Guide to commonly used terms in University (NTU/NUS/SMU edition)

Singapore university terms guide for NTU SMU NUS

As someone who has not gone through University education in Singapore, some of the commonly used terms in university can be confusing. In this edition, we will help to clarify some of these terms. Additionally, we will cover only the three main universities – NTU, NUS and SMU.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

In general, it is easier to obtain a scholarship as well as double degree at NTU, compared to the other two universities (NUS and SMU).

  • Academic Units (AU): Students from different majors are assigned a number of AU. In order to graduate, you will need to have a minimum number of graded as well as total AU. A typical module in NTU carries around 3-4 AU (letter-graded). Some modules which are pass/fail carry only 1 AU, and are usually conducted online.
  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option (SU): This allows you to change a letter-graded module to a pass/fail. In general, you can exercise SU on all modules except your core modules/modules that are already on pass/fail. Unlike NUS, you need to exercise your SU before you see your grades. Hence, you should exercise your SU wisely.
  • Core/General-Core Modules (GER-CORE): You MUST take and must pass these modules. If you do not pass them, you have to retake. You cannot execute SU on these modules.
  • General-Prescribed Elective (GER-PE): These are specific courses from three categories: Business & Management, Liberal Arts, Science and Technology. Students MUST take at least ONE module from each category. You may exercise SU option for GER-PE as well.
  • Unrestricted Elective (UE): These are modules which are not offered by your major. You can choose from a variety of UEs, ranging from sports to learning a new language.
  • Major: The main thing that you are enrolled for (e.g. Accountancy)
  • Minor: An add on to your major (e.g. Accountancy with a Minor in forensic science). However, do note that you CANNOT SU your minor modules. They are also usually in place of your UE modules as well.
  • Double Degree: Generally from different faculty, and you will receive two different degrees upon graduation. Note that double degree is not the same as double major! A double major grants you only a single degree with two majors.
  • Honours: Generally refers to having a larger volume of study than usual. Most NTU degrees offer direct-honours. However, you will need to graduate with a minimum GPA of 3.0, otherwise you will not be eligible for an honours degree.

National University of Singapore (NUS)

NUS has most of their syllabus fixed on theories, and generally command a higher salary compared to NTU.

  • Modular Credit (MCs): Unlike NTU, the academic unit for each module is coined as MCs. They hold the same meaning as AUs.
  • General Modules: Restricted or unrestricted electives
    • Undergraduates will be able to exercise their S/U option without worrying about the letter grade of the module, so long as you pass it.
  • S/U Option: Unlike NTU, you can choose to exercise your S/U option after knowing your grades. This is a great advantage for NUS students since you can make a more informed decision when deciding to S/U your modules.
  • Major: The main thing that you are enrolled for (e.g. Accountancy)
  • Minor: An add on to your major (e.g. Mathematics with a Minor in forensic science). However, do note that you CANNOT SU your minor modules. They are also usually in place of your UE modules as well.
  • Double Degree: Generally from different faculty, and you will receive two different degrees upon graduation. Note that double degree is not the same as double major! A double major grants you only a single degree with two majors.
  • Honours: Similar to NTU, NUS follows the same system for honours class:
    • CAP 4.50 and above: First Class Honours
    • CAP 4.00 – 4.49: Second Class (Upper) Honours
    • CAP 3.50 – 3.99: Second Class (Lower) Honours
    • CAP 3.00 – 3.49: Third Class (Lower) Honours
    • CAP 2.00 – 2.99: PASS

Singapore Management University (SMU)

SMU has a unique teaching pedagogy that is very much different from NUS and NTU. Students in SMU are encouraged and trained to speak up more often so that they are ready for the working force compared to their counterparts in the other local universities.

At SMU, majority of the students take double majors – they can be related or totally unrelated.

  • Majors: Not offered at SMU
  • Core: Compulsory modules required to graduate, the same as NTU and NUS.
  • Electives: Major electives and unrestricted/free electives
  • Track/Specialisation: A more in-depth and specific version of your major. However, do note that not all major offers a track or specialisation at SMU.
  • Honours: SMU does not use the honours system unlike NTU and NUS. Moreover, their GPA is based on a 4.0 system instead of 5.0 system.
    • 3.80 – 4.00: Summa Cum Laude (with Highest Distinction)
    • 3.60 – 3.79: Magna Cum Laude (High Distinction)
    • 3.40 – 3.59: Cum Laude (Distinction)
    • 3.20 – 3.39: High Merit
    • 3.00 – 3.19: Merit

Importance of understanding the commonly used phrases in university

It is important that you understand some of the key phrases used in university so that you can better plan your path in school. For instance, you should know the minimum number of graded AUs or MCs required to graduate so that you can strategically plan for modules to be taken at a local or overseas exchange programme. This can potentially ease your workload in your current university, while you also gain a different experience learning at another university.

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