Ask The Learning Lab: All About Exam Prep

Have you wondered if you’re helping your child to prepare for the exams in the most effective or efficient way? We brought our questions about revision to Phua Kai Ying, an academic director at The Learning Lab. Read on for her advice.

49254439 - 10 year-old asian elementary schoolboy doing homework at home.

When exams are a month or two away, what should students focus on?

With the examinations coming so soon, my usual advice to students would be to do time trials, be it at home, in school, or in enrichment classes. I always emphasize to students to practise the skills, topics, or concepts they will be tested on. If the exam involves solving word problems, you need to practise problem solving; if the exam involves writing an essay, you need to work on composition writing.

Preparing for an examination is like training for a marathon. It essentially lies in the “practice makes perfect” arena. How did Joseph Schooling manage to win an Olympic gold medal for Singapore? Through sheer hard work and determination!

Another piece of advice would be to review one’s past mistakes. Ask yourself which topics or areas you are particularly weak in and review the worksheets you have on those topics. When I say review, this includes re-doing the questions—just looking at the solutions or workings won’t help you practise them.

Any little-known or surprising revision tips to share?

Many revision tips can be found online, but I would say they are not little known or surprising. Constant practice leading up to the exams and sufficient rest on the eve of the big day would be key.

How much time should primary school students spend on revision every day, given their long hours in school and homework load?

There is no magic number to share as this would vary from student to student. I would prefer to determine that based on the student’s level of preparedness, while taking into account his or her stress level.

Looking at it from another angle, given that there are only 24 hours a day, allowing for eight hours of sleep, three hours for meals, and time spent in school, at CCA, and at enrichment classes, some of the remaining time can be spent on revision.

More important, children need breaks—set time aside for leisure and relaxation to refresh their minds.

Could you recommend a daily work plan for P6 students in the final month?

P6 is a crucial year where students have to sit for their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Subtracting time spent in school and enrichment classes, as well as time for sleeping and eating, students should try to spend two to three hours per day doing self-revision.

Parents would know their children best, and ultimately, I would re-emphasize that there is no magic number that works for all students.

Does using mnemonics contribute to learning at all, in your opinion? Should students rely on this or avoid it?

A strong grasp of the fundamental concepts for the various subjects would be the most important for students to internalise and understand what they have been learning.

Depending on the subject, some students may find mnemonics useful when recalling longer lists of factual information. I would thus not advise students to avoid it altogether, but to use it to supplement their learning.

What’s your view on making summaries and notes? Would you recommend it?

Summarising material via note taking is a skill that promotes greater comprehension. When students take any piece of information and put it in their own words, it helps them to remember and understand it better.

What about mind mapping?

It is recommended that during the revision period, students spend time creating their own mind maps that summarise all the key concepts, formulas, and commonly tested questions onto a piece of paper. Regardless of whether it is via a mind map or note taking, it is important for students to put pen to paper and not solely read through their textbooks and past practice papers.

Many parents will ask their kids to work on practice papers—would you say this is the best way to revise?

Formative assessment is one of the most effective ways to revise. Henry L. Roediger III, a cognitive psychologist at Washington University, studies how the brain stores and retrieves memories. He realised that in order for students to memorise information, they should attempt to retrieve that information from their own memories, rather than review the materials repeatedly from notes.

Testing oneself also helps students to discover what they do or do not know. I would recommend parents to assign exam papers or mini quizzes to their kids at home. It is also equally important to provide their kids with feedback after the formative assessment.