Preparing your child for PSLE

I am sure that there are lots of blog pages out there giving you advice about how to prepare your kid for PSLE. Well, I’m still penning this down because I found this list important for Big D.

While putting this list together, I realise that much of this advice and guidance came from Big D’s class teachers, friends from my CG whose kids had completed PSLE some years back or were going through the exam the same year as Big D, and a good friend who is a primary school teacher. I am very grateful for these wonderful teachers and friends who have walked this journey with me.

I have so much to say about each of the points I list below. For example, I could spend an entire blog entry just detailing how I prepped Big D for oral exam, and another blog entry just on composition writing. But this entry will not cover these, instead, it will cover general advice. They may seem like common sense to you, but they were important to me.

So, under general advice, I have a list of 10 points:

  1. Pace your kid.

PSLE is held during the first week of October, that’s a full nine to ten months away from January. Your kid is running a marathon, not a short sprint. If you tire your kid out in the first half of the year, it will be very tough to get your kid to peak during the 3rd quarter of the year when it really matters. Big D’s class teachers did a very good job pacing the kids. Big D started to work very hard during the June holiday. In July, when school term commenced again, the school finally completed teaching the syllabus and started focussing on oral exams and past year papers.

  1. Keep healthy by exercising and resting.

Big D’s teachers sent regular reminders to us parents to harp on us to get our kids to sleep early (never burn midnight oil, but try to get kids to have at least 8 hours every night). Honestly, when your kid is wide awake, he can absorb more and use his brains more effectively. An alert kid is more productive in an hour of study than a tired exhausted kid is in three hours of study. If your kid is sleepy, let him sleep. He will be refreshed the next day and can be attentive in class. If your tired kid is sleepy all the time, he will not be able to concentrate in class, and in turn, will try to study more at home, to make up for not keeping up in class… the cycle spirals downwards.

Give your kid regular play breaks and bring them out to play and exercise when you can. This keeps them healthy, and when they exercise, they feel more energetic when they study. We went to the pool every Sunday evening to swim, even during the PSLE and I could tell that Big D enjoyed the relaxing moments. Exercising regularly helps maintain our kids’ overall immunity, and the adrenaline is healthy for them.

  1. Focus and don’t neglect the oral and listening components of the exam.

Are you aware that the oral and listening components of language subjects make up a substantial part of the exam? For English, oral and listening component take up 15% and 10% of the total exam marks respectively, and for Chinese, oral and listening take up 25% and 10% of the total exam marks. That’s 35% of the total Chinese exam paper!

Now, think about your kid’s Chinese lessons. Does the teacher take up 35% of classes for the Oral and Listening component? Not for Big D during P1 – 5, but in P6, Big D’s class teacher spent an incredible amount of time prepping them for oral. She told them all to aim for 53/55 marks! And in retrospect, I am glad of this direction the teacher took.

  1. Don’t do past year papers until July/Aug.

Let me tell you what will happen if you make your kid do past year papers earlier in the year. Firstly, your kid will not know how to answer all the questions because the school has not finish teaching the curriculum. His morale will take a beating because he doesn’t know how to answer the questions. Secondly, you won’t have the time to mark and go through the mistakes and cover the curriculum that had not been covered by the school yet. If your kid keeps doing these papers and keeps making the same mistakes and answering questions of a certain kind wrongly, and if there is no one to correct the errors, your kid will end up learning the wrong methods and answers. It is better to start on practice papers in July/Aug and to go through each paper’s corrections in depth, rather than to keep doing paper after paper and not going through the corrections. In fact, the purpose of doing entire papers in one go is more to train the stamina of the kid. If you want to teach your kid to answer a particular type of question (say area of shaded part of circle), then go pick up these types of questions and focus on them. It’s very time consuming to have them waste their time on simple questions like “spell 1309 in words”.

  1. Prep your kid on the setting of the exams.

Some kids are intimidated easily by new or unfamiliar settings. They may tense up in an oral exam setting where two teachers are sitting in front of them asking them questions. Other kids may feel intimidated when seated in the large school hall together with a few hundred other students. Do prepare your kid mentally by describing these scenarios to them beforehand, so that they are mentally prepared and won’t get a shock. Big D was initially supposed to take his PSLE in a classroom, but closer to the date of the exams, because of the unpredictability of the haze situation in Singapore, the school changed plans and seated everyone in the air-conditioned hall. Fortunately, this did not affect him, but I think it may have for some of other students.

  1. Cooling off period.

Just like the general elections have a cooling off day, I found that having a cooling off week before PSLE did wonders for Big D. I originally planned to have just a two-day cooling off period for him during the week of the PSLE, meaning rest on Monday and Tuesday (don’t touch books at all after school when he reaches home), and then do simple summary revisions on Wed for the first exam on Thursday. However, what threw us off guard was that Big D started exhibiting some mild anxiety symptoms a week before PSLE. So, we really didn’t have a choice but to start the cooling off period a whole week before the exams started. He had no tuition, no revision, no agenda upon coming home from school each day. I was very worried that he would forget the stuff that he’d learnt, but I also knew that he was in no right state of mind to cram anymore techniques, phrases etc in. Plus, we knew that the teachers in school were giving their final summary revision lessons, so he was still absorbing stuff in school. So, we passed the time in the afternoon by bringing him out for a haircut, having ice-cream and waffle outings after dinner, and just reading books and lying around.

  1. Do not cram new info or techniques during the actual PSLE exams days.

It’s too stressful, tedious and time consuming to teach new stuff during the PSLE exams. Your kid should be resting and chilling after each exam, otherwise he would be too exhausted. Revisions should include going through simple overview/summary notes, and looking through past mistakes and the correct answers for those mistakes. Forget about cramming any new stuff in their brains. And don’t even try to get your kid to do a practice paper in the afternoons during the PSLE, it is very taxing on them, and is likely to cause more anxiety than assurance, and it will exhaust your kid.

  1. Feed your kid protein for breakfast.

I fed Big D protein for breakfast during exams. Sausages (nitrate free), bacon (okay, if you can’t find nitrate free bacon, at least get lower sodium bacon), smoked salmon, eggs etc etc. I rotated these items.

English, Chinese and Math papers are tough as there are two papers in the same morning, with a break in between. So, exams could start around 8am and end around lunch time. That’s a long period of time! I made Big D promise not to spend time revising during the break between papers, but instead to clear his mind and rest, walk around the school and chit chat with friends. I did tell him not to play soccer or catching. Why should your kid not look at any more revision notes? Because if he spends the break time studying, he’ll then still be using his brains actively during break time and his stamina will be sure to wind down halfway during the next paper when he most needs the stamina. The second paper does have some tough sections; imagine your kid being too tired to concentrate when he reaches the last few problem sums in the Math paper, or (gasp!) when he reaches the question in Chinese comprehension where the answers require 4-5 lines of error free and coherent Chinese sentences…! So, during break time between papers, rest, rest and rest. Oh, and I’m not sure if I would recommend this to you, but I put iced milo in Big D’s water bottle during Math exam day, so that he could drink it in between his papers and get a sugar rush when starting on Paper 2. I am sure you will not approve of it, but I like to think it helped Big D!

  1. Packing the pencil box.

One concern I had was that Big D’s calculator would run out of battery during the Math exam. After all, he has had the same calculator since P3-4 and the battery had never been changed, what if it ran out of battery during the exam? So kiasu parent that I was, I bought a second calculator to put into his pencil box. Also, the Chinese electronic dictionary for Chinese composition is not useful, your kid really will not have time to check the dictionary. The dictionary is really used as a security blanket.

  1. Pray and fast.

Just about one week before PSLE, my hubby T fell sick. I was extremely frustrated when he fell sick, because he had spent time in close contact with Big D, they went for a haircut together, and they had been having ice-cream chill out sessions to relax (it was cooling off week). So when T fell ill, I was certain that Big D would catch the virus on the eve of PSLE after an incubation of about one week. I immediately confined T to the bedroom to isolate him and brought in his meals for him. Fortunately, although T was down with fever for a few days, the virus did not spread to anyone else in the family.

T later related to me how he had asked God why he was struck down with fever so close before PSLE. Why during the crucial week? And the answer came during worship service on the Sunday right before the start of PSLE, T had recovered by then and was well enough to attend church service. During the worship session while meditating on God’s word, T could almost literally hear God telling him, “You… sit on the bench. I will coach and look after Big D. Big D is My son. I will look after him as I have looked after you.” It was a “holy ground” moment for T.

From that moment onwards, T let go and relaxed. During the week of exams, T and I spent time to pray and fast. We surrendered Big D to God and claimed His promises for the plans He had for Big D.

There are many other lessons I learned, and I hope to write them down as and when I remember them. Having shared my PSLE journey with you, I hope that I have in some way helped you prepare for your kid’s PSLE journey as well. All the best!