2019 General Paper Essay Questions

These are the 12 essay questions for the A-Level General Paper (GP) in 2019, as well as our thoughts on studying smart for it.

  1. How far should countries have relations with others whose human rights record is poor?
  2. To what extent should income equality be a goal in your society? 
  3. ‘Science is the only answer to global hunger.’ Discuss.
  4. Consider the view that social media has more influence than politicians. 
  5. To what extent is artificial intelligence replacing the role of humans? 
  6. ‘A leader’s responsibility should always be to his or her own country, not other nations.’ Discuss.
  7. ‘Religion is an important part of the lives of young people today.’ Consider whether this is true in your society.
  8. Does violence in the visual media portray reality or encourage the unacceptable? 
  9. Is globalisation to be welcomed or feared today?
  10. Should both parents take equal responsibility for raising their children? 
  11. Assess the importance of food within Singaporean culture.
  12. Can fiction teach us anything meaningful about the real world?

What we got right?

Some of the essay questions this year were well within the scope of our speculation. Let’s analyse the paper in details.

Firstly, science and technology — one huge and content-heavy topic — makes up two of the twelve questions [Q3 about science on food, and Q5 on AI]. Science and technology is the engine driving the 21st century; it is therefore no wonder that a lot of discussions in the past few years centre around its impact on us. For Q5 on AI, which many students attempted, we need to make some degree of speculation about the future. One probably knows that to answer such speculative questions, the key is to consider these four elements: past successes, past failures, current challenges and current opportunities. To accurately answer this question, students need to distinguish AI from other technologies. Humanoid robots and automation aren’t always AI. Some good examples of AI are self-driving cars and trucks, chatbots, facial recognition, (broadly speaking) machine-learning. We believe that science and technology, alongside environment and globalisation, would be a fruitful topic to cover in the next few years.

Secondly , there is a question on globalisation [Q9]. As discussed, the three forces shaping the world today are Tech, Globalisation and Environment. To do well for this question, you must know what constitute globalisation and what do not. Globalisation is easily defined as the flow of goods and services, capital and information, migration, and the prevalence of MNCs. Students need to recognise that increased air travel and tourism aren’t usually associated with globalisation. Discussions on cultural dilution should also be avoided simply because many students cannot successfully craft a solid paragraph on culture.

Thirdly, Media, as expected, is a subject of growing importance given our fast-changing relationships with news companies and online platforms. There are surprisingly TWO questions on media this year [Q4 and Q8]. Many schools have tested students on media in their preliminary examinations. The key to answering these questions well is understanding the underlying concepts — what constitutes media and what does not.

Lastly, there is the recurring theme of politics and governance. If you recall, questions on diplomacy and international relations appeared three times in the past four years: in 2015 (How far is it possible for one country to forgive another for its past actions?), 2016 (‘Countries experiencing conflict should be left to sort out their own problems.’ How far do you agree?) and 2018 (‘Foreign aid does not solve long-term problems.’ To what extent is this a fair viewpoint?). This year, the same is asked about countries with poor human rights records [Q1]. Countries that might come to mind are the usual suspects, North Korea, China (Xinjiang?), Syria, Crimea, Saudi Arabia…

Another question Q6 on politics and governance focuses on slightly more domestic issues of governance. To do well for this question, one has to perform a comparative analysis, which isn’t always easy.

What did we miss?

However, we notice several breaks in patterns this year. The arts, which usually make up one of the twelve questions (this seems to be the case every year, with the exception of 2016) was not tested. The closest is a question on literature: whether we can learn anything practical from fiction.

Secondly, let’s consider the topic of Environment. With activists like Greta Thunberg and the Singapore Climate Rally in 2019, you’d think it’ll be hard to ignore a topic that has garnered so much worldwide attention over the past decade. But nothing was tested on environment this year.

Thirdly, there are usually several questions involving philosophical musings. Take, for example, these questions: How far is failure an essential part of success? (2018) and “No cause is ever worth dying for.” Discuss. (2015) These questions require one to read many biographies and stories on well-known people and draw on personal experiences. But we didn’t get any questions on philosophy this year, either.

In my experience, what usually catches students off guard are questions on sports, education, and crime and punishment. (Hot Tip: When sports questions appear, it tends to appear in years with huge sports tournament i.e. World Cup or Olympics) These smaller topics do not occur as regularly in Cambridge A level GP papers as you might expect. As we anticipated, none of these topics appeared this year. A good rule of thumb is to only focus on these topics when you have some extra revision time or if these are topics that you feel strongly about. I encourage reading widely but these cannot be your only options.

What next?

Here’s the thing, we do not spot questions. We only strive to keep students up-to-date with the rapidly evolving world, and perhaps, to view it with a healthy dose of curiosity and fascination. Cambridge has been very consistent in ensuring their questions reflect the modern world that we live in. We have zoomed-in on the topics that are worth pursuing because of their contemporary value. Students should continue to focus on these topics

  1. Science and Technology
  2. Globalisation
  3. Environment
  4. Media

However, we should also consider some emerging topics that are presenting new challenges in our society

  1. Income equality
  2. The nature of work
  3. Gender

If you would like to learn more about studying smart for your GP, or how to be absolutely in love with it as we are, check out our other guides in our blog section. If you need some First Class help with the GP, call us or email us and we’ll be happy to help!