Accelerated Bachelor Programme in NTU: Should I sign up for it?

Many freshmen and undergraduates have chanced upon this term “Accelerated Bachelor Programme” in their school’s website. ABP is a programme for students whose cGPA is at least Second Upper Honours and above, and it gives them the flexibility to complete their degree in a semester shorter than their peers. ABP students are often viewed as spending all their time on studies due to their additional workload. Will signing up for ABP kill all your university fun? As your senior who had been through the journey, let me share with you some disadvantages and benefits derived from ABP, as well as how to survive it.

Advantages of ABP
1. Spreading out the workload over different semesters

The recommended timetable has certain semesters that have more workload than the others. This is particularly useful for engineering or science students who have met the necessary exemptions for the Year 1 subjects (In my time, students who have scored ‘A’ for Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry are able to be exempted up to 10AUs equivalent of modules). Having the flexibility of taking senior modules helps to spread the workload over your study, and allows you to have time for electives in a supposedly busy semester.

Enjoying a three-day work week during Year 3 (with lecture on Wednesday skipped)
Enjoying a three-day work week during Year 3 (with lecture on Wednesday skipped)
2. Priority in the timetable for Core modules

NTU has a ‘First-come-first-serve’ policy for choosing your favourite timeslot in a week for each module. However, you can supersede it by calling your school’s Admission office, and request to have an additional slot in a certain class at a certain time. They will usually help you as an ABP student. With this, you can even plan to have a short work week or allocate a certain free period for your favourite electives.

How shiok it is, to have a ‘good’ reason to plan your perfect timetable.
How shiok it is, to have a ‘good’ reason to plan your perfect timetable.
3. Taking difficult core modules and S/U them during your overseas exchange semester

You can ask to clear the senior modules once you have met the necessary prerequisites, instead of following the timetable set by your seniors for that exchange university. During my stint at Georgia Tech, I was the first to clear the difficult modules that every senior complained about, such as Propulsion, Control Theory and Navigation Technology. With this, you can have a more relaxed semester when you are back in NTU. In addition, you can have a fulfilling semester in your exchange university, where a different teaching style might build your foundational knowledge in that module.

Obtaining Passes for these difficult Year 3 & 4 modules, while enjoying a rigorous curriculum in the exchange university. Also saved the headache of toiling over these modules in NTU for the grades.
Obtaining Passes for these difficult Year 3 & 4 modules, while enjoying a rigorous curriculum in the exchange university. Also saved the headache of toiling over these modules in NTU for the grades.
4. Flexibility in starting your Final Year Project

You can choose to start your FYP during Year 3 in either semester. This will give you a greater choice of projects to choose from. E.g. You can choose to take up your FYP in your second semester, and have ample time to tie up with a professor you like and discuss about doing a project that aligns with both interests. In addition, finishing your FYP in Year 3 gives you an additional selling point during your interview, where you can talk about your FYP experience during your interview. For me, finishing FYP in Year 3 Semester 1 gives me the time and freedom to pursue other interests, such as learning languages (picking up French and Korean at the same time) and business knowledge (from business electives).

Learning French (LF9001) and Korean (LK9001) languages purely for interest in my final semester
Learning French (LF9001) and Korean (LK9001) languages purely for interest in my final semester
5. Save time and money

If you are able to finish your curriculum early, you can save your money by not paying for an additional semester, particularly those not on scholarships. In other words, what you are paying for each semester is more value-adding (less cost per AU). In addition, you can have the freedom to start work early and earn the cash to pursue your interest, or even have a gap semester before joining your peers for convocation (such as work and travel in another country, taking up odd jobs, or preparing for your postgraduate study such as GMAT or GRE).

It is possible to plan your timetable such that you can graduate from an engineering degree in 3 years instead of the usual 4 years. In fact, I have a slack time for my final 2 semesters, as I could not plan all my modules well to meet the requisite. In addition, it was clearly stated in the school’s policy that the minimum candidature for engineering degree is 3.5 years, which is something I cannot work around.

Especially if you’re not on scholarship, the extra cash saved can relieve a burden on your parents, and also give you a source to start your savings.
Especially if you’re not on scholarship, the extra cash saved can relieve a burden on your parents, and also give you a source to start your savings.
Disadvantages of ABP:

The fast pace and higher workload needed from Accelerated Bachelor Programme means that certain ‘sacrifices’ have to be made.

1. Less time for self due to more hectic workload

When your semesters are typically overloaded, you will have longer study days and even study week than your peers (such as coming to school everyday instead of 4 times a week). In addition, you will have to do more revisions for each of your modules during the exam period, and worse still, having 2 or 3 papers concurrently on the same day. This will mean less time for CCA and other personal interests (or even watching the weekly anime/drama you’ve been catching up with).

To manage the workload, you have to practice good time management skills (You can refer to books on ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen or ‘I’m gifted, so are you’ by Adam Khoo). You have to learn to prioritize your tasks, and focus only on those which are important. In this way, you will not feel too stressed about having too much on your plate.

Accelerated62. Having little time to prepare for your exams.

To avoid having too many exams in a day or exams consecutively in a week, you should plan your timetable properly. If this is still unavoidable, you should practice good study techniques (you can refer to books such as ‘Mind-maps’ by Tony Buzan) for memorization skills, and also plan your revision early. In this way, you can get all your facts right just by flipping through your notes in that few hours in between each examinations. I’ve been through this experience (2 aerospace core modules and 1 business elective module consecutively), survived it and done well for all my exams (surprisingly distinction for all 3 of them).

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The hectic exam timetable, as well as that ‘stroke of luck’ in scoring distinctions for those 3 consecutive exams

It will be difficult to do well for all the subjects, knowing that you have to spread your time among all your subjects. It will be good if you spread your S/U options out over every semester, so you can focus less on that single subject. In addition, you should set your target high but not unattainable. You will be greatly satisfied if you have done well, using lesser time than all of your peers.

Placing a S/U option for HP802 due to the heavy workload for the semester
Placing a S/U option for HP802 due to the heavy workload for the semester

In addition, you also have to manage relations with your peers well. It is still advisable to participate in CCAs to take time off studies, and also to relax your mind. You have to learn how to excuse yourself if your post-CCA gathering gets too long that it crosses into the time allocated for revision.

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3. Less interaction with peers from the same batch

Your study pace will be faster than your peers. You will be taking senior modules most of the time, and only certain modules with your peers as they require certain pre-requisites. This will often mean that you have to make certain decisions on your own, as your peers are not experiencing the same situation. Also, it will be hard to find project members if the cliques are well-established in the senior batch.

But on hindsight, you can get to interact more with your seniors, and probably get study notes and tips from them on the modules that you have not cleared. Your fellow batch-mates might also look to you for tips if they knew that you have cleared those modules. Also, if you are a friendly person who is known to do his/her fair share in project work, you will be an ABP talent that every senior project team are clamouring for.

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4. Bureaucratic Red-Tapes

If the curriculum for ABP programme for your course is not well-established, you will often face some red-tape set by the university. In my example, I faced some issue with regards to the year 3 and 4 modules to sign up for with my exchange university, as well as the requirement to participate in FYP project starting from Year 3. Although this can be discouraging at times, there will be a great satisfaction derived from going against the norms and overcoming it. My advice is to know the school rules well, and challenge them if necessary to your advantage.

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Finishing my FYP by the end of Year 3 (I was matriculated in 2008), and overcoming the bureaucratic red tapes to make it happen.
How do I survive the Accelerated Bachelor Programme?
1. Discipline

This means being serious about your academics from Day 1 of each semester, which means you have to:

  • Attend every lecture. Skipping lectures will mean wasting time to catch up on the concepts, which might be imperative for the next topic. If you have to skip lecture due to commitments, you can catch up with lecture recordings. However, you will lose the opportunity of clarifying your doubts with the smart friend sitting next to you, or with the lecturer. Also, you will take longer to finish a lecture recording than if you have just attended your lecture.
  • Attempt every tutorial. This will give you a chance to practice all your concepts, and clarify that they are right before new topics are taught. It is also a chance to practice on possible exam questions.
  • Revise every week. It is much easier to do small tasks like writing notes or mindmaps at the end of each week, then face the humongous task of revising all the topics in one shot before the exam.
  • Put in your best effort for your assignments or projects, whether they are individual or group. The small difference in marks might mean a big grade difference if the module was bell-curved.
  • Attempt every possible past-year papers. Well, practice makes perfect.

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The change in mindset has helped me through my university. After the shock I’ve received for my grades for a seemingly easy first semester where most of my peers were doing well. From then on, I realized the importance of putting in consistent work, and I’d been faring well ever since.

Semester GPA of 4.5, the result from playing computer games for the whole semester except the last 3 weeks.
Semester GPA of 4.5, the result from playing computer games for the whole semester except the last 3 weeks.
A marked improvement of Semester GPA to 4.88 even with larger academic workload, by staying focused and putting in consistent work.
A marked improvement of Semester GPA to 4.88 even with larger academic workload, by staying focused and putting in consistent work.
2. Motivation

Before the start of the semester, you should set goals for each module. Goal setting will let you realize that you have something to work towards to for the current semester. It is important to set your goals high, so that you are still among the stars if you can’t reach the moon (theoretically unsound in the astronomical sense). Paste your goals at somewhere prominent, so that it can motivate you when you are feeling lazy once in a while. In addition, monitor your performance (from quizzes, projects and homework) throughout the semester, so that you can decide to work harder for a particular module, or revise your goal to make it attainable should time be a constraint.

My goal setting is placed right on top of my study desk, to remind myself on what I’m working hard for
My goal setting is placed right on top of my study desk, to remind myself on what I’m working hard for
3. Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle

You’ll definitely need a healthy body so that you don’t fall sick during the exam period, especially when you have consecutive papers on that week. In addition, it helps you to keep an alert mind during your lectures, and saves time on revising on the concepts which you have missed out during lesson. Therefore, you should still take some time to exercise. In addition, you should avoid any ‘unconventional’ food near the exam period to prevent the occurrence of illnesses during your exams.

Overall, nothing beats the exhilaration of seeing this in your final degree audit, knowing that you’re now ready to embark on your next journey.

Remark

I hope all of you find this article useful, whether you are in the ABP programme or not. I hereby wish all of you success in your academics and life.

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Ronnie Kor
Ronnie is a Member of Technical Staff at DSO National Laboratories. He graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2011. In the short 3.5 years under the Accelerated Bachelor Programme (ABP), he obtained a degree in Aerospace Engineering, a Minor in Business, picked up 2 new languages and enjoyed a semester exchange at Georgia Institute of Technology. In his free time, he likes to read books on stock trading and personal investments, cycle around the park, and plan for his next overseas holiday.