Why do some bright kids do badly in exams in school? And why do others, no matter how much they try, fail or manage mostly borderline passes?
Working on assessment papers all the time does not guarantee that a child actually learns to apply his knowledge appropriately, even if he seems to do “well” occasionally.
Instead of scolding your child, look for the real reasons he did badly in exams.
• Does he understand the concepts in the first place?
“Tests and exams are summative forms of assessment and do not give much insight into how a child thinks, why he fails to learn or what can be done to help him learn,” explains Dr Mary Anne Heng, associate dean, Higher Degrees and Strategic Partnerships, and associate professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE).
For instance, his correct answer may be a something he just memorised – a “rote response” which masks the fact that he doesn’t really understand the concept.
Conversely, Dr Heng says, sometimes a wrong answer could be due to carelessness, rather than a lack of understanding.
• Are you putting pressure on him?
Science tutor and former school teacher Candice Lim warns parents never to lower Junior’s self-esteem by comparing his performance to others’ or calling him “slow” or “stupid”.
She recalls a time when one parent passed her an assessment book in front of her son, who was in his PSLE year: “She was telling us to work on it because her friend’s ‘clever’ son was doing so.
“I had to spend about 20 minutes trying to cheer the boy up. Unbeknown to the mother, he was blinking back tears and saying he felt like a failure.
“Maybe she felt that she was encouraging her son by providing the resources and inspiration for him to do better but, actually, it created pressure and high expectations. Have grown-ups ever thought what it might be like being bluntly compared to a better-performing colleague?”
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Relate to your kids
Dr Heng reminds parents to find a balance between well-designed school assessments and relating to their children.
“Talk to them – what they are learning, what they are curious about, what they find surprising, what particular aspects of the learning they find challenging, and so on,” she suggests. “Here are two questions that should get most children talking: What are you happy about in school? What are you not happy about?”
In the case of the boy with the ADHD symptoms mentioned at the beginning of this article, Geraldine found that he was often compared with his twin brother, who was said to be smarter.
“(We moved) him into a different class from his brother, so that he was in a different environment and had a different set of friends,” she recalls.”He was encouraged to then explore his own interests. He then did better in school and exams. He came back a couple of years later, and we redid all the tests. This time, his attention span was good and his IQ was at the superior level!”
Get the fundamentals right
Candice also feels that doing full assessment papers only works if the child has grasped the fundamentals and then can apply that understanding to the question. “Otherwise, doing worksheet after worksheet is just going through the motions,” she says.
The fundamentals, Candice explains, may involve memory work, like knowing which of the four mathematical operations to execute first in sums, or it may require actual understanding of concepts, as with science. “Be alert to the kinds of mistakes the child tends to repeat, then get to the root of it,” advises Candice. “Be patient; don’t force him to try to understand everything in one sitting if he can’t.
“There are a lot of thinking skills required of young kids nowadays. If he has problems with questions involving air resistance, for example, roll down the windows of your moving car, and then roll them up again, keeping at a constant speed. Get him to observe the ‘feel’ of the engine in both situations.
“On another day, get him to lift his arms in the swimming pool and outside of it. He may be experiencing water resistance this time, but it reinforces the understanding of resistance.
“Once he understands that the same concept can be applied to different situations, he should be able to explain how each concept works in relation to most science questions asked,” she says.
“Above all, remember to joke and have fun with your child. Happy parent-child bonding promotes peace of mind, which motivates a kid to want to learn.”
Related: Working out a study plan with Junior
If your child needs academic enrichment, check out the comprehensive programmes from these enrichment centres:
English: The British Council’s classes for kids in preschool develop their literacy and social skills as well as their confidence in speaking. Primary schoolers will benefit from its courses, which help them excel in examinations. Click here for more details.
Mandarin: Chengzhu (pictured above) develops your child’s ability to speak, read and write confidently in Mandarin thanks to a full immersion environment. It caters to babies as young as six months old, through to kids in upper primary. Click here for more details.
Reading and writing Mindchamps’ programmes help your child to love reading and master the craft of writing. They’re suitable for kids aged three to 10. Find out more here.
Brain training Well-known since its launch in 1958, the Schichida Method of brain training offers programmes for kids aged three months up to 10 years old. Read more about its classes here.