Blog Students Advice For Students Essential Info About Combined Humanities in Secondary School

Essential Info About Combined Humanities in Secondary School

Secondary Two students moving to Secondary Three will notice that there is a compulsory subject named Combined Humanities

Students will also notice that they will need to decide the ‘elective’ of Combined Humanities.

Now, if you’re confused about what I’m talking about, please read on.

I’m going to explain what exactly is Combined Humanities and what you need to know about it as you progress into Secondary three.

What is Combined Humanities?

Combined Humanities is a single subject that consists of two “half-subjects”. You will have a compulsory humanities subject and an elective humanities subject, each taking up 50% of the marks for Combined Humanities.

Each of these “half-subjects” is equally difficult as a full subject, but with half the amount of content.

The compulsory subject is Social Studies, which all subjects must take for O-levels.

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The elective subject can either be History, Geography, Literature in English, Literature in Chinese, Literature in Malay, and Literature in Tamil.

Social Studies will make up 50% of the marks and the elective will make up another 50%.

Is Combined Humanities important?

The next question will probably be “Is Combined Humanities an important subject?” 

Well, it depends on where the student wants to go after ‘O’ Levels.

For students going to a Junior College, it is essential as a Humanities subject needs to be included. If students have two Humanities subjects, then only one needs to be included as a JC requirement. For instance, a student might take Pure Geography in addition to Combined Humanities (History/SS).

For students targeting a Polytechnic course, some people will tell you that Combined Humanities is not required for entry into a Polytechnic course, but this is simply not the case. There are some Polytechnic courses that need a Humanities subject, and they tend to be the more popular ones. Please study the course requirements on the school websites. 

In conclusion, whether Combined Humanities is important depends on your desired destination.

Now that we have given a brief introduction to Combined Humanities, let us explore the subject options for Combined Humanities in detail.

Compulsory Subject: Social Studies

You may be wondering, what exactly is social studies about?

Social Studies is like a combination of sociology and political science.

It studies real-life case studies and helps students be informed, concerned, and participative of the world around them, particularly about Singapore’s society and history.

The syllabus revolves around three main issues:

1. Exploring Citizenship and Governance

2. Living in a Diverse Society

3. Being Part of a Globalised World

Issue 1 explores how citizens and governments can work together to better the country and society. 

In Issue 2, students learn why countries and societies have become more diverse in ethnicity, religion, and economic status.

Finally, students will learn about globalization in Issue 3. 

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One unique aspect of Social Studies is its use of case studies and sources in the examination. 

Each case study can be of any topic, provided it is from one of the issues.

However, each issue is so broad that it is almost like an ‘unseen question’

For example, in the 2019 ‘N’ level examination, the case study was about the Kenya flower market, which is from Issue 3 (Being Part of a Globalised World).

It’s almost impossible to predict the question that will come out. Hence, it’s important for students to develop a broad understanding of social issues.

Since Social Studies is compulsory, all students need to study this subject.

Elective: History

Students have been studying history since Secondary One

The biggest difference between lower secondary history and upper secondary history is the content. 

In lower secondary, the content focuses on Singapore, from its early days to modern Singapore. 

In upper secondary, the focus of the syllabus is on World History, with topics such as:

1. Impact of World War One

2. Rise of authoritarian regimes and its impact in the interwar years

3.  World War II in Europe and the Asia–Pacific

4. Cold War and the bi-polar world order

5. Manifestation of the Cold War outside Europe

6. Reasons for the end of the Cold War

One advantage for students taking History Elective is that it complements Social Studies

Just like Social Studies, the History Elective examination has case studies and sources. 

The way questions are answered is also similar. 

Thus, some students find it advantageous to pair Social Studies with the History Elective.

However, this doesn’t mean History is going to be a walk in the park. Here are some reasons why students may struggle with History.

For now, let’s move on, shall we?

Elective: Geography

Just like upper secondary history is a continuation of lower secondary history, upper secondary geography is also a continuation of lower secondary geography.

The syllabus adopts an inquiry-based approach and combines physical and human geography together. 

There are three themes in Geography Elective, and each is further divided into topics:

Theme 1: Our Dynamic Planet (Physical Geography)

1) Living with Tectonic Hazards – Risk or opportunity?

2) Variable Weather and Changing Climate – A continuing challenge?

Theme 2: Our Changing World (Human Geography)

3) Global Tourism – Is tourism the way to go?

4) Food Resources – Is technology a panacea for food shortage?

Theme 3: Geographical Skills and Investigations

5) Topographical Map Reading Skills

6) Geographical Data and Techniques

7) Geographical Investigations

Social Studies / Geography Elective is probably the most common Combined Humanities combination.

It could be because Geography is slightly more practical, especially Human Geography.

Some students perceive Geography as being easier to score, though there is not much evidence to prove this. 

Regardless, many students prefer Geography Elective over History Elective.

Elective: Literature in English

This is one of the rarer combinations. 

Literature in English continues from lower secondary Literature in English. 

Students will study a prescribed text from a selection of books decided by the Singapore Examinations and Assessments Branch (SEAB)

Another section of Literature in English examination is the ‘Unseen Prose and Poetry.’ 

This is arguably the more difficult section of the paper as students will have to analyse two extracts, one prose and one poetry, and answer questions on them.

Elective: Literature in Chinese / Malay / Tamil

Even rarer than Literature in English is Literature in Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. 

Not many schools offer these choices and not many students qualify for these choices anyway. 

If students are in a school that offers this, then the best person to speak to is the teacher.

What to choose?

In truth, this question may not apply to all students. 

Some schools only offer choices to the best classes due to timetable issues or teaching allocation issues and make everybody else take a particular elective. 

Other schools offer Literature in English as a choice in one year only to withdraw this choice the next year. 

As mentioned, the two most common choices are History and Geography

It’s probably a good idea to start considering between these two subjects, going with the one you enjoy more in lower secondary.

If you didn’t like it in lower sec, trust me, you won’t enjoy it in upper sec as it’s similar but much harder.

What About Pure Humanities Subjects?

Not all schools allow their students to choose a second Humanities subject other than Combined Humanities, but some do.

If you’re a humanities type of student, or you’re simply not good at science, you may want to take up a Pure Humanities subject in addition to Combined Humanities.

Do note that combined humanities is compulsory and counts as one subject, which means if you do want to take up a second humanities subject, your Pure humanities subject must be different from the elective subject.

Your subject combination could look something like: Combined Humanities (Social Studies/History) + Pure Geography.

The difference between pure humanities subjects and their elective versions is that there is more syllabus to cover and the content has more depth. 

Students should make a choice based on the elective they have chosen for Combined Humanities as well as what they want to take as a subject in Junior College (if they do enrol in one).


We hope that you find this article useful in understanding Combined Humanities and Humanities subjects in Upper Secondary school in general.

SmileTutor offers both History Tuition and Social Studies Tuition – with over 50,000 tutors ranging from part-time, full-time to even Ex/Current MOE teachers.

You may want to contact us to learn more about these humanities subjects.

Here are some related articles you might like to read:

Social Studies: Why it is Important for Your Child?

How Can I Support My Child In His Social Studies? – SmileTutor


Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.