6 Ways To Help Your Kid Prep For Primary School Exams And Tests

With fewer exams in primary school now, you may worry that your kid won’t have enough practice for these big tests. SASHA GONZALES asks the experts for their top tips for dealing with exam anxiety and other common issues.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

With fewer exams in primary school now, you may worry that your kid won’t have enough practice for these big tests. SASHA GONZALES asks the experts for their top tips for dealing with exam anxiety and other common issues.

How can you motivate your child to revise for exams without dangling a reward? What if he has trouble focusing, or tends to leave revision to the last minute? 

These concerns are even more pressing now that there are fewer exams for primary school kids – in fact, children in Primary 1 and 2 now have no exams or graded assessments.     

Here, education experts help you navigate through the most common exam issues Singapore kids face. 

“How do I make sure my child doesn’t wait until the eleventh hour before revising for an exam?” 

It’s important to give your child responsibility when it comes to preparing for an exam, says Gemma Church, head of Young Learners at the British Council. 

“The most successful students are those who take ownership of their learning. This doesn’t mean leaving your child to his own device, but rather, helping him identify specific goals and prioritise what needs to be done to achieve them.” 

Work with your kid to create a study plan. After setting goals and identifying priorities, help him draw up a timeline, working backwards from the exam dates. 

Gemma says to start this well in advance so your child has plenty of time and doesn’t feel like he has to cram all his revision in at the last minute. 

Be sure to schedule “down time”, too, like playing sports, listening to music and hanging out with friends, as these can serve as vital motivators during the exam period. 

“Remember to involve your child in this throughout,” Gemma adds. “After all, it’s his time and without his effort, the schedule is not going to work.” 

“My child gets easily distracted while revising. How do I help him be more focused?”

Today, most distractions come from online sources and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

Gloria Goh, assistant director of the Reading and Writing Programme at Mindchamps, says that besides helping your child draw up study schedules and to-do lists, you should come up with a set of rules pertaining to the use of mobile devices and computers. 

“Make sure your child knows that these devices can only be used during specified times and with parental supervision. This will, hopefully, minimise any distractions in the long-term.” 

Another strategy to keep your child engaged is to make revision fun. Many kids find revising boring and repetitive. And when they’re bored, they find it harder to focus. 

“Instead of reading the same text over and over again, it might be better to have a mix of reading, doing practice papers, and even taking quizzes,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness. 

“You may also want to break topics up into smaller, more manageable parts and compartmentalise the information to make it easier to focus on, or use mnemonic techniques to help with learning and memorising – mnemonics involves turning facts or information into fun rhymes, phrases, acronyms and so on.” 

Some children can sustain long periods of study, while others focus better when the studying is done in short bursts; some prefer complete silence while others need background noise to concentrate. 

Dr Lim says to avoid being too rigid about how your child revises, and instead, help him identify and embrace his preferred study style. 

“My kid isn’t motivated to revise unless I bribe him with treats or gifts. How do I resolve this?” 

You can only go so far with bribes, because, sooner or later, even big or expensive ones will start to seem meaningless to your child. So, instead of bribing him to do well, focus on intrinsic motivation and fulfilment. 

“Your child should be motivated to study on his own because he enjoys learning. And he should be motivated to do well because he knows that there’ll be consequences if he doesn’t,” Danielle says. 

One way to help your child develop intrinsic motivation is to grow his confidence. Daniel Lim, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, suggests breaking the revision up into smaller, more manageable goals. 

When your child succeeds in achieving these small goals, he will feel that he’s making progress. His confidence will soar and he will feel motivated to learn more and keep doing well. 

“Praise him or give him a small reward every time he shows improvement or accomplishes a goal – these will inspire him to keep believing in himself. Avoid pressuring him or making him do what you want him to do, as this will make him feel like giving up.” 

Danielle adds that if you make the learning process fun, your child will seek out that enjoyment and feel more motivated to keep studying on his own. 

You can do this by not confining learning to a desk or classroom, but instead, take your child outdoors or to the Science Centre, for example, where he can experience certain concepts and topics first-hand rather than just read about them. 

“Instead of reading the same text over and over again, it might be better to have a mix of reading, doing practice papers, and even taking quizzes.” 

How useful are assessment books and past-year exam papers, really?  

Assessment books can be helpful but you should select them carefully, says Gloria Goh of Mindchamps. 

“First, find out more about the syllabus and curriculum by attending related talks at school. Then, enquire about your child’s academic progress during parent-teacher conferences. 

“Helping your child with homework will also allow you to familiarise yourself with the material so that you can pick the right assessment books. 

“Remember, however, that your child should be working on quality questions and quality solutions, and not be focused on quantity.” 

Ask which areas he needs to focus on. For instance, does he need to work more on his English comprehension or composition? 

“Past-year exam papers are also excellent practice resources,” adds Christine Tang of Mindchamps. “The papers have gone through the schoolteachers’ vetting, are usually of a high standard and contain a good variety of questions. It’s an excellent way for a student to prepare for an exam. 

“However, the exam paper should not be used when teaching concepts or for the introduction of a new topic. It’s more to help your child recap what he has learnt and to gauge his ability, strengths and weaknesses.” 

My Reading Room

“My kid takes a long time to process what he’s revising and tends to forget what he revised just a few hours before. What’s the best way to help him?”

Consider the best study method or style for your child, says Vyda S. Chai, a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services. 

“What works for one child might not work for another. You may have to try different methods to find the one that will help your child remember what he’s learnt. 

“In addition, the younger the child, the shorter his attention span is. 

“If that’s the case for your child, you may want to give him more frequent breaks in-between studying so that he’s better able to take in and recall information. 

“Do also think about the best ways to help your child revise – for instance, some kids find it easier to learn if the information is presented as a visual or highlighted in various bright colours.” 

Not being able to retain information may also be due to a lack of motivation, anxiety or a learning disability. 

“These are sometimes misinterpreted as irresponsibility or a bad attitude, so before you react, think about what’s really affecting your child’s ability to process and remember information, and then see how to help him from there,” says Vinti Mittal, a counsellor and director at Sacac Counselling. 

“My child hates certain subjects and has trouble revising them for the exams. How can I change the way he feels?” 

There are many reasons why a child may dislike a subject, from incompetent teachers, to personal issues that may impact the child’s thoughts about the subject and the perception that she isn’t good in that subject. 

For children to do well in any subject, they must understand the value of doing well. Once they know why it’s important to get good grades, they will find the means to achieve the desired result. 

To help your child in this instance, Vinti also suggests empathising with your child about the difficulties involved in learning those subjects. 

Ask him why those subjects put him off. Are they difficult to learn? Does he dislike the teachers who teach them? 

Whatever your child’s reply, reassure him that you understand where he’s coming from and urge him to take a more positive approach. 

Then, help him come up with a revision plan for those subjects and show him how to implement it. You may even sit with him while he is studying, to show your support. 

Remember to take things slow and to break large chunks of information into smaller sections so that your child finds it easier to learn. 

“Keep an eye on his progress, too, and count his successes instead of his failures,” Vinti adds. 

“If you are unable to support your child this way, it might be a good idea to engage a private tutor to help him.” 

“How do I help my child manage his exam anxiety and avoid going ‘blank’ during a paper?”

It’s important for you to have a positive, encouraging and proactive attitude towards examinations. This will minimise your child’s anxiety and motivate him to perform at his best. 

“Help him manage the strain he is under by reminding him of all he has accomplished and do your best to remove his fears and doubts. Make sure he knows that he is more than his examination results,” Gemma says. 

It also helps to talk to Junior about where the anxiety stems from. 

“The pressure he feels may be self-induced or stemming from your or his teachers’ high expectations; or perhaps he just doesn’t feel prepared enough,” says Danielle Seah, a senior educational psychologist at Dynamics Therapy Centre. 

“You can help him alleviate this pressure by making sure he’s not cramming for the exam at the last minute and encouraging him to relax and sleep early the night before the paper.” 

Emotional resilience is also important when it comes to managing exam pressure, says Christine Tang, senior trainer at Mindchamps. 

Your kid should strive for quality results but at the same time, be able to cope positively with disappointment if he doesn’t get the desired results. 

Of course, if he’s prepared for his exam, he will feel more confident. To this end, Christine suggests making sure he has revised for the paper and knows the topics that will be tested, as well as the exam format. Doing a mock exam within a stipulated time will also make him feel better prepared. 

Deep breathing can help your child manage his anxiety during the exam, Danielle adds. 

If he feels like he has lost control, teach him to count to five or six while breathing in, before releasing his breath. 

This exercise will calm him down, make him feel more in control of his emotions and shift his focus from any negative thoughts that he may have. 

In addition, teach him to be his own cheerleader by encouraging him to use plenty of positive self-talk. Remind him that it’s just an exam and that he’ll be okay.  

Embrace your kid’s preferred study style – some can sustain long periods of study, while others focus better when it’s done in short bursts. 

What to say to your kid when he… 

FAILS A PAPER “It’s important to emphasise that failing one exam is just that. And just because he failed, it doesn’t mean he’s a failure. 

“Remind him that the mark of success is the ability to learn from the failure and do better at the next opportunity,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng of Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness. 

DOES MUCH WORSE THAN YOU KNOW HE CAN DO Emphasise effort over results, Dr Lim says. That way, you can praise your child for putting in the effort regardless of the result. 

The next step is to discuss why and where he did poorly, and to discuss how he can improve. If he didn’t put in much effort, it’s okay to voice your disappointment, but tell him that you expect him to do better next time.