Be a coach and cheerleader for your child during exam season

Ms June Yong and daughter Vera

Ms June Yong envisions herself putting on the “coaching hat” to reassure her daughter, Vera, in the final week before the PSLE. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID


SEP 19, 2021
Venessa Lee


With the written papers of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scheduled to begin next Thursday (Sept 30), parents may be thinking about how to best support their children in Primary 6 in this last stretch of their first national exam.

Ms June Yong, 41, envisions herself putting on the “coaching hat” to reassure her 12-year-old daughter, Vera, in the final week before the PSLE.

She will tell Vera it is normal to feel anxious before an exam; that she can get through it just like she did her prelims (preliminary exams); and remind her, even if she encounters a difficult question, to focus on her breathing and calm down before attempting it.

Besides settling any pre-exam jitters, she wants to remind Vera of her unwavering support.

“Above all, don’t forget to let your children know that their worth as a person far exceeds what a single examination can measure, and that you are behind them every step of the way,” says Ms Yong, a family life specialist at the charity, Focus on the Family Singapore.

She and her husband, who is 40 and works in wealth management, also have two sons, aged eight and 10.


Ms Yong’s approach in the last stretch before the PSLE has been more about building on the good work they have done not only academically, but also in terms of mental preparation and emotional support.

For most of this year, she has been guiding Vera in her exam preparation.

She says: “My role morphed slightly to that of a coach, rather than a tutor. When she has fears or worries, I try to talk her through them, neither dismissing nor overplaying them. We also make time for her when she asks questions about her future, from secondary school options to career choices.”

Around the time of semester assessments in March, Ms Yong found that her daughter seemed stressed about her grades.

“I became conscious of her need to express her worries and I listened to her and became more intentional in spending time with her.

“I thought at the time that there was this real need to minimise the weight of PSLE on her shoulders. I wanted to put it in context: It is one of many exams and its score is not going to be a deal-breaker for future jobs,” says Ms Yong, adding that her daughter gained a healthier perspective as a result.


Ms Yong supports Vera

Besides settling any pre-exam jitters, Ms Yong wants to remind Vera of her unwavering support



Besides settling any pre-exam jitters, Ms Yong wants to remind Vera of her unwavering support

At this late stage before the PSLE, she says it helps to validate the child’s months of preparation and revision, as well as to remind him or her that “no matter what results we get, as long as we put in our best effort, we can be proud of our achievement”.

Ms Josephine Loh, Senior Manager (Training) in the Family Wellness Division of Morning Star Community Services, says this approach, emphasising “a growth mindset and process goals”, is more meaningful than aiming for specific results.

In some cases, the child may be so focused on scoring As that he or she may fear failure in not getting such grades, Ms Loh says.

She adds that primary school children may not be able to gauge how many hours of revision they should put in daily, in order to achieve the grades they want. As such, conscientiously working to achieve good results is itself worthy of praise.

Ms Loh says: “In the last week before the PSLE, check in with the child about his or her process goals. If he or she has been conscientiously putting in time and effort in revising for the past weeks and months, you can reassure the child that he or she is on the right track.

“This last week, focus more on encouragement with coaching statements like, ‘You’re doing a great job’.”

It is good to tune into the child’s emotional state in the run-up to the PSLE, she says.


Ms Loh advises parents to apply the LAP approach, which has the additional benefit of reinforcing the child’s life skills: Listening to the child, Acknowledging his or her feelings, and Problem-solving.

Listening to the child voice his or her concerns without judgment affirms the child. Do not say, for instance, that the PSLE “doesn’t matter” as it is important to him or her.

One way to acknowledge the child’s feelings or fears is to repeat what he or she is articulating, such as “I hear that you don’t feel that confident”, which signals to the child that his or her parents sees his or her reality.

Brainstorming possible solutions to problems with the child is another way to empower the young one.

If he or she blanks out during revision, for instance, the child may suggest making things better by listening to music or reading a comic book, Ms Loh says.

Some children may worry that they are “failures” if they do not meet their goals for specific grades.

Ms Loh advises parents: “Let your child know that your love for him or her is unconditional.”


5 exam technique tips

Now that the bulk of the revision is (hopefully) done, here are some tips for the last stretch heading into the PSLE at the end of this month, where making small improvements in examination technique and time management may yield a competitive advantage.

Dr Betsy Ng, lecturer at the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice at National Institute of Education, says: “A student’s behaviour during the exam is likely to influence his or her exam result.”

These strategies apply to children at other school levels taking their exams too.


1. Make use of test-taking strategies

Dr Ng suggests test-taking techniques that help students organise their information, reducing the amount they have to focus on.

These include underlining key words in the questions to reinforce their understanding; crossing out options they are certain are incorrect for multiple-choice questions; and making quick notes or drafting an action plan to tackle lengthier passages, such as in the comprehension sections of language papers.


2. Don’t look round

Dr Ng says: “It is important to resist distractions as it leads to ineffective behaviour during an exam.”

She strongly advises students not to look around during the exam as there is a tendency to panic or rush if others are perceived to be flipping through the paper faster than they are.


3. Budget your time

Mr Julian Lee, a science teacher at tuition agency Our Learning Loft, recommends ways to avoid not completing the exam paper.

He says: “Before the start of any paper, students should familiarise themselves with the structure and composition of the paper. Strategise how much time should be allocated to each section.”

Ms June Yong, a family life specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore, adds: “Help the child have a rough gauge of how much time he or she has when answering certain types of questions.”

For instance, in mathematics, typically more time is needed to answer long problem sums, compared with shorter ones.


4. Think about how to apply what you know

Ms Yvonne Chen, principal tutor at Future Academy tuition centre, says some students may not know how to get started with some questions that require the application of scientific or other concepts.

In such scenarios, remember that long structured exam questions typically contain a series of questions that relate to one another.

Also, if you are running out of time, prioritise more straightforward questions compared with problem sums with long sentences, which will take more time to fully understand, she says.

Come back to the more challenging questions later, bearing in mind other concepts taught under the same topic, which may be relevant.


5. Take timed tests

Mr Kelvin Ang, a Families For Life Council member, gets his 11-year-old daughter Alethea to do timed tests during the revision period.

Simulating the exam environment has helped her focus and improved her exam time management, says the 45-year-old financial planner, who also has two sons aged 15 and 16. Mr Ang is behind the popular Cheekiemonkies parenting and lifestyle blog.


This article was originally published in The Straits Times on 19 September 2021

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