Help your Primary 4 child jump from 70% to 90% in Maths exams!

Wondering how to get 90 in Maths exam? Our expert reveals how a student improved from 70 marks in the mid-year exams to 90 marks in 5 months!

You received your Primary 4 child’s mid-year Maths exam results. He scored 70 out of 100 marks. Your jaws dropped. Your child has been scoring between eighty to ninety marks for his exams since Primary 3.

This is the first time his scores have gone below 80 marks.

How to get 90 in maths exam

A mental calculator pops up in your mind.

Primary 1 and 2: 90 to 100 marks
Primary 3: 80 to 90 marks
Primary 4: 70 marks
Primary 5: 60 marks?
Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE): 50 marks???


You remember that one of your friends had a child whose Maths exam scores dropped by 10 marks every year, from Primary 1 to PSLE.

“Marks drop like share prices every year,” she summed up with a sad tone in her voice.

Your heart starts to beat faster.Primary 4 is the year where students are ranked from first to last position in the level. The top eighty students are placed into two classes, followed by the next eighty students into the next two classes and so on and so forth.

Panic hits you like a brick. “What if my child gets into the last class?!”

Let’s start with something you can do for your Primary 4 child’s Math. Shift your child from 70 marks in the mid-year exams to 90 marks, in 5 months.

Impossible? Let me show you five simple ways using the case study below.

1. Assign one challenging word problem to be solved weekly

how to get 90 in maths exam

One of my students would solve Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) and Short Answer Questions (SAQ) correctly like a top student. For every ten MCQ, he would answer eight questions correct. For every ten SAQ, he would answer eight correctly as well.

During our lessons, I tested him with a couple of worksheets to see his ability level in math. These worksheets contained MCQ and word problems similar to the school workbook practices.

He hardly broke a sweat! He easily scored full marks for all questions. This was worrying. He needed to be stretched in his thinking to go up to 90 marks.

I assigned him one challenging problem per week.

The challenging problems from past year school papers would give him the stretch he needed for his score to go up to 90 marks. He would be forced to look deeper into the problems instead of just randomly drawing diagrams or plugging in numbers to solve the problem.

He was happy about solving challenging problems. After all, he only had to solve one per week!

2. Encourage your child to persevere in the face of challenges in solving the word problems

how to get 90 in maths exam

As expected, he would tell me at the start of each lesson how tough the problem was. He showed me his workings and diagrams to make sense of the challenging problems but ended up stuck.

“This is impossible!” he would grumble.

So, I:

  • encouraged him to persevere on so that he could find different ways to see the same
  • praised him for persevering even though he wasn’t able to solve the problem.
  •  allowed him to make mistakes in solving the challenging problems so that he could learn
    from his mistakes on what worked and what didn’t.
  • assured him that I valued his efforts to solve the challenging problems.

Encouragement is like fuel to the car. With it, you know you can reach your destination.

Your child is like the car. His or her fuel is encouragement. Encouragement keeps them going in the
face of challenges.

Encouragement tells them that you got their back. You will catch them like a safety net if they fail. He tried. Again and again. His workings were all over the place, with cancellation after cancellation of incorrect steps.

He was becoming more persistent in solving challenging problems. Persistence is key to solving
challenging word problems.

3. Let your child explain their workings

how to get 90 in maths exam

He had to explain his workings, whether right or wrong. This was to give him the chance to relate information in a way he understood, based on his past problem-solving experiences. Doing this regularly strengthened his decision-making and sequencing skills.

Like muscles, the more I let him explain, the better he got at understanding what the challenging problems were about. His diagrams began to represent the subtle information in the problems more

His confidence in solving challenging problems rose. In three weeks, he could explain to me how he used the subtle information in the challenging problems to solve them.

4. Draw diagrams clearly to represent key information in challenging problems correctly

He was drawing diagrams the size of an eraser for his challenging problems. The diagrams were so small he could hardly use them to refer and infer on.

‘6’ became a ‘5’. ‘5’ became an ‘8’. ‘2’ became the letter ‘z’. With the wrong information came the wrong answers.

I ‘ordered’ him to draw his diagrams as large as he could, taking half of the given space from his challenging problems. This was to help him see clearly the subtle information in his diagrams.

In less than two weeks, he was using the correct information for his workings instead of ‘his

5. Work calculations backwards to check for accuracy

how to get 90 in maths exam

When I looked at his workings, I noticed one thing. He was making calculation errors related to 6, 7, 8 and 9 times table in these questions.

These were taught in Primary 3. Why was he still making calculation errors in these manageable questions?

The worst part was, these errors were costing him 10 marks in his math exam.

There was one question where he calculated his working as shown below.
189 x 6 = 1128

I took a calculator to check his accuracy but didn’t tell him what the correct calculation was.

I told him to divide 1128 by 6 to see if he gets 189 in return. He divided the numbers and was surprised to see it got him a quotient of 188. He felt embarrassed.

I ‘ordered’ him to work his calculations backwards for every challenging problem he solved and write
them down in the space provided by the problems. This was to help him see clearly if his calculations
were accurate.

In one month, his times table errors were reduced from two in five word problems to one in ten word

In the following months leading to his year-end exams, the error rate dropped to one in every fifteen word problems.

He was very happy with his results! At the year-end exams, he got back his Maths exam papers.

He had scored 19.5 out of 20 marks for his five word problems. He lost 0.5 marks. He had forgotten to include the unit of measurement for one of his answers.

His calculation errors on the 6, 7, 8 and 9 times tables had disappeared! His total score was 92.5 out of 100 marks.

In 5 months, he had improved by 20 marks!


Let’s recap the 5 simple and effective ways to help your Primary 4 child jump from 70% to 90% or
more from the mid-year to the final year exams in 5 months!

  • Assign 1 challenging word problem to be solved weekly by your child
  • Encourage your child to make mistakes and learn from them
  • Let your child explain his workings
  • Let your child draw diagrams in the problems as big as the size of their palms
  • Let your child work calculations backwards to check for accuracy

*This article was contributed by Mr Cai Shaoyang, who has taught for 10 years as a Ministry of Education Education Officer for primary schools in English, Math and Science. He has also presented a research paper on the teaching and learning of decimals at the International Congress for Mathematical Education (ICME) conference, which is equivalent to the math version of the Olympics, in 2012 in Seoul. Click here to subscribe to his FREE newsletter for Maths tips.