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What Singapore Parents and Students Want To Know About Exams: How To Do Well and More!

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By 2023, there will no longer be mid-year exams for Singapore’s primary and secondary school students. 

In fact, we have already been shifting towards a less exam-centric system for several years — today’s Primary 1 and 2 students do not have to sit for tests and exams at all. 

But will the year-end exams carry much more weight, and be even harder to prepare for? 

If your child leaves revision to the very last minute, then yes, he or she may be in for a rude shock. But if children are completing their homework and preparing for ‘mini’ tests throughout the year, there will be enough checkpoints to gauge if they are on track with their learning, and plug gaps before the final exams.

Not sure when your child’s final exams will be held? Your child’s school should’ve given you an ‘assessment overview’ document, which lists all the weighted assessments for the year, including the final exams. You should refer to this document for the exam dates, as well as the topics covered for each subject. 

For Primary 1 to 5 students, final exams will take place anytime between late September and early November. Primary 6 students will sit for their Primary School Leaving Examination written papers from late September to early October. 

Have more questions about helping your child with the exams? Read on to find out what other parents and students commonly ask — and get answers that you can use right away!

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How to study for exams?

One mistake that parents make is assuming that children instinctively know how to revise for exams. Many children are actually not aware of what ‘revising’ for exams means, or how to study effectively. That’s why parents will need to provide some guidance!

First, have a discussion with your child to come up with a revision plan. Here are some questions that you can ask:

  • From now till the exams, which are the days available for revision?
  • How much time can you spare for revision on each of these days?
  • How will you revise for each subject? (E.g. Reading the textbook and notes, redoing questions that you have made mistakes on, or practising new sample questions?)
  • What/how many subjects/topics will you cover each day?
  • How much time will you spend on each revision activity?
  • How will you review what you have read? (E.g. Ask yourself questions, explain concepts to someone else, or practise sample questions?)
  • If you are practising questions, how many questions will you target to complete every day?
  • Will you prefer to mark the answers yourself?
  • Who will you consult if you are stuck on a problem, or need help to understand an answer?

Put revision plans down on paper, and advise your child on what a realistic schedule might look like, so that he or she doesn’t plan to cover too much in a day — and fail.

How to do well in exams?

Ensure that your child is not spending too much time on study methods that have proven to be less effective! 

The most common revision method involves highlighting or rereading the textbook, and copying pointers into a notebook or flashcards, i.e. ‘making notes.’ Although this may feel comforting and productive, research has shown that it is not as effective as other more ‘active’ study methods, such as:

  1. Self-explanation: explaining learning materials to oneself
  2. Elaborative interrogation: asking “how” and “why” questions, to improve understanding 
  3. Practice testing: working on topical exercises or sample tests and exams
  4. Distributed practice: studying a topic with breaks in between
  5. Interleaved practice: covering different subjects or topics in one study session

By focusing on effective study methods, your child will be able to understand and retain information better, and therefore be better equipped to tackle questions in the final exam.

Bonus tip: If there is essential information that your child needs to memorise but keeps forgetting, have him or her read the information out loud — the dual act of speaking and reading makes information more memorable for the brain, and increases the likelihood of retention. You can also teach your child to use mnemonics, such as the name “ROY G. BIV” to represent the colour spectrum. 

Where to find motivational quotes about exams?

Some dedicated teachers will print out motivational quotes for students before the exams, and you can do the same at home. But be mindful to pick quotes that your child can apply, rather than something too abstract, such as “believe in yourself, and you will be unstoppable!”

Quotes about adopting a growth mindset can be very useful before the exams. Examples include: 

  • “It’s not that I’m so smart — I just stay with problems longer.” 
  • “By becoming a little better each and every day, over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”
  • “You’re in charge of your mind. You can help it grow by using it in the right way.”

Click here for more quotes from psychologist Carol Dweck, who popularised the term ‘growth mindset.’ You can print out some of these quotes for your child, and explain how they are relevant in real life, especially in the way we approach exams.

What to eat before exams?

Is there such a thing as an ‘exam diet?’ 

Some local parents advise their children to stay away from ‘heaty’ foods to avoid falling ill before the exams. You can also read up on brain foods to help ensure that your child’s mind is in tiptop shape. These include:

  • fatty fish (such as mackerel, sardines, and anchovies) 
  • dark leafy greens 
  • berries 
  • dark chocolate 

Keen to know more? Read our quick guide to why the above foods can boost your child’s smarts!

What to do if a child is stressed about exams?

A child who is stressed may display one or more of these symptoms:

  • Headaches, stomachaches, or feeling ‘sick’
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression, irritability, or mood swings
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Changes in appetite or sleep habits
  • Withdrawing from usual activities
  • Bedwetting
  • Unusual negative behaviour

As a parent, you should first try to understand why exams can be stressful. It’s usually due to these factors:

  • Consequences, such as not getting into the class or school of one’s choice if one performs poorly.
  • The relationship between grades and self-esteem: When students assess their worth based on grades, a higher grade will lead to high self-esteem, while a lower grade will cause a dip in confidence.
  • Judgements from others, such as parents.
  • Fear and anxiety, because parents, teachers, and other authority figures may have overstated the importance of exams.

With this in mind, do some self-reflection to check that you are not contributing to your child’s exam stress. (Read a local counsellor’s tips on talking to your child about exam anxiety.)

At the same time, be aware that not all stress is detrimental. Just like pro athletes, a student entering an exam hall can be energised by a small amount of stress — if the student is able to view it positively. According to research, those who are able to remind themselves that stress could be helping them to perform better may eventually score better too!

But if your child is more likely to be overwhelmed by stressful feelings and thoughts, teach him or her this simple ‘4-7-8’ calming 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.

Need more exam-related tips? Browse our Primary Schools – Academic Support forum section to find a relevant chat and connect with other parents! Or simply start a new conversation of your own.

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