Get Your Desired PSLE AL Score With This Effective Strategy

What’s the secret to a simpler, less stressful, and more effective PSLE preparation process, in the crucial months before the exam?

First-timer PSLE parents and experienced parents — at least those who have an interest in the science of learning — believe in the power of elimination, especially when time is running short.

As parents, the first thing you need to eliminate is excessive worry over the new PSLE Achievement Levels or ALs, so that you can stay focused on supporting your child during this period. Rest assured that exam preparation should not be too different from previous years, barring more school disruptions due to Covid-19. Regardless, it is pointless to fret over what one can’t control.

Here’s what else you and your child can aim to cut out during the final stretch of the PSLE journey.

Close gaps in learning

Knowing one’s weak spots is the first step to effective revision. Is there a topic that your child is struggling with? Is there an exam component that your child has consistently not scored well in, such as composition and oral? Are there particular types of questions where your child is always awarded less than the full mark? Does your child skip certain types of questions, especially one that tests a familiar skill in an unfamiliar way?

Together with your child, make a list of these issues, and then decide what can be fixed or improved in two months — you can’t solve everything, and you shouldn’t even try. After that, determine who will be the best person to help your child. Unless it’s a personal friend, most experienced tutors will not accept new students so close to the exam. However, many enrichment centres do offer “last minute” PSLE bootcamp sessions, and these days, such sessions are conducted online. Do seek help from your child’s school if you are at a loss. You can also read our post on hiring budget tutors if finances are a concern, or our guide on helping weaker students to tackle the PSLE.

For some parents, overseeing a child’s PSLE revision may be an unwanted burden. In fact, you might be wondering: what about independent study or embracing failure and learning from setbacks? You could reflect on your own experience — when did you discover how to be a better learner? Chances are, it was in adulthood, with the aid of books and learning gurus on the Internet. Wouldn’t you have appreciated a mentor guiding you through the learning process when you were younger? If you have the time and energy to spare, you can be that person for your child.

Use only effective revision techniques

You may have heard of the following study techniques:

    1. Highlighting/underlining
    2. Summarising
    3. Keyword mnemonics
    4. Using imagery
    5. Rereading
    6. Self-explanation (explaining learning materials to oneself, to improve understanding)
    7. Elaborative interrogation (asking “how” and “why” questions to develop an explanation for a concept)
    8. Practice testing
    9. Distributed practice (studying a topic with breaks in between; the length of the breaks could vary between hours and weeks, or longer)
    10. Interleaved practice (covering different subjects or topics in one study session)

Some of the above study methods are commonly used, and they may feel productive and comforting, but research has shown that the first five methods are generally less effective than methods 6–10. Your takeaway from this: don’t waste your child’s limited preparation time on making summary notes and rereading textbooks, but move straight into the active learning methods that will yield better gains. Working on a practice exam paper is the simplest way to combine two effective study methods: testing and interleaved practice.

During study sessions, minimise distractions

Apart from gadgets — which you can ask your children to put away — did you know that something as seemingly innocuous as background music could affect concentration? Many 12-year-olds have adopted the habit of listening to music as they work, but one theory about conventional music is that even when it plays in the background, it elicits an “anticipation response,” where we unconsciously try to predict where the melody (or song as a whole) might be headed. Or perhaps, we eagerly await a favourite chorus, or get caught up in lyrics that resonate. This leads to numerous distractions during study time, which should be eliminated. If music is a necessity, look for tunes that are practically indistinguishable from one another; on streaming services such as Spotify, such music is available on curated playlists to promote focus, relaxation, and sleep.

Be aware of common errors, in order to avoid them

It is easy to dismiss many mistakes as “careless mistakes,” but by doing this, your child doesn’t get a clear picture on what the mistake is, and why it occurred. For children who are fairly confident in their work, they can refer to our list of 15 mistakes to avoid making during the PSLE, and look over their schoolwork and practice papers to see if they are prone to these errors as well. If they have the bandwidth, they can experiment with colour coding their practice papers by mistake type, or finding their own ways to track mistakes and improvements. (Find out how savvy students use past-year papers to ace the exams.)

Knowing the strategies for checking exam papers can also help a student to save precious marks. For instance, one tip is that errors tend to lurk in the back pages of a paper, simply because a student tends to become more error-prone as fatigue sets in. The way to combat this is to practise time management leading up to the exam, in order to make sure that a student has a good 15 minutes or more for paper checking. You and your child can read our summary of checking techniques to spot pesky mistakes — by catching mistakes before a paper is submitted, your child could even be raising his/her AL grade.

Minimise stress, by thinking differently about the PSLE

The new PSLE system was created to reduce the emphasis on grades, so it would be counterproductive for parents to feel even more worried than ever.

Parents: you can choose to have faith in the good intentions of the system, be patient with teething issues, and do your bit to support the change. Remind yourself that the objective of the PSLE is not to champion top performers while leaving the rest to flounder. Instead, it is a placement exam designed to match students with a curriculum that best suits their learning abilities. Read our post on reducing anxiety about the new PSLE system, and see if it addresses your biggest concerns — we hope it does.

Want to connect with other parents, whose children are also sitting for the PSLE this year? Join the conversation on our 2021 PSLE Discussions and Strategies chat.