School Examinations Too Difficult

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School Examinations Too Difficult

Postby tianzhu » Sat May 31, 2008 12:35 pm

School Examinations Too Difficult

Two interesting letters to ST Forum concerning our demanding education system. One mother lamented that half her daughter’s classmates in this top, all-girls' school had flunked Mathematics. Another class managed four passes.

Another reader emphasised that parents must rely on tuition teachers to help their children keep up with the rigorous curriculum.

Parents who participate actively in their children’s school work will notice the disparity between the simplicity of published primary maths textbooks and worksheets with the difficulty of exam papers set by schools. Are schools preparing our children to meet challenging examinations?

http://www.asiaone.com/News/Education/Story/A1Story20080526-67047.html
Why tuition centres for elite students flourish
I REFER to Ms Jessica Chong's letter on Tuesday,'Exam offers troubling peek into school attitude'', and wish to share the experiences of my children and my friends' children, who studied in Singapore's elite schools.
Despite the education system's 'teach less, learn more'' initiative, students are being taught more but are learning less.
Content-wise, they are taught topics which are usually ahead of their level. But as their foundation was not properly laid in Secondary 1, except for the exceptionally bright ones, the majority struggle through.
When these students' exam results are released, their parents rush to hire tuition teachers. So tuition centres flourish, including those specialising in the Integrated Programme, coaching students from elite schools like Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls' School, Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls' High School.
Aren't these students among our brightest, who, logically, would not require tuition if their teachers are up to scratch?
Parents have no choice when the schools set their exams at such difficult levels that our children lose confidence and self-esteem.
At these top schools, students pay school plus supplementary fees ranging from $285 to $400 a month. Yet, the teachers are either not competent enough, or the curriculum is so rigorous that parents must rely on tuition teachers to help their children keep up.
My son's experience as a student in a top junior college is an example. When he scored below 40 per cent for one of his A-level preliminary papers, and with just one month to go before the official examination, we had to hire a tutor and spent close to $2,000 on tuition fees. The result: He scored an A for the paper.
How does one explain the turnaround? Was the school paper set at a level way beyond that of the A levels? Or was the teacher incompetent? My view is that many of his peers coped because they had tutors all along, whereas my son tried to do it on his own.
The Education Ministry should review the curriculum and examination standards set by the various schools and reduce the disparity.
Our students will then have more time to bond with their families rather than learn from tutors what should have been taught in school.
Lisa Ng (Mrs)

(http://www.straitstimes.com/ST%2...ry_239132.html)
Exam offers troubling peek into school attitude

I SIGH with resignation as I write this letter. For the past few days, my daughter has been distracted and subdued. The school examinations have just ended and her usual celebratory mood is clearly absent.
I found out that half her classmates in this top, all-girls' school had flunked mathematics. Another class managed four passes. I have not seen the paper. Nor do I know if my daughter has passed. All I know is this: She studied very hard, prepared herself well, especially for maths; she was determined and motivated to excel.
For any parent, that's all that matters: a self-motivated child who is willing, diligent and conscientious.
Regardless of her marks, I am disheartened that the school set an overly challenging paper which bore such atrocious results, that the matter was raised as an issue during the parent support group meeting.
Please spare me the usual 'it was challenging but we expect the girls to manage it well', or 'this is to make the girls buck up for PSLE'. These garden-variety remarks reflect a school's way of shifting blame onto the pupils and to pressure parents to get additional tutorial help for their children.
Surely if the paper was challenging, the maths teachers should have prepared their pupils better. Such poor results must also put the ability of the maths teachers in doubt.
This paper affected my daughter's desire to study hard, her creativity and her self-confidence.
As an active parent who works as a school facilitator to support the parenting programmes of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, I believe in reaching out to as many families as possible. But, I find myself asking now: 'Why bother?'
This is not about a frantic parent who is hurt because her daughter has suffered a setback. It was, after all, only a maths paper.
This is about the attitude of a school, school leadership and teachers. It is about an education system, which, in a bid to fuel an extreme race to excel in academic achievement, douses the spark and enthusiasm of learning.
I appeal to the Ministry of Education to compare the disparity between the simplicity of published primary maths textbooks and worksheets with the difficulty of exam papers set by schools, if my daughter's school is any yardstick. The disparity is unrealistic, places an unfair burden on pupils and parents, and may end up making a mockery of the education system.
Jessica Chong (Ms)

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Postby ChiefKiasu » Sat May 31, 2008 8:42 pm

No doubt the math system is due for another overhaul as more and more parents realize how difficult the system has become and start questioning the rationale for doing so. We never had to work with such level of math in primary school during our time and we turned out fine, did we not? Has the educational system gone beyond reasonable difficulty? Is this a question of 画蛇添足, or is it really necessary to prepare our children for a tougher time in the future?

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Postby lizawa » Mon Jun 02, 2008 9:46 am

I agree. Unless you become a statistician or mathematician, most of the time, the 4 operations are good enough :)

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Postby tianzhu » Mon Jun 02, 2008 4:04 pm

ChiefKiasu wrote:No doubt the math system is due for another overhaul as more and more parents realize how difficult the system has become and start questioning the rationale for doing so. We never had to work with such level of math in primary school during our time and we turned out fine, did we not? Has the educational system gone beyond reasonable difficulty? Is this a question of 画蛇添足, or is it really necessary to prepare our children for a tougher time in the future?


Hi ChiefKiasu

The new Maths is still at still fresh from the oven, calculators are introduced for P5 (2008) and for PSLE Maths (2009).

http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2007/pr20070427.htm
27 April 2007
INTRODUCTION OF CALCULATORS IN PRIMARY 5 - 6 MATHEMATICS
1. In line with the phasing in of the revised Primary School Mathematics syllabuses, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will introduce the use of calculators at Primary 5 in 2008 and Primary 6 in 2009.
2. To align assessment with the curriculum, the use of calculators will be allowed in part of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) Mathematics and Foundation Mathematics examinations from 2009. These examinations will be revised from the current single paper to a two-paper format from 2009. Calculators will only be allowed in Paper 2 of the examinations, which will contain questions for which a calculator can be used.
Use of Calculators in the Curriculum
3. The introduction of calculators at Primary 5 and Primary 6 aims to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics at the primary level in two ways. First, calculators facilitate the use of more exploratory approaches in learning mathematical concepts, some of which may require repeated computations, or computations with large numbers or decimals. With a calculator, pupils can perform these tasks and better focus on discovering patterns and making generalisations without worrying about computational accuracy.
4. Second, the use of calculators also enables teachers to use resources from everyday life, such as supermarket advertisements, to set real-life problems with real-life numbers that may be difficult for pupils to work with without a calculator. Pupils would hence be better able to see the connection between mathematics and the world around them.
5. To equip teachers with the knowledge and skills in integrating calculators into the primary mathematics curriculum, workshops have been conducted since 2006. By the end of 2007, all Primary 5 and Primary 6 teachers would have been trained. The new Primary 5 and Primary 6 textbooks, and the teaching and learning resources provided to schools, will also reflect the use of calculators in the syllabus.
6. Basic numeracy skills, including mental computation and estimation, are important life skills to be developed early. These skills will continue to be taught and will remain relevant even as computers and calculators become more accessible. Even with the introduction of calculators in the Primary 5 and Primary 6 mathematics curriculum, pupils will still continue to learn, practise and be assessed on computational skills without the use of a calculator.
Revised PSLE Format
7. With the introduction of calculators, there is a need for the PSLE Mathematics and Foundation Mathematics examination formats to be structured into two papers from 2009. Paper 1 does not allow the use of a calculator so that important computational skills will continue to be emphasized and be assessed. Paper 2 allows pupils the use of calculators to solve problems. Pupils will take both papers on the same day. There will be a break of one hour between the two papers.
8. The calculator is a tool to help pupils with their computations. There will be no change in the question types, the number of questions for each type, or the level of difficulty of the questions.
9. Only calculators that are approved by the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) will be allowed for use in the examinations. The list of approved calculators is available on the SEAB website. These calculators can also be used at the secondary level and for the GCE N-Level and O-Level examinations. Pupils will only be required to use a basic set of calculator keys at the primary level.
Background
10. As part of MOE's effort to continuously improve the teaching and learning of mathematics at the primary level, a review of the mathematics syllabus, pedagogies and assessment was carried out and completed in 2004. The new syllabuses are being phased in at Primary 1 to 4 in 2007, Primary 5 in 2008, and Primary 6 in 2009. The use of calculators in the teaching and learning of mathematics at Primary 5 and Primary 6 was one of the recommendations made by the review committee, which comprised academics and practitioners.


Will it make life easier for our young ones, we have to wait and see?
Current PSLE questions may be restricted due to tedious manual calculations.Those who are weaker may be able to rely on Guess and check to solve some of the problems.The use of calculators may shift the focus to problems with higher order thinking skills.

One major concern amongst parents is whether Primary Maths will be increasingly difficult.I guess I'll know the answer when my son takes his PSLE in 2009.

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Postby tianzhu » Fri Jun 13, 2008 7:38 am

Another letter from ST Forum on the setting of exams to cater to the abilities of strong and weak .

http://www.straitstimes.com/ST%2BForum/Online%2BStory/STIStory_247067.html
June 13, 2008

Set exams to cater to abilities of strong and weak
WHETHER the principal objective of an assessment is criterion- or norm-based, the candidates' interests must predominate.
I taught academically weak children for 40 years.
It was heartbreaking watching their reactions when they got back their marked examination scripts.
Some would cry. Others moaned and the rest just cast them aside in a seemingly nonchalant manner.
Some educators used the term 'challenging' to refer to very tough examination papers.
A valid examination discriminates between the cr�me de la cr�me, average learners, and strugglers and stragglers.
It is essential for all setters to cater equitably to the abilities of each group.
A thorough analysis of a well-set examination paper, represented graphically, would be bell-shaped: Elites and poor performers form 10 to 15 per cent at the extreme ends, with average scorers hugging the remaining 70 per cent.
This analysis also helps teachers identify pupils' weaknesses and do remedial teaching to reduce the attrition rate in future assessments.
Teachers must cater much more to weaker pupils, and proportionately less for the average learners, leaving the brilliant chaps to race on unimpeded.
Exercises and problems in textbooks and workbooks are within the ability of weak pupils: Most score reasonably well, even in end-chapter test items.
Scores in the semester examinations are an altogether different matter. All fail miserably, with the bulk getting the U grade (below 20). Some even score zero.
I always had an extremely difficult time explaining to irate and worried parents why their children did so badly when their daily work was above par.
When shown the exam paper, they were flabbergasted at the number of challenging items, which confounded even them.
Given the high difficulty index of not a few questions, pressure of time and anxieties associated with exams, many weak pupils just gave up on many or all the problem sums, some of which I had some difficulty solving myself.
Some years ago, parents raised a furor over some very tough questions in the PSLE mathematics paper. These complainants were highly literate, judging from the letters they wrote to The Straits Times Forum.
If their children, who were probably high fliers, failed to complete the paper, or were unable to answer some of the toughies, my kids would definitely just throw up their hands in abject surrender.

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Challenging Examinations - Too much protection?

Postby tianzhu » Sun Jun 15, 2008 2:21 pm

Challenging Examination – Should we insulate our young from the harsh realities of life?

Almost every year, parents call MOE or write to the newspapers complaining about challenging questions, usually in Maths and Science Examination papers. Are parents protecting their young ones too much? Are we shielding them too much from the challenges in life?

http://tnp.sg/printfriendly/0,4139,144672,00.html
Exam grouses: Learn to cope and let's move on
HERE are some undisputed facts on the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
By Santokh Singh
13 October 2007
HERE are some undisputed facts on the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Year 1992, Maths: Parents of students called the Education Ministry (MOE) to complain about how tough the paper was. Students lamented that there were too many 'challenging' questions. They said that the paper was more difficult than their assessment papers.
Year 2000, Maths: At least 26 parents called The Straits Times to complain about the maths paper. Their main grouse was that the questions required pupils to apply high-order thinking skills which their kids were not trained to do. Parents said that they expected one or two more difficult questions, but claimed there were more than 10 such questions.
Year 2004, Science: Many PSLE kids ran out of the science exams crying because they said there were too many lengthy thinking-skills questions. One parent, Madam Ong Saw Yim, was quoted as saying that her daughter's classmate thought the paper 'was very difficult. In fact, it was murder'. However, Madam Ong's daughter, Annette Liu, scored an A* for that 'murderous' science paper.
Years 2005, 2006 and 2007: Same old subjects, same old complaints.
Years 1992, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006: The MOE stoutly defends its position.
And there is one other fact in common all these years though not highlighted by parents and most media - the final results were almost identical, with about the same number of students scoring A* or As, and the same number passing those difficult papers.
So don't expect any difference this year or next.
Students will cry after the papers, parents will cry foul, the MOE will defend, and the final results will likely show no vast discrepancy from previous years.
But, I ask yet again (I raised the same point in 2005) - is this the cycle we want to go through year after year?
Granted that examinations may not be the best system of assessing pupils, but for now, they are the best option we have.
And examinations, just like most other systems of assessments, are meant to discriminate.
So, when are we going to grow up and accept this fact?
An easy examination paper will still produce a certain proportion of failures just as a difficult paper would still record some distinctions.
Making sure that the kids know and understand this is a crucial stress reliever for all. Also, a difficult paper does not mean a higher failure rate and vice versa.
Training children to handle examinations via certain strategies, like that practised at Saint Joseph's Junior, should not be questioned too much. Trust teachers to be professional enough to know what is best for their pupils.
And if parents are really concerned, then they should take an interest in the children from early on, not at the 11th hour. (See story on page 2)
I and most lower secondary students (who have taken their PSLE in recent years) who I spoke to feel the school's strategy of getting the basics right is correct.
And if I may suggest getting one other basic right: Time management.
Why waste time over a question that would eventually carry only two marks? Move on to finish the rest and then come back to it.
While understanding the syllabi is important, there will always be some questions that test the application of the concepts rather than the content alone - higher-order skills.
Permit me to share a point I used to raise with my students when I was teaching.
'If all the students can answer all of the questions correctly, then the examination paper as an instrument has failed.
'If only one student can answer all the questions, then the examination may be tough but it can be argued to be an acceptable instrument.
'If some students can answer all the questions, some cannot and some fail the paper, then it is truly a fair and good instrument.'


http://www.todayonline.com/pda/216059ag.htm
More on tough PSLE maths exam ...
Parents should prepare kids not only for a life of exams, but the exam of life itself This Pri 6 pupil thinks those 'torn' by tough PSLE maths paper are lacking in spirit
Thursday • October 11, 2007
Letter from HENRY LEE
Letter from LEE ZHICONG

I REFER to Guo Weifu's letter "My son, a top student, returned home shattered after difficult PSLE maths paper" (Oct 9).

How can we help PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations) pupils who "returned shattered" face the future with "a lion's heart", as concerned parent Guo said it in his letter?

Let's begin with parents. Parents must manage their expectations of their children's academic achievements before they can help their children to manage theirs.

I believe top students also need to know that they may not know everything there is to know and it is all right, as long as they have tried their best. I hope parents and teachers do not, directly or indirectly, instill in their young ones the idea that one's self worth is tied to the marks they score.

IQ may be important to a certain extent and even then, it is subjective. But perhaps more importantly, children also need to learn to develop their AQ, or Adversity Quotient, which could mean the ability to bounce back from setbacks and face, with renewed courage and vigour, the tasks ahead.

Some teachers and parents may feel upset that their efforts have been "in vain" and what has been taught has not all been tested.

I'm sure not being able to complete all the problem sums is not going to condemn the child to a lifetime of failure, even if that may result in his or her aggregate score being lower and thus affect his or her choice of a secondary school.

So, let's help our children and perhaps, their parents too, to put things in perspective.

The PSLE is probably the first major examination many children have to face, but it will surely not be their last.

Let's prepare them well not only for a life of exams, but for the exam of life itself.

This year's paper has indeed caused much anguish. But I wish to remind Guo Weifu that PSLE marks are rated on a bell curve. If his son is good in maths, he should not worry, as his son's marks should not fall below par.

It is true this year's maths paper had a certain degree of difficulty. But the whole Primary 6 cohort took it and students below a certain level in mathematics would not have been able to complete the paper.

Mr Guo quoted the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) as saying that "the exams were a means to differentiate students of diverse abilities by setting questions of varying difficulty levels". By setting this year's PSLE maths paper at a higher level, it would still be able to differentiate between A*, A, B and so on.

He also mentioned that the paper "ripped" his son's confidence. Again, I wish to point out that the whole lot of Pri 6 students sat for the same paper and many also had their confidence "ripped", putting this batch of pupils on an equal footing.

Mr Goh added another statement: "Tearing children apart mentally at a developmental stage snuffs out the joy of learning."

I disagree. I sympathise with those who felt "torn" apart by the paper; but if they have lost their interest in mathematics as a result, I feel they are lacking in spirit. They should not remember how difficult the paper is, but try to ask themselves if they had put in their best effort to complete the paper.

I would like to commend, not condemn, SEAB for setting this year's maths paper at a high standard. It makes pupils scale to greater heights in maths, as they will not forget how they did in this PSLE.

As most readers would have guessed, I am a Pri 6 student. I, too, found this paper hard but my confidence and sprit was not "ripped", and I thank SEAB for getting me in the right mood for the other papers.

http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/printfrien ... 64,00.html
Parents shouldn't interfere in teaching methods
I READ the report 'Blame the teacher?' (The New Paper, 12 Oct), about the contention between a school and parents after nearly all students in a class failed their maths prelim for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
14 October 2007
I READ the report 'Blame the teacher?' (The New Paper, 12 Oct), about the contention between a school and parents after nearly all students in a class failed their maths prelim for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
It may be true that the teacher's strategy might not have shown great success, but we have to look beyond the passing rate.
Here are some points to consider:
Firstly, What is the reason for the teacher to focus on the basics?
It is not logical to spend time on the basics if the majority of the class is already competent in this.
Based on this logic, I would assume the level of competence of the class is low.
It is impossible for a student who cannot even cope with the basics to manage more complex problems.
Secondly, allowing parents to have a say in how lessons are taught is not a good idea.
This is because parents are not involved in the lessons and generally do not know or understand the problems that the teacher and the children face.
What they see is only the end result. It is very easy and natural to point fingers. Naturally, the teacher will get the blame.
Lastly, education is a two-way learning process.
A teacher has to get a student's response in order to cater to his or her needs.
The student also has the responsiblity of evaluating his or her own weaknesses so that he or she can improve.
We are not talking about a short one-week course here but a year or even a few years of preparation.
After all the years by the Education Ministry to promote innovative thinking and entrepreneurship, we should be asking why these students lacked the initiative and sense of urgency to raise the alarm.
To conclude, I believe that having every parent tell the school what to do is not the solution.
It only adds unnecessary pressure on teachers and students, and that is not useful for all parties involved.
- Andy Fong

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Re: School Examinations Too Difficult

Postby janet88 » Sat Apr 21, 2012 11:13 pm

My son is sitting for PSLE this year.
School fees are cheap, but teachers can't seem to teach a class of 41.

He has Chinese tuition all these years. Hubby refused to accept son needs help for math. After failing CA1 and SA1, he finally gave up. He just couldn't coach him, even just daily homework was a daily torture.

After he started math tuition, he managed to pass SA2 with a 50.
For science, what was tested for exams was so tough. The MCQ section is tough to score even 54 or 58. There are many more exams to sit for in life. Is it necessary to set such tough exams at such a young age ?

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Re: School Examinations Too Difficult

Postby optimistforum » Sat Apr 21, 2012 11:28 pm

Hi Janet_lees88

I hope you are well.

I do think it is good to set tough exams at an early age; children then reaslise about the successes and failures in life - and are suitably prepared for them.

I do hope that you do not go through the dumbing down of education, as we did here in the late 80's to 2011 (this is now being rapidly addressed to take us back up the PISA rankings - and hopefully to the top). Competition is good and you are ultimately looking to prepare your children to help sustain the spectacular performance of your country - in the future.

We now live in one big global market and a lot of people outside of Singapore venerate the MOE's superb efforts to educate. Your country is best placed (because of your challenging education system and native values) to competitively trade with Europe, China, Japan and the USA
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Re: School Examinations Too Difficult

Postby Chenonceau » Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:05 pm

Wow! I now realise that parents like tianzhu have tried to raise in 2008 the same issue that faces us today in 2012.

2008
2009
2010
2011
2012

5 years ago... and NOTHING has changed. It looks like the government is intent on cramming down our throats an educational system they think is perfectly rational but that has made no sense to parents for at least FIVE years.

Best reason to shut up and suck it up. Feedback is a waste of time. Superior minds don't believe our pain... and cannot see it. Kids MUST fail for the exam to be a good one? I too learnt this theoretical principle when being trained to write exams. BUT see... I use theory to help me. I don't allow theory to tyrannise me. Some sort of practical observation of the effects of blindly following theory is in order...

One thing is sure... as batch after batch of parents go through PSLE, more and more people will realize the system is sick... and the numbers will add up despite MOE's best efforts at rationalising the why and wherefore of today's system.

No one cares about the why and wherefore... people are only interested in the daily experience of being educated. For 5 years now, that experience has not been good.
Last edited by Chenonceau on Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: School Examinations Too Difficult

Postby Chenonceau » Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:11 pm

optimistforum wrote:Hi Janet_lees88

I hope you are well.

I do think it is good to set tough exams at an early age; children then reaslise about the successes and failures in life - and are suitably prepared for them.

I do hope that you do not go through the dumbing down of education, as we did here in the late 80's to 2011 (this is now being rapidly addressed to take us back up the PISA rankings - and hopefully to the top). Competition is good and you are ultimately looking to prepare your children to help sustain the spectacular performance of your country - in the future.

We now live in one big global market and a lot of people outside of Singapore venerate the MOE's superb efforts to educate. Your country is best placed (because of your challenging education system and native values) to competitively trade with Europe, China, Japan and the USA


So tough testing is all that makes a good system?

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