Preparing for the End of Year Exams

Term three is ending and the dreaded end-of-year examination is closing in. While most students do not view examinations with glee, there are probably two group of students that are close to panicking now – the PSLE and the ‘N’/’O’ Levels students.

How can students approach these major examinations calmly? They will if they have been well prepared. When I was a student, I had a teacher who described examinations not as a test, but as an avenue to showcase what a student has learnt for the whole year. I agree with him wholeheartedly. Therefore, it is important that students have a study strategy. This will help them plan ahead and be fully prepared.

There is a misconception by many parents that you cannot study for language papers like English. But that is not true. While it is true that English can be improved by reading, writing, speaking and listening, it is important for your child to also master skills and methodology necessary for English mastery to achieve a great English grade.

How can you help your child? Or how can your child help himself? One strategy is to look into mark optimisation. In other words, analysing the English performance of your child in terms of the sections of the English paper to determine which section of the English paper that needs to be improved, to achieve the maximum marks using the most efficient effort.

Let me give you one example. For ‘O’ level English, Paper 1 has a total of 70 marks and makes up 35% of the entire English mark. For Paper 2 also makes up 35% of the entire English mark, but has only 50 marks. In other words, one mark in Paper 2 is actually more valuable than 1 mark in Paper 1. If your child is equally weak in both Paper 1 and 2, you might want to get your child to focus more on Paper 2 to get more ‘value’ for each mark.

To help parents, I have included some basic strategies (taken from our school’s CAL2 curriculum framework) for each Paper so that once you have figured out which paper to focus on, you can help him to handle different papers. Many of these strategies I have described are considered ‘higher-order thinking skills’. The reason for this is because our research has shown that cognitively challenging help in understanding and developing English mastery.

Paper 1

For PSLE English Paper 1, your child will be writing a narrative or a story. There are many elements to writing a good story, from having correct grammar to having a wide vocabulary; one of the easily mastered skill that really helps to improve marks is adding in description and feelings in your essay.

One possible method of writing description and feelings is to use the six senses. Of course, we know the five senses are sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The sixth sense is what many people call intuition. I liken intuition to having emotions for that place for writing purposes. I have given an example of using the six senses to describe a market scene:

  • Sight – The bustling market was full of people who were walking around laden with bags of fresh food.
  • Hearing – I could hear the loud exchanges between the sellers and their customers, each trying to convince each other that their proposed price was the fairest.
  • Smell – The pungent fishy smell hit my nose as I walked past the fresh fish section.
  • Touch – I felt squeezed as other people kept bumping into me, making me feel like a sardine.
  • Taste – The fruit seller handed me an apple and I could taste the sweetness as I crunched into the juicy fruit.
  • Intuition – The market brought back fond memories of the time when I followed my grandmother to do marketing.

Get your child to practise describing common scenes in writing. Examples of these include schools, playgrounds, shopping centres and other common places children visit frequently. Get him to come out with these sentences himself. This is because sentences that he has written himself is of higher cognitive complexity than memorising. As mentioned before, research has shown that doing activities of high cognitive difficulty is better for learning.

Paper 2

Comprehension in both PSLE and ‘N’/’O’ levels has always been a stumbling block to many students. One method of helping children understand passages better is to annotate the passages.

While annotation can be a complex process, I am going to show you how to use the 5W1H method (Why? When? Where? What? Why? How?) to annotate. Whenever your child reads a comprehension passage, he has to get a pencil ready. Instruct him to do the following as he reads each paragraph:

  • Circle the names of characters that appear. (Who?)
  • Draw a wavy line below places that the characters appear in. (Where?)
  • Draw a triangle around that indicate time or dates. (When?)
  • Answer what is happening in this paragraph? (What?)
  • Answer why is this happening? (Why?)
  • •Answer how is it happening? (How?)

Try to get your child to answer as many of these 5W1H as possible. Sometimes one or two of these questions might not have answers. So do not fret and waste time if the answer is not apparent.

What is happening is that your child is using a methodology to makes them go through the cognitive process of understanding, analysing it and evaluating the information to come to his own conclusions. This helps to create deeper understand of the passage and will help him when it comes to answering questions.

Paper 4

For the Oral examination, one of the common sections is the Reading Aloud section. Reading Aloud is something that requires practice. Because this not only involves the cognitive ability, it also involves the vocal chords, mouth and tongue muscles. Not to mention body language. Communication requires both auditory and visual cues. So slouching and acting in a sloppy manner during the oral examinations will definitely have an impact on marks even though the marking scheme does not penalise it explicitly.

One strategy of helping with Reading Aloud is to record your children practicing passages. Remember to record their entire face in the process. There are a few reasons for this. Getting their Reading Aloud recorded gives them visual and auditory input. This allows them to capture any bad habits the children have when they are doing their reading aloud (for example, eyes glued completely to the passage and only the tops of their heads can be seen), both visually and auditorialy. This will help them the feedback so that they will correct these bad habits or mistakes they make.

Another reason for doing this is to capture the mouth (and tongue movements). You can help your child in pronunciation by getting them to look at themselves pronouncing words they keep making mistakes in. Correct their mouth and tongue movements if necessary. There are many youtube videos out there that show how certain sounds or words are pronounced, showing the speaker’s mouth so that they can follow the mouth and tongue actions. This will certainly help children with poor pronunciation or help them overcome certain words they keep mis-pronouncing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important that you help your child prepare for their PSLE or ‘N’/’O’ level English papers. It is not simply not enough to just get them to read, but to teach them skills and strategies to optimise their marks. We find that our students improve just by using these few strategies from our school. We believe your child can benefit too.