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Updated: Mar 4

Discover exclusive tips from experienced educators on how your primary school child can improve their math problem solving skills.

100,000,000 — that’s the total number of results acquired when “how to improve math problem solving skill” is searched on Google. That’s a huge number, if you noticed. Perfecting math problem solving skills are much-coveted among students, especially those slated to take the PSLE next year.

But you rarely hear your primary school kid say they like maths, right? Inevitably, the math subject is a part of the PSLE, which can also put your child under immense pressure. Students can sometimes feel that the PSLE math paper is really just designed to catch them off guard, or make them feel stupid. Many students, when facing the paper in an exam environment, may crumble under waves of dread and stress. And everything that they’ve learned, practiced and revised has suddenly all come to naught.

We bet your kid will never ever want to be in that sort of situation. And we can tell you that it’s actually preventable. Other than the obvious preference of seeking tuition for your primary school kid, there’s another way out. When students develop, practice and perfect an agile reasoning and logical thinking skill, that’s in fact also bettering their math problem solving abilities. When they think in the right direction, chances are they’ll be able to solve problems no matter how complex they seem. And that’s when they start to gain control.

To hone your child’s math problem-solving capacity, swing into action by first heeding these 5 tips to increase your child’s chances of exam success.

#1 Never allow your child to make this statement, “Methods taught in tuition classes & school are different and it confuses me.”

Sometimes, struggles with math questions have nothing to do with its complexity. When solving questions, every teacher has their own special method. So do tutors. If your kid is in tuition, private or not, the tutor has the responsibility to identify the particular method for a certain type of question taught in school.

Having a tutor doesn’t immediately deem these methods inapplicable; the best solution is to educate the kid that both method works and find the method that your child is comfortable with. Or it could be both. Sharpening your kid’s math problem-solving performance is also allowing them to explore. Though empowering students to explore their own problem-solving methods can be tricky, it’s workable as long as they understand how and when to apply it. To make certain that your child got the hang of the favoured method(s), have he or she explain to you or the tutor their reasoning when solving problems and the differences between the two methods.

So you have the question. And it’s a Constant Total concept problem sum, also known as Internal Transfer concept. The simplest definition for the concept means an amount is subtracted from A and added to B, and the total remains the same.

Basically, there are many ways to approach this question. For example, here’s one using tabulation. The clue here is the remaining number of sweets, which is something that can be used.

Using methods like drawing a table help illustrate the thought map, which is vital when students need to brush up on their skills to work out math questions.

#2 Practice the habit of identifying certain questions 

Students diverse in ability. And it’s totally fine if your child in not doing that great with math.

People who like maths are few and far between. And there’s certainly beauty in maths. Especially when you have it all figured out. To help your child excel in solving math questions, strategy is key. There are loads of strategy, and one of them is to enhance their question-solving ability in certain topics. Among all topics, there are easier ones like Angles, Algebra, Number pattern & Area of circle. They’re often solved using certain standard formula, models and formats, which we’ll talk about more later in this article.

When students identify questions of that topic in the paper, they should never leave it blank. Even if they’re unsure of the answer. Take for example, they encounter a question in the multiple-choice sector. Even if they lack assurance, they should solve the question like how they’ve learnt and they might have a ¼ chance of getting it right. That’s better than nothing at all.  

Moreover, these topics usually cover a huge amount of the PSLE math papers. Failing to score from these questions would out their total grades at risk. So what’s the next best thing to do to ensure your child can boost their math solving skills? Devising a systematic approach to solve questions on these topics.

#3 Devise systematic approaches for specific types of questions

It can be dangerous for your child to take an exam paper by solely memorizing formulas or procedures. But that’s when they do not understand the objective of the problem. What’s important is designing a strategic approach for your child. It may sound complicated, but it can sharpen your child’s resourcefulness in solving math problems more than you think.

The very first step your child should take in an exam is to skim through the paper, then identify the correct formula that should be used for each question. Write the formula down if they must, just in case they forget. Problems can be difficult to solve when your child can’t figure out the exact formula that needs to be used. Sometimes it’s even more daunting to figure out what those formula are at all.

Second, tackle those that they’re confident in getting the answer with the methods. Apply those methods like how they’ve practiced. For example, if they’ve practiced drawing a table to solve a Constant Total problem, draw it out.

Repetition might not promise impeccable math-solving skills, but practicing the same formula for different variations of questions can work. It’s imperative that your kid fully grasp the objective of the problem and know when and how they apply that method.

Here’s an example question on Rates. It’s relatively straightforward. First, the kid would need to identify the information that can be used to solve the question.

When they have the details they need, in this case, the start and end time, they can illustrate their thought process with a timeline.

Tips: A timeline help student clearly visualize the total duration.

Regardless of different method used, it’s best your child knows what’s works for him or her. To determine if your kiddo has truly understood the method, test them orally and in writing.

#4 Practice speed

Apart from bettering the overall performance of solving math, it’s good for your kiddo to have a plan while they’re taking the PSLE math exam. The stressful exam environment can cost your kid precious marks if you let nerves get the better of them.

First and foremost, speed is crucial when taking the PSLE math exams. There’s a total of 2 papers. Paper 1 is made up of 15 multiple-choice questions and 15 short answer questions. Let’s take these multiple-choice questions for example. Among 15, 10 of them is worth 1 mark each, and 5 of them 2 marks each. It’s easy to lose marks when the student is too focused on trying to work out the 1-mark questions.

For Paper 2 — 5 short-answer questions and 13 structured / long-answer questions — students must complete it within 1 hour and 40 minutes. And these 13 questions takes up 50% of the total PSLE math grade. Time allocation for each of those question is cardinal. You don’t want your kid to run out of time when they could have used it for questions that they could have easily scored. Train your child to identify the questions that they’re confident in solving and solve them within a certain time frame. By doing these questions first, you can be pretty sure the mark are right there in their pocket.

A good way to help your youngster become accustomed to solving math questions within certain timings is to practice. Past exam papers are a good resources for that purpose. It helps them get used to the exam format, and even anticipate styles of problems in the exams. When your little one knows how much time they’ll be spending on each question, it’ll simply take your kid’s math problem-solving skill up a notch. Parents can get involved while your child is practicing speed. For example, if your child manages to solve 10 question within a certain time frame, reward them.

#5 Identify your child’s best learning pattern

As adults, productivity is what helps us get through endless work and meetings. As a child, productivity is what alleviate their math problem-solving potential. The urge to sit your kid down and expecting them to learn for a straight few hours can be overpowering. But like adults, every kid learns differently.

Your child will need a go-to productivity method when it’s time to buckle down and get some serious work done. For some, taking frequent breaks in between focused working helps them work better. There’s even a specific method called the Pomodoro Technique, that works that way.

Forcing your child to sit through a lesson for hours can be torturous for them, in turn depleting their capacity to learn. If your kids is too young to identify their best time for learning, parents definitely have the duty to find that out. That means having to spend more time on them and observing their best knowledge absorption time. Find it out as soon as possible so your kid wouldn’t need to struggle throughout their learning process.