It’s easy to pass primary school science, but hard to score an A in the subject, a teacher once announced to a class of parents. The science tutors at tuition centre The Learning Boutique (TLB) agree.
They explain that 40 per cent of the questions in a PSLE science paper require pupils to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of scientific facts, concepts and principles, so if they are able to remember most of the science content learnt from P3 to P6, passing the paper should not be a problem.
“However, scoring an A or A* needs more work, as pupils need to tackle the remaining 60 per cent of questions that require them to apply concepts and principles to new situations,” says Pat Heng, the centre’s programme director.
Here are tips from educators that may help your kids appreciate the subject – and as a result, do well in the exams, too.
Hands-on learning gets kids interested
Children are naturally curious about the world around them, but time constraints and a focus on preparing for exams means science often becomes a rote learning subject and so they lose interest, says Pat.
Getting hands-on usually results in the kids getting excited about finding out more, so the centre conducts activities like looking at parts of different flowers using a microscope when teaching reproduction in plants.
“When there is interest, it’s half the battle won,” she says.
You can do the same even without a lab at home – think about everyday objects and situations that can become learning opportunities.
For instance, P3 kids in Henry Park Primary School‘s Science for Life @ HPPS programme observed and handled parts of a bicycle that was brought to class. They discussed why some materials are more suitable for making certain parts of the bicycle.
Such opportunities “help pupils learn science concepts and skills in a deeper and more engaging way, rather than just memorising content”, explains the school’s head of department (Science), Mubaraq Ali.
Read the question and answers carefully
When your child is doing the multiple-choice questions (MCQ) paper, he should highlight qualifying words such as “always” and “not”.
Eliminate answers that are obviously not correct, says Yeoh Eng Yew, chief tutor of Scholars’ Village, a maths and science tuition centre.
“A common mistake or flaw in some students is that they don’t focus long enough to read the whole question properly,” he says.
“By leaving out the word ‘not’ and mistaking ‘false’ for ‘true’, marks can be lost through carelessness.
“In tricky questions where the key is to pick out the most appropriate answer, all the options may be factual by themselves, but only one truly answers the question.”
Pay attention to the keywords in the questions
Keywords refer to terms that your kid needs to pay attention to in the question – it will guide his thinking process, says Pat.
Besides process skills words like “explain” and “compare”, he also needs to pay attention to key scientific terms taught during the topic – these are words that teachers look out for in answers.
Take the following question found in the PSLE 2012 paper: Some farmers clear forests by burning the trees. Explain how this burning and loss of trees can lead to global warming.
Pat recommends highlighting words like “burning”, “loss of trees” and “global warming”.
This helps him focus on this aspect of global warming when answering, linking it back to the issue of burning.
She explains: “The scientific terms required to be mentioned in the answer would probably be ‘rise in temperature’, ‘carbon dioxide’, ‘trap heat’ and ‘greenhouse effect’. These are terms that should not be mentioned generally or vaguely, for example, mentioning ‘gas’ instead of ‘carbon dioxide’.”
Know what each question requires
Process-skill words like “state”, “name” or “list” require simple recall answers, says Eng Yew.
“(Don’t) over-write. Save time and effort for the other questions.”
Your child should also take note of the mark allocation to gauge how much to write.
“For long questions, take note to write fully. ‘Describe’ and ‘explain’ questions are typically worth more than one mark. Don’t be afraid to write ‘grandmother stories’.
Get help to refine them, as you progress. Some pupils need to learn to write more, so that they may eventually write less.”
Be specific: use scientific language
Many students do not provide “the ‘right’ answers required in primary school science exam scripts because they may have not grasped the precise nature of scientific language,” said National Institute of Education researcher Seah Lay Hoon last year in a Straits Times article.
TLB shares common answers given by pupils to Question B, taken from one school’s PSLE preliminary paper:
A. Tom took part in a marathon. His heart rate and breathing rate increased during the race. Why did his heart rate increase?
B. Along the way, there were many water points. Tom took a bottle of water from one of the water points. Other than drinking it, Tom also poured some on himself to cool himself down. Why did he do that? [2 marks]
Question B deals with the topic of cycles, and the concepts of evaporation and heat gain and loss. Kids who write these answers below won’t get any marks as they’re neither explaining the concept nor being precise enough:
The weather was too hot.
To evaporate his sweat.
To wash away his sweat.
The correct answer:
When the water is poured on his body, the water gains heat from his body [1 mark] and when it evaporates, heat is removed [1 mark], cooling his body down.
Apply concepts learnt to new situations
Your kid shouldn’t be surprised to see a drawing of an unfamiliar plant or animal in his primary school science exam paper. He may be asked to identify the environment it lives in and explain why he thinks it lives there.
Doesn’t this test general knowledge? Not quite.
He has to observe its features – does it have broad or tiny ears or leaves? – before applying concepts already learnt in the topics of adaptations and classifications.
In a Schoolbag.sg article by the Ministry of Education, Dr Poon Chew Leng, the Ministry of Education’s principal specialist for research and curriculum, suggested that parents can give their child various scenarios to work on to see if he understands a concept.
If he understands the topic well, he should be able to apply a single concept to various relevant situations.
Start revision early and be consistent with it
With a packed curriculum, primary school science teachers may find it difficult to recap topics learnt in P3 and P4, or even P5, says Pat.
So your kid must consistently revise his work, otherwise he may struggle with topics learnt earlier.
“Practise good time management: two minutes for each question in MCQ, two to three minutes for each question in Section B,” Pat advises.
You can try holding fun quizzes during certain topics, too, like Henry Park does.
“Having such checkpoints help kids identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can target areas that need work,” Mubaraq Ali explains.