The junior college (JC) syllabus has undergone its first revamp in a decade, affecting the 9,900 or so students who entered JC this year.
The changes in various subjects, from the humanities to sciences and mathematics, aim to get students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world contexts, and get exposed to more current content.
Students will also be tested on skills such as making connections between different topics.
For instance, they will need to draw links between physical and human geography, instead of just learning both fields separately.
For science students, the practical exam, which is worth 20 per cent of their total score, will be taken at the end of the two years of JC, instead of once each year. It is also expected to test a wider range of laboratory skills.
A-level subjects are divided into three tiers - H1, H2 and H3 - with the breadth of content increasing from H1 to H3.
Most students now take three H2 subjects and one H1 content-based subject, which has to be a contrasting subject outside a student's main area of specialisation.
They must also take General Paper, Mother Tongue - except for those who passed Higher Mother Tongue at O levels - and project work.
Most of the changes this year apply to the subjects at the H2 level.
In response to queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said the revised syllabuses aim to "strengthen students' interest and mastery of the subject, as well as their ability to think critically and apply their understanding in real-world contexts".
Teachers have been attending training workshops and discussions since last year to familiarise themselves with the changes.
For instance, geography students will learn the subject under three main themes: tropical environment, globalisation and sustainable development, instead of studying the physical and human aspects in isolation.
Ms Sabrina Teo, subject head of geography at Serangoon JC (SRJC), said: "We want students to see how topics relate to wider issues, and not study them in isolation.
"Everything is interconnected. For instance, there are atmospheric processes that contribute to flood impact, but you also need to look at population density, economic losses and management strategies."
For biology, two topics - infectious diseases and climate change - were added for their relevance to both global and local contexts.
Some topics, such as cell division and the control of gene expression, were taken out of the syllabus.
These are already taught in secondary school or are deemed more suitable for studies at the university level.
Mr Muhamad Salahuddin Ibrahim, a lead biology teacher at SRJC, said content has been reorganised so that students can see the links between themes such as genetics and inheritance, and the cell and biomolecules of life.
In mathematics, about 10 per cent of content has been cut to give teachers more time to explore with students how the subject can be applied in the real world.
This could mean learning sampling distributions and hypothesis testing through market research, or applying differential equations to issues such as population growth and radioactive decay.
Madam Loo Choy Fung, head of Nanyang JC's mathematics department, said: "It's good that teachers have more room for exercises in application. We sometimes neglect the application part. But mathematics is applied so widely in real life."
Meridian JC student Glendon Ng, 16, who is taking physics, chemistry and mathematics at the H2 level, said he thinks the changes in curriculum would prepare him better for work.
"Society and jobs are always changing, so memorising content is not going to be enough. We need to learn to apply skills instead," he said. "I don't see science as just a subject; it's more enjoyable to understand how it is relevant to daily life."
This article was first published on Feb 4, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.