PSLE Preparation Begins In Primary 5

Is your child in Primary 5 this year? It’s not too early to start thinking about the Primary School Leaving Examination, or PSLE. In fact, did you know that our 2023 PSLE discussion thread was already set up in 2018? We certainly have a group of forward-thinking parents here in our KSP community!

Apart from hiring tutors, enrolling in enrichment classes, and buying assessment books and exam papers, what else does it mean to “prepare for the PSLE?” Well, here at KSP, we believe in working smarter, but not necessarily harder. Read on to find out what we mean.

#1 Start talking about school choices

In the aftermath of school postings under the new PSLE scoring system in 2021, it was reported that more than 80% of pupils were posted to their first three choices of schools, and that no school had a cut-off point of four or five points. (Four points would be considered a “perfect” score under the new scoring system.)

Similar to previous years, students who wanted to appeal for a school transfer would’ve had to meet the cut-off point of the school for the year. (More FAQs on the 2021 Secondary One posting results can be found here.)

If you didn’t follow KSP’s 2021 PSLE discussions, you can get a quick recap of the (unofficial) 2021 cut-off scores for popular schools on our thread, or refer to Lianhe Zaobao if you can read Chinese. You could also wait for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to update the cut-off points on its SchoolFinder pages later this year.

Why start discussing secondary school choice with your child now? Part of the reason would be to give your child the opportunity to participate in this significant decision, and understand what he or she is working towards. Research has shown that students who have a greater sense of autonomy tend to score higher on standardised tests, and are more likely to persevere with schoolwork that they might consider mundane.

Using the MOE’s score calculator, you can estimate where your child currently stands, so that you can compile a list of schools that might be within reach for your child. Take this time to get to know more secondary schools apart from the popular ones, as it is always better to have a spread of options to consider.

#2 Good habits are more important than goals

Motivational gurus usually recommend setting habits and goals, but there are clear differences between the two — unlike habits, goals have an end point, and the ability to achieve a goal such as high exam marks may not always be within one’s control.

That’s why some productivity experts suggest focusing on good habits instead, because having good habits in place would pave the way to achieve good outcomes, even if one hadn’t set those goals. For instance, it might be more effective to establish a small habit of working on two math problems a day, rather than a lofty goal of scoring above 90 percent for a math test. The satisfaction then comes from sticking with a positive habit, where benefits accrue over time, increasing the likelihood of a good outcome.

#3 Master effective revision techniques

As part of habit formation, you would also want to look at your child’s study methods. For instance, is your Primary 5 child using these study techniques?

  • Highlighting or underlining
  • Summarising
  • Keyword mnemonics
  • Using imagery
  • Rereading

The above study methods are commonly used because they feel productive and comforting to us, but research has shown that they are less effective, compared to the following active learning methods:

  • Self-explanation: Explaining learning materials to oneself
  • Elaborative interrogation: Asking “how” and “why” questions to deepen understanding
  • Practice testing
  • Distributed practice: Studying a topic with breaks in between. The length of the breaks could vary between hours and weeks, or longer
  • Interleaved practice: Covering different subjects or topics in one study session

Instead of spending hours creating summary notes and rereading textbooks, your child is likely to see better gains from active learning methods. These methods will continue to be useful in the secondary school and tertiary years, so why not get an early start? Your child may already be putting some of these methods into practice. For example, working on a test paper is an easy way to combine the “practice testing” and “interleaved practice” methods, while “self-explanation” could be your child explaining what he or she has learned over the dinner table.

#4 Rethink time management

To give your child a more concrete picture of time management, say to your child: Did you know that we have 1,000 minutes to spend in a day, not counting the time that we sleep? This is equivalent to 100 blocks of 10 minutes each!

This is an interesting way to begin a conversation on time management. You can discuss the difference between meaningful and less beneficial activities, and decide how much time should be allocated to everything that your child hopes to do in a day. As an exercise, you can assign colour codes to various activity types — such as time spent in school — and fill in a time management grid to get a visual representation of your child’s day. It might also help you to see that your child is actually being overloaded with activities, and needs more downtime.

#5 Break down complex tasks

The idea of “preparing for the PSLE” can seem very daunting to a child. Even as an adult, surely you can relate to being intimidated by large-scale projects, or feeling overwhelmed by a barrage of new information.

To manage stress and anxiety over schoolwork (or during an exam), teach your child to use the “4-7-8” breathing technique. This involves breathing in for four seconds, holding one’s breath for seven seconds, and breathing out over eight seconds. Repeated over several cycles, this relaxation technique helps to regulate breathing, and prevents one from entering into “fight-or-flight” mode, where the body will begin to show physical signs of stress.

Apart from managing anxiety, your child also needs to learn the essential skill of breaking tasks down into smaller parts.

A common scenario is that a child might find it difficult to sit down and complete a page of math problems. One solution is to place a blank sheet of paper over the problems that your child is not working on, so that your child is only looking at one problem at a time.

In another example, your child might need to memorise a paragraph of text. Again, this process can be broken down into smaller tasks, such as:

  • Read the paragraph and see if you can identify every word
  • Check if you know the meanings of all the words
  • Look up meanings for unfamiliar words
  • Examine the paragraph to count the number of sentences.
  • For each sentence, count the number of parts (separated by commas).
  • Begin by memorising the first sentence, in parts, then move on accordingly.

If your child is able to stay calm under pressure, and break a complex task into smaller and more manageable parts, he or she will be less likely to feel a sense of inertia when faced with a task, which often leads to procrastination. This skill of taking mini steps is also known as “micro productivity,” and it will serve your child well at the workplace in future.