Tripos (a.k.a. The Exam Game)

I haven’t posted for a really long time, but there’s a good reason. Ever since I got into Cambridge, I’ve been playing this game called “Tripos”. I’ve since learned that it’s actually quite a popular played all around the work with different names (I think most of UK calls it “The Exam Game”), but I’ll call it Tripos since I’m used to it. Anyway here’s how it goes:

Rules of Tripos:

  1. Divide the players into two teams: “Tripos” and “Undergrads”.
  2. The Undergrads are blindfolded and placed in the middle of the field. The Tripos stands in a circle around the Undergrads.
  3. Study Phase: The Tripos throws as many books as possible at the Undergrads in 5 minutes. If an Undergrad catches a book before it hits the ground, he is deemed to have “studied” and may keep the book. Any book unstudied may be retrieved and thrown at the Undergrads again.
  4. Tripos Phase: After 5 minutes are up, the Tripos move 20 steps away from the Undergrads. The Undergrads remain blindfolded. Undergrads throw their studied books at the Tripos. Each hit is worth a degree point.
  5. The game is over when the Undergrads run out of books.

Nobody wins. But anyone who doesn’t get at least one degree point can never play Tripos in Cambridge again.

Thanks for All the Fish!

20 months ago, something important happened. I was kidnapped and transported to the UK, and forced to walk to school every day, at nearly just-above-zero temperatures. Somehow I was expected to survive with just a bank account, 40kg of meticulously packed luggage and a warm room located 10 minutes from school.

On my first day of forced imprisonment, I found out I had bigger problems. I had to walk for minutes between classes. Classrooms were not made of gold-plated steel or ivory. We were expected to study. The school did not provide chefs from Italy. The school did not provide food at all. There were no massage sessions. The indoor swimming pool was non-existant.

I was appalled.

But something miraculous happened.

I enjoyed myself while I was there.

And 18 months after I began, I managed to survive! In fact, I thrived in the UK. To me, those months in Cambridge doing A-Levels were exhilaratingly fun and interesting. So I’d like to say my thanks to some people:

To the teachers of Abbey College, you are the greatest set of teachers I have ever had the pleasure of sitting down and learning from. Whereas when some teachers teach the information goes straight from the board to the notebook without ever passing through either brain*, when you guys teach I always understand and memorise things until the day before the exam. To Helen, Tanya, Chris, Darren, Heather, Stuart, Ross, Boz, Richard and Sue in particular, thank you for bearing with me for the many hours I was in your class, making sure I don’t fall asleep in class (well, usually), teaching beyond the syllabus, marking tons of exam papers and for being caring, concerned teachers. I couldn’t have done it without you. :)

To Andrew, thanks for introducing me to Doctor Who. And board games. Oh, and making sure I was never able to ever think I was good at maths.

To Julian, thank you for… um… doing whatever it is you do. And board games also, I guess.

To my brother, thank you for doing the laundry sometimes.

To my sister, thanks…?

Penultimately but not least, to all my friends, thank you very, very much. There’s so many of you and I don’t want to single anyone out (and if I listed all of you I’d definitely miss one out), so to all my friends I am grateful for the stupid things we did together; the homework and notes we suffered through; the silly nights spent together; the odd conversations held at staircases; the times we ran to classes; the many, many “Good luck”s exchanged; the cooking nights at Jiann Lee’s my house; the milkshakes; the informal LAN’s; the let’s-chat-while-unlocking-our-bicycle-and-standing-awkwardly-in-the-cold chats; the May Ball; the charity event; the long walks; the short walks; the food shopping trips; Nando’s; NANDO’s; the terrible games of pool; playing Shadow Hunters, Settler’s of Catan, and the many other board games; that night when you pumped me full of alcohol; for letting me sleep on your couch and leech your internet; and for being generally the best friends one could ask for.

Last but still not least, to my parents, thank you for caring! You’re always there (even if you’re not wanted :p) to make sure I’m doing well. Thank you for working hard to make sure I have the best in education and life, and for making sure I grew up to be a responsible, smart, excellent, hardworking, humble, caring, interesting, handsome, amazi- (ok I’ll stop now) young man. You’re the best parents a boy could ever ask for. I love you two! :D **


Those were 18 months not easily forgotten.


* Ok, I stole this from the Cambridge Study Guide.

** You’re welcome.

Solar-powered Carbon Extractor

Today in class I suddenly had a brilliant idea for a new invention:

Make a cheap, portable small box with a solar panel on the top. Inside the box make a little machine which extracts carbon from carbon dioxide (I don’t care how, make it cheap and simple). Now the box spouts out oxygen and deposits carbon inside a little waste box which you can clean every month or so. All for free since it’s solar powered.

Then I noticed a fatal problem: this already exists.

It’s called a plant.

Cambridge Offer: A Simple Analysis

Here are the exact conditions of my offer to Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

  • A*AA in A-levels, excluding Economics.
  • Grade S in both STEP Paper 2 and Paper 3.

Let’s analyse:

For A-levels, I already have an A* in Mathematics so that’s in the bag. For Further Maths, I must score an average of 80% in 6 papers (called modules) out of 9 that I’m taking. (Not exactly; I already have a 97% in Further Pure 1, so the average I need for the remaining papers is slightly lower, plus I can rearrange my Mechanics 1 or 2 paper into the Further Maths grade instead of Maths if needed.)

For Physics, I currently have 295/300, or 98.33%. To get an A (80%), I need another 185/300 in A2, or 61.67%. This should not be difficult.

For Economics, I could fail it and it wouldn’t matter in terms of my offer. I’d lose all my pride though.

The STEP papers are something else. Whereas all the above are achievable (I would even dare call it… “easy”), STEP papers are… difficult. An example is in order:

STEP Paper 2 2009 Question 1

Two curves have equations x4 + y4 = u and xy = v , where u and v are positive constants. State the equations of the lines of symmetry of each curve.
The curves intersect at the distinct points A, B, C and D (taken anticlockwise from A). The coordinates of A are (α,β), where α > β > 0. Write down, in terms of α and β, the coordinates of B, C and D.
Show that the quadrilateral ABCD is a rectangle and find its area in terms of u and v only. Verify that, for the case u = 81 and v = 4, the area is 14.

There are 13 questions for each paper. 8 are pure mathematics (like the one above), 2 are probability and statistics questions, and 3 are mechanics questions. They will mark your best 6 answers to any questions, with up to 20 marks per question. In general, to get an S, I will need to answer five questions fully and a sixth partially in STEP 2, and four questions fully in STEP 3. To give you an idea of how difficult this is, the above question (and the whole of STEP 2) can be answered using only knowledge from the Mathematics A-Level subject, whereas STEP 3 requires Further Mathematics knowledge. Technically, if you’ve done your SPM Further Maths, you have enough knowledge to answer the question above. Good luck.

My entire focus for the next six months is to study sufficiently to achieve an A* in all subjects, and spending the rest of my studying time on STEP. It should be pretty fun.

Fun Fact: The full name of Trinity College is: The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Rantin’ Time

I hate it when I feel like I don’t know what to do.

The A-levels AS paper is devious. Not only does the syllabus have the widest scope of all the subjects I’m taking, but the actual paper itself is ridiculous. 80 marks, 90 minutes; you’d think you have enough time to write down everything in your mind.

I had my mock exams last week, and for the first time, I couldn’t finish the paper. I just couldn’t. I already knew that I’d be short on time, but even though I wrote as fast as I could force myself to, I ended up not writing about 4 paragraphs worth of answers. I hate hate hate hate this feeling, it’s exactly like what I felt during the English Literature SPM paper, except that this time the subject is actually important.

Looking at my results, I scored a 60/80 for the Unit 2 paper about macro economics. A respectable score, but I lost 10 marks because I didn’t finish the paper.


I’m close to my limit when it comes to writing. It’s not just me, no one in my class finished every question. I don’t know what I can do to improve my writing speed. I asked my teacher about what I could do, and he said:

“Write faster.”


I’m sure there’s a conspiracy theory somewhere which links the government, xenophobia, accelerated clocks, corruption and economics together. It’s probably true too.