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Updated: Mar 4

Students in Singapore are among the best-educated, yet when facing PSLE problem sums, they still make fundamental mistakes. Find out what can be done to avoid them.

The Primary School Leaving Examination or PSLE in short, will be here sooner than you think.

While your child is busy with his/her math revision, you’re probably having a panic attack as well.

In the midst of the exam, the environment and stress can cause your child to make mistakes more than usual. Especially in one particular section.

Yes, problem sums.

These errors cause damaging effects: evidently to the drop of grades.

To help your child in avoiding unnecessary loss of precious marks, let’s dive into the 5 common mistakes students tend to make while tackling problem sums and what can be done to avoid them.


Minor miscalculations

These are the most common good ol’ “careless mistakes” students often made in PSLE problem sums.

Some of these mistakes include:

  1. Inaccurate transfer of answers

  2. Missing units in the answers

  3. Step-skipping

It’s really unfortunate and painful to pay the marks for their mistakes when the mistakes can clearly be avoided.

Remember, 5 marks is the difference between a B and an A grade.

What you can do:

To avoid making careless mistakes in problem sums, remind your child to always:

  1. Use the calculator to confirm mental calculations. Don’t be lazy.

  2. Check steps and answers before moving to the next question.

  3. Imagine writing for someone who doesn’t understand math: don’t skip steps!

Before submitting, have your child run through all the pages for unanswered questions. In that pressure cooker environment, even the smartest are guilty of committing such mistakes.

Wrong models used

Mistakes sprouting from the misreading of the question is not uncommon.

Your child might fall victim to the confusion when reading problem sum questions during the exam. Hence, presenting the wrong model as the fraction stated in the question.

What you can do:

Remind your child to re-read the question and underline sentences; this helps to prevent skipping any clues in the sentences.

If your child doesn’t understand the question, encourage him/her to raise his/her hands to ask PSLE invigilators, they’re always willing to help.

Using shortcuts

Students tend to take shortcuts whenever possible to save time and they’re not wrong to do so.

However, some PSLE problem sum questions will require your child to show their full workings.

Take number pattern questions for example. This type of questions will require your child to list the whole series of numbers as calculation.

For some questions, trial and error is required.

What you can do:

In PSLE math paper 2, students will be required to write down their problem solving process and mental calculations won’t suffice.

Have your child make it a habit to write down all the steps to prevent losing unnecessary marks.

Unwilling to illustrate models or graphs

Your child is taught to use models and graphs to solve problem sums.

Although they might have had a lot of practice and experience in answering certain questions, students should use models to solve questions.

Unless of course your child is proficient in algebra manipulation, which poses a separate set of challenges.  

What you can do:

Encourage your child to use models to solve problem sums which can help them better visualize the problem.

Applying the wrong formula

Although what’s pertinent is to improve your kid’s math problem solving skills, math is really all about using the right formulas. But sad to say, most children go through the motion without truly understanding the formulas.

Common formulas are often used without comprehension. Some examples include:

  • Area of circle

  • Area of triangle

  • Speed time distance

  • Volume and height of containers

  • Angles

What you can do:

Wrong application can be due to their lack of understanding of the question or misremembering the formulas and when to apply them.

External resources such as videos are great in helping your child better understand the meaning behind formulas.

You may also consider using creative means to help your child better remember the formulas.

Release the pressure

Stressful exam environment and built-up pressure all contribute to your child’s lack of focus.

Your child may be more prone to making mistakes working under such circumstances.

Even if the right attitude and actionable steps are passports to brush up math skills, rest and recreation are equally as important.

What you can do:

Studies show that kids who’re physically active make better learners and perform better academically.

So don’t ignore your child’s need to rest and relax.

With their clarity of mind and relaxed mood, your child will be more diligent in their workings, more watchful for careless mistakes and have an easier time recalling formulas.

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