After many students were left distraught over the PSLE papers last week, parents have become increasing concerned about their mental health and wellbeing. It seems the PSLE math questions were too much for students, so much so that many of them came home dejected and tearyeyed.
To hear more about the difficulty of the two PSLE math papers, theAsianparent reached out to local parents to gauge what their children are going through.
Parents Concerned That PSLE 2021 Was Too Difficult, Particularly The Math Questions
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Given how tough the PSLE math questions were, dad Mark Tan* shared that his son was tearing up and didn’t even want to talk. His son only opened up about to say that the paper was “very hard.”
Another distressed dad tells theAsianparent, “I have totally given up on MOE and realised that I need to take matters into my own hands. The system and journey will only bring more stress, demoralization [and] depression to my kids.”
“The test papers for math and science were totally ridiculous as if they are looking for Albert Einstein,” he adds.
A mum who also noticed her child coming home dejected says, “Our kids are tagged or labelled through their grades. No joy in learning, no excitement. Just follow and do. They are conditioned how to answer questions in a certain style and formula.”
“The kids go through emotional and mental abuse by our education system, these 2 days of exam papers has proven how the education system has failed to educate our kids,” she added.
One of the parents also hoped that MOE would limit the number of challenging questions they set. While she understands the challenging questions may be set to “sieve out” the brighter student, she hopes this would still be considered.
“They should take care of the mental health of the majority of the normal students. With so [many] difficult papers in [a] row, this will cause low morale (to the students),” the mum shares.
Is The Entire Education System Too Hard On Our Kids?
Image source: iStock
In addition to the way PSLE papers affected their kids, parents also voiced their opinions about Singapore’s education system.
In response to pointing the biggest challenge the national exams has brought about, one parent tells us, “Our kids are not given [an] opportunity to develop critical thinking and strategic thinking in our education system.”
Noel Rodrigues, another parent, added, “I strongly believe that PSLE, started in 1960 by then Education Minister, is ridiculously outdated and plausibly counterproductive. Singapore is the last remaining advanced economy to hold a competitive national examination at the tender age of 12.”
“Malaysia has removed it early this year. South Korea has also abolished their version of PSLE. And in Nordic countries, touted as the best education system in the world as well as in reducing social inequalities, ranking 12yearolds into specific educational path is downright criminal (they only start matriculation before higher education),” Mr Noel told theAsianparent.
“Our education system has barely changed in 60 years. Essential subjects such as coding, financial management and lateral thinking aren’t taught in local schools. Which, in effect, breeds a kid into an unequipped adult. In short, our education system needs to be turned inside out. It’s not going to be pretty as many industries (such as tuition centres, examinations boards, teachers, etc) would be disrupted,” he concluded.
With prolonged homebased learning, another concerned parent, Alvin Wang* said, “Their learning journey was disrupted massively and it has been a rollercoaster ride these two years, and to be thrown into a new scoring system is bad enough, then piled on with one of the toughest PSLE exam papers is just appalling.”
Encouragement And Support Given To Students Who Are Broken Up About PSLE Exams
Despite his concern for his son, a local dad made sure to tell his son that he was proud of him “to have stood up to that paper no matter what.” He reassured his son, “We live another day.”
Image from iStock
The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board also recently spoke with The Straits Times and said, “All examinations have a range of questions with varying difficulty that cater to the wide range of abilities of our students.”
“We would like to encourage all students to stay the course and be reassured that having done their best, there will be multiple pathways of success,” they added in their response to ST.
20 Common Types of PSLE Math Questions
In the world of primary education in Singapore, the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) Math paper is known for its complexity and diversity. One of the key challenges students face in this examination is dealing with various types of questions.
Among these, the concept of “PSLE Math Questions” is prevalent and often forms a substantial part of the exam. In this article, we will delve into common types of PSLE Math questions and provide strategies for success.
1. Remainder Concept (Branching)
One of the fundamental concepts in PSLE Math is dealing with remainders, frequently found in Fractions and Percentage questions.
Image from Jimmy Maths
When confronted with the keyword “remainder,” consider using the “Branching” or “Model Drawing” method. Let’s illustrate this with an example:
John spent 3/5 of his money on books and 1/3 of the remainder on a wallet. If John had $16 left, how much did he have at first?
Image from Jimmy Maths
 Fraction of Money Left = 2/3 × 2/5 = 4/15
 4 units = $16
 15 units = $16 ÷ 4 × 15 = $60 (Answer)
2. Equal Fractions Concept
Another frequently tested concept involves equal fractions. To tackle such questions, make the numerators the same and compare the denominators. Let’s explore this with an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
There are 836 students in a school. 7/10 of the boys and 7/8 of the girls take the bus to school. The number of boys who do not take the bus is twice the number of girls who do not take the bus. How many girls do not take the bus?

Step 1: Find the fractions of boys and girls who do not take the bus
 Boys → 1 – 7/10 = 3/10
 Girls → 1 – 7/8 = 1/8

Step 2: Compare the boys and girls who do not take the bus
 3/10 of boys = 2 × 1/8 of girls (The number of boys who do not take the bus is twice the number of girls who do not take the bus)
 3/10 of boys = 1/4 of girls

Step 3: Make the numerators the same

Step 4: Compare the denominators
 Boys : Girls = 10 : 12 = 5 : 6

Step 5: Find the total number of units and equate it to the total boys and girls

Step 6: Find 1 unit

Step 7: Find the total number of girls

Step 8: Find the girls who do not take the bus
 1/8 × 456 = 57 girls (Answer)
3. More Than, Less Than, As Many As
In Whole Number or Fractions questions, the use of model drawing is highly effective when encountering terms like “more than,” “less than,” or “as many as.” It simplifies comparisons.
Image from Jimmy Maths
4. Constant Part Concept
In Ratio questions, the Constant Part Concept is a common theme. Identifying the parts that remain constant and making them equal in both ratios is key. Here’s an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
Ali and Billy have money in the ratio of 5 : 6. After Billy spent $16, the ratio became 3 : 2. How much money does Billy have in the end?

Step 1: Make the ratio for Ali the same
 Before: A : B = 5 : 6 = 15 : 18
 After: A : B = 3 : 2 = 15 : 10

Step 2: Find the difference between Billy’s starting amount and ending amount

Step 3: Find 1 unit

Step 4: Find the amount for Billy in the end
5. Constant Total Concept
When dealing with “Internal Transfer” questions, remember that the total remains the same. Apply this concept when encountering such PSLE Math questions. Here’s an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
Ali and Billy have money in the ratio of 5 : 4. After Ali gave Billy $20, they have an equal amount of money. How much money does Billy have in the end?

Step 1: Make the total for Ali and Billy the same
 Before: A : B : Total = 5 : 4 : 9 = 10 : 8 : 18
 After: A : B : Total = 1 : 1 : 2 = 9 : 9 : 18

Step 2: Find the difference between Ali’s starting amount and ending amount

Step 3: Find 1 unit

Step 4: Find Billy’s amount in the end
6. Constant Difference Concept
When dealing with agerelated questions, the age difference between two people remains the same. Here’s an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
The ages of Ali and Billy are in the ratio of 4 : 7. In 3 years’ time, their ages will be in the ratio of 3 : 5. How old is Billy now?

Step 1: Make the difference for Ali and Billy the same
 Before: A : B : Difference = 4 : 7 : 3 = 8 : 14 : 6
 After: A : B : Difference = 3 : 5 : 2 = 9 : 15 : 6

Step 2: Find the difference between Ali’s starting age and final age

Step 3: Find 1 unit

Step 4: Find Billy’s age now
 14 units = 42 years old (Answer)
7. Everything Changed Concept (Units and Parts)
This is a more challenging type of PSLE Math question where both sides of the ratio change by different amounts. The “Units and Parts” method is recommended to solve these questions. Here’s an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
The ratio of Ali’s money to Billy’s money was 2 : 1. After Ali saved another $60 and Billy spent $150, the ratio became 4 : 1. How much money did Ali have at first?

Step 1: Write down the starting ratio and apply the changes.
 A : B = 2u : 1u + 60 : – 150
 2u + 60 : 1u – 150

Step 2: Compare the final units with the final ratio.
 A : B = 2u + 60 : 1u – 150 = 4 : 1

Step 3: Crossmultiply the final units with the final ratio
 1 × (2u + 60) = 4 × (1u – 150)
 2u + 60 = 4u – 600

Step 4: Solve for 1 unit
 4u – 2u = 600 + 60
 2u = $660 (Answer)
8. PartWhole Concept
Understanding the relationship between the “part” and the “whole” is crucial in solving PartWhole Concept questions. Here’s an example:
Kelly spent 1/3 of her money on 5 pens and 11 erasers. The cost of each pen is 3 times the cost of each eraser. She bought some more pens with 3/4 of her remaining money. How many pens did she buy altogether?

Step 1: Write down the ratio of the cost of pen : eraser

Step 2: Find the fraction spent on the extra pens
 1 – 1/3 = 2/3 (Remainder)
 3/4 × 2/3 = 1/2 (Fraction spent on extra pens)

Step 3: Find the total cost of 5 pens and 11 erasers
 5 × 3u + 11 × u = 26u (Total cost of 5 pens and 11 erasers)

Step 4: Find the total amount of money in terms of units
 26u × 3 = 78u (Total amount of money)

Step 5: Find the total cost of the extra pens
 1/2 × 78u = 39u (Total cost of extra pens)

Step 6: Find the number of extra pens

Step 7: Find the total number of pens
 13 + 5 = 18 pens (Answer)
9. Excess and Shortage Concept
Excess and Shortage questions often appear in PSLE Math exams and can be challenging. Let’s tackle them with a method to ease the process:
Tom packed 5 balls into each bag and found that he had 8 balls left over. If he packed 7 balls into each bag, he would need another 4 more balls. a) How many bags did he have? b) How many balls did he have altogether?

Step 1: Find the difference in the number of balls in each bag

Step 2: Find the total difference of the balls in the bags of 5 and bags of 8

Step 3: Find the total number of bags
 12 ÷ 2 = 6 bags (Answer for a)

Step 5: Find the total number of balls
 6 × 5 + 8 = 38
 Or
 6 × 7 – 4 = 38 balls (Answer for b)
10. Gap and Difference Concept
Questions involving gap and difference require you to find the difference and use it to solve the question:
Ali and John went on a trip together with the same amount of money. Ali spent $8 every day, and John spent $5 every day. Ali had $12 in the end while John had $24 in the end. How much did each person have at first?

Step 1: Find the difference in the end

Step 2: Find the difference for each day

Step 3: Find the number of days

Step 4: Find the money each of them had at first
 4 × $8 + $12 = $44
 or 4 × $5 + $24 = $44 (Answer)
11. Grouping Concept
Understanding the Grouping Concept is essential for solving various PSLE Math questions. This concept involves grouping items together and finding the total number of groups. Let’s explore this with an example:
Mark bought an equal number of shorts and shirts for $100. A shirt cost $8, and each pair of shorts cost $12. How much did he spend on the shirts?

Step 1: Group 1 shirt and 1 pair of shorts

Step 2: Find the number of groups

Step 3: Find the amount spent on the shirts
12. Number x Value Concept
The Number x Value Concept involves multiplying the number of units by the value of each unit to find the total value of one group. From there, you can determine the total number of groups. Let’s illustrate this with an example:
The ratio of the number of 50 cents coins to 1 dollar coin is 3 : 1. The total value of the coins is $12.50. How many coins are there in total?

Step 1: Write down the ratio of 50 cents to $1

Step 2: Group three 50 cents coins and one $1 coin into 1 group
 3 × $0.50 = $1.50
 1 × $1 = $1

Step 3: Find the total value of 1 group

Step 4: Find the number of groups

Step 5: Find the total number of coins
 5 × 4 = 20 coins (Answer)
13. Guess and Check / Assumption Concept
The Assumption Concept is a more efficient method compared to guess and check. It involves making assumptions and adjusting them as needed to arrive at the correct answer. Let’s apply this concept to a question:
Miss Lee bought some pencils for her class of 8 students. Each girl received 5 pencils, and each boy received 2 pencils. She bought a total of 22 pencils. How many boys were there in the class?

Step 1: Start with an assumption (You can start with girls or boys).
 Suppose there are 8 girls.

Step 2: Find the total number of pencils

Step 3: Change your assumption
 Suppose there are 7 girls and 1 boy.

Step 4: Find the total number of pencils

Step 5: Spot the pattern
 40 – 37 = 3 (When the boys increase by 1, the total pencils decrease by 3)

Step 6: Find the total difference

Step 7: Find the number of boys

Check your answer!
 Number of girls = 8 – 6 = 2
 Total pencils = 2 × 5 + 6 × 2 = 22 (Correct)
14. Working Backwards Concept
Working Backwards questions involve finding the starting value when given the final value. Let’s solve a Working Backwards question:
A bus left an interchange carrying some passengers with it. At the first stop, 1/4 of the people in it alighted, and 5 people boarded it. At the 2nd stop, 1/2 of the people in it alighted, and 20 people boarded the bus. When it left the 2nd stop, there were 60 passengers in it. How many passengers were there in the bus when it left the interchange?
15. Simultaneous Equations Concept
In Simultaneous Equations questions, you need to form two equations to solve for two unknowns. Let’s solve an example:
Image from Jimmy Maths
Amy and Billy had a total of $400. Amy spent 1/4 of her sum, and Billy spent 2/5 of his. They then had a total of $255 left. How much did Amy spend?

Step 1: Let Amy’s money be 4 units, Billy’s money be 5 parts

Step 2: Form a first equation using their total amount of money at first
 4u + 5p = $400 (Equation 1)

Step 3: Find the amount of money Amy and Billy have left
 A –> 4u – u = 3u
 B –> 5p – 2p = 3p

Step 4: Form a second equation using their total amount of money left

Step 5: Simplify the second equation to make the number of units the same as the first equation
 3u + 3p = $255
 u + p = $85 (Divide every term by 3)
 4u + 4p = $340 (Multiply every term by 4) (Equation 2)

Step 6: Use the first equation minus the second equation to find 1 part
 4u + 5p = $400
 – (4u + 4p = $340)
 –> 1p = $400 – $340 = $60

Step 7: Find 1 unit
16. Double If Concept
The Double If Concept involves considering two scenarios (two “ifs”) in a question. It can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can tackle it effectively. Let’s solve a Double If question:
A farmer has some chickens and ducks. If he sells 2 chickens and 3 ducks every day, there will be 50 chickens left when all the ducks have been sold. If he sells 3 chickens and 2 ducks every day, there will be 25 chickens left when all the ducks have been sold. a) How many ducks are there? b) How many chickens are there?

Step 1: Write down the selling ratio for both cases
 Case 1: Chicken : Duck = 2u : 3u
 Case 2: Chicken : Duck = 3u : 2u

Step 2: Make the ratio of ducks the same as all the ducks are sold out in both cases.
 Case 1 (Times 2 to both sides)
 Chicken : Duck = 2u : 3u = 4u : 6u
 Case 2 (Times 3 to both sides)
 Chicken : Duck = 3u : 2u = 9u : 6u

Step 3: Form an equation using the chickens left

Step 4: Find 1 unit

Step 5: Find the total ducks

Step 6: Find the total chickens
 5u × 4 + 50 = 70 chickens
 Or
 5u × 9 + 25 = 70 chickens
17. Equal Stage
Equal Stage questions involve situations where items are equal at the beginning or reach an equal stage during a process. You can use the “Model Drawing” method to solve such questions. Let’s explore this concept with an example:
Helen and Ivan had the same number of coins. Helen had some 50cent coins and 64 20cent coins. Her coins had a total mass of 1.134 kg. Ivan had some 50cent coins and 104 20cent coins. a) Who had more money and how much more? b) Given that a 50cent coin is 2.7 g heavier than a 20cent coin, what is the mass of Ivan’s coins in kilograms?
Number of gaps between the 1st and the 13th drinking stations = 12 Time taken to run the distance between 2 adjacent drinking stations = 48 ÷ 12 = 4 min Number of gaps he would have run in 120 min = 120 ÷ 4 = 30 30 + 1 = 31 (Ans)
19. Repeated Identity
Repeated Identity involves one of the items being repeated in the question. Your child needs to identify it and use the Ratio method to make it the same. Let’s solve a Repeated Identity question:
The number of adults to the number of children in a room is 5 : 6. There are twice as many boys as girls in the room. If there are 10 more adults than boys, how many people are there inside the room?
Adults : Children = 5 : 6 Boys : Girls : Children = 2 : 1 : 3 = 4 : 2 : 6 (Make the children the same) 5u – 4u = 1u 1u = 10 11u = 110 (Answer)
20. Replacement
The Replacement concept involves replacing one object with another object to solve the question. Let’s solve a Replacement question:
A school bus can either sit 24 adults or 36 children. If it already has 12 adults on the bus, how many more children can it sit?
Adults : Children = 24 : 36 = 2 : 3 = 12 : 18 By replacing the adults with children, there are 18 children on the bus. 36 – 18 = 18 (Answer)
These are some common PSLE Math concepts and problemsolving methods that can help you excel in your math exams. Make sure to practice these techniques to become more confident in solving a wide range of math problems. Good luck with your studies!
*Actual names of some parents have not been disclosed on request of anonymity.
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