How would you spend your summer vacation? Well, one option is to sign up for a special term AKA summer school. In NUS two special terms are held during summer vacation, with each being 6 weeks long.
Special term I is held from May to June, while special term II is held from June to July. Students will be informed via email when applications for each special term begin. While applying to study for a special term, I did not recall having to fulfill any requirements. Do note that tuition fees for special terms will be charged based on the number of modules taken. This is unlike a normal academic semester, where tuition fees are fixed, and students may take up additional modules at no extra cost.
Why do a Special Term?
Compelling reasons to do a special term include choosing to graduate earlier, wanting to clear academic workload, not being graded on a bell curve, hoping to explore one’s interests, or taking up modules only offered during special terms.
For me, I was behind my recommended schedule and had to overload in the upcoming semester. Being fully aware of how stressful overloading can be, I decided to clear my academic workload by applying for a special term. Hence, I took up special term II in AY20/21. Although summer class intensified my student loans, I saw it as a worthwhile trade for a less hectic student life during the semester. With only a handful of modules offered during special term II, none of them caught my attention. This was until I discovered FASStrack Asia.
FASStrack Asia: The Summer School
Welcome to the NUS summer school that offers FASS modules to university students locally and internationally. Under normal circumstances, international students would fly to Singapore and attend classes at NUS. We would be offered accommodation on campus, attend local field trips with international students, and participate in social nights.
However, my experience was confined to my 15-inch laptop because none of the fun stuff actually happened. Prevailing COVID regulations ensured that classes remained conducted through Zoom, so there was no reason for international students to fly to Singapore. Without the option to stay on campus or take part in social activities, my FASStrack experience was no different from studying normal special term modules. The only difference within my semester was the presence of exchange students from New Zealand and China, who offered alternative voices during class.
Interestingly, FASStrack boasts several unique modules. One of them was GEH1052 – Standard English Across Cultures. It was a linguistic module that teaches students how to analyze language using phonetics, lexis, grammar, and meaning in context. Although it is a GEH, it is not offered during the normal semester and is only conducted under FASStrack.
Clearing a single module within 6 weeks may not sound academically demanding, but do not be mistaken. My special term was without doubt one of the most stressful periods of my undergraduate studies. Under FASStrack, I took up NM3234Y - Leadership, Communication, and Organizations as an unrestrictive elective.
To understand why special terms are stressful, let me explain the academic calendar. Within the six weeks, there were only 4 weeks of effective learning. Week 3 was stand-down week while week 6 was examination week. Thus, lecturers must squeeze an entire semester’s worth of content into a month. Within each week, I had to attend 3 classes and each class was 3 hours long.
As the module was mainly based on theoretical knowledge, I did not think the content would be difficult to grasp. Indeed, I was right, but I was constantly kept on my toes as a new theory was introduced in every lesson. Mind you, the previous class could have been just a day ago thus there was hardly time to review what was taught prior. Although lecturers do remove some topics to reduce the amount of content, I still feel that the possibility of informational overload is very real. However, the most challenging aspect of a special term did not arise from comprehending what was taught.
Instead, it was the workload that threw me off. While the lecturers rushed to teach everything within a month, us student also had to complete all submissions within the same month. Imagine cramping an entire semester’s worth of workload and submission into 4 weeks. This was no joke because all essays, presentations, and quizzes had to be completed within the timeframe. I recall having to pull multiple all-nights in my final week to rush 4 submissions that had back-to-back deadlines. For comparison, I never pulled an all-nighter during the semester because I usually finish my tasks on time.
To do well for a special term, self-discipline is essential to keep up with tight submission deadlines. At the beginning of the term, tutors would go through the timeline of the module. Knowing when each submission is due would be immensely helpful to plan your approach. I recommend scheduling a timetable of when to start on an assignment. This would reduce the stress and the need to juggle multiple submissions that may have back-to-back deadlines.
Should You Do a Special Term?
If you are on the fence on whether you should do summer school, do consider the following questions:
1. Are the additional tuition fees justifiable for the reason you choose to do a special term?
For local students, one module typically costs around $800 to $1,400. Do consider if your reason for choosing a special term is compelling. If you want to clear your academic workload, there are free alternatives. Under the Design Your Own Module program, credit-bearing edX courses can be accessed through Luminus. Up to 8MCs worth of unrestricted elective space can be utilized with NUS reimbursing up to USD600 per student. More information can be found here. https://www.nus.edu.sg/registrar/academic-information-policies/undergraduate-students/design-your-own-module
2. What choices are you giving up?
Summer vacation is a great time to explore different avenues and ventures without school weighing one down. One can do a summer internship, go for student exchanges offered by NUS Global Relations Office, participate in hackathons or international competitions, and take part in student life activities. Do research widely on available options and consider the value of each choice carefully.
3. Can you handle the stress of a special term?
I do think that a special term is not for the faint hearted because of its hectic schedule. If you plan to do two modules during a special term, do consider your ability to work under immense pressure. There would be no time to catch a breather when the ball gets rolling.
Besides the above considerations, one tip is to plan your academic schedule ahead of time. Only a limited number of modules are offered during special terms I and II. Hence, adjustments may have to be made to accommodate whatever modules are available.
My special term allowed me to make good use of my summer by reducing my academic workload and allowed me to gain insights into my topic of interest. If you are considering whether a special term is right for you, I want to say that there is no right or wrong answer. After all, I believe that the value of whatever option we decide on depends on how much we make out of it.