For most primary schoolers, the year-end exams are likely two weeks to a month away. If your child is in Primary 3, this will be his or her first experience with weighted exams.
Feeling stress as an “exam parent?” Bear this in mind: exams are a lot less intimidating when there is a clear revision framework in place, so make this your top priority! Whether you’re guiding your child towards independent study, or supporting your child through first-time exams, here’s a simple five-step process that you can use to help your child prepare for any exam.
Know what’s being tested, and who can provide support.
Your child’s teachers would have mailed you the exam schedule by now, which includes the examinable topics for each subject. For some schools, they may not be able to complete the syllabus before exams due to Covid-19 disruptions this year — the affected topics will not be tested in the exams, and instead, teachers will cover these topics after the exams. If this is the case for your child’s school, you should have been informed. Not certain about a teacher’s progress? Do check directly with the teacher.
If you’re nudging your children towards independent study, ask whom they can approach for help in each subject, if they should encounter challenging questions. Teach your child to use ClassDojo (or the school’s preferred messaging app) to contact teachers directly — help them to craft clear messages, and remind them to be polite. If your child has tutors, you can see if your tutors are available for online meetings with your child prior to the exams, so your child can clarify doubts during these sessions.
Decide on the best way to revise, given available time.
This is generally how educators prepare their primary school students for exams:
- Start with a practice exam paper. This helps a child to identify areas of weakness or difficulty, in terms of component or topic. Schools will usually let their students try past-year papers (from the same school), so if you would like your child to work on papers at home too, download a paper from another school. There are several sites online that give you access to free past-year papers, usually from schools such as Nanyang Primary, Raffles Girls’ Primary, Nan Hua, Henry Park, Catholic High, and so on. Some sites will even arrange the papers in order of perceived difficulty.
- Use topical or component-specific exercises to work on areas of concern. The best example of this would be an assessment book where practice exercises are grouped by topic. If you don’t have such a book, go through your child’s schoolwork and pick out relevant questions for your child to try again. If time is short, let your child redo selected questions from practice papers that the school has provided, to see if your child has understood what’s required. You could also modify these questions slightly (especially for maths) to retest your child.
- Identify areas requiring memory work. Your child would be expected to remember certain information, such as math formulas and keywords, in order to be better equipped to tackle questions. Again, what can be achieved depends on your child’s memory abilities, as well as the available time. Mnemonics can be helpful, as well as linking a concept to a visual image. Alternatively, try talking about important concepts at the dinner table or during your daily commute — such conversations can also help your child with retention.
- Try a practice exam paper, with a time limit. For children who’re not struggling with their work, this simulates exam conditions and gives them a fresh opportunity to apply concepts.
For language exams, note that apart from revising for the main paper, there are other revision components, including:
- Learning how to write the characters, for languages such as Mandarin.
- Practising for the listening comprehension, composition, and oral components of the exam — again, frameworks help children to know what is expected of them, so they can better structure their answers. Your child’s school should have provided frameworks for tackling composition and oral exams; use these and clarify them for your child if necessary.
Depending on the amount of time your child has left, you may want to focus on all, or only some, of the components mentioned above.
Create a daily revision plan.
Once you and your child have decided what to focus on for revision, you’ll need to work out the actual time that can be used for revision, especially if your child also has tuition or enrichment classes to attend. You wouldn’t want to overtax your child in the run-up to exams — on a day where your child has after-school activities, or if schoolteachers have already assigned a fair bit of homework to complete, the remaining time should be used for rest and relaxation.
It’s good if your child can have a visual reminder of his or her exam revision plan. Use a planner chart or print from an online template, and identify days that are suitable for revision, i.e. days where your child is relatively free after school. Consider what your child needs to accomplish for revision, and list the tasks that can be done on each designated revision day. A checkbox next to each task can provide some intrinsic motivation for your child; some individuals get a thrill from checking off boxes when tasks are completed.
Make it clear to your child that the revision plan is not set in stone, and if your child asks for a break or even a free day, please let him or her have it.
Set specific and achievable goals.
If your child is a struggling learner, or if there is barely a week or two left before the exams, be realistic. Look at your child’s existing grades, and aim for a 10% increase in scores. Ask your child’s teacher in a direct manner how this can be achieved — for instance, for composition, you can ask, “What is one way for my child to improve her composition score by 1 or 2 marks?” Perhaps it’s by spelling everything correctly, or avoiding grammar mistakes. Your child can then focus on honing those specific skills for the exam.
Check if your child is exam ready.
Being exam ready means anticipating what exam questions might look like, and knowing what it takes to score well, especially for fact-based subjects like maths and science.
One strategy that tutors recommend is to look at the mark allocation in exams to gauge the appropriate length of each answer, as well as the time that one should be spending on a question, e.g. a minute per mark. (Tip: use the KSP search function to get more exam strategies for maths, science, English, and second language papers!)
Kids should also have a strategy to avoid careless mistakes such as transfer errors — we have an article on careless mistakes that will be helpful.
And finally, knowing how to check the actual exam scripts is crucial, as this can help your child to avoid losing precious marks — refer to our guide on checking exam papers.
Apart from the above, you’ll want to make sure your child is eating well, sleeping well, and not feeling unduly stressed before the exams. After which, you can rest assured that he or she is truly ready for the exams!
Parents: the next step is knowing how to respond to exam results in a constructive way. Get expert tips from someone who works with children.