PSLE. The bane (and hope) of many parents’ existence. The dreaded season of late nights, Panda eyes, Chicken Essence after Chicken Essence… and that’s just us parents! When my son was in Primary 6, we rallied our entire household (and even workplaces!) around the “PSLE year”. My partner and I both cut back on our working hours and brought as much work home as possible to supervise his school and tuition assignments – thankfully our colleagues were understanding because many of them have children themselves, and have either experienced it or will do so soon. Being an ACSian, he was in better standing to get into ACS (Barker Road) than a peer from a non-affiliated school. Still, we weren’t willing to take any chances, and crammed his days even fuller with tuition and carefully spaced-out ‘full-dress rehearsals’ a.k.a 10-year series papers taken under mock exam conditions.
We also made full use of all the exam tips and tricks we’d garnered – from his teachers, tutors and what I recall of my own experience at Rosyth School light years ago. After all, they did get me into Raffles Girls’ Secondary, without needing affiliation favours!
Tip #1: Know and embrace your child’s learning style
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War may well have been written for examination preparation in another time and age. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” his famous adage goes. Besides understanding the syllabus, it’s important to know your child’s learning style. Pay attention to her study habits. Does she excel under pressure, or does she need to do all her work in advance so as to minimise stress? Does she find that note-taking or rewriting chunks of information helps her to memorise important theories? Is she a visual learner, or an auditory one? Perhaps she is a social learner and learns best when revising with friends? Take note of what works best for her – they may even differ across different subjects! – and help her adopt the appropriate methods when revising. My son, for example, learns Science best when he maps concepts out, but he prefers digestible chunks in the form of bullet points for other subjects.
Tip #2: Create a revision plan – and stick to it
Some students like to plan out meticulous timetables – two hours of Geometry, for example, followed by another two hours of science focusing on forms and uses of energy after dinner break. Others may prefer a more flexible to-do list where they list out the topics that need to be revised and check them off as they go. Whichever style your child prefers, draw up a revision plan that suits him, and which you are fairly confident he would be able to stick to. Be sure to allocate ample time for each subject that he needs to revise, so start planning as early as possible!
Tip #3: Give him breaks
The last thing you want to happen is for him to burn out. If he’s too exhausted or his brain is too crammed with information, he won’t be able to study productively. Give him reasonable breaks – they can be long breaks for him to ‘detox’, or he can just take a few minutes off in-between revision topics to rest his eyes and brain, so he can go back to his notes feeling refreshed, instead of dreading the work or worse, brain-dead. A positive mood will help keep him motivated to get through all his revision. Work with your child on this, so he also feels responsible for his own learning – you don’t want him to feel pressured and pretend to study just to keep you off his back!
Tip #4: Use 10-year series papers wisely
Contrary to popular belief, 10-year series papers are not cheat codes to the exams. There are also no bonus points for doing more! Top schools advise students to think and apply concepts, rather than simply memorise and regurgitate answers from previous years’ questions. Rather than making it her life goal to complete every single past year paper, strategise based on the time she has – select a few papers to do under exam conditions to enforce discipline. Spread the practice schedule out, so she does one or two a week to maintain the momentum. Skim through the rest, and look for particularly interesting or challenging questions that you want her to try. Take note of the type of questions that come up very frequently over the years and let her familiarise herself with these. Don’t forget too, to keep an eye on the questions she has trouble answering, and spend more time with her on these. This more targeted effort at using the 10-year series will help her stay focused and also prevent her from being overwhelmed by having to complete massive amounts of work in a limited time. (Pro tip: Purchase the 10-year series way in advance if you can, because they may actually get sold out close to the exam period.)
Tip #5: Grasp the facts, concepts and principles
The difference between an A*, A or B often lies in how your child answers the questions. Increasingly, the PSLE tests students on their understanding of concepts, which means they do not just ask the same questions in different ways. This applies not only to topics like Science or Social Studies, but Mathematics as well. Don’t forget, memorising won’t help him when it comes to solving a subjective question or writing an essay during the examination. For example, he needs to understand how different angles relate to each other and in different contexts, so that when he encounters a ‘trick question’ which may not even look like it is about geometry, he would be able to identify it and apply the right principles. If he cannot solve a problem or cannot understand the solution on his own, be sure to explain it to him (or have a tutor do so!) such that he would be able to explain it to someone else afterwards.
Tip #6: Get the foundations right
Some questions she may encounter in practice papers may actually be too tricky or complex. If she really has trouble grasping the concept, and you find that no amount of tutoring seems to help, put it aside. Make sure she is very familiar and comfortable with the basic concepts, rather than spending all her energy and resources on a particularly difficult question at the expense of her foundations. Once she has a strong grasp of the basics, she may even be able to tackle the trick questions better!
Tip #7: Study smart
There is no point mugging everything in the syllabus (and forgetting about them right after). Be selective. Focus on the topics that will come up in the PSLE exams, and make sure he understands them inside-out.
Tip #8: Apply apply apply
The concepts she learns in textbooks didn’t just come out of nowhere – they came from real life and the natural world around her. Try to get her to apply her understanding of Science, Social Studies and Mathematics to your everyday life. Let her read more books in English and Mother Tongue, while waiting for her school bus, during lunch, or before bedtime. Consider letting her use her notes as bedtime reading – she can take out her notebook, and test herself on concepts with her eyes closed. By continually learning and applying her knowledge to the world around her, she’ll develop her own understanding of the world and also set herself apart from other students.
Tip #9: Avoid careless mistakes
Sometimes, he knows how to answer a question, but loses marks because of careless mistakes. If so, it is time to enforce greater discipline on him to practice those types of questions so he is more alert and wary of repeating such mistakes. Most science questions, for example, take up one page and are mini-comprehension passages by themselves. In his haste to finish the question, and go on to the next, he may skim through the question and focus on certain key words in ‘auto-pilot” mode. This is a costly mistake, as he’ll miss vital information and fail to answer the question correctly. Train him to read the questions and answer options carefully, analyse all accompanying diagrams/graphs/tables and double check his answers when done, to see if he has left something out.
Tip #10: Refresh her memory right before the big day
One or two days before her examination, let her revise everything she’s been learning for the past few weeks. She should be well-prepared by now, so relax, and have full confidence in her ability to ace the exams! Don’t forget, she’ll feel more confident when you are.