Is There Any Advantage In Taking Further Mathematics?

Most JC students would consider taking Further Mathematics at ‘A’ Levels only if they are exceptionally strong in mathematics or have a special interest in the subject. This applies even to students who intend to pursue math-intensive subjects at university level, including subjects like data science, information technology, engineering, physics, chemistry, or statistics.

The Further Mathematics class is usually one of the smallest classes in a junior college. There is a good reason for this. According to my own research, none of the degree courses at our local autonomous universities stipulate Further Mathematics as a mandatory requirement. The physical sciences, nursing, the social sciences, even data analytics and computer science, usually list down a good pass in H2 Mathematics or H2 Further Mathematics as one of the entry requirements. In other words, a good grade (usually an A) in H2 Mathematics would suffice, assuming the student has met the other subject and aptitude requirements.

For the past few years, I have supervised Mathematics Research Projects conducted by of our junior colleges, and I was surprised to learn that from time to time, some JCs would cancel their Further Math classes if there were insufficient numbers! JCs are able to do this because they know they will not be jeopardizing the ability of their students to apply to the local universities.

Nonetheless, there are advantages to taking Further Mathematics for students who are confident in their mathematical ability.

Firstly, even though Further Math is not officially listed as a mandatory requirement for any of our local degree courses, the topics taught are actually quite relevant to courses such as the physical sciences and data analytics. The current Further Math syllabus include important topics like linear algebra, mathematical induction, second order differential equations, and two sample hypothesis testing in statistics. These topics are usually covered in first year engineering, physical sciences, and data analytics courses, as well as also relevant to subjects like econometrics, business analytics, and sociology. Further Math is thus a particularly good preparatory course for these university subjects.

Secondly, studying Further Math will help students strengthen their mathematical foundations and gain a broader appreciation of mathematics. The skills and problem-solving techniques gained during the Further Math course will often help students tackle questions in the usual H2 Math exam papers. But that being said, Further Mathematics is not simply a harder version of H2 Math even though in the past, Further Math used to have such a reputation. The Ministry of Education has been constantly updating the syllabus so that there is greater emphasis on applications rather than on simply posing tough questions. Compared to the old syllabus Further Math prior to 2007, students are exposed to a wider variety of topics, many of which are applicable to degree courses in the physical sciences or in computer science, as I have mentioned.

Thirdly, students applying to study mathematics or the physical sciences in overseas universities, especially the most prestigious universities in the US or UK, may find that a good grade in Further Math is looked upon favourably by university administrators. This is especially true for the top tier colleges in the UK, including Cambridge and Oxford, which have usually placing a strong emphasis on the mathematical foundations of prospective candidates. In fact, the Cambridge University and the University of Warwick uses the Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP) as a way of differentiating students of exceptionally high mathematical ability. Local students who do not have the chance to take STEP might find an advantage in presenting a good grade in Further Math in their university applications.

My advice to Singaporean students would be to seriously consider taking Further Mathematics at JC level of their JC offers the subject, and are keen on either studying in one of the prestigious UK universities in the future, or are interested in pursuing degree programmes in math-intensive fields like the physical and data sciences. The strong foundations that will be built up in a Further Math course will serve such students very well.

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