A teacher’s tips to ace the PSLE oral examination – Part 2, conversation

The PSLE oral examinations are around the corner and many parents are unsure of how to go about preparing their children for it. Read on to arm yourself with knowledge on how to train your child to ace the stimulus-based conversation component!

The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) oral examinations are taking place on the 17th and 18th of this month. In an earlier article, we presented you with general tips as well as strategies to ace the reading component. In this article, we will take you through how to ace the PSLE oral examination, stimulus-based conversation component.

MOE’s Assessment Objectives

Before talking about how to ace the PSLE oral, let’s first get a good grasp on what exactly the ministry aims to achieve from the examination. For more information and the full examination format, refer to MOE’s website.

Based on MOE’s syllabus, the Assessment objectives (AO) of the stimulus-based conversation component are as follows:

AO3: Express personal opinions, ideas and experiences clearly and effectively in conversing with the examiner.

AO4: Speak fluently and with grammatical accuracy, using a range of appropriate vocabulary and structures.

Let’s examine these objectives in further detail.

AO1: Expressing yourself clearly

If you want to know how to ace the PSLE oral, remember this one sentence that summarises pretty much all that you need to know:

Communicate with clarity and precision.

Say what you have to say clearly, and precisely, and you will do just fine. The first objective states that you should express opinions clearly and effectively. This means speaking clearly, at the right pace and at the right volume.

I’ve been on the other side of the table during an oral examination and I can assure you that it is nothing short of torture to listen to a student who is barely audible, or insists on having a conversation with the paper. They could have the best ideas, but if they fail to communicate these ideas with clarity, it’s as good as not having them.

As parents, you can help your children to ace the PSLE oral examination by instilling good practices when at home. Explain the implications of non-verbal communication and teach your children how to make eye contact and smile during a conversation. Make it a rule to not look down at gadgets while conversing with each other.

ace the PSLE oral examination

Teach your children the importance of eye-contact and body language during a conversation.

All too often, the current generation of children can confidently converse virtually but break into cold sweat when asked to have an actual conversation with someone!

The next step would be to ensure clarity of content. Some students have a tendency to talk in circles without ever answering the question. For example, you ask your child how her day was and she goes into a detailed narrative of how her arch nemesis was shamed by the teacher.

Does it answer your question? Kind of but not quite, so that means no. Train your children to hit the mark when they answer the question.

Here’s an example I always use in the classroom. When someone you are supposed to meet is waiting for you and calls to ask your whereabouts and you reply,

I’m in the cab.

Technically you answered the question but in all honesty, your answer doesn’t say much at all. You could well have just stepped into the cab and be 45 minutes away or you could be reaching in less than a minute. How is anyone supposed to make sense of such an answer?

Answering Effectively

If you want to ace the PSLE oral examination, be sure to answer in such a manner as to achieve the desired result. What’s the desired result? To impress the examiner of course!

Let me take this opportunity to dispel the myth that rambling on and on for a long time scores you brownie points. No, not at all! In fact, it is painful for the examiner. I had a student who spoke for a full 25 minutes and I was doing everything I could not to fall asleep or appear visibly bored.

It’s a lot like writing an essay. There is a recommended word limit of say, 500 words. Of course you don’t overtly get penalised for exceeding the word limit, but if another candidate can tell a story, as interesting and moving as yours, within the constraint of 500 words, who is more effective and who would I award more marks?

Having said that, please do not aim to speak for less than a minute than stare blankly at the examiner and end of with that infamous ‘so yah…’

ace the PSLE oral examination

Remind your child to engage the examiner in conversation for a reasonable duration and not to speak for a few seconds then stare blankly at the examiner.

Fluency and Grammatical Accuracy

The second objective states to speak fluently and with grammatical accuracy. Now, this is an important point to take note of, for students often lapse into Singlish, or non-standard English during the conversation.

This is because of their daily speech habits, which are difficult to break, or they are unable to ‘code-switch’ during the examination. And this is precisely why we should always encourage our children to speak properly.

Here’s a tip – prepare your children to ace the PSLE oral examination by having practice conversations at home. This can be over dinner, or while driving them to school. Ask them questions about a range of topics and guide them to think deeper and not just answer superficially.  

As they speak, correct them when they lapse into non-standard English. It is also crucial that you role model the correct use of language at home.

Sentence structures should also be accurate and that means that students should aim to speak as if they were writing. Conversational sentences that aren’t grammatically sound are not acceptable in the oral examination.

Remember mums and dads, speaking well is not just to ace the PSLE oral examination. The way that they speak becomes the way that they write as well. The way that they speak is going to form first impressions and take them through important interviews at a later stage. Communicate all of these to them and make it a point to constantly remind them about the importance of speaking well.

Appropriate Vocabulary.

Want to ace your PLSE oral examination? Then don’t keep using words like, good, bad, happy, sad, and nice. 

Let me share another example that I often use to illustrate the importance of using specific vocabulary.

Say you have dinner at an aspiring chef’s home. She asks you for comments and feedback about her food and you say,

Yes the food was good. It was nice.

What exactly does that mean? Was the food tasty? Was there the right amount of salt and pepper, sugar and spice? Was the presentation of the food appealing? Was the meat roasted to perfection?

ace the PSLE oral examination

Practise at home – get your children to describe their favourite food. Good and nice are not allowed!

It’s the kind of answer that doesn’t really say anything. So we must encourage children to speak in a more precise manner. You can do this in your daily conversations.

For example, when your child tells you he is very hungry, you can take the opportunity to introduce him to the word – famished.

Do exercise caution though. What you don’t want to do is get your child to blindly memorise big words and force them into his conversation without actually understanding the meaning.

Ever heard of malapropism? It can get quite hilarious!

Question types

Before you can train your child to ace the psle oral examination, you must know what to expect. During our time, we were made to describe a picture and then we went into a conversation.

But gone are the days of,

In the foreground of the picture, there is a girl who is crying. She is crying because she dropped her ice cream on the floor. I think she must like ice cream very much. 

In the far left of the picture, there is a boy who is helping a blind lady to cross the road. I can tell that she is blind because of the stick that she is using. The boy is doing a good deed.

No, the oral examination has changed to become one that is more purposeful. The pictures are usually a poster, advertisement, brochure or signage of some sort. It is merely a springboard for ideas to get the conversation rolling, thus the name – stimulus based conversation.

ace the PSLE oral examination

A poster like this could be used as the stimulus for the conversation.

Questions are usually in this order.

First question – directly linked to the stimulus

Subsequent questions – more towards the general topic of the question, so loosely but not directly related to the stimulus

It is really no longer about saying as much as you can about every tiny detail in the picture. It is about understanding the content and striking a meaningful conversation about the topic at hand.

 Tackling the question

  • During the 10 minute prep time, the student should be thinking about potential questions that the examiner could ask. Think of the topic related to the stimulus. Potential questions – Why would you attend this event? Would you enjoy this performance, why or why not? Why do you think the shopping mall is so crowded?
  • Elaborate your answers! Don’t stop after saying something general.
  • Use the 5 W 1 H to approach the topic / stimulus – who, what, where, when, why and how and to elaborate
  • Personal anecdotes and stories make your answer authentic, it’s your best bet to engage the examiner and stand out from stating the obvious that everyone else will be doing anyway

Here is a useful 3-step approach to answering the questions.

  1. State – state the answer / your opinion.
  2. Elaborate – Use examples, general knowledge, research, news articles that you remember to support your opinion
  3. Personal experiences – share your own experiences to further elaborate and leave your examiner with something to think about (if possible)

How can parents help?

We have covered the question types but if you really want to help your child to ace the PSLE oral examination, prepare them with vocabulary and ideas related to these common examination topics (the list is far from exhaustive)

  • Sports / Events
  • The Elderly
  • Bullying
  • Concerts / Performances / Festivals
  • Food
  • Healthcare
  • Transportation

There you go mums, a compilation of tips for your children to ace the PSLE oral examination, stimulus-based conversation reading component. Do prepare your children well!

RELATED: A teacher’s tips to ace the PSLE oral examination – Part 1, reading component