How To Manage The Massive 'No-exams' Changes In Primary 1 & 2

It's the biggest change to the Singapore school system in decades, and it sounds great – except, how do you tell if your child is learning, and at the right pace? EVELINE GAN fi nds out how you can be sure your child is up to speed in learning.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It's the biggest change to the Singapore school system in decades, and it sounds great – except, how do you tell if your child is learning, and at the right pace? EVELINE GAN finds out how you can be sure your child is up to speed in learning.

In a bid to rein in overemphasis on grades, the Ministry of Education (MOE) unveiled a slew of changes to the primary school exam system last year, among them removing exams and weighted assessments in Primary 1 and 2, as well as omitting certain academic indicators in report books (See Primary School Exam Changes at a Glance for the full list of changes). 

When this kiasu mum here first heard the news, I wondered if the changes would make it harder to track my kid’s progress in school when she enters Primary 1 next year. And what if she becomes complacent about her studies?  

However, educators say that less emphasis on marks and scores is a step in the right direction in helping kids become better learners. 

At the triennial Singapore International TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) Conference last year, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung urged Singaporeans to focus on “the true spirit of learning”. 

“Examinations have become such a comfortable security blanket that a large part of the education experience revolves around examinations,” he shared.

“As a system and society, we have been over-reliant on this security blanket. Before it smothers us, we need to start to withdraw it somewhat and focus on the true spirit of learning.” 

Still, if you have children in the lower primary levels like myself, you may wonder: how to take stock of Junior’s academic progress and ensure he’s on the right track in school? 

Here, we get the experts to share what’s truly important for your child’s learning, and tips on how to do it without relying on exams and grades. 

Look at the big picture 

Although single-point assessments, like semestral exams, are given less emphasis now, schools have adopted more holistic assessment practices to support learning, says former primary school teacher Belize Chan, an educational supply designer at Eh, Cher! Supply Co. 

Holistic assessment may include mini tropical tests, performance tasks, project work and oral presentations.

“These assessments aim to provide rich information on your child’s learning progress,” Belize says. 

“They also emphasise qualitative feedback, in the form of teacher’s comments on strength’s weakness and areas of improvement, over quantitative feedback (in the form of grades and marks), which would help parents support and track your child’s learning better,” she adds.  

TIP Look through the holistic assessment portfolio together with your child, the various performance tasks assigned and discuss the strengths and weaknesses, Belize says. Doing so will help you and your child better understand what he is good at and trouble spots that he can improve upon. 

Billy Clucas, a teacher at British Council, suggests communicating regularly with your child’s schoolteacher, enrichment teacher or tutor. “Try asking specific questions and focus on skill-based areas, rather than general classroom performance,” he says. 

Give kids hands- on learning experiences

With fewer exams, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has said that schools will have around three more weeks of curriculum time every two years.  

This would free up more curriculum time for teachers to conduct more inquiry- based learning, such as field trips, excursions as well as other hands-on activities. 

TIP Your child’s learning doesn’t have to stop after the school bell rings. Follow up on activities your child has done in school, says Mathini Segar, academic director (Science Olympiad) at the Singapore International Maths Contest Centre. 

You can help your child revise what he has learnt by doing a similar activity at home. But don’t overdo the practice and drill to avoid snuffing out your child’s love for learning. Instead, opt for more fun, experiential activities. 

While every child learns differently, Belize finds that most students generally learn best from activities and games instead of lectures and worksheets. 

“Hands-on activities and games are able to capture their attention and interest,” she says. 

Rather than make kids do past year exam papers, it is better to instill a love for learning at a young age as that would indirectly spur them to practise questions on their own, adds Mathini, who is also a primary and secondary science assessment book author. 

To get them to interested to learn more about Science for example, introduce fun, relatable activities like “the science of the human body”, “the science of cooking”, watch National Geographic programs together, Mathini suggests. 

That said, it is still important for you to check your children’s homework regularly so that you can spot and track common mistakes, as well as their strengths, says Belize.

“Examinations have become such a comfortable security blanket that a large part of the education experience revolves around examinations...”

English language skills matter, even for other subjects 

What’s the link between English and Stem (Science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects? 

A solid foundation in English can have a positive impact on a wide range of subjects such as science and maths, Billy shares. 

Students often misread or do not fully understand the question types and become prone to making errors. Strong reading strategies are a great asset during exam season, especially in Primary 4, he adds. 

“Learners with the ability to pinpoint key words in question are at an advantage and can get to the root of the answer quicker. With time management being a key component of success in exams, a strong English comprehension skillset is highly desirable,” Billy explains. 

TIP Encourage your child to read out loud, Billy says. “By doing so, you have the opportunity to track your child’s progress of fluency, pronunciation and reading performance skills, which would be impossible to do if he read silently,” he explains. 

Ask your child open- ended questions starting with words like “why”, “how” or “what”. 

“By avoiding yes or no questions, the learner is encouraged to give reasons and even offer an opinion. This form of critical thinking is a vital skill for mid- and upper primary students, and is something that is overlooked,” says Billy of the British Council. 

No exams, but Junior may still benefit from extra help 

All children can benefit from having someone review the school syllabus and explain learning points they do not understand or missed in school, says Belize.  

“If you are able and willing to consistently go through your child’s school work, and support his learning, tuition would not be needed. However, in cases where parents feel they are unable or unwilling to do so, tuition would be the best way to support and extend their child’s learning after school,” Belize adds. 

TIP Before you consider additional help, it is important to set up a healthy study environment at home for your child. Help your child create own “office space” or personal study area – this helps him get in the frame of mind when tackling homework and revision, Billy says. 

With the ongoing changes, enrichment and tuition centres, and even assessment book authors, will need to engage students differently. 

When looking for additional help to support your kid’s learning, look for those that focus on engaging children and encourage active learning, instead of those that carry out practice and drill, says Mathini. 

For instance, an assessment book that delivers concepts in an interesting manner, provides fun science facts and activities that can be done at home may be more engaging for lower primary students, she says. 

Don’t overlook the soft skills 

It takes more than just subject mastery to do well in school. Increasingly, research shows that soft skills matter when it comes to predicting success in school, at work and for life. 

Having good time management skills, teamwork and the ability to work under pressure are important skills for children in upper primary levels, says Billy. 

Students with a decisive attitude, clarity of thought and organisational skills often have an easier ride, while those who can manage their time well can efficiently prioritise tasks and organise their study schedules for more productive revision time, Billy shares. 

TIP Teach your kid to get organised and stay on top of things. Work with Junior to create a schedule or timetable to help him manage his homework, CCA and tuition schedule, Billy suggests. 

This may include making a checklist of things that need to be done, shopping for tools that will help him be more organised such as binders, files or a notebook. 

Consider a buddy system where you let your child study with a friend or family member – learning to ask for help and being able to work in a team are important skills.

Primary school exam changes at a glance 

What you should know about the Ministry of Education’s latest changes to the primary school assessment system. 


However, teachers will still use ungraded assessments such as projects, homework and quizzes to track students’ learning. 


The Ministry said in a statement that these are “transition years” where students are exposed to new subjects and/or higher content rigour and expectations. The aim is to provide adequate time and space for students to adjust to the increasing curriculum demands. 


This includes class and level positions. In Primary 1 and 2, teachers will use “qualitative descriptors” while marks will be rounded off as whole numbers in other levels. 


Instead, they will recognise students’ diligence, curiosity, collaboration and enthusiasm. The changes will apply to the P1 and P2 Edusave Merit Bursary, and the P2 and P3 Edusave Good Progress Award.

Rather than make kids do past year exam papers, instill a love of learning at a young age as that would spur them to practise questions on their own.