A teacher's tips to ace the PSLE oral examination - Part 1, reading component

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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 reading component!

The Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) oral examinations are set to begin on the 17th of this month. As mums, I can understand your proclivity for worrying and possibly wanting to take the examinations on your child’s behalf, but we all know that no amount of worrying is going to help. So instead, here are some useful tips to ace the PSLE oral examination.

This is the first instalment of our two-part guide to the PSLE oral examination. Today’s article covers general tips and the reading component and tomorrow’s article touches on the spoken interaction component. 

Now, before we go into the actual examination strategies, let’s look at some tips to ace the PSLE oral examination even before your child starts talking. I’m talking about making a good impression!

Making a good impression

While of course no one is going to deduct your marks for appearing sloppy or not being the most well-mannered student, we all know that impressions make a big difference. It is a momentous occasion, so make your mark.

The examiners are human beings and as much as it sounds terrible to say this, if you appear credible, like a hardworking student who always does your best, they might just subconsciously overlook that word you mispronounced.

Moreover, in case you didn’t already know, the oral examiners are none other than your local primary school teachers. They are not some high-ranking officials from the examination board whose job is only to examine students.

Such is their predicament – they are sitting in an examination hall, examining one student after another, and at the back of their heads they still have to worry about all their other duties as teachers. It doesn’t help that the oral examination falls during the busy common test period.

So of the many tips to ace the PSLE oral examination, here’s the first. Impressions count. Never underestimate the importance of making a proper first impression. You need to ‘sell’ yourself to the examiner and make her want to listen to you. How do you do that?

tips to ace the PSLE oral examination

Dress to impress! Put on that tie.

  • For the boys – get a haircut, unruly hair is a complete no go. For the girls, please make sure your hair is neat as no one wants to talk to you when your bangs are covering half of your eyes.
  • Put on an immaculate uniform – clean, ironed, wear your school tie even, and forget about those shoes that won the dirtiest school shoe record.
  • The oral exam day might be a good day to avoid getting all sweaty in the basketball court. I repeat, please don’t appear for the examination smelling terrible!
  • When your turn comes, smile, be polite and greet the examiners.
  • Ask for permission before you sit.
  • Please do not drag the chair!

Examination Format

Before we go into the tips to ace the PLSE oral examination, it’s important that you understand the examination format. This will help you to work with your child to prepare for the exam.

The Ministry of Education website has the full examination format, complete with all the details that you need about the questions and marks. Please read through all of it carefully to get an in-depth understanding of what your child is in for.

In summary, the examination makes up 15% of their final grade, and has two components – Reading aloud as well as a stimulus-based conversation. The reading component carries 10 marks while the conversation carries 20.

In this article, I provide you with tips on how to ace the PSLE oral examinations, focusing on the reading aspect. I’ll be talking about the spoken interaction component in a separate article. 

General tips for reading aloud

Before we go any further, here’s possibly the most important of all tips to ace the PSLE oral examination.

Communicate with clarity and precision.

This applies to both the reading and spoken interaction. Articulate your words clearly, pronounce your words well, and please, do not mumble!

tips to ace the PSLE oral examination

We need to work towards making our children confident readers.

Also, confidence is key. Even if you don’t understand half the passage that you are reading, just sound like all the words in the passage are part of your vocabulary. When you say what you say with confidence and conviction, it’s more than half the battle won. Trust me on this.

Based on MOE’s syllabus, the Assessment objectives of the reading component are as follows:

  1. Read with good pronunciation, clear articulation and appropriate intonation in order to convey the information, ideas and feelings in the passage
  2. Produce a well-paced, fluent reading of a passage

What does this all mean? Let me explain in further detail.

Articulation 

People often use the terms ‘articulation’ and ‘pronunciation’ interchangeably. They aren’t the same. Articulation specifically refers to the formation of clear and distinct sounds in speech. It focuses on making individual sounds within the word.

Here are some of the things that examiners look out for when it comes to articulation.

Back consonants

  • Examples – the /s/ at the end of books, the /t/ at the end of shot, and the /k/ at the end of back
  • Students often fail to stress on these end consonants and leave the words hanging

Dental Fricatives

  • These are known as /th/ sounds
  • Singaporeans often pronounce /th/ as /d/ or /f/,
  • ‘mother’ and ‘bother’ sound like ‘moder’ or ‘boder’
  • ‘with’ and ‘teeth’ sound like ‘wif’ and ‘teef’

This is a very common trait among Singaporeans so please work with your child to correct this. Help them by demonstrating a slightly exaggerated version of how your tongue should be right below your front two teeth when making the ‘th’ sound. 

It takes time and practice to get this right. Get your children to stand in front of the mirror and practice the ‘th’ sound.

tips to ace the PSLE oral examination

Children need to constantly practise their ‘th’ sounds to get them right.

Long and short vowels

Imagine this example. Miss World just got crowned and expresses her deep desire for ‘world peace’. The only problem is that she pronounced peace with a short vowel and ended up sounding like she was advocating ‘world piss’.

This is an example I always give my students when explaining the importance of distinguishing between the long and short vowel sounds. It’s something that parents should emphasise as well.

See, when you pronounce ‘beach’ or ‘can’t’ with a short vowel (a, e, i, o, u sounds), you end up saying a completely different word, and might be in some trouble there!

Other common examples include ‘duck and ‘dark’, ‘ship and sheep’ and ‘sit and seat’. When the word sounds different and becomes another word altogether, the student will be penalised!

Tricky words / endings

I’m sure you know of someone or the other who says ‘flim’ instead of ‘film’, or ‘hamsome’ instead of ‘handsome’. This is something you need to help your children to be wary of.

Other easily confused words are words that have an /s/ after a /t/, for example, ‘firsts’, or words that have an /s/ before a /p/, for example grasp, which is often mispronounced as ‘graps’.

The dark /l/ sound

This is another common problem among speakers of Singaporean English. The dark /l/ is the ‘l’ at the end of the word after a vowel sound, for example, ‘pull’, ‘full’ and ‘ball’.

Singaporeans have a tendency to pronounce these words either with an ‘r’ sound (pur) or a w sound, (puw).

The correct way to pronounce the dark /l/ : the tongue tip should contact the ridge right behind the upper teeth.

Intonation

No one is going to enjoy listening to a monotonous reading of the passage. Among other tips to ace the PSLE examination, is the consideration of how the exam is taking place.

Singaporean women have affairs

It’s torture to listen to someone reading monotonously.

As mentioned earlier, the examiners are sitting through many students and listening to the same passage over and over again. Trust me when I say they are doing all that they can to avoid falling asleep. And if you child reads in a completely flat tone, it’s not going to help

Having said that, it is equally bad, if not worse than a monotonous reading if a child reads in a completely sing-song manner, and raising and dropping their tone and volume without any regard to the words in the passage. Or some have a habit of raising their intonation mid sentence and dropping it at the end, or following some kind of predictable pattern.

Explain to your child how to choose specific words to stress on – such as adjectives (descriptive words), feelings, or active verbs (action words).

They should also change their pitch and voice when there are quotation marks and direct speech in the passage.

Remember – they are there to convey the ideas, information and feelings in the passage.

Here’s an additional tip – they usually include the context of the passage, such as, this was a phone conversation, or news that was read out etc. Teach your child how to make sense of the context and how to read according to the context.

Pace and fluency

Here are some tips to ace the PSLE oral examinations by reading like a pro. Do emphasise to your children that reading too fast is never a good thing. Some children assume that reading quickly is a sign of confidence. No!

tips to ace the PSLE oral examination

It is extremely important to read at an appropriate pace.

Reading too fast causes them to lack clarity, trip over their words or even miss out words. Reading too slowly is a torture for the examiners.

Striking a balance and reading at the right pace is key. Remember to pause at the full stops, commas and before connecting words.

If a sentence is too long, it’s important to have pauses at appropriate places. Don’t try to read it in one breath for that’s almost impossible.

Also, do remind your child not stop after every word, or between words and read in a manner that ‘chops’ the sentence up. It is not pleasing to the ear. 

Volume

Many students overlook the importance of reading audibly. Some even think that if they read softly, the examiner might overlook their mistakes. This is a terrible misconception for when a student reads too softly, it speaks volumes of their confidence. The irony, yes I know.

Always read at an appropriate volume and don’t be shy to increase or decrease your volume when needed.

There you go mums, a compilation of tips for your children to ace the PSLE oral examination, reading component. On a concluding note, you might want to remind your children that if they they feel self-conscious because they don’t read the way they usually speak, that’s ok.

Tell them not to be shy for chances are, they are never going to see the examiner again anyway!

Do look out for tomorrow’s article for tips on how to ace the PSLE oral examination – spoken component.