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Oral Exam Preparation: 15-Minute Strategies For Primary School Kids

Whether your child is in lower primary or gearing up for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), the objectives for oral exam preparation are the same — your child should be working to improve his or her read-aloud and conversational skills. 

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15 Minutes Of Reading Aloud

Set aside 10 minutes for your child to read aloud every day — you don’t have to buy a dedicated practice book for this, simply use a newspaper article (try Time For Kids or The Day for advanced readers) or a children’s book.

There’s no need to be overly critical or ambitious, especially for the struggling reader. Below are four fairly straightforward pointers for your child to note when reading. You can have your child focus on just one aspect of skill-building for each session:

  • Pause for half a second after commas and full-stops.
  • Boost your energy when beginning a sentence.
  • Pronounce the ends of words. (Read our oral guide for more pronunciation tips.)
  • Be loud enough to be heard by the examiner.

For fluent readers, you can encourage them to improve their delivery, by reading with expression. This involves:

  • Reading louder, or more softly, at appropriate points in the passage.
  • Reading faster, or more slowly, to match the actions being described in the passage.
  • Using a high-pitched or lower-pitched tone, especially when reading dialogue.
  • Pausing to add suspense or drama.

Again, you should practise just one skill at a time. Have fun with it by reading with expression yourself and encouraging your child to join in. If you need someone to model reading expressively for you, children’s author Mem Fox has a useful audio guide for parents. 

Some teachers recommend that students should record themselves whenever they read aloud. For the remaining five minutes of your daily reading session, play back the recording and ask your child to assess if he or she has successfully mastered the skill being practised.

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15 Minutes Of Daily Conversation

It’s good to set aside time to specifically work on your child’s conversational skills. However, you should aim to make better conversations a habit in all of your daily exchanges with your child. 

One way to begin is by being a better listener to your child — to do this, always ask him or her “Why?” Your child may be telling you that something is “interesting,” or that he or she enjoyed an activity very much. If you let the conversation trail off at this point, you will be missing out on a valuable opportunity to develop your child’s thinking and conversational skills.

During an oral exam, students will be asked about daily life situations that should be familiar to them, such as school life, or daily encounters such as queuing up or giving up a seat to those in need. 

In these instances, students are usually able to identify appropriate behaviours, but they may not know how to articulate the reasons behind carrying out certain acts. Or they may be able to say how much they like something, but falter at explaining why. The “why” is what teachers are on the lookout for.

Gradually, you can familiarise your child with:

  • Answering a question, which usually involves giving an opinion. (View some sample conversation topics here.)
  • Providing a reason for the answer, such as “I like this because…” or “I disagree with this because…”
  • Elaborating, by sharing prior knowledge (“I haven’t seen this in real life, but I’ve read a book/watched a documentary about this…”) or a personal experience.

Some primary schools have created acronyms such as ARE (answer, reason, explain) or OREO (opinion, reason, elaborate, restate opinion to conclude) to guide students in their answers. However, only daily practice will ensure that students have the habit of backing up their statements, which will make it easier for them under stressful exam conditions. 

Once your child is more comfortable engaging in discussions, you can proceed to correct errors in sentence structure, tense, or pronunciation, and get your child to repeat after you. Let your child know that it’s fine to make mistakes — that’s how we learn best.

15 Minutes Of Vocabulary Practice

Some enrichment schools offer vocabulary lists for students to memorise before the oral exam, but students may not be able to recall the words or use them accurately when needed. 

The better way to go about this is to build vocabulary as a family — by using a fun learning app such as Vocabulary.com for 10 to 15 minutes a day — or by highlighting “good” words and phrases that you encounter through reading or consuming media, and using these words and phrases in real-life situations. In fact, if you can use bigger words in daily conversations with your child, you will be demonstrating to your child when and how these words can be used.

If you find it hard to use a wide variety of vocabulary words in casual conversations, you can turn to 15-minute read-aloud sessions to fill the gap. Through books or news articles, you can introduce words and concepts to your child. Don’t discount picture books — many are well-written and convey depth, in a way that even an adult can appreciate. 

Is your child feeling jittery about the oral exam? Does your child know what to say if he or she doesn’t know the answer to a question? What else can be done to score better marks? Read our expert guide here

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