HELP!!!! My DS or DD Can’t Pass Section B!

Firstly, content and knowledge must be good to pass Section B.

If your child has been hardworking enough to read the science guides and pay attention in class and she or he is still losing half a mark here and there for incomplete answers or clueless about how to answer Application, Process Skills and Higher order thinking skills PSLE Science questions, then here are some suggestions.
When clueless about where to start when looking at a question or if losing lots of half marks, get your child to:

  1. Highlight key words in the stem of the question. (To ensure answer is to the point)
  2. Identify the topic. (if at a loss as to where to start)
  3. Identify the key concept they are trying to test.
  4. Identify the related keywords. (Scribble down the keywords in the margin in pencil. This will minimise the loss of half a mark here and there for writing answers in haste and missing out key points.)
  5. String together an answer.
  6. If still really clueless after all that, consider taking the time to visualise what is happening or even drawing a diagram of the verbal description in the question.
  7. If still really clueless, try imagining yourself in the situation.
  8. If that still does not work, think of what would happen in an opposite scenario or
  9. draw the example to the extremes and consider what would happen.

Example 1: How to avoid missing out keywords.

  1. Highlight parts of question.
  2. Topic: Heat
  3. Key concept: Conduction, Melting, Heat travels from warmer to cooler region.
  4. Keywords: Poor conductor of heat, Gain  heat, Melt.
  5. String it together: Air in the gas bubbles is a poor conductor of heat. Heat from the hot oil does not travel to the colder ice cream at a fast rate, hence the ice cream does not gain enough heat to melt in the short time it takes for the dough to cook.

Example 2: How to tackle a question a child may be clueless in:

Comments on the above question:

  • Topic: adaptations.
  • Keywords, powerful forelimbs or claws.
  • Still clueless: Imagine or Draw a wombat with a young tunneling down some soil. Draw one with a pouch forwards and the other backwards. Or consider yourself digging sand in a playground with a huge pocket infront of your dress/shirt/pants. What do you use to dig?Hands or Feet? What problems would you face. I think you may end up with a pocket full of sand. Now if your pocket were upside down, then in cannot collect sand.

a) The words “dig and burrow” and “pouch facing backwards” should clue in the child to consider things like dirt and soil collecting in the pouch or hitting the young’s head if forward facing, or digging down a hole may cause the young to fall out if the pouch was facing forewards.

b) digging would involve powerful forelimbs.

If its an experiment type question, ask your child to:

  1. Spot the difference between all the given set-ups. Highlight the differences. That should give you part of the aim of the experiment or the “independent variable” …i.e. the variable you are suppose to change.
  2. Identify controlled variables if neceessary (this is when questions ask for: State “ANOTHER variable that should be kept constant”)
  3. Identify topic and keywords (scribble keywords in the margin)
  4. String answer together.

Example 3: Experiment type questions.

  1. Variable changed (Independent variable): Substance A, B, C or D
  2. Variables kept constant (Controlled variables) stated in question:  amount of water, same container.
  3. Topic: Solubility. Not directly related to any taught topic: Common sense.

Answer: a) Temperature of water. b) B. Substance B cannot dissolve in water so B cannot be washed away by water.

(Note: If a child has never been allowed to wash clothes or table cloths, or step into a kitchen to make milo, dissolve sugar in tea or coffee or make jelly, then yes, they may be at a disadvantage.  I know many children who grow up being served by maids, never poured water into a cup at home, never ever seen the whole fruit because the maids cut up everything nicely for them. However, to me, it is a reasonable expectation that an 11 year old has washed a piece of cloth or prepared some food and drinks and have a basic set of skills that they need for independence.  Children in Singapore know a lot in theory. But for many children their self help skills are terrible. They don’t know how to wash, use a knife to cut confidently. Even some secondary school kids are like that. No matter how busy you are or how free your maid will be, a sound piece of advice is the day your child is able to, give them some household duties. Its free tuition for common sense and life skills which are more important than passing an exam. Plus it really helps in secondary school when they have Science Practical Assessment, and this time it is counted for the O and A levels.)

Regarding Section B, when students answer questions, they often forget its a Science Exam, so the explanation must be based on some science concept they have learnt before. Their first response is often to panic and say to themselves “But I’ve never seen this Q before”.

Children need to be empowered with confidence instead to think “For most of life’s problems that I face, I would never have “seen” or experienced them before, but i have to solve the problem with my given knowledge.”

Many children actually need more help in motivation and developing tenacity, which is actually partly eroded by the most common reward system which praises marks, grades and results. For more info, refer to:


Also refer to blog entry on minimizing careless mistakes if that is an issue with your child.

Posted in Carelessness, Creativity, Process Skills and Application Questions, PSLE Science Exam | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Minimising Careless Mistakes in PSLE Science

Here are some suggestions as to how to help a child minimise careless mistakes in PSLE Science exams.

  • Sufficient sleep = Mental alertless.
  • Lower anxiety, don’t panic.
  • Don’t rush. Stay calm. Unlike in math exams, usually students are not so hardpressed for time in science exams.
  • READ Every word in the question. Many students have the habit of seeing the diagram and not reading the stem of the question. Basically, if you don’t know the problem, how are you going to solve it?  Teach the child to use a ruler to place under each line of words.  Read every word in every line.
  • Students must HIGHLIGHT (underlining or using colouring pencil is a far cheaper option) usually one or two key points in the question. Often, kids simply cannot tell what is important. Given a highlighter, they highlight almost everything. If this is the case, confiscate the highlighter. Its a waste of money.
  • Examples of what to highlight include:    
      • Aim
      • Differences in the diagram (e.g. in a control and experimental setup)
      • The variables changed or kept constant in an experiment
      • Negatives like “False” or “Not”
      • Words like “other than”, “based only on the diagram above”
      • Sweeping statements are usually wrong.  Highlight warning words like “all” “never” “always” “none”.  e.g. “All plant cells have chloroplast”. “All mammals give birth”. Both of which are false statements.
      • Units
      • Other keywords
      • In electricity questions, the pathway of the electric current.
      • In web of life questions, use different colours for different food chains to count.
      • In forces, note “Extension of spring” or “Length of spring”
      • “dark” in photosynthesis questions
  • Do lots of writing for MCQ on the Question paper. 
    • Tick and cross options.
    • Writing T or F. 
    • Thought processes should be recorded quickly in pencil (e.g. key concepts, keywords, equations, diagrams). Descriptions should be sketched into a diagram. It does not have to be neat. (Sometimes just writing a respiration or photosynthesis equation or drawing a quick sketch of the circulatory system or water cycle can help clarify the child’s mind, but they are over-confident that they know it so well or they think its too much effort to draw it out. With practice, these bits of information only take less than 10 seconds to sketch out and could in reality save them quite a few marks.)
  • There’s no glory in doing things mentally. I hate it when people tell me they did things in their heads. That’s not smart.  Not for Science exams anyway. Doing things only in your head opens up the floodgate of careless mistakes. I tell my students that if they didn’t write it down, it means they haven’t bothered to analyse the question properly. It may seem time consuming at first but it gets faster with practice.  Not everything is important to pen down. With practice they get the idea of which type of questions need “working”. This often this helps reduce errors.
  • If possible, know the answer and write it down (in short point form) BEFORE looking at the options. Why before? Because options are often (though not always) written in a way to trick the students. 
  • If you don’t know the answer, then eliminate options. If you still don’t know, circle the question, take a stab in the dark and shade a guess first and come back to it later when the paper is completed. (If you really don’t know, and cannot even form a hypothesis (educated guess) don’t keep changing answers, your first gutfeel is probably your best bet.)
  •  Shade the optical answer sheet as you do the paper. Not after finishing.
  • In Section B (Short Answer), it is VERY important to reread all the answers if time permits. Especially, those 2 to 4 mark paragraph type answers. Often in their haste, students can slip up and even write “gain heat” instead of “lose heat” “conductor” instead of “insulator” due to carelessness. When asked the same question outside of an exam situation, they show full understanding. Its just mental fatique in the exam that causes slip ups. Giving the mind a break and then re-reading answers will hopefully alert a student to such slip ups. (Even as adults, we have to write and rewrite drafts, all the more children, though time may not permit.)
  • If there is time for checking, check! If you first did the MCQ question by choosing the correct option, try redoing the question by eliminating options. Try to solve questions in a different way. Work backwards. If necessary, integrate knowledge from different topics. This sytem of double checks is important.

A* in Math and Very careless in Science?

There are some students who can score up 98% and above regularly in math but tend to make alot of careless mistakes in Science.  How can this be?  Some children are used to working well with speed and numeral accuracy.  However, in Science, some questions alone can be long (Question, not answer space).  Much detailed analysis of the paragraphs and diagrams has to be done.  Every word must be read. 

For example, in a photosynthesis and respiration question below, if the child reads too fast and misses out the word “dark” which is only mentioned once, then there is no way they can get the answer right for that question.

In addition, verbal accuracy is different from numerical accuracy. In Section B, students must be very precise in their answers, provide complete explanations and yet answer to the point. Its not about writing alot. Its about being able to give a precise account using key science concepts. 

Students often speak informally using words in a lose way.  But this is not acceptable for science.

  • e.g. In science when asked about
    • heat you cannot answer in terms of temperature,
    • mass you cannot say the weight changed.
    • water’s properties you cannot say it is white, rather it is colourless, odourless.
    • Clouds you cannot say its a gas, they are liquids (tiny water droplets)
    • Steam from a kettle  you cannot say it is a cloud of steam  rather an invisible gas.
    • Results you cannot interchange the words Accurate and Precise. They are not the same.

 Also consider the following answers:

Which is a better answer to the question : What is the role of the chloroplast in a cell?

  • To make food for the plant.
  • To trap light and so carry out photosynthesis.
  • It contains chlorophyll, which traps light so that the plant cell can carry out photosynthesis and make food.

 Which is a better answer regarding respiration and photosynthesis of a plant?

  • In the day, plants produce oxygen during photosynthesis. At night they produce carbon dioxide during respiration. 
  • Plants produce oxygen in the presence of light because the rate of photosynthesis is faster than the rate of respiration.  In the dark, plants do not photosynthesise but only respire, so carbon dioxide is produced.

A child who can process numbers very quickly and accurately may also understand science well, but it does not mean that he or she can provide an explanation to a science concept with sufficient depth and accuracy with the key words to score the full marks. If for most of section B, the child cannot score the full 2/2, then the chances are they would get twenty someting out of forty.

Posted in Carelessness, PSLE Science Exam | 1 Comment

Section A (Multiple Choice Section) and “I was CARELESS”

Getting as close to 60/60 is a must for this section.  If your child shows good understanding when discussing science questions, but has not gotten 56/60, then he or she must work at this.

People think that many teachers are lazy and love to focus on MCQ because it is so easy to mark.  I used to think that if I taught students how to answer Section B well, and they could explain concepts, naturally they should be good at Section  A.  However, over the years I have met a few students who strangely can score well for Section B, but still cannot pass 50/60 for Section A. 

 Aim for perfection. If a child tries but does not understand its still OK, but being smart and careless is almost a crime. 

The MCQ section is going to cost 2 marks for each wrong number a child provides. Yes, one wrong number, one wrong shading is 2 marks. 

Many students can bring themselves down by one or two grades due to “careless mistakes”. The words “I was careless” or “Accidently” is not an acceptable excuse. To me, an admission like “I did not study” is far more acceptable so long as a child will study hard when given another chance. 

Perfection is the goal the child should have.  Carelessness is negligence. When they grow up, negligence can cause company directors to lose their jobs, people to be sued, some payout in the millions for negligence, sometimes even lives are lost. Children need to know that “I was JUST Careless” is not an acceptable excuse.

Please note, perfection is a GOAL. You cannot punish your child for making careless mistakes, but ingrained into their minds, they must know taking alot of care is what they should do. Unfortunately, mental fatique does takes its toll, so be kind to your children and do not discipline them harshly just because of careless mistakes.   At the same time, do not accept carelessness as an excuse and certainly do not let it become just another bad habit.

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Implications of the PSLE Science Exam Format and Syllabus.

First thing to note is that even if you can memorise 100% of the content of the science guide books, you may not even pass your Science Exam.

“Huh? Then what kind of Science Exam is this?” You think.

The Knowledge with Understanding component is said to be only 40%.

60% of the PSLE Science Exam is testing for Application and Process Skills.

Your child must not only have an excellent grasp of the content, to pass the exam, he or she must be able to

  • apply scientific facts, concepts and principles to new situations,
  • be able to use the following processes like creative problem solving, decision making, investigation.

In terms of process skills, I find that most students can at least do the following.

1.   Observing    2. Comparing   3. Classifying   4. Using apparatus and equipment

For some, due to a poor command in English, Verbal communication is a major concern. Though some children still can interpret pictures, tables and graphs relatively well, their command of English is weak and cannot express themselves clearly and describe accurately.  To do well in Science, this must be overcome.

Those struggling to get a high A or A* usually have trouble with the following skills:

  • Inferring
  • Predicting
  • Analysing
  • Generating possibilities
  • Evaluating
  • Formulating hypothesis

Now, if you’re thinking this is almost impossible for my child. Let me assure you, it is not as bad as it seems.  When I have the time, I will blog on tackling application and process skills questions, how to help a child apply science facts to new situations……when I have the time!

In the meantime, for those desperately seeking ways to help boost up their children’s marks… tuition is not always the answer if you’re quite a “hands-on” mom.

If your child is not scoring above 54/60 for Section A (Multiple Choice), the first thing to do is to try to get them to improve there.   I still feel that is the easiest place to start for most.  You can refer to by blog on Sectin A:

I was careless :

Minimising Careless Mistakes:

Why I say that the MCQ is the best place to start is not because it is the easiest to mark.  It is because its weighting is the highest at 60%. Every wrong or careless answer will cost your child 2 marks.  Hence they must score well for Section A.

For those unfamiliar with the exam format and syllabus, you can click on this link which summarises and provides further links to SEAB and MOE Website where you can find the actual syllabus.

Posted in Preparing for Exams, PSLE Science Exam | Tagged , | 1 Comment

PSLE Science Exam Format and Syllabus.

Exam Format

The Science Paper is a 1 hour 45 minute paper with two main sections, A and B.


Item Type No. of questions No. of marks per question Weighting (%)
A Multiple-choice 30 2



Open-ended 14 2,3,4


Though I cannot seem to find it explicitly stated in the exam format or syllabus, most school teachers seem to claim that the PSLE Science exam questions are distributed in the following manner:

Assessment Objectives


Knowledge with Understanding


Application of Knowledge and Process Skills


What exactly is “Application of Knowledge and Process Skills”?

According to the SEAB objectives of the exam it is to test if pupils can:

a. apply scientific facts, concepts and principles to new situations.

b. use one or a combination of the following basic process skills:

  1. Observing
  2. Comparing
  3. Classifying
  4. Using apparatus and equipment
  5. Communicating (Verbal, Pictorial, Tabular, Graphical)
  6. Inferring
  7. Predicting
  8. Analysing
  9. Generating possibilities
  10. Evaluating
  11. Formulating hypothesis

c. Processes expected of a student

  1. Creative Problem Solving
  2. Decision making
  3. Investigation

Exam format can be found here at the SEAB Website

The Syllabus for the exam can be found at the MOE Website.

Posted in Creativity, Process Skills and Application Questions, PSLE Science Exam | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Problem with Praise and Regressing from Rewards (Part IV)

Should I ever praise my child? How can I even encourage them if I do not reward them?

First, lets ask ourselves, “What do we hope to encourage in a child when we praise them?” In reality we don’t just hope to encourage them to get A or A*s for the PSLE in Science, Math, English and Mother tongue.

As a parent or teacher, we should have greater goals for their long term success. To just name a few, we hope to develop

  • initiative
  • determination and endurance (a willingness to put in effort at difficult tasks and work hard)
  • creativity
  • motivation
  • autonomy and self-reliance
  • moral courage
  • good character (e.g. trustworthiness, integrity, honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship)
  • empathy
  • the ability to consider and work with others
  • a healthy positive attitude
  • self-esteem

Sadly in Singapore, there is an almost desperate attempt to drive the exam results to the optimum, hence students, parents and educators often focus on the raw results rather than the processes.

Focusing on just the results in the report book, however undermines the process to improvement.  It does not provide sufficient feedback to let the child know exactly how to go about improving.

Hence, we should stop giving non-specific praise. In fact, consider not rewarding a child when their exam results have returned or their report cards presented. Do not even criticize.  Instead perhaps consider focussing on providing feedback prior to assessment.

Praise effort. Praise persistence. Praise the variables which are within the control of a child.  Praise specific behaviours.

Contrary to popular belief, rewards and praise on results are actually more like judgements rather than motivators.

If you need to provide some constructive criticism, rather than say “What a terrible mark. You did so poorly!” Give very specific criticism. Criticize the specific behaviour rather than the person and provide constructive criticism, highlight what should be done rather than what was done wrongly. For example, rather than saying “You can’t be bothered to read properly every time. So careless!”, you can say “You should have read every part of the question and ensured that you answered to the point. Please try to be more careful. Perhaps you can try highlighting the key words in a question.”

So, before you say to your child “You’re so smart!”, or “You’re good!” or “I’m proud of you!” Think again! In the West, parents tend to dangle the carrot, in the East, some use the stick. Here in Singapore, we are Kiasu, we use it all! But, is there a better alternative to the carrot and the stick?

Bronson, P. “How Not to Talk to Your Kids”. NEW YORK February 11 (2007)

Brophy, J.E. “Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis.” REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 51(1) (1981): 5-32.

Dweck, C. “The Secret the Raising Smart Kids.” SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND. 28, November, 2007.

Dweck, Carol S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.

Green, D., and Lepper, M.R. “How to Turn Play Into Work.” PSYCHOLOGY TODAY 8(4) (1974): 49-54.

Gusnard, D. A., Ollinger, J. M., Shulman, G. L., Cloninger, C. R., Price, J. L.,  Van Essen, D. C., Raichele, M. E. “Persistence and Brain Circuitry”. PNAS 100(6) (2003) 3479-3484.

Kohn, Alfie,  “Studies find reward often no motivator. Creativity and intrinsic interest diminish if task is done for gain”, BOSTON GLOBE, 19 January 1987

Martin, D.L. “Your Praise Can Smother Learning.” LEARNING 5(6) (1977): 43-51.

Meyer, W. “Informational Value of Evaluative Behavior: Influences of Social Reinforcement on Achievement.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 71(2) (1979): 259-268.

Rowe, M.B. “Relation of Wait-Time and Rewards to the Development of Language, Logic and Fate Control: Part II–Rewards.” JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING 11(4) (1974): 291-308.

Stringer, B.R., and Hurt, H.T. TO PRAISE OR NOT TO PRAISE: FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE UTILIZING PRAISE AS A REINFORCING DEVICE IN THE CLASSROOM COMMUNICATION PROCESS. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Speech Communications Association, Austin, Texas, 1981.

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The Problem with Praise and Regressing from Rewards (Part III)

 What Research Tells Us About the Effect of Praise

Some experiments regarding praise and persistence are summarised below from an article written by Bronson. They are about some work originally conducted by Dweck and Cloninger, who are well known in their fields of psychology.  

 Carol Dweck is a psychologist who studied 400 fifth graders and put them through a few rounds of tests to see the effect of praise.

 Round 1

After giving the students a series of puzzles that children could accomplish quite well, she divided the students randomly into groups.  One group of students were told “You must be smart at this” and praised for their intelligence. The other group of students were praised for their effort.  They were told “You worked really hard”.

 Round 2

The students were then given a second round of tests, for which they could choose between:

  • A test more difficult than the first, but one which they were told they would learn a lot from. Or
  • An easy test, like the first.

 90% of the students praised for their effort chose the harder puzzles seeking to learn more

Majority of those praised for their intelligence chose the easy test.  Students praised for their intelligence chose the easy task look smart and avoid the risk of making mistakes or being embarrassed.

 Round 3

The students were then given another test that was designed for students two years ahead. It was difficult and not a single child passed the test. During this round, it was noticed that children who were praised for effort were more persistent and determined. In addition, they attended to the problems with a more positive attitude.

 Round 4

After inducing failure, Dweck gave a final round of tests which was as easy as the first round of tests.  Those praised for their effort improved significantly (by 30%) on their first score.  Those praised for their intelligence, however faired worse than they had at the start.  Their score was about 20% less.

In a study where students were given a choice between

  • learning a new puzzle strategy to help in a subsequent test or
  • a test to find out how they did compared with other students,

Those who chose to find out their class rank (rather than improve themselves for a subsequent test) were those who were praised for their intelligence.

 In another study, of students praised for their intelligence, 40% lied inflating their scores in a do-it-yourself report card. Of the students praised for effort however, few lied.

 “Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern. They are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down.” (Bronson, 2007)

 Other research shows that rats and mice can be trained to have persistence in maizes by not rewarding them when they finish. Dr Robert Cloninger says that the key is intermittent reinforcement. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence because they quit when the rewards disappear.” 

 According to Bronson, Cloninger located the reward center of the human brain that switches on and “tells” the rest of the brain not to quit when there is a lack of immediate rewards. For some people, it lights up all the time during MRI scans. For others, it barely lights up at all.  (Gusnard et al, 2003) Persistence, therefore, is more than a decision. It could very well be an unconscious response of the physical brain of which its development is perhaps suppressed by rewards.

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