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Surviving the PSLE (Part 2) – The Science Exam.

Equipment from the Science Lab

Science is a subject that many students find it challenging. Even though it is a very interesting subject the concepts taught can be quite hard to comprehend. The key points and way to describe the object/ activity has to be on point or else marks will be easily lost in a test/ exam. Sometimes a lot of description and explanation is needed for a 1 or 2 marks answer.

How to best study Science then?

There are three main points that one needs to take note when one is doing a Science paper.

  • What is considered sufficient details given to answer the question fully.
  • Know which are the key words  that have to be mentioned in the answer that you give.
  • Know how to classify, identify and describe an item or a process.

Sample Question



a) Name the Process A (1 mark)

b) Explain how a physical factor in the environment has caused the difference in the decrease of mass of the dead leaves in the two places M and N. (2 marks)

c) Other then process A , evaporation could also cause the decrease in the mass of the dead leaves. Explain why ( 1 mark)

How would you answer the question?

a) Name the Process A (1 mark) – Decomposition

b) Explain how a physical factor in the environment has caused the difference in the decrease of mass of the dead leaves in the two places M and N. (2 marks)

Ans:- Place M may have contained more moisture than Place N causing the leaves to decompose faster , hence the difference of mass in both places.

Note for this answer you will need to Compare between both places.   It is not sufficient just to mention that Place M has moisture but Place N doesn’t have.

c) Other then process A , evaporation could also cause the decrease in the mass of the dead leaves. Explain why ( 1 mark )

Ans: The dead leaves contains water which contributes to the overall mass. The water in the leaves may have gained heat from the surroundings causing it to evaporate. With water evaporated there would be a decrease in the overall mass of the pile of dead leaves.

Note: Explain step by step in detail the how the process of evaporation affected the overall mass .

It is important to have a revision schedule drawn up to gauge if the child is able to cover all the topics tested from the Upper and Lower Block in Science. Here is a revision schedule that I came up for my students to ensure that are able to cover all topics before the Prelim in August

Science Revision Schedule

What Revision Materials do you recommend?

I do use assessment books and past year papers with my students. I also recommend that they have at least one Science guide book as a reference guide. Here are some that I have used with my students.

How will you be preparing for the Science PSLE Exam?

Posts in the series
Introduction Post
-Surviving the PSLE (Part 1) – Streaming
Surviving the PSLE (Part 2) – The Science Exam

Surviving the PSLE (Part 1) – Streaming

In a Typical Classroom

Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)- The 1st Major examinations that pupils face in Singapore. It is an examination that stresses both the parent and the child who is in Primary Six . Both have to prepare for this statewide examination that happens from Mid August to the end of September.

A T-score out of 300 is given after collating the marks obtained for the 4 subjects – English, Maths, Science and Mother Tongue and with this score one would be able to choose a secondary school to enter.

Available Streams in Secondary School

There are 4 different streams which can be chosen in Secondary School.

They are the following :

1) IP (Integrated Program)
– A six year program which one skips the GCE O-Levels and goes for the GCE A-Levels in Year 6.

2) Express  Stream
– A four year program where one sits for GCE O- Levels in Secondary 4.
If the school of choice is a SAP (Special Assistance Plan) school one will be taking Chinese as a 1st language instead of 2nd language and Higher Mother Tongue (HCL) is offered.

3) Normal Academic Stream
A five year program where one sits for GCE N -Levels in Secondary 4 and GCE O-Levels in Secondary 5. Subjects are taught at a slower pace as compared to the Express stream.

4) Normal Technical Stream
A five year program where the One will sit for GCE N- Levels in Secondary 4 and GCE O-Levels in Secondary 5. Subject focus on are more hands on approach like Design and Technology- Woodwork etc.

The marks that one achieve during PSLE determines whether one enters one of the following streams. As you can see from the table below, one’s T-score will determine the entry qualification for the available streams.

The Streams in Secondary School

Allocation of school is based on Merit and Choice. Therefore it is extremely important to choose schools for your six choices carefully once the results for the PSLE is out.

What grades does one need to get for
a Good T-score?

To achieve at least a T-score of more than 250 to enter the IP stream one would need to get at least 2 A* and 2 As to achieve a T-score which would qualify for most IP schools. Monkey boy obtained a T-score of 250 back in 2016 with an A* ,3 high As and a Merit for HCL. I chose for him to enter the O-Level stream instead of IP as I felt that it would be a better choice for him. (* I will elaborate on this choice of mine at the end of this post).

If one just achieve 4 straight As it wouldn’t be enough as your child’s T-score would only be in the range of 230-240. This score would enable your child to get into the Express stream in most neighbourhood school however if you want your child to attend a single sex mission school he may fall short of the Cut Off Point (COP).

What If I am unable to enter the stream of my choice?

There are opportunities to transfer laterally from one stream to another or take certain subjects at a higher level if you meet the required marks. The school will advise accordingly based on your child’s achievements. It is still possible to transfer from Normal Academic to Express stream at the end of Secondary One if the child did very well for his first year in the school.

However do note that if the child doesn’t perform well in the express stream even though he managed to qualify for it based on his PSLE result he may be persuaded to change to the Normal Academic Stream. I have had friends whose kids had to move from IP stream to the O-Level stream at the end of Secondary 2 as the child had been failing many subjects throughout Secondary 1 and 2 in the IP stream. If the IP school doesn’t have any classes offering the O-level stream it would mean that the child would have to transfer out of the school into another where there is vacancy in the O-Level stream.

My experience on PSLE in 2018

In such an examination like PSLE every single mark  counts!! The cut of point (COP) for the different streams offered by each school differs and the marks stated in the Secondary School Admission Catalog that is handed out to the student just before the PSLE exam is NOT a clear indication of how the actual COP would be for your child’s cohort.

Last year many parents felt they were “played out” when their child failed to enter the school of the choice when the actual COP of the school shifted a between a few to up to 10 points upwards instead of the assumed downwards. There were parents who assumed that their child had a chance to enter the school of their choice by choosing to put schools with 2-3 points higher COP as their 1st -3rd choices. They were utterly shocked when their child received none of the 6 choices and was sent to a neighbourhood school out of their selection which had vacancies instead.

Table A – Comparison for a selection of Schools based on the Express COP for 2017-2018
Table B- Comparison for a Selection of Schools based on the Express COP for 2017-2018

I always advice parents that it is a safer bet to choose schools where their child’s point are not as the minimum COP but somewhere in between. Eg: If you child scores 235 points a safe bet would be to select a school where the COP is between 220-240. This will guarantee a higher chance for the child to get into the school of their first choice. As you can see from the tables above the COP each year can change as much a 5-10 points.

Which Stream is best for my child?

There are many things to consider when one chooses a stream. Besides the obvious being the T-score obtained in the PSLE here are some other factors which you would need to consider.

The rigor of the timetable
It is known that students in the IP stream have longer study hours then their counterparts in the O-Level stream. They have more varied CCAs and subjects to learn therefore it could be a norm for your child to come back daily at 6-7pm and have to stay up to 10-11pm to finish their homework during school days. Will your child be able to handle such long hours of study?

Being motivated and able to study independently.
Being a boy I was very skeptical if Monkey boy would be able to study independently and with minimal supervision. I was also afraid that he will be without any back up qualification if he unfortunately fails the A-Level in Year 6. With by passing the O-Level with the through train IP program the only paper qualification he would have would be the PSLE certificate which is “useless” in helping him move on in his academic progression.

I felt that it would be too risky for Monkey boy not to take the O-Level exam and if he insisted on going for the IP program. I told him that he could go for IP provided he takes the O-Levels as a private candidate on top of studying for the IP program as a back up qualification. After weighing out the pros and cons to him Monkey Boy decided just to go for the O-Level track instead and not stress himself over studying. Doing the O-Level track he has the option to go to a polytechnic instead of a Junior Collage after the O-Levels if he so chooses so in time to come.

Monkey Boy has been doing really well in the O-level track and still constantly gets As and Bs for all subjects. He still gets the Edusave Certificate of Academic Achievement yearly by remaining in the top 25% of the school. He is currently doing Triple Science ( Pure Chemistry, Pure Physics and Computer Science) and double maths ( A Maths and Mathematics) in Secondary 3.

In the next post I will be touching on how to prepare for the various subjects for PSLE.

Posts in the series
Introduction Post
-Surviving the PSLE (Part 1) – Streaming
Surviving the PSLE (Part 2)- The Science Exam