about being better than anyone, it is about being the best I can be. ”

      With this attitude, which is quite rare among youths in competitive Singapore, I believe he can go far in life if he perseveres.

      Thumbs up for Mr Wang.

  10. There are five major methods of learning Chinese. One can attend school, learn through multimedia, go to China, hire a tutor, or take an online live course. Teaching over the Internet with real teachers will be the future of language learning.

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