Did Badly for the P6 Prelims? Strategies to Support the Underperforming Student

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The countdown has begun for this year’s Primary School Leaving Examination!

By now, most children would have received the results for their Primary 6 preliminary exams. For some children (and parents), the outcome may have been disappointing, or even shocking.

Are these results indicative of your child’s score during the PSLE? Is there any hope for improvement in the upcoming weeks? What if a child is feeling drained and demoralised, or lacks the motivation and initiative to do better?

We address these questions and more below.

Are the prelims harder than the PSLE?

This depends on your child’s school, and the best people to ask would be your child’s teachers. 

Minimally, the prelim papers should be pegged at the difficulty level of the PSLE papers. But note that PSLE papers may also feature one or two “never-before-seen” questions that will be challenging for most students.

If your child attends enrichment classes, you can ask the tutors for insights as well. They would’ve seen papers from a spread of schools, and they are in a good position to gauge the difficulty of your child’s paper compared to other school papers, as well as past-year PSLE papers.

Finally, most children would have completed past-year PSLE papers as part of their school revision, so you can take a look at your child’s scores for these practice papers. 

The important thing to remember is that schoolchildren now have fewer exams to sit for, which is why they might be less exam-savvy than previous cohorts. This isn’t a bad thing — it’s part of the grand design to refocus our education system on meaningful learning. Unfortunately, there will be teething issues as our education system evolves, and for many parents, this will require us to address our own discomfort over grades.

Perhaps the underlying issue is this: you’re wondering how to feel about your child’s prelim scores. If your child has fared better for the prelims than for practice tests, it’s a sign that revision efforts are paying off, and you should affirm your child’s progress. But if your child seems to be floundering, you will have to quickly assess what’s working and what’s not, and set up some achievable goals for the remaining weeks.

Will my child’s PSLE score be similar to their prelim score?

Schools will try their best to give you a good indicator with the prelims, but you’ve probably also heard stories about students whose PSLE scores paled in comparison to their prelim scores. 

Ultimately, exams are stressful, no matter what ability level your child is at. Research has shown that 10 to 40% of children are susceptible to exam anxiety, and some children will blank out during national exams. If you’re afraid your child may do the same, you can run through exam scenarios that may trigger anxiety, and discuss coping strategies. 

In particular, you can teach your child the “4-7-8” breathing technique, which can be used to alleviate stress. To do this, your child should keep count as they breathe in for four seconds, hold their breath for seven seconds, and breathe 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. Practise this technique with your child at home, so that they can use it during exams, if needed. For more exam anxiety scenarios and solutions, read our guide.

There’s less than a month left to prepare for the PSLE. What can we do?

Feeling uneasy or anxious about your child’s preparation efforts? Take these concrete steps to manage your stress:

  • For each subject, count the number of practice papers that your child has completed — this is proof that your child has made significant efforts to revise. (If your child has not been meeting school deadlines, that’s something to look into.)
  • Help your child to tidy their workspace. Sort all of your child’s school materials into four stacks (English, Mother Tongue, Maths, and Science). Give away or recycle materials that are not needed anymore, and place the most useful materials in a visible and easily accessible location. 
  • For additional materials that are not endorsed by the school, look through them and see if they are truly useful. For instance, if a guidebook is poorly designed or explains facts in a convoluted way, it won’t help your child. Recycle these materials or drop them off at your nearest book exchange.

If your child has completed many practice papers and is mentally exhausted, let them rest. Once they are ready to begin revision again, switch to reviewing papers instead. 

One way to review papers is to create a log of the mistakes made. To keep things organised, your child can use different notebooks for each subject, and write a clear title for each entry that indicates the paper being reviewed. For each error being logged, your child should note:

  • A brief description of the mistake 
  • Why the mistake was made (e.g. read the question wrongly, misinterpreted the question, calculation error, transfer error, or lack of knowledge)
  • How to prevent the mistake in future (but note that for some types of questions, such as vocabulary questions, there won’t be a preventive measure)

What if your child hasn’t kept up with school requirements to complete papers? First, reflect on your current circumstances. For instance, if your home conditions are not ideal, or if your family is experiencing challenges, your child’s school performance will naturally take a hit. In this case, you can either find temporary solutions (such as having your child study in a friend’s home), or temper your expectations about your child’s results. 

If all is well at home, but your child is dealing with morale and motivation issues, consider booking sessions with a coach to set clear work goals for the month. Although coaching can be pricey, you can look for alternatives that will be easier on your wallet, such as donation-based coaching programmes or volunteering as ‘practice clients’ for trainee coaches.

Find out what revision tasks to focus on as the PSLE draws near, or chat with this year’s PSLE parents to discuss revision strategies!

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