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How Savvy Students Use Past-Year Papers To Ace The Exams

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Is your child using past-year PSLE papers or school papers to prepare for the exams? Does it feel like your child is doing paper after paper, with no perceivable gains?

Past-year exam and test papers are a useful revision tool, but only if one has a plan. For your child’s sake, prioritise quality over quantity: completing a handful of exam papers — armed with a strategy for learning from mistakes — will be much more effective than working on many papers and tossing them all aside.

But first, you will need to know where to get practice exam papers. If your child is in Primary 6, you will probably be able to purchase PSLE practice papers through your child’s school, and at a discounted rate too. You can also check with your nearest Popular bookstore, or get papers from an online assessment book seller. PSLE exam practice books will typically contain three years’ worth of papers, and they will either be presented in full-paper form, or as a series of topic-based questions.

Apart from PSLE papers, some parents download free test papers for their children to work on at home. If you plan to download papers, don’t go overboard by selecting papers from many years back, as there have been syllabus changes. Busy parents can also google “exam paper delivery service” to find providers who will print and deliver papers from top schools to your home.

Already have practice papers on hand, especially papers that have been completed? Discuss the strategies below with your child and give them a try, so that your child’s efforts at completing the papers will not go to waste!

  1. Colour Code Each Question

Some parents ask their children to highlight challenging questions for future review. You can take this one step further, by asking your kids to colour code each practice paper after it has been marked.

You could come up with a colour scheme such as:

  • Red: questions that stump your child
  • Orange: questions that your child can answer, but not confidently
  • Green: questions that your child can answer with no issues

The purpose of this exercise is to give your child (and you) a visual representation of where he or she currently stands. The aim is to get to “green” mode leading up to the exams, and having visual evidence of improvement — as one attempts more papers — can be confidence boosting as well.

  1. Track All Mistakes

This is a good habit that your kids can start developing: every time an actual or practice paper is returned, keep a log of all — or major — mistakes made, by category. In fact, if your child likes numbers and statistics, he or she may find this activity enjoyable!

The easiest way to categorise mistakes is by topic, and you can drill down to question type as well. Some star students also like to track mistakes according to the root cause, such as misreading or misinterpreting instructions, not knowing or understanding a concept well, not directly answering the question, and careless mistakes. Together with your child, you can come up with a list of mistake categories — with appropriate labels — and decide if you want to use a notebook, Excel, or an app for tracking purposes.

Of course, don’t stop at tracking mistakes. You should also be prepared to go over a concept with your child again, or seek help from a teacher or tutor.

  1. Make A List Of Common (And Challenging) Questions

Your child’s school will likely assign practice papers as homework, so it may not be necessary to work on additional papers at home. After having done two or three papers per subject, your child might already be able to identify questions that seem familiar, yet still pose a challenge. Together with your child, you can note the task words from these questions — such as “explain” and “compare” — and see if you can spot patterns to identify what your child needs to work on most.

  1. Redo Tricky Questions

It takes plenty of mental energy to complete an exam paper, and if your children are already doing them in school or for homework, please don’t burden them with even more papers. Instead, you can reprint selected questions that they’ve made mistakes on, for them to try again closer to the exams.

If it’s the PSLE that your child is preparing for, it may be helpful to have a spare exam practice book for redoing questions — note that PSLE exam compilation books tend to sell out during exam season, so get yours early! Alternatively, you can also contact the authorised publishers to check on their stock.

Don’t want to buy extra sets of practice papers for home use? For home practice, you can ask children to write the answers on a separate piece of paper (or in a notebook) during their first attempt, so that the papers can be used for retesting.

Need more exam revision tips? Find out what exam savvy parents do differently, to support their kids during revision.


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