Coping Without Tuition—When A Child Is In The Top Class

Some of us may be curious about the challenges, if any, faced by parents whose children are in high-ability classes. Is it more stressful because one’s child is surrounded by high scorers, or less stressful because work is a breeze for them?

 We spoke to mum-of-two Florence, whose eldest daughter, aged 10, is in a top class at a popular school. To date, her daughter has managed to keep up with her schoolwork, and tuition is kept in mind only as a last-resort option. As Florence puts it, the journey is “not without heartaches and struggles,” but she prefers to “keep learning in-house rather than pay hefty sums for tuition.” Below, she shares her daughter’s study routine with us, and recommends her favourite learning resources.

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How did you choose your daughters’ school?
I chose the school mainly because I am an “old girl.” However, it was also because I felt it is a good school that provides a holistic education. This school focuses not just on results, but also on the spiritual, emotional, and social development of the students. I had a wonderful time when I was in the school, and as I am a Christian, I value the Christian environment that the school provides; it’s a place where my daughters can grow stronger in our faith. 

On average, how are your 10-year-old’s grades?
Her grades are around 90%. The results of her four subjects fluctuate slightly but work out to be fairly equal. So she might score higher in Maths and Chinese for one exam, but do better in English and Science for another. 

Was she always able to cope with her work, or did you decide against tuition for other reasons?
So far, she seems able to cope, and up to this stage, I am still able to help her in her subjects. I do monitor her progress closely, and think I might send her for extra classes if her results warrant it. But as long as she is doing fine, I prefer to keep learning in-house rather than pay hefty sums for tuition. Also, since I have been the one working with her, I have a good idea of what she is weak at and we focus more on those areas. 

Do you (or does she) feel any stress about being in the top class?
There is definitely some stress involved, because all the girls are extremely clever and many of them get very good results. I know she hopes her results will allow her to remain in the top class so that she can be with her friends. I try not to give her too much pressure as long as she is doing her best. I am happy if she is able to keep up generally, and have no expectations for her to top the class.

Does she attend any enrichment classes?
At present, her enrichment classes, such as piano and ballet, are not related to schoolwork. The only schoolwork-related enrichment class she has taken is English phonics, which was during her kindergarten years. I strongly believe in that as it sets a very good foundation. That’s why I had her younger sister go through the same route as well.

How do you help her with her schoolwork?
On normal school days, I don’t spend much time helping her. Her schedule is tight because of her enrichment activities, so she only has time to finish her homework from school. I would say at most, she spends one to two hours a week on revision beyond schoolwork. Her main revision tends to start close to the exams, which is not ideal. I’m trying to get her to revise her work on a more regular basis. 

How do you set exam targets for her?
My target is for her to get around 90% for all her subjects and she is aware of this. We do not aim for full marks, although that would be a welcome bonus! When the target is not met, I will evaluate the situation and we will give the “weaker” subject more attention. If she does exceptionally well, we will praise her and sometimes get her a gift as a reward.

How will you encourage her to grow into an independent learner?
As it is, she is independent when it comes to her homework and will complete it without much prompting or supervision. Going forward, I hope to encourage her to plan her own revision schedule, so that she can gradually study on her own with less supervision from me. 

 Could you share her study routine with us?
Since she doesn’t have a tutor or attend any subject-based enrichment classes, her revision mainly consists of going through assessment books. I get her to work on various books for each subject—I will look through the books and write down which unit/pages she needs to do, and when. For revision during the lead-up to exams, I will usually focus on two subjects each day. So perhaps English and Maths on one day, alternating with Science and Chinese the next day, and the cycle repeats. This way, she covers all the examinable topics by going through an average of three assessment books for each subject. The good thing is that she has always been co-operative and will complete what I set for her. 

Are there any assessment books that you particularly like?
Below are some of the assessment books that I find useful. After listing them down, I realise I am a fan of EPH!

English
Challenging English 4-in-1 (EPH)
We use this as a basic assessment book for practice. It is broad-based and covers the various aspects of an English exam paper. I like that it also includes pictures for composition practice.

 Conquer Series (Singapore Asia Publishers/teachers@work)

They have individual books for grammar, vocabulary, editing, and so on. These are good for more detailed and repetitive practice for each area.

Chinese
华文练习方程式 (Effective Learning Formula Through Topical Chinese Practice, EPH)

This provides for unit-by-unit practice. I like the layout (fairly spacious) and typeface (simple and not too small).

每课练习 (Score In Chinese, EPH)

I like that at the start of each unit, the table of new characters that the student needs to know under that unit is included. This is convenient for reference purposes.

Maths
Andrew Er’s Maths Companion (EPH)

We use this as a basic assessment book for topic-by-topic practice. The layout is spacious and the questions provide a good coverage of the topic. This is usually the first assessment book that my daughter works on before moving on to other books for additional practice.

How to Improve Your Mathematics and Challenging 4-in-1 Maths (EPH)

These two titles are good for additional in-depth practice.

Conquer Problem Sums (onSponge)

This book provides detailed coverage of all the different types of problem sums under each topic that the student might encounter. There are good explanations and examples for each type of problem sum. It seems to be available only at selected school bookstores, or you can purchase it directly from the onSponge website.

Science
Comprehensive Science Guide (EPH)

This provides broad-based coverage of each topic. The layout is spacious and the text is hence easy to read. It covers the key points and has good broad summaries. There are also practice questions at the end of each topic.

Everything You Need to Know About Science (EPH)

This is good for more in-depth study. The fonts are nicely coloured and there is a lot of detailed information under each topic. There is also a practice section at the end of each topic.

Science Weekly Revision (EPH)

There are quite a few practice papers under each topic so it provides more detailed coverage.

Science Thematic Tests (EPH)

There are summaries in table form at the start of each broad topic so it gives an overview for quick reference. This is good for practice, for further reinforcement.

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