Mrs D's English Enrichment

The Singapore Primary School Leaving Examination
 the PSLE T-score
 the PSLE English Language grade

Changes afoot:
As announced at the National Day Rally 2013 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the PSLE T-score will be replaced by a system similar to the O levels and A levels where mark bands like A1, A2 are used and converted into points.  While this may appear to suggest that the focus should now be on scoring Astars for all subjects, there will be more attention paid to the student's strong subjects.  Students will be allowed to take a subject at a higher level in Sec 1 if they have performed well in it in the PSLE.  

It would make sense then, one can argue, that the subject of choice should be one that has a bearing on many more subjects in secondary school - like English Language.

The PSLE T-score explained:
What the PSLE performance means in secondary school
What traits and habits lead to high T-scores?
What contributes to a low T-score?
Can a candidate go from C to A star in EL a year?
Which candidates get Bs in EL?

 The PSLE T-score explained: 

The PSLE T-score is effectively a streaming tool (to Normal, Express, or Special Streams) and the means to assigning limited places in schools.  Put simply, your right to admission is as strong as your T-score.  If Shawn’s T-score is 230 and Adrian’s T-score is 229, the system will consider all Shawn’s given secondary school choices before it considers Adrian’s choices.  The "cut-off" as we all intuitively understand is actually the score of the last pupil to be admitted into the school enrolment based on merit.

The PSLE T-score is an aggregate of 4 T-scores, or transformed scores.  Each subject's T-score is in fact a recalculated score, reflecting how well a candidate performed in relation to his peers in that year.

To find out more, attend the P6 parent-teacher meetings and surf the net for the many useful powerpoint presentations, such as those from Coral Primary, Nanyang Primary, and River Valley.

Enduring facts about long-term performance in English

  What the PSLE performance means in secondary school

Interestingly then, if you are strong in Mother Tongue, Maths and Science but average in English, you could get a very good PSLE results and secure your first choice school.  However, you might be in for a rude surprise in the first half of secondary one, as you will find your command of English severely challenged in subjects like Geography, History, Literature, Biology, Art theory and History where you have to retrieve and analyse content delivered in English, and express your views in formal English, no less.  The earlier efforts in Mother Tongue will now only be useful in possibly two subjects, Mother Tongue and Higher Mother Tongue.  So you can make your conclusions about which PSLE top grade means most for secondary school.  Conventional crowd wisdom tells us too that you are unlikely to do well in the three humanities subjects of Geography, History and Literature unless your command of written English grows from strength to strength in your secondary school years. Mother Tongue remains a language to be learnt but command in English is required in all the Humanities, in English Literature as well as any project work involving research and/ presentation.  Maths translates into 2 subjects possibly (E Maths and Additional Maths) while Science is covered in Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

If truth be told, the current A in English Language in the PSLE converts typically into a B3-4 in English and Literature in Lower Secondary. The top PSLE EL grade that is the result of word drills and a PSLE prep that games the paper's specifications also often means that the student drops to a 65 or thereabouts in secondary school because while he or she was clearly very well-trained in the demands of the PSLE EL paper, there is no bar on EL secondary school standards.  You are only as good as the strongest EL student around.   In our best institutions, Singapore's standards of English are world-class.

If your child is in P5 and struggling in English or Mother Tongue, you have to get cracking as it takes time to develop better writing skills.  Look for a tutor who specialises only in preparing pupils for the subject for the PSLE.  3-in-1 PSLE tutors who come to your home (Eng, Maths and Science all offered in one sitting) sound like a convenient solution but the good ones who can manage all the challenges of the different papers are a rarity.  You are more likely to get a higher standard of lesson delivery, insights and tips (plus passion for the subject) from a subject specialist.  Ask any secondary or JC teacher what kind of enrichment lessons/tutors they sign up for their children and invariably, you will find that they look for the subject specialists.  Subject specialists are not merely ex-students who did well in the subject before; they are teachers who have grappled with exam specifications before and written out entire syllabuses for different levels. Some of us may have taught at far higher levels or been teacher trainers as well.

 What traits and habits lead to high T-scores?

The most distinct trait of an A star English candidate is diligent reflection and reading.  I have a reputation for not offering homework but being huge on recommended readings and working on thinking and writing skills, so some of my quietest students (contrary to expectation) have done very well because they have obviously ruminated on what's been taught and travelled as far as I have suggested in terms of their reading journeys!

PSLE students who do well get past their personal likes and dislikes for subjects to hunker down to work on their weaknesses.  They choose teachers and tutors based on more mature assessments of what constituted effective teaching.  But boys did have a setback.  More boys than girls at the upper primary levels had built a habit of gaming (computer) and for some, a computer game ALWAYS took precedence over a good read.  Reading offers less immediate gratification, involves engaging different and sometimes less direct thought pathways.  Computer gaming can be very addictive because it is hugely competitive and interactive while reading and academic study can be a very solitary experience. Korean drama addiction is a new worry, even more insidious than obsession to anime, because it often starts as a very innocent family past-time, something that Mummy does.

Thankfully, many girls, however childish and immature they may seem to be at the onset of the P6 year, are able to think about what they should do to secure a place in their future school.  This is not to say that most boys are not able to do the same but they are less able to keep to their professed goals because the next computer game is so rivetting.  The boys who got the A stars wanted it badly, worked on their writing and editing skills, and had penmanship that would have made any girl proud.

 What contributes to a low T-score?

Very often, low T-scores came from students who allowed other subjects to trend to Bs and Cs.  The Maths "B" is especially damaging, because intuitively, one can see how there are likely to be more scorers going beyond 90+ in Maths.

 Can a candidate go from C to A star in EL a year?

Very unlikely, though I have nursed many from C to As. The reasons?

Firstly, a school year is fraught with activities and many students never get down to reading texts beyond the school curriculum

Secondly, the final dash from A to A star is only achievable with a heightened language sensibility (cultivated through refined reading choices) plus very disciplined exam strategies 

and finally, parents are honed in a quick-fix culture to value volume of work ( that is, assessment papers done) and study tips over critical thinking and genuine learning.  

 Which candidates get Bs in EL?

Those who start serious reading too late, say in April of their P6 year and those who cannot prise themselves away from computer games.

There may be writing strategies and comprehension skills that one can learn but in the end, there are no shortcuts.   While nothing can take the place of practice for Maths, for EL, having a rich and varied reading experience is key. 
To all parents who have gradually turned into personal assistants and ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) for their children, hear it from someone who has gone through it, it does pay to research and study your child's tuition options because what you want most is to save time.  You do not need to saddle your child with volumes of work.


For current schedules and upcoming programmes, please click on Home Page.

SMS (+65) 8138 6011
updated 25 May 2017