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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

69 Marks for PSLE Prelim Math

The highest mark for Little Boy's PSLE Prelim Math was 85. The second highest was 73. Little Boy brought home 69 marks together with the news that many people failed. The Teacher consoled the class, saying that it was a difficult paper but that the top 2 classes would still do well relative to other classes in the school.

The question I am asking is this. Is this paper indicative of actual PSLE standards? Is this paper pitched at the levels of the best schools in the nation? If the answer to both questions is "yes", then Little Boy is likely to do rather poorly for Math because he had had no exposure in class to questions of comparable difficulty. And we thought that practicing on past year Top School papers (which Little Boy has no problems completing, except for one particular year's paper from Nanyang Primary School) was sufficient.

Clearly not. I am told that his PSLE prelim paper was even more difficult that the one from Nanyang Primary.

The little fellow (called N) who had scored 85, has a Math tutor who was happy to leverage upon the boy's innate talent for Math to stretch the child way beyond the work done in class. One needs both talent AND practice. Little Boy has talent but I was merely contented with standards of the status quo. Not kiasu enough, you see. I thought enough is enough and wanted Little Boy to play more in the sun. Who would have thought that his school would set a paper some notches more difficult than even the Top School papers? So, how much is enough?

I was on the phone with a GEP Mommy 2 nights ago. She was horrified that in one of her daughter's tests, only ONE child out of 25, passed. Failing has become the norm. I don't agree with such teaching methods. Failure is extremely demotivating in some situations... and it is NOT because the child is not resilient. Don't blame the child. Resilience can be developed. People are not born resilient. There are some situational psychological factors that need to be controlled/manipulated before failure can be used to motivate in a healthful manner.

We are 1 month away from PSLE. What is the point of stressing the children thus? Little Boy is quite happy with his 69 marks because the best students have all scored in the low 70s and high 60s. The average students... have failed. Imagine the tense emotional situations at home. Think of the stressed parents.

On my part, I felt my heart sink to the pit of my stomach. Momentarily, I felt a whiplash of anger that I almost did not catch as it flicked out to hurt Little Boy, who was himself trying to maintain his emotional balance. I walked away instead. I refuse to play this game. It is too late to gain more competence and exposure to stretch his capability. To begin with, I will need time to source for questions of such extreme difficulty. There is no way to do this without signing up with an enrichment centre, because we don't have a Math expert at home. The questions in even the most difficult of Popular's assessment books are easy for Little Boy. Where is there time to evaluate and register and practice? All it will do is stress Little Boy.

At this point, stress is something we can do without. I've deliberately slowed the pace at home so that we have calm energy. So... it's just too bad. If what we have done is not enough, then Little Boy and I will dive for cover and I will use my body to shield his smaller one. I will feel all the pain, the anger, the disappointment and the fear... but I will shield his psyche from all this so that he can stay calm and feel confident.


Rachel Tan said...

Take heart and stay steady to be on course. If Little Boy is already able to do all the Top School papers, he is both absolutely and relatively very well prepared for PSLE math. This is just school-specific. Another friend of ours whose son is in P6A of the same school lamented the same of the math paper; her own son scored 85 but she couldn't reckon what was the point of demoralizing kids at this stage. Seriously, how much difference can 2 months of cramming make??

Unknown said...

Hi Petunia. Thanks for this sharing. I also disagree with school's approach of "failling" kids so close to psle. DS school is having prelim nxt week and then prelim 2 weeks before psle. Aaargh.

I'm prepping DS ahead that if the school is setting standards too high, then it's really not his fault. I'm just so sad for the numerous kids who will probably be caned by parents who don't understand that it's not their kids' fault.

Petunia Lee said...

Rachel - Thank you for sharing your friend's experience. Yes... how much difference can 40 days of cramming make?

Petunia Lee said...

Anita - Your school has TWO prelims. Must be a very conscientious school. My son's school used to have 2 prelims too until the VERY LOUSY ex-Principal took over. The new Principal seems better but it's too late for my son.

Blur Ting said...

This method has been practised by schools since my kids were in primary school. The real paper will be a lot more manageable and Little Boy will sail through it.

Wen-ai said...

I have never understood the "failing" method. Only stress the kids and parents only.... and who gets to gain? Those "star" tutors who claim to be able to work miracles and charge $500 per session.

Petunia Lee said...

Ting - I think they did this to me when I was a kid. So, it is not new. It was manageable because the last minute dash was imminently doable. In the case of the current new syllabus, the complexity is such that one needs a lot of time to get in enough practice... and to build skills upon skills. It's no longer possible to do the last minute dash.

Petunia Lee said...

Wen-Ai: I am with you COMPLETELY! I was so demoralized with my B3 in Bible Knowledge after I had studied so hard that I actually got a B3 in my O levels for Bible Study. The Teacher asked me why I didn't get A1 since her B3 was meant to correspond to an A1 at the actual O levels... I told her that I gave up and stopped studying since I had lost hope.

Open Kitchen Concept said...

Oh dear, the nonsense students have to go through these days... Poor things.

Unknown said...

Must relax. I'm sure your son has the necessary stamina to keep up with work. It's time to teach him how to relax and actually think. If people are getting 70% for math exams, it means that they are not thinking and only relying on experience. Thinking is a skill that is trained. It cannot be done with video games, television and sports.

You'll be suprised at how much having a balanced lifestyle can help in the development of cognitive and emotional thinking.

Petunia Lee said...

Zongling - Gee.. I must say I take exception to the slightly condescending assertion that I have not taught my son to think. It is also somewhat presumptuous to assume that by merely looking at a single number "70" you draw the conclusion that not getting above 70 EQUATES NOT thinking and only working from experience... and from there to project that Little Boy indulges in Unthinking activities such as TV, computer games blah blah blah.

The PSLE requires speed, accuracy and thinking skills. When he got the paper back, he was able to figure the solutions to all the sums he did not know how to do. Fully 25 marks of 100 were allocated to these "thinking" sums. This is too many in an exam that should test the whole spectrum of skills from thinking to computational reflexes.

Our strategy at present is to train for speed and accuracy at all the no-need-to-think sums in order to maximize time that can be used to THINK with in the exam.

Why would you say I would be surprised that a balanced lifestyle contributes to cognitive functioning and emotional balance? How do you know that I don't ALREADY structure Little Boy's life with a view to enough play and rest?

In this particular case of 70 marks, no one in the level got above 85. This indicates that the exam had TOO MANY "thinking" sums for the time given and NONE of the students had time to THINK over the remaining 15 marks.

It was not a fair exam... and it was meant to terrorise children so that they would forego rest and relaxation to get their marks up. The equation has many variables and I completely disagree with you that 70 marks = cannot think.