Many parents and students are voicing concerns over the recent spate of tough PSLE math questions. Are they really necessary?
Most students and parents understand that harder questions are needed to distinguish the weaker students from the brighter ones. However, many also question the wisdom of having a couple of questions in the paper that seem extraordinarily difficult from the perspective of reasonably intelligent math students or even from the perspective of parents who know a thing or two about tutoring their kids in P6 math. There are those who claim that the presence of such questions leads to demoralized students who might have put in considerable effort preparing for their PSLE, only to be dismayed or frustrated at the seemingly impenetrable wall those questions seem to pose. There are also those who are of the opinion that the local school system is a stressful one and that we should not add undue pressure on our young 12 year old kids who have already spent much of their childhood contending with a challenging primary school syllabus.
The new PSLE scoring system with the use of bands rather than absolute scores is is designed with the aim of reducing the tendency of the exam system to perform fine discrimination on the academic abilities of our young kids. Many simply do not see how extremely tough PSLE questions play a part in this new way of doing things.
Perhaps one message that we can tell our math PSLE hopefuls is that they should not feel discouraged if they cannot answer a couple of questions, as long as they have put in their best effort and have attempted the rest of the questions to the best of their ability. After all, the new scoring system is designed to reduce the impact of, for instance, leaving one or two questions blank or incompletely answered, which is a common occurrence under stressful exam conditions, with or without “killer questions”.
Nonetheless, we should take the feelings of these young kids into account, as they may not be able to understand the rationale of being posed such challenging questions, or how exactly the new scoring system is designed to lessen the implications of failing to answer such questions in the final exam. After all, the vast majority of them are not competing for some prestigious scholarship or a spot in some highly exclusive educational institution. In a nation-wide exam taken by students of widely differing levels of ability, it is more important to have a variety of questions that test different skill sets rather than one or two extraordinary tough questions meant to separate the brilliant from the already bright.