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Math Prelims: Are Your O- And A-Level Kids Studying Smart?

O and A levels Math Prelims

Preliminary exams are around the corner for this year’s O- and A-Level students. Much of your teen’s time may be spent on math practice, but is it time well spent?

For useful and practical study suggestions, we spoke to someone who is passionate about both learning and teaching math—Gary Ang, an experienced educator who runs his own enrichment centre, Number Skill.

Read on for Gary’s five tips that could boost your teen’s confidence and performance in the upcoming math exam!

“Not just more practice.” It is true that one needs practice to be good at math. That said, it will not help to keep practising the same question 10 times. Quality matters more than quantity. Check with your teen if he or she is practising problems from assorted sources, such as other schools’ exam papers or worksheets, as well as assessment books. It is important to be exposed to different types of questions.

If time permits, look for problems from textbooks, assessment books, or sample papers from many years ago. Yes, the syllabus might have changed over the years, but the bulk of the examinable content is largely the same. Questions from older sources tend to be more challenging, and students will benefit from the exposure to a wider variety of questions.

“Forget the 10-year series (TYS).” Completing the TYS is not enough to ensure that one scores an A for the prelim exams. This is because school prelim exams are generally a lot tougher than the actual O- and A-Level exams. Your teen may have completed the TYS by now, but don’t bank on that to score an A.

“Time management is crucial.” Ensure that your child knows this: don’t spend 15 minutes on a two-mark question. If a paper has a total of 100 marks and the allowable time is 2 hours, each mark is only “worth” 1.2 minutes. Using this as a guide, students should only spend about one minute to earn each mark. So a four-mark question should be completed in four minutes. This practical method of time allocation will ensure that there is enough time for checking answers after completing the paper.

This is something that students should note during home practice as well. Use a stopwatch when attempting questions at home—check the amount of time needed to complete the question and try to improve on the timings if necessary.

With the additional time, students will not only be able to check their paper, but they can also attend to questions that they may not have been able to solve earlier. Not all solutions will spring to mind immediately, and having 20 minutes to spare will help greatly.

“Do not leave blanks.” In the actual exam, it pays to write something that makes sense even if one does not know how to solve the question. The answer may be awarded one or two method marks, which is better than zero marks for a blank answer.

Similarly, when answering multiple-part questions, students should use the answer from the first part to solve the second part, even if they are not certain that their answer is correct. You may still be awarded method marks, if your method is correct.

“Whatever the result, do not be disheartened.” The prelim exams are normally much harder than the actual O- or A-Level exams. There have been students who failed the prelim exams but went on to score distinctions in the actual O- or A-Level exams!

Take this opportunity to review what went wrong with your teen. Look through the scripts to see if these three common issues played a part: not knowing how to solve the problem, carelessness, or running out of time. If there are many questions that your teen is not able to solve, then help from a teacher or tutor will be necessary. For carelessness, your teen needs to take steps to work on his or her precision. If the primary problem is insufficient time, your teen should focus on improving his or her speed and pacing.

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