Just learning everything by heart alone won’t help junior score in his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) science paper. Notes Charmaine Choo, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Training at MindChamps, “Make a commitment to understand, rather than memorise the concepts, so that [he] will be able to apply them to new situations.”
While practice papers and past-year exams should remain staples in his revision plan, using tools like concept maps can deepen his ability to grasp difficult topics better. Choo advises, “Focus on the connecting words that link the concepts.” For example, the topic of heat is linked to heat conductivity, which can be further broken down to good or bad heat conductors.
Your child should try to complete at least 10 multiple choice questions daily, Choo adds. On your part, you can spot gaps in your child’s knowledge of a particular topic by looking at papers he has attempted, such as from his preliminary exam. She stresses that students should approach open-ended questions in the PSLE from an examiner’s point of view. Consider these:
(a) Which topic am I tested on?
(b) Which concept am I being tested on?
(c) What are the keywords in the question?
Besides knowing what words like “state”, “describe”, “explain”, “conclude” and “predict” mean, recognise what is expected in your answer and how detailed it must be.
(d) What key words must I use in my answer?
He’ll need to include critical words taught in class such as “Air is a poor heat conductor or good heat insulator.”
Choo highlights common mistakes students commonly make and how to get around them.
Pitfall #1: Failing to provide a comparison between two materials as asked in the question.
EXAM QUESTION Jane attached a wooden rod to a steel rod. She then wrapped a piece of paper tightly around the rods and heated them gently over a Bunsen burner. After some time, she observed scorch marks on the paper around the wooden rod. Why is the paper around the steel rod not scorched?
ERROR If the student’s response focuses only on how the steel rod conducts heat away from the fire, he would not get the full score. The examiner will take his response to imply wrongly that the wooden rod does not conduct heat away from the fire.
DO THIS Choo explains the best answer would be, “The steel rod conducts heat away from the fire faster than the wooden rod as steel is the better conductor of heat than wood.” Make sure to make a comparison between the two materials in your response.
Pitfall #2: Failing to answer the question
EXAM QUESTION How are Fruit C and Fruit D similar in the way their seeds are dispersed?
ERROR If he answers that Fruit C and D do not have wing-like structures and are not dry when ripe.
DO THIS Choo says, “Both of the fruits are dispersed by animals.” She adds that students should avoid answering a question without first analysing the question thoroughly. Choo states, “When a student answers an imagined question, he will not garner any marks.”
Pitfall #3: Giving an answer with no scientific merit
EXAM QUESTION Some children attached a pinwheel to the top of a hollow tin and then placed a lighted candle under the tin. What caused the pinwheel to spin?
ERROR The pinwheel will spin as the candle’s flame is blowing air to the pinwheel, making it spin.
DO THIS Choo explains, “The air above the candle gains heat, expands and rises up to the hollow tin, causing the pinwheel to spin.” Students’ responses should be explained using scientific terms covered in the textbooks. He will not get any marks if he doesn’t do so.
Pitfall #4: Giving an answer with insufficient information
EXAM QUESTION Water bodies are a source of water in the water cycle. Explain how water from these bodies form clouds in the sky.
ERROR The water from the water bodies will evaporate into water vapour and then condense into clouds.
DO THIS Choo states, “Water in the water bodies gain heat and evaporate into water vapour, which rises and loses heat to the cooler surrounding air and condenses to become water droplets.” He should give a detailed response based on the keywords and terms found in the textbooks. Choo points out that an answer for a typical two-mark question, which should take no more than two minutes to complete, requires two to four points of information.
Charmaine Choo is the Assistant Director of Curriculum and Training at MindChamps.