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Tutor appalled at prelim questions set by primary school being overly “out-of-the-box”

From: Anonymous tutor/teacher

I am a tutor and Minstry of Education relief teacher. I have a Pri 6 student this year and I am appalled when I see her Prelims Maths paper. Schools have a "tradition" of setting their prelims paper much harder than papers, especially for the Maths paper. I have practised with the student questions from several past-year prelims papers from top primary schools throughout this year. But when I see the questions in the Paper 2 of the Maths prelims paper, I am appalled. 50-60% of the questions in Paper 2 are really "out-of-the-box".

The purpose of having tests and exams in schools is to test whether a student has learnt the concepts that he/she is being taught in school. If the schools want to "challenge" the students n perhaps sieve out the better students, the schools can set a few challenging, out-of-the-box questions. But I think a good rule of thumb is 5-10% of the total questions. This is because it is fair to mostly test what the students have been taught n practised in schools.

As a teacher who also set test and exam questions, I would like to propose a change in this "tradition" for a couple of reasons. Firstly, by setting such a large percentage of questions "out-of-the-box", it is really disadvantageous to the average students. They may not do well even if they had been studying hard for the exams. These questions are already very challenging to the bright students who have been studying hard and may have access to past-year exam papers and tuition.

In addition, these students are doing the papers under exam conditions, with time constraints and under stress and pressure. This is very demoralising to the students. Primary school students are really just children who do not understand life. Some may not be able to pick themselves up after such a blow to their confidence. This is especially when there is only about 1 more month after prelims to their PSLE papers. How do they overcome their disappointment to continue revising for their PSLE with confidence?

Secondly, some Singapore parents do severely scold and even cane their children when they do not do well in school. Many parents are not familiar with the school syllabus, so they will tend to judge their children's performance in schools based on their school results. If the child gets severely punished by his/her parent for not doing well in the prelims, how would the child feel, especially in addition to feeling disappointed and losing confidence in himself/herself in the first place? The child can feel more demoralised and lose self-esteem. It can be emotionally scarring for these primary school students, who are still children.

To schools and MOE, maybe there should be a rule of thumb that 5-10% of questions in test and exam papers are out-of-the-box. This will make it fair for all students, regardless of their abilities and preparation for the tests and exams. We also have to be sensitive to the emotional well-being of primary school students because they are still children after all and are not able to understand many things about life yet.

To my student, do not be disheartened. Continue to revise for and take your PSLE with confidence.