Do you welcome the news that all mid-year exams will be scrapped in Singapore’s primary and secondary schools from 2023?
Or are you feeling wary, because you might have to track your child’s academic progress more closely?
As you might expect, our KSP community has been trading views on the pros and cons of exams. A parent who is happy about the scrapping of mid-year exams lamented that our students are trapped in an endless cycle of homework and test preparation. But when it comes to general knowledge, or even a good grasp of Singapore’s history and political context, many students are fairly clueless — adults who have grown up in our education system may also feel the same way!
With weeks of curriculum time freed up for more meaningful pursuits, perhaps these knowledge gaps can be addressed.
Of course, we also have pragmatic parents in our midst, who point out that exam standards and school allocation systems have remained unchanged, at least for now. As KSP member SG_KP1 says: “When exam results determine what options you have, I question how many people currently in the process will say ‘test less’ or ‘I don’t care what the testing policy is.’”
“Regardless, the format is going to be whatever the Ministry of Education or specific schools dictate, so we just need to roll with whatever that is and try to do the best we can.”
When all’s said and done, few of us parents are in positions to influence the national policy on education. So yes, it really comes down to what we believe is the best thing to do for our children, to prepare them for a fulfilling adulthood.
In the short term, here’s what you can do to ensure that your kids stay on track with their learning without mid-year exams:
Formative assessments take place throughout the year, to help students identify gaps and improve their learning. Examples of formative assessments include quizzes to test recall, class exercises such as drawing a concept map for a topic, and personal or group projects. Whether these count towards a final grade will depend on the school.
Summative assessments are conducted at the end of specific periods, to help a school gauge how much a student has learned. In Singapore, these would typically be the weighted topical tests and year-end or national exams. For school-based exams, some schools may provide a breakdown of scores by topic, so you can see at a glance which topics your child was strong or weak in.
In secondary school, daily assignments are typically handed back with written feedback from teachers, so teens will know where they did well and what to brush up on. In primary school, weekly updates to parents are now the norm, and apart from summarising what was taught, many teachers will also specify where the class’s learning gaps lie. An example of such an update might be: “This week, many in class still had trouble expressing fractions as decimals, and correcting their answers to one decimal place.”
If you are a primary school parent, but are not receiving such updates, or if your secondary school teen is not getting meaningful and timely feedback, do alert the school.
You should also be aware that not all assessments are effective. In fact, if you sense that an assessment is poorly designed or has little educational value, you should let the school know about your concerns.
For instance, a KSP member shared with us that she had observed issues with her children’s Social Studies weighted assessments, where students were not given enough guidance on using Google as a research tool. In different years, both her children had found themselves on text-heavy sites, where it was challenging to read the content and extract relevant information. They also did not have sufficient skills to create presentation slides, and parent assistance was required.
This is just one example of an assessment that needs improvement. If more parents can make their views known, our collective feedback may eventually lead to tangible assessment changes that will benefit everyone.
Self-explanation: Explaining learning materials to oneself
Elaborative interrogation: Asking “how” and “why” questions to deepen understanding
Distributed practice: Studying a topic with breaks in between.
Interleaved practice: Covering different subjects or topics in one study session
In particular, practice testing and distributed practice are thought to be the best testing methods, as they work for students of different ages across domains.
The tests that your child will take in school are a form of practice testing. Other examples of practice testing include flashcards, quizzes, or answering review questions in textbooks and assessment books. This form of testing works well, because it requires the active act of retrieving information from memory, unlike the passive act of reading a textbook or highlighting salient points.
Distributed practice refers to studying a topic over several days or even weeks. When we are able to recall information on separate occasions, this memory becomes more ‘stable,’ which means that it’s likelier to stay in our heads.
How can this information help your child?
Let’s say your child needs to memorise the times tables after having understood the concept of multiplication. Instead of asking your child to recite the times tables, you could purchase multiplication flashcards and turn it into a game that you play with your child regularly — in this way, you would be combining practice testing with distributed practice.
Or, if your teen is trying to commit material to memory, you could get her to explain it to you over the dinner table, where you can ask clarifying questions, such as “Could you give me an example of how this works?” Wait several days before bringing up the topic again for a deeper discussion, which will help reinforce the concepts for your teen.
In any case, with test and exam papers freely available for download or purchase, parents can decide to give their children a timed practice exam at home, in order to assess their progress halfway through the school year. Many students are also being tutored or attending enrichment classes, where learning gaps can be spotted and dealt with before it’s ‘too late.’
That’s why the absence of a mid-year ‘checkpoint’ is probably most worrying for struggling kids who already lack academic support — for parents who are volunteering in schools to help those in need, know that you are making a difference where it counts.