PSLE English Exams: 6 Effective Tips To Help Kids Learn Smart And Excel
As we countdown to the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), it is natural for both parents and students to get more anxious as they approach the final leg of exam preparations.
After preparing for a whole year, this naturally leaves us with the question of what else students can do to prep themselves in this short period of time. Here are a few tips to get both students and parents ready in the last stretch:
Tip #1: Lead-up to the exam
Just ‘practice’ isn’t enough! Now that we are all weeks, days, hours (minutes!?) from the exam, any practice needs to be smart. Now is definitely not the time for learning new words, phrases and whole model answers – there simply isn’t time to learn how to use them well.
For example, ‘syncopation’ is a really great word that your child could learn to spell quite easily but using it in context would be beyond most. In fact, in most cases, it would be the obvious ‘sore thumb’ in an otherwise good continuous writing piece! So, don’t try to cram in more. Celebrate and augment what is already there. Smart practice can encompass 3 areas:
- Celebrate and augment your child’s strengths. This is important. It is easy to focus on weaknesses to address but make sure these do not cloud and undermine the good that everyone has. Ask them about the aspects they enjoy most, the areas they already test well in, encourage them to talk about why they are good at them and the satisfaction they feel when they complete the task. At this stage, your role is to try and make sure they feel confident in themselves for the big day.
- Target 1 or 2 areas of weakness only, e.g. comprehension cloze. Your child should be able to tell you specific tasks that they find most challenging. Agree to prioritise with them and think about how you can work together to improve the item. You may be able to help them yourself but if you can’t, dedicated self-study books might give practice, or some even someone else in the family. The point is not to try and fix everything.
- Exam skills practice. Your child will not be able to absorb much more language to use in the exam. The important thing is developing the most basic of all exam skills – time management. Many highly fluent and skilled students do badly in exams because of poor time management. If you want your child to practice, do short, dedicated practice activities like above, and make sure you are agreeing (and keeping to!) time limits. Dust that egg timer off!
Tip #2: Time management when doing the paper
Scores are significantly weighted to continuous writing over the situational piece.
Setting time limits and keeping them is an important exam skill. Your children will have their own interpretation of the ‘maths’ for apportioning time by now and be confident with it. Everyone is slightly different so there is little right or wrong but the biggest loss of marks for everyone always comes from not calculating checking and editing time into their equation.
Five minutes while sounding like a huge amount of time is a good number – for those who tend to make lots of errors, it is time to reduce the number of unnecessary mistakes; for those who are stronger, five minutes of considering word choice and precision, will add polish. As a general comment, writing less and checking more will improve your accuracy scores more than writing more and checking less!
Tip #3: Composition
In the situational piece, half the battle is checking that all the content points have been clearly addressed. The checklist is part of the question so do make sure you have time to use it!
For the continuous writing piece, some lucky students can just sit down and a write a well-structured piece! Most can’t. Your child is more likely to run out of time, especially on the continuous writing if they do not have a clear structure. Writing without an ending in mind tends to result in a piece without…an ending! Get that clear first.
Remember always, always to leave time to check and edit your work (see tip #2). Checking with your child about the individual feedback that they have received over many, many years of ‘compo’ practice and making sure they at least respond to this will mop up the most obvious errors.
Tip #4: Comprehension
Everyone has their own approaches by now. To read the text first or the questions first, that is a personal preference. The most important thing is to make sure that your child reads the text in full before answering any questions.
Doing this ‘global’ reading activates a much wider and deeper framework (teachers call this a schemata and it is how your brain connects various strands of general knowledge essential for deeper appreciation of texts) for understanding the piece than a sentence by sentence approach. Without this, open-ended questions (the questions that concern personal opinion) become more difficult than it needs to be.
Tip #5: Cloze
There are several cloze tasks in the exam but the hardest by far is comprehension cloze. Unlike the others, there are no helper words and with 15 marks on offer, this is an important part of Paper 2. Like comprehension, a global understanding of the text will only help with inferential gaps but most of the skills for comprehension cloze are close reading ones i.e. looking for contextual clues either side of the gap.
Before writing anything, ensure that you have read the section directly after the gap and before it. Look for common clues that hint at an antonym rather than a synonym e.g. ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘whereas’, ‘as opposed to’. If adding a noun, check that it agrees with the verb i.e. does it need a plural ‘s’? When thinking about word choice, do think about who the text is aimed at.
Other clues would be looking for articles (a, an; the) – these would mostly likely be followed by a noun or if the noun is the next word after the gap, an adjective. For example, ‘a_______ student’ is likely to be an adjective because ‘student is a noun but ‘A _______ went to school’ is likely to be a noun because it comes after an article and before a noun and this sentence needs a subject. This is the simplest example of why students should read forwards and backwards before writing anything!
Tip #6 [For Parents]: Support smart practice as noted in tip #1!
Outside of study, your children will tell you all kinds of advice they’ve been given for surviving the PSLE period, e.g. get sufficient sleep, eat healthily, do exercise, talk to someone if you feel overwhelmed. They do however need support to actually do this. In fact, this is a stressful period for parents too, getting sufficient sleep etc is something we would all benefit from. In short, 15 minutes of shooting hoops (or whatever you enjoy doing) with dad is good for everyone!