Study-smart guide to PSLE success — English paper I & II

Parents take note — don’t let junior fall prey to these common pitfalls; score precious points instead!

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Junior’s grammatical and vocabulary proficiency are of utmost importance if they’re to ace the remaining two written papers.

While prepping with assessment books and attempting past-year papers are a good way to improve proficiency, there are still common problem areas that can spell trouble.

Duncan Rose, head of schools at British Council Singapore, shares expert ways to overcome some common pitfalls in both papers:

Paper one – Situational Writing

For the situational-writing section, the focus is placed on the student’s functional writing skills — writing letters, e-mails or reports. The writing must suit the purpose, audience and context of the question.

Pitfall #1: Not including all the given information.

Coach junior in reading through the question and take note of critical information they MUST include in their answers. Take special note of names, e-mail addresses and postal addresses.

“Identify all the important points in the [given] scenario and use it as a checklist,” said Rose.

Be sure that your child leaves enough time before the end of the examination to double check their finished work against the points in their checklist. Rose adds, “Edit to make sure you don’t miss anything.”

Pitfall #2: Not using the right format.

Don’t let your kid focus all their attention on perfecting one format of writing only. Rose says, “There are lots of text types that might come up. Don’t be fooled into assuming you can study just one and ‘it will all be okay’!”

The format for an e-mail will inevitably be different from that of a postal letter. Rose says it will help for parents to expose their kids to a wide variety of text types before the day of the exams. It pays to always be prepared!

Plan the shape of the written response before getting started on writing. This ensures there is appropriate flow and you don’t repeat or miss things.”

Pitfall #3: Not knowing where to begin, continue or end.

Reading and learning from well-written pieces are a good method in getting your kid’s writing juices flowing.

Rose says, “Study the techniques that made [these model answers] good. Memorising phrases will not work as the topics can be varied.”

Besides knowing how to start, it is also crucial that their composition flow from start to end. Rose stresses, “Plan the shape of the written response before getting started on writing. This ensures there is appropriate flow and you don’t repeat or miss things.”

Having a plan of attack also saves your young ‘un from the next pitfall…

Pitfall #4: Not having enough time

Don’t forget, there is still another part to this paper — the composition — which is worth more marks than situational writing. Rose stresses these three words: Watch. Your. Time.


Read on to find out how junior can avoid the common pitfalls in composition writing!

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Paper one – Composition and free writing

When it comes to scoring at composition, Rose says the reader’s overall impression of the written piece is THE determining factor of how your child scores. He points out that examiners will be keeping an eye out for the planning, organisation of the piece and if it is clear and readable.

Ensure that your child taps their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary to show their flair in writing. Rose states that the key is to further enhance your reputation as a writing master.

Pitfall #1: The reader is disinterested.

Junior’s story must be engaging enough to keep the examiner interested in finding out what happens next. Rose says, “[Use] strong techniques such as onomatopoeia [to] give your composition energy and life.”

Onomatopoeia describes words that imitate natural sounds — examples include chirp, meow, buzz and hiss. Using these words turns your child’s story into an immersive masterpiece, which involves the reader’s five senses. Doing so allows the scenes to linger in the mind of the reader, adds Rose.

Planning the story helps junior ensure their responses read like a coherent story. Rose says to “Make sure [the] composition has a clear situation, build-up, problem, solution and conclusion.”

Take note of the way techniques like similes and metaphors are used to create images in the minds of readers even after they have stopped reading.”

Pitfall #2: Not knowing where to begin, continue or end.

There’s no shortcut to becoming a proficient writer. Rose says, “Writing is an art and good writers don’t just put pen to paper. They plan and prepare. They think about their choice of words and add new words to their vocabulary.”

Urge junior to spend time reading extensively. Take note of the way techniques like similes and metaphors are used to create images in the minds of readers even after they have stopped reading.

And then, there’s paper two. Click “load more” for common mistakes in grammar, vocab and comprehension…

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Paper two – Grammar, Vocabulary and Comprehension

Paper two accounts for nearly half of junior’s total score! Thus, securing as many points as possible in paper two could mean the difference between acing the subject or not.

Your child will need to tackle a mix of open-ended and multiple-choice questions in grammar and vocabulary; and then an open-ended comprehension test. All in under two hours.

Pitfall #1: Not getting sufficient practice

The time spent practising with assessment books are vital to honing their skills in detecting mistakes. Incidentally, urging your child to check and take note of prior corrections in their own work can help, too.

Parents should not overlook transformation exercises too. Rose stresses these can help you assess your child’s grammatical awareness in finding different ways of communicating the same piece of information.

Pitfall #2: Not reading through the questions first

When tackling the comprehension section, Rose says it will be helpful for students to look at the questions BEFORE getting to the passage. That way, as they read the passage, they will be more aware of the possible content to focus on.

Rose stresses these can help you assess your child’s grammatical awareness in finding different ways to communicate the same piece of information.”

Pitfall #3: Not reading the passage twice

The purpose of the first reading is to get the gist of what the passage is about. The second reading is supposed to be a lot more detailed — centred on spotting the parts of the text that would clue your child in on the answers.

Rose says, “This detailed reading allows you to fine-tune your responses and be more accurate.”

Pitfall #4: Assuming or jumping to conclusions

Skimming and scanning for keywords in the passage during the second reading is just one step of comprehension. Rose says it is also vital for students to read words and phrases around these key ideas and phrases — this helps your child fully comprehend the writer’s position and ideas, before committing to an answer.


Duncan Rose is head of schools at British Council Singapore.


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