Doing well in the PSLE of Singapore

by Wong Kin Leong

Primary School Leaving Examination are the first educational hurdle of all Singapore students and has been a staple of our enduring educational system since its inception. So what’s all the fuss over the PSLE’s? First and foremost, it dictates the secondary schools that a child can go to. Secondly, it dictates the stream that a child will be studying as well. The current secondary school streams are Express, Normal Academic and Normal Technical.

So how do you support your child in this endeavour?

I’ve been tutoring kids for the last 15 years and there are 4 main categories that characterizes a successful PSLE candidate.

  1. Intelligence
  2. Gumption
  3. Stamina
  4. Determination


Developing the intelligence of a child. What are the do’s and don’t’s? The first thing I find that a child do very well is the ability to acquire information. Their rate of learning is ferocious as compared to us adults. I always find that the weaker students has parent’s who underestimate the learning velocity and potential of their child. Quality of information, and the rate of disbursement of information to the child are important for the development of the intelligence of the child. Useless information leads to refuse in the brain. And a slow learning rate makes them lag behind their peers. Things parents need to avoid like the plaque. The PSLE score is heavily linked to the intelligence of a child. And rightfully so.

How do we develop the intelligence of a child?

  1. The simplest and cheapest ways to teach a kid is to go to a library. Instill the virtues of the public library system. This old school method still has a few tricks up its sleeves and are still a viable way of acquiring superb materials. Enrol your kids in interactive courses organized by the library. They generally have reading classes for kids, or introduces new interesting books to make a bookworm out of your child. These classes also tend to involve socializing for your child, and that is an awesome by-product of making more friends and learning social skills.
  2. Read to your child every night. By far, the most effective way of disbursement of information. Take 20 mins out of your hectic lifestyle. Pick any topic and start reading. Your child will learn diction, as well as gaining knowledge in the process. Therapeutic, and bonding with your child as the by-product which works in your favour far down the path of a healthy relationship with your child. What else can you ask for?
  3. Games. I have always heard parents tell me that their kids play too much games and not studying enough. True enough. But I have to say, in moderation, games does provide an intelligence boost that cannot be acquired otherwise. Games can be divided into three distinct forms. Traditional board games, computer games and physical games like basketball. They all have their merits and again, used in moderation, gives an edge to children both mentally and physically. Games teaches kids a passion to persevere, to win or to lose gracefully, to solve problems, to improve hand-eye coordination, etc. The list is too long to talk about here but I think you get the picture.
  4. IQ tests. These are the tests administered by MENSA. We don’t need to test our kids IQ, we just want them to acquire a love for solving IQ tests. Just like in the show “The Da Vinci Code” where Dan Brown weaves his tale out of codes and IQ type of quests, the mystery and intrigue can be intoxicating to your child. IQ questions tends to develop a heuristic skill that requires out of the box solutions. Again, we are living in a highly paced evolving society that requires this skill set to properly survive as we can never anticipate what will happen tomorrow. So, definitely a worthwhile skill to have for you child.
  5. Music and the arts. I have never once thought that music nor the arts can be bad for anyone. Economically, it might be a challenge. But intellectually, it can be stimulating and promotes creativity. Singapore have invested heavily into the arts in recent years. New museums, galleries, art schools as well as a budding local arts community are starting to transpire our 20th century Singaporean hardwork into a 21st century First World culture. Take your child to an art museum, go for a musical, enrol in an arts class. Get the creative juices going and maybe find a hidden Michelangelo or Yo Yo Ma in our midst.
  6. The News. How current is your child to the news? Current affairs are an important but often neglected development in a child’s scope of education. Ask your child what happened today and involve them in the latest developments of the world. In this decade, the internet has linked our lives into current affairs that we cannot let our child be ignorant in this topic. Twitter and facebook dictates so. Social networks are abuzz with the latest news and links people tighter than ever. If we don’t know what happened today, we are just simply a non-participant in the society. And that is where our child needs to be. To be a participant in our society and have a voice in this world. It is simply not enough to just exist anymore with our global connections.
  7. New technology. Ever heard of first adopters? These are a bunch of people who live to buy the latest technology. It is obvious how techonology can help making your kid smarter. The latest technology always creates high interests in the minds of children. Since kids are pretty new to this earth, its only natural that they should get the latest. They also seem to get it faster than we do don’t they? As in, kids always seem to get a gadget running in no time, whereas adults takes forever. Now how do we switch this on again? Buying the latest technology and making it available for children to use creates a culture of always knowing what is the latest. Having the latest technology always creates winners, and don’t take my word for it, most wars are won by countries that have the latest technology of their times.
  8. DIY. Do-It Yourself. How many times have you let your child do something and you not interfere? For example, get an order at McDonalds for the family? Sometimes, parent’s have a tendency to over-protect their children. You have all the right to, but draw a line to where that should stop. One day, your child will be a father/mother. How do we teach them to become one? By letting them do things on their own. And insist that they finish the job. But start them off slow and only on the right attitude. Don’t make them do things they don’t like. Dishes, laundry, taking the rubbish out. Or things that are dangerous. Boiling water, drilling, sharpening the knife are a definite no-no. That’s just counter-productive. Let them do things that make them feel like they are adults. Children loves to be mini-us, and takes pride when we approve of it and respects them as one. Let them order what they like, give them tasks that makes them excited. They might not do it well right off the bat, but hey, its their first time so give them some slack. They’ll get it right soon enough. And yes, they’ll turn out to be excellent parents because you showed them how to be one.

Disclaimer: The above can be applied to any child doing PSLE in Singapore. When I am talking about intelligence, I am not talking about gifted children whom are naturally intelligent. There are such kids but I have often been asked why some gifted kids don’t do well in the PSLE, and some do pretty well. I shall explain this later but the intelligence I am talking about are more generalized.

Meaning, any child who are capable of solving mathematical sums, understand scientific fundamentals and are capable of holding a conversation with their peers in a common language. This generally means almost 95% of PSLE participants will have the intelligence to pass the PSLE well. However, in the last 15 years being a tutor, I have seen these 95% and there are a wide varience in the ability to perform well due to external factors that are beyond their scope of intelligence. These variance can be due to parent’s educational background, the way they are brought up, their peers and simply, the schools that the child attend and the culture of their schools plus teachers and principals.


Initiative and resourcefulness. These are the qualities that will create intelligence in a child. Students that show gumption generally do much better in their PSLE. Simply because they seem to find out more than their peers, as well as makes the best use of their time. Initiative creates students who study by themselves, find the relevant information by themselves and start their own studying when the need arises. Autonomy to operate before you tell them to do it. Resourcefulness on the other hand is to find what they need by themselves. Or make things happen with whatever resources they have. A real life MacGyver.

So how do we cultivate gumption in students?

We create a reason for them to start being serious with their studies. Prompt them of what they need to do. Give them a timeline of when they should start. I got a new Primary 5 student a year back. She had a bad mentality towards studies. When I asked her how come most of the question she did was wrong, she replied, “You mean I must get them all correct?” She did not care if she did well in her studies and had no idea what PSLE entailed. As far as she was concerned, computer games was her be-all-and-end-all. Then slowly, I slid in reasons why students should do well in PSLE during her classes. How a failure could mean a disastrous career in Singapore. And most importantly, what Primary 6 students do to get good grades in PSLE (meaning, 6-10 hrs of studies a day is a normal occurance) and when will they start preparing to do so much work. That was one year back. So its January now and she is still a student of mine. Guess what? She put her hand up the other day, and asked, “Can you print out more questions for me to do and I do it with my friend? And can I come over to ask questions if I don’t know how to do the sums?” And guess what? She did come back for extra lessons with me this week. Very encouraging indeed.

So what transpired? She woke up somewhere down the line last year and said to herself that she needed to do something about it. I am pretty sure she put a time she started to work harder. All I did, was to seed that thought that she needed to do something and a timeline of how it should be done. Very Inception indeed. But it worked. I don’t think there is a point in telling off children if they don’t study. They respond much better if they saw the need to do it themselves. The fire within will always burn hotter than the fire without.


Stamina refers to the ability to put in the miles. Psst, the secret to awesome PSLE scores? 6-10 hours of pure studying. No complaints. No discomforts. Full focussing. So how does a child sit there relentlessly for the whole Primary 6 and knock in 10 hours of studying time? By starting them off young. The analogy to a marathon makes this easy. No one can run a full marathon without training and gaining stamina. This accumulation of stamina comes about by running 1km, increasing it to 2km, and then 3km, gaining higher endurance along the way, over months and years, and keep on moving the ante up till you hit the full monty. There’s is no other way of saying this but, for any child to do well in PSLE, they need to put the miles in. And the magical number is 10. 10 hours of studies every day. So start with 1-2 hrs during their Primary 5 holidays, then move it up to 3-4 hrs and keep on increasing this till it hits 10. Here’s a warning, don’t expect this to happen every day. Have some rest days and keep their mind fresh by doing something fun. They are afterall kids. They do much better if you start this regime earlier, during Primary 2-3. As with more practice and consistency, they tend to get better at keeping their energy high when they reach Primary 6 and need to clock in the hours.


All the above comes to naught without determination. The belief that it is possible to score high in PSLE is more important than everything that I have said so far. I have taught students that are very determined and some that aren’t. The first group tends to score higher, with all other factors being equal. Children tend to do well in things that they can believe in. They see a reason to aim higher. Nevermind if they don’t hit the mark, but aiming high at least gets them a better grade than one that aims low or worse, don’t have ant aim to begin with. So we have to be careful of the things that we say to them. Positive reassurances are a must. Its not good enough that we say it, we have to actually believe in it too. Optimism always trumps pessimism when it comes to studies.

So how do we instill determination in a child?

2 important skill sets has to be introduced to the child. A challenge. And the need to complete the challenge. Again, the methodology is much like the same as the stamina methodology. Start off with small challenges. But make sure the child does not give up. When they succeed, acknowledge them. If they fail, analyze the reason with them too. The important thing is not to give up till they suceed. Move up the ranks to harder challenges and soon enough, they will be determined enough to make sure they complete their own challenges.

In summary, the PSLE awards those who deserves it. With proper preparation and planning, it can be triumphed. I do believe all candidates can achieve a good PSLE grade. The reason for any divergence can only come from a lack of those qualities mentioned above. Of course, there are some factors beyond control, but I have seen students who started off wrong but finishing strong for the PSLE. Proper guidance and advice where it is needed is important to correct what is wrong.

What else?

We can help by making the environment conducive for the child to study in. A well lit, quiet and ventilated room. A properly organized study with all materials in easy reach. When every second counts in Primary 6, efficiency is everything. Keep a healthy diet and before you know it, the PSLE’s over.

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