Why You Shouldn’t Let PSLE Stress Take Over Your Kid’s Life

PSLE preparations start in Primary 5, which means a high-pressure two years for your family. Here's how to support your child so they can do their best.

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PSLE preparations start in Primary 5, which means a high-pressure two years for your family. Here's how to support your child so they can do their best. 

Prepare them for the hard work ahead – and remind them that you’re there for them 

At the start of Primary 5, talk to your kid about the change in workload over the next two years, so they know what to expect, says Vyda S Chai, a clinical psychologist at Think Kids Intervention and Development Services. 

“Tell them that there’ll be more to do and learn, but remind them that you’re on this journey with them and you’ll be there to support, guide and help them along the way.” 

Teach them about purposeful goal setting 

Just as the new PSLE scoring system from 2021 hopes to remove that culture of tagging a child to a T-score, you should send the message that the PSLE is not just a score or band or set of grades, but a journey towards a bigger goal. 

In life, you regularly work towards different goals. Similarly, the PSLE should be contextualised as a journey towards your child’s goal of going to their chosen secondary school, where there will be even more opportunities for success. 

“At the beginning of Primary 6, I advise having a series of conversations with your child about the PSLE year and what to expect,” says Joseph Lim, senior director of Education at Mindchamps. 

“For example, invite them to think about which school they’d like to attend and what it takes to get there. This opens the door for them to take ownership of their work during the PSLE year. 

“Empower them to do some research on the school so they see that it’s a shared decision. Ask questions like, ‘how do you think this school will benefit you?’ and ‘what would it take for you to get into this school and how can we help you?”

Remember to come up with a backup plan should your child not qualify for his choice school. 

“It’s your job to help your child navigate through that disappointment and emerge better from the experience. If done maturely, purposeful goal setting teaches the child resilience, adaptability and the importance of hard work,” Joseph adds. 

Show them the qualities and values they need to do well 

PSLE success isn’t just about following study timetables. It’s also about hard work, humility, self-reflection and openness to feedback – values and life skills that will help your child succeed beyond primary school. 

Joseph recommends writing up a list of attitudes and values with your child that will help him throughout the PSLE year. 

Make the list descriptive, and discuss examples of how these attitudes and values are displayed in class, at home and in the context of studying. Then, bring these different examples to life, such as setting a good timetable or making revision schedules. 

“By focusing on the desired values as well as developing concrete examples, you will have a ‘document’ you share with your child – and it will be something that you and them can refer to over the course of the year as they prepare for the PSLE,” Joseph says. 

Help them see that learning is a process, not a means to an end

Help your kids see that preparing for the PSLE is not a painful exercise riddled with stress, but a period of ownership and deep learning. 

To this end, Joseph says not to overload your kids with too many practice papers. Instead, teach them about meaningful study. 

“Having a discussion with your child and agreeing on the revision load and deadlines will help them see this as a productive process. Meaningful study teaches kids positive procedures such as doing proper corrections and using the revision papers as a way to check on what they do not know or understand. 

“Children should be given time and space to do these proper corrections for learning – and not be rushed into another revision paper and just be told their score.”

Help your kids see that preparing for the PSLE is not a painful exercise riddled with stress, but a period of ownership and deep learning. 

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Check your own expectations 

“You should moderate your own expectations of your children and be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness. 

“Discuss your expectations with your kids and also explore their expectations of themselves. Very often, kids’ expectations are based on their parents’. 

“Having high or unrealistic expectations will only add to the pressure and adversely affect your child’s PSLE performance.”

Talk them through the fear 

Your child is likely to be a bundle of nerves during this crucial time. He may be imagining what it’s like sitting for the exam and worrying about not being able to finish a paper in time. 

This is normal, says Freda. “Let them tell you how they feel, discuss the best- and worst-case scenarios, and ask them to think of strategies to overcome their anxiety. For instance, they may suggest breathing exercises or positive self-talk. 

“The preliminary exams are a chance for them to see what the real exam is like, but until that happens, they may also have to sit through mock exams and do plenty of practice papers. 

“Ask them how they felt while doing these and get them to put some of their calming strategies to work.” 

Reassure them that bad results aren’t the end of the world 

Of course you want them to do well, but to relieve any pressure they might feel to live up to your expectations, remind them that their final results aren’t the be-all and end-all. 

“Tell them, ‘even if you don’t do well, life goes on and we will figure out the next step together’,” says Freda Sutanto, an educational and developmental psychologist at Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre. 

Help your PSLE kid de-stress 


Make sure yours has about an hour a day to decompress, says Freda Sutanto of  Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre. But limit screen time to 20 minutes to avoid over- stimulation. 

“The rest of the time can be spent playing with friends or talking to family members, reading the books they want, or relaxing and having fun on their own. This will give their minds and bodies a break so they won’t feel so overwhelmed.” 


A balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and ample time for relaxation and fun, will go a long way towards helping your child manage their stress. 

 “These habits do work and should form part of your child’s PSLE preparation journey,” says Joseph of Mindchamps. 


“Sharing their emotions, especially fear and anxiety, is a powerful way for your kids to de-stress,” Joseph adds. "In addition, remind them that there are many pathways to success, that the PSLE is but one ‘checkpoint’ in life, and that they are more than their final PSLE results.” 

PSLE changes in 2021 

Kids who entered Primary 1 in 2016 will be the first batch affected by the PSLE changes, which are part of the Ministry of Education’s bid to move away from an over-emphasis on grades. Here’s what you need to know: 


Your kid’s scores will not be benchmarked against his peers. 

Marks will be converted according to the new scoring bands of Achievement Level AL1 to AL8. 


Your kid needs to score at least 90 marks in all four subjects to give him the best PSLE score of four, which is similar to the O-level system where the lower the score, the better. 


If two kids have the same PSLE score and have chosen the same school, the one who has put it down as a first choice will get priority over the one who has listed it as a second choice. You can choose up to six schools. 


Pupils will need to get a PSLE score of 22 or less to get into the Express stream from 2021, instead of around 188 currently. 

They need 25 or less, for the Normal (Academic) stream, and 30 or less for the Normal (Technical) stream.