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This issue of CDTL Brief presents the second instalment of Research Projects done by a group of PDP-T (Professional Development Programme-Teaching) participants in April 2003.

November 2003, Vol. 6, No. 11 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Decoding the DNA of NUS Students: A Survey of Student Learning Habits
Assistant Professor R. Ayesha Ali
Department of Statistics & Applied Probability
Assistant Professor David Hsu
Department of Computer Science

Assistant Professor Ng Szu Hui
Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering

Dr Seow Teck Keong
Department of Biological Sciences
(listed in alphabetical order)


One key thrust of NUS is to provide quality education and foster a community that is passionate about learning and discovery. To achieve this, it is essential that we understand NUS students better. Hence, we conducted a brief survey on the learning habits of NUS students and focused on:

  • pre-university educational preparedness

  • learning habits before and after entering NUS

During Semester 2 of Academic Year 2002/03, the survey was administrated online using the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) website of a freshman undergraduate module, CS 1102 Data Structures and Algorithms, which had an enrolment of more than 500 students. The survey, which we call GEL analysis, focused on three aspects:

  • General background

  • Educational background

  • Learning/studying habits before and after entering NUS


The G—General Background

A total of 195 students responded to the survey, of which about 73% were male students. Although the gender composition of students in the course was equal among males and females, we conjectured that the higher male response rate was due to higher web usage habits among male students.

Based on the G of the students, we were able to divide them into two groups with regards to their pre-university education experience:

  • British (Br) systems (mainly Singapore)

  • Non-British (NBr) systems (including China, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.)

We also noted that those from non-British systems had spent less than 5 years in Singapore, with the majority of them having spent less than 2 years here.

The E—Educational Background

One of our goals was to link the E of the students with their preparedness for university education. It was found that most (about 60%) of those from the Br systems did not feel prepared while most (about 62%) from the NBr systems felt prepared for education in NUS. The students from the NBr systems were also found to have significantly higher grade expectations than those from Br systems, with about 69% expecting a grade of A and above for those from NBr systems compared to about 32% from the Br systems (p-value = 0.001 using Fisher’s exact test with a bonferroni correction).

The L—Learning Habits

To further analyse the L, we considered three factors:

  • study environments

  • study habits

  • study materials

In considering the preferred study environment, it was found that about 50% of the students preferred studying alone, and about 46% preferred to study with a friend or an informal study group. The majority (more than 75%) of the students indicated that they preferred to study at home or in the library, while a few (about 20%) of them mentioned that it all depended on their moods and offered a combination of home and/or library and/or classroom.


Figure 1: Rankings of study materials before and after entering NUS


Figure 2: Rankings of materials (A) before and (B) after entering NUS, stratified according to
the students’ pre-university educational systems

A. Before NUS


B. After NUS

Table 1: Summary of GEL analysis of NUS students

With regards to study habits, we found that the individual study habits of most students have changed since entering NUS.

As for the study materials, the majority of the students gave the highest rank to ‘lecture notes’ as being the most useful both before and after entering NUS, as shown in Figure 1. Besides ‘lecture notes’, other study materials which were perceived to be useful are ‘textbooks’, ‘tutors’ and ‘hints’, but it seemed that the reliance on ‘hints’ reduced after the students had entered NUS. It should to be noted that ‘group discussion’ was consistently given low ranking by the students and this could be attributed to the fact that they were in a computer science class (data not shown).

To further analyse the study materials, we stratified the students according to their pre-university educational system (i.e. the Br and NBr systems) as shown in Figure 2.

As demonstrated in Figure 2, before entering NUS, students from the Br systems tended to rely heavily on ‘lecture notes’ and ‘independent study’, while those from the NBr systems relied more on ‘lecture notes’ and ‘textbooks’. However, this seemed to have changed when they entered NUS, as students from both the Br and NBr systems relied on a wider mix of study materials although ‘lecture notes’ were still highly regarded.

DNA Connectedness

From this brief survey, the one obvious difference we have observed was in the students’ perception towards university education and their own abilities from different educational systems (i.e. the Br and NBr systems). Those from the NBr systems tended to be more confident in both their feeling of preparedness for tertiary education and how well they would perform compared to their fellow students from the Br systems. Hence, teachers must keep these varying perceptions in mind and tailor their teaching approach according to the students’ educational backgrounds. In other regards, such as study methods and materials, there were no significant differences between students from the Br and NBr systems. In conclusion, our brief survey has revealed that the educational background of a student contributes to the heterogeneity of a class.

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Inside this issue
Personal Observations of Student-centred Learning: The Laboratory Experience
Learning and Coping as Dental Students
Decoding the DNA of NUS Students: A Survey of Student Learning Habits
The Role of Proper Questions