He has published 10 guidebooks and assessment books for both “A” level and “IB” Economics that few students of Economics would have missed.
And he has the academic smarts too, to back up a long and successful journey as an Economics tutor, including straight-As in the national exams, and graduating top of his cohort at NUS as the valedictorian. In fact, that’s just a couple of highlights in his long list of awards and accolades.
I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Kelvin Hong, the principal tutor of The Economics Tutor for a few years now, and his killer-Economics acumen frequently impressed.
As my loyal subscribers know, I write and post original content regularly. One of the ideas I’ve had for a while now was to write a piece that puts a more “fun” spin about my experiences as a tutor myself. But that hadn’t come to fruition, because there have been so much to write about, other than about myself. And in a way too, thank goodness for that.
Indeed, it occurred to me that asking Kelvin to share more on his wealth of experience might prove an interesting endeavour. So that’s the key motivation behind this latest piece, before someone asks me about what the deal was. This wasn’t a sponsored article, in keeping with my long-standing intent of knowledge-sharing behind all my articles.
So I posed Kelvin some choice questions and he graciously answered them all.
For some context, Kelvin specialises in personally tutoring for group tuition in IB and JC “A” level Economics, in Singapore. And with that, I will let him take it away from here:
Nelson: You have 24 years of experience in teaching Economics, how did this journey as such a successful tutor begin?
Kelvin: Good question! It began when I was studying in the National University of Singapore. Peers were often requesting for my help. And work just snowballed. It was pro bono work back then! I remember even giving summary lessons of entire modules before exams! And teaching them how to do very challenging tutorials and photostatting essays for whoever who asked. Well, I suppose I enjoy imparting knowledge especially in economics!
Subsequently, I was offered a position in both the NUS and NTU Economics departments. But life is full of surprises. I took a sort of detour when I was offered a position in the Administrative service of the Singapore government and spent some years working on policies. The experience has enabled me to better explain economics policies to my students and offer evaluation points that are probably more insightful than run-of-the-mill points.
Nelson: Interesting! So how have the exams and syllabus evolved through those years – aside from the probable decline of photostatting?
Kelvin: It was so easy back in the 1990s when I took the A Levels! I literally memorised a lot and regurgitated a lot. These days examination requirements are a lot tougher. Deeper analyses and higher order thinking is much required especially for “A” Level Economics. In the past, you could merely state as matter-of-fact that A led to D and because it is factual, you would get the marks without further elaborations. Today, you would have to explain how this would be the case: Like frrom A to B, and to C1 C2 and therefore to D. A lot more rigour in students’ analysis is needed.
In fact, it is so tough that I believe the Ministry of Education has moderated the standards in recent years. There are more straightforward questions these days, though curve ball questions are still around.
The Economics Syllabus has been quite stable and has kept up with the times. For example, sustainability is a key concept these days. Behavioural Economics concepts also now feature in both the IB and A Level syllabi.
Nelson: You must have observed common weaknesses in Economics students. Could you share some of these with us?
Kelvin: I liken Economics to a combination of GP + Math + Science.
So…a lot can go wrong!
If the student has a weak command of English – learning Economics would be a struggle. Can they be expected to easily understand complex theories and examples? Some would struggle even to understand the question!
Yet, probably the most common weakness is attaining the accurate understanding of the terms, concepts and theories as well as understanding and remembering the mechanics, like how A led to D, as exemplified above.
For example, demand, supply, shortage, surplus – these are not new terms to students. But just as in the Sciences, you need accurate definitions to achieve accurate analyses. Layman definitions and analysis have to be unlearned.
Nelson: What types of classes do you offer to your students, and how do they cater to different needs for students?
Kelvin: In the past, I offered both Small groups (8-12pax) and Mini groups (4-6pax). Ever since shutting physical classes and switching to online classes, I focus on Mini groups. This is because Mini groups are always the more ideal setting for tuition. There is some need for personal attention and personal touch. That’s what I believe in.
With travel time savings due to online classes, I can afford to offer more mini group classes. Previously, I had to travel to Bishan, Bukit Timah and Kembangan. And sometimes even, 2 locations in 1 day, which reduced my ability in catering to popular demand.
Nelson: We both know that good materials and mentors are necessary, but not always sufficient in guaranteeing good results in the exams. In your years of teaching, which students are more likely to succeed?
Kelvin: The short answer – those who faithfully do the assignments I issue and do them in accordance to what was taught. So I suppose diligence, determination and attentiveness will help them succeed.
Nelson: Teaching can get quirky at times. Well at least, that’s my own experience. What are some of your most memorable classroom experiences?
Kelvin: Economics Song and Dance! Those were the days. You can check out some of my Economics songs here.
Nelson: Wow. That was an eye-opener for me! Have you ever managed to inspire any of your students to become an Economics tutor?
Kelvin: Not sure about the tutoring bit but quite a number of them wound up reading economics in the universities – including at Stanford and London School of Economics, NUS, SMU.
Some are inspired to tutor but not in the area of Economics. I have engaged a couple of them to tutor my children and my children remarked that they explain concepts just like I do!
Some of my students have done internships with me too.
Nelson: It looks like singing might be one of your interests. Do you have any other “CCAs” that you do outside of your tutoring activities?
Kelvin: I try to do physical activities like gardening and sports. Sigh, I am on my bum too much these days.
Nelson: What are some common misconceptions that students and parents, or even the public, may have regarding tuition?
Kelvin: Some parents say: “Just help my child score A”.
I think we need to first help them understand the subject and be inspired to learn the subject well.
Nelson: Economics is probably your favourite subject. Correct me if I am wrong! In any case, what would be your next-favourite subject?
Kelvin: Qualities of Success is probably my favourite subject. There is so much to learn here and so much to impart but the problem is that most people are not that interested. And there are so many qualities: Mental, Emotional, Physical, Character and even Spiritual.
Nelson: Ok, one final question – if you could give your younger-self advice about school-related matters, what would it be?
Kelvin: Seek to really understand and learn. The grades don’t matter so much. If I were actually as good as my grades suggest, I could also have become a Math, Physics or even a Chemistry tutor. I could also apply Chemistry to improve my cooking and Physics to do home repairs on my own. But alas…
I give my children the same advice. The grades should only be a byproduct and not the end-product. Life will give them the reals As if they learn so well that they can practically apply English, Math, Economics, Physics, Chemistry etc throughout their lives.
Much as I have been looking into taking my content one step further by creating social media videos, I still wouldn’t be caught dead warbling about the various theories. So Kelvin has clearly one-upped me there. Not everything is a competition of course, and having Kelvin share insights about his teaching experience here has been quite the pleasure.
Like myself, in addition to the core teaching activities, he has an online space for long-form content too – you can check them out here. Any more backlinks to the very same site that he runs will make me look a shade shameless, so I will stop right here – go check it out.
For now, if you have questions that you would like to ask here, simply leave your comments below!