Surviving the PSLE (Part 3A) – The English Exam

Studying English

The year has certainly progressed at breakneck speed. The Prelims are around the corner and it is about one and a half month to PSLE. The tension and stress in on both the parent and the child during these preparation months.

English is a subject which I have been teaching for the past 20+ years. Comprehension of the various components of Grammar together with the proper usage of vocabulary has been the stumbling blocks of many students. Many a times marks are lost as the student is not able to fully comprehend what is asked in the questions tested in the different components of English.

PSLE English Exam Format

There are a few different components in the English paper which the student would have to complete for this exam. Each component poses it’s own difficulty and an accumulation of such difficult will affect the overall grade greatly.

The Oral Exam

This component is the first to be tested and is normally ORAL. This occurs during mid August. This is about one month before Paper 2.

Common Mistakes in this component
Speaking too fast / slow
– Monotonous
– Not having enough to speak on during the visual stimulus section.
– Speaking out of point in the visual stimulus section.

How to correct these mistakes?

  • Set up a pace which you can follow through. When you start to get anxious deliberately take a longer pause so you be able to take a deep breathe, stablise and continue reading. [ There is no hard and fast rule that one can only pause and take a breath at punctuation points – commas and full stops]
  • For the Stimulus portion I normally advise my students to mentally prepare at least 8-10 sentances on the given topic so that they be able to tackle the prompt given. I would suggest to write out the key points in those sentances if they are practicing at home as it will help in formulating their thoughts more easily. Opinions, personal or learned experiences and explanations have to be clearly portrayed.
  • Deliberately remember not to speak in broken English or Singlish as by doing so they will lose marks for inaccurate usage of language.

Paper 1

Composition writing is one part of the English where majority of students who are weak in language suffer a massive loss of marks. The main reason for the lost of marks is that they are unable to express themselves properly. Their daily usage of abbreviations or broken English in their daily speech spills over into what they write and results in numerous grammatical and spelling errors.

There are many different writing guiding articles online and in books which have excellent tips on how to write a good composition. Many promote using of selected ” good” phrases/ idioms or story starters to boost engagement within your composition. I personally find such practices outdated and it gives more stress to the student then help them score in this area.

Here are some tips that I have which will help the student improve their grade in this paper.

Situational Writing

  • Read the prompt carefully and highlight all the relevant facts in the question and on the visual stimulus.
  • Determine whether the letter/email is to be written is formal or informal. This will ensure that you use the appropriate salutations required. Eg: Dear Sir/ Madam or Dear Grandma, Aunty Anne.
  • Add the background information with time connections showing the sequence of events that happened.
  • Proofread your writing after you completed your work to ensure that the following points can be checked off
    – Key points that have to be stated in the writing
    – Possible spelling and/or punctuation errors.

Continuous Writing

This portion of Paper 1 is the more difficult section as it is easier for the student to go out of point and fail this section. The main reason are as follows :
– Ideas are illogical , unclear and confusing
-Information supplied is not related to stated topic.
– Massive amount of spelling , gramatical and punctuation mistakes.
– Extremely limited vocabulary with poor expressions.
– No sequencing / flow of ideas through the composition
– Poor paragraphing with overtly long paragraphs or insufficient paragraphs to develop the story.
– haphazardly placed irrelevant expression which are slotted in to “pepper up” the content. [ This could be the result of force memorization of selected sentences /phrases that make the student feel obliged to add it into the composition]

How then can one minimize or avoid all these mistakes?

Creating snapshots.

Focus on the small not lofty. If a student has a limited vocabulary and find it difficulty to express himself in words don’t fret, there are other ways of expression. For my weaker student we work around this barrier using snapshots and the Kiss Method


This refers to drawing out certain important scenes which the student will be draw out to aid creating the story line for the composition. [ Note: This is not related to the description of the 3 random pictures which was given with the composition question. ]

I normally start from the selected climax based on the picture selected in the composition question and work from there back to the introduction. Having visuals make it easier for the student to picture what they will be writing about and have lesser issues with sequencing of events. They are able to see if what they have planned to write sounds logical and if any additions/ subtractions are needed before they put pen to the paper.

There are many different composition planners which can be found on the internet which will aid in story organisation and content creation. These help to organise and structure the story that you intend to write.

K. I. S.S

Kiss is the acronym to Keep It( your sentances) Short and Simple. This is one of the point that I highly stress to my students. The longer their sentances are the higher the chance of their writing starting to get irrelevant and deviate from the chosen plot. Overtly long sentences “dilute” the intensity and impact of the written word . It also drags out the plot too much and extends the word count more then necessary.

As there are many components in this English exam I’ve broken up this post into 2 parts A and B. In part B I will be covering what I have been doing to prepare my students for Paper 2.

Posts in the series

Introduction Post
-Surviving the PSLE (Part 1) – Streaming
Surviving the PSLE (Part 2) – The Science Exam
Surviving the PSLE (Part 3A) – The English Exam
-Surviving the PSLE (Part 3B) The English Exam
Surviving the PSLE (Part 4)- The Mobile Phone
Surviving the PSLE (Part 5) -Emotional Guidance for Tweens