During a Science tuition class for Primary 6 students, I once asked them, mostly out of curiosity what they thought of the Science subject. They instantly came up with enthusiastic and quick opinions like these:
“I love PSLE Science! ”one said
“Science is my favorite and best subject!, another student boasted.
“Science is much easier than the languages or maths.” was what the last one said
These are the more common responses I’ll get from students when I ask their opinion on Science, from most of the students that I have taught in my Science career.
So, these responses show that Science is an interesting subject to most Primary 6 students, unlike English or Chinese or Maths, which they seem to complain about them endlessly.
My first curiosity satisfied, I then asked this next question:
“You all seem to say that you find Science very easy and interesting to you, but how come some of you are not doing very well at it?”
Then, some of my students hesitated, thought about the question for a bit, and then replied things like:
“The questions are too confusing!”
“I don’t understand what the teacher is asking for!”
“I don’t know why – my answer is correct, but I get zero or half mark for the question!”
“Sometimes I get full marks and sometimes I get no mark for the same answer for different questions! Why is this happening!?”
So, it seems to me like the reason that many Primary 6 students do not score well for their school exams and tests and sometimes PSLE is often a lack of understanding of why they got a certain mark or another. In fact, I have seen many students be completely shocked at their low grades or high grades at some points, and some just giving up on actively trying to score marks and remarking “the teachers are just so random when they mark! It depends on their mood! I can never tell what I’ll get.”
No, Science marks are not dependent on a teacher’s whim or random!
I won’t deny that some teachers are biased in the PSLE Science exam. We humans are naturally biased when doing things, and that includes marking your child’s most important Science paper of their lives (so far).
But no, they are not random or subject to the teacher’s whim.
Teachers have guidelines and standards to follow, and Science keywords to look out for. To give out good marks to a student, a teacher looks for two things.
The two things teachers look for:
The first one is: A student’s mastery of the lower level skills, which demonstrate the students’ understanding of the scientific facts, principles and concepts and checks that they have indeed been paying attention in class at all. This includes things like can be mostly learnt via rote memorization, and questions that test lower level skills are ones that just require you to state things. For example, they can be questions like “State what is electricity” or “Define energy.”
Note the words at the start “State” and “Define”, which are important keywords Primary 6 students often miss for Science PSLE, hence losing out marks. Generally, state and define are testing lower level skills, which most students really will not have trouble with, if they pay some attention in class and revise before the exam to some degree. These questions form up approximately 60-65% of the paper, to allow students who are weaker to try to at least pass, barring too many careless mistakes or slips in wording of their answers.
The second thing the teacher looks out for is : The ability to answer high-order thinking skill questions, which requires them to apply the principles and concepts, will give them the extra leverage to score an A or higher. Now, this is actually the one that stops most students from getting the A they so desperately want for the PSLE. Higher-order thinking skill questions are questions which cannot be answered by the student simply regurgitating what they remember from their lessons and homework – it actually requires them to THINK.
What do I mean by this?
A great example of a high-order thinking skill questions is a popular one from the 2013 PSLE Science paper, which is “Besides air and water, what would cause faeces to decompose faster?”
Let me break down what makes this question very much higher order in nature.
- The teacher has (very likely) never asked this exact same question. (So no simple regurgitation can be done)
- The question says “BESIDES air and water”. (This means that the question removes these two things that students will quickly think about, and forces them to go deeper and think harder. Not many students can do this, and would be stumped at the removal of air and water as possible solutions (and then coming up with explanations on how air and water causes faeces to decompose faster themselves.)
Hence, this question takes a topic that students learnt in Science class (decomposition) and then stretching it to a real life capacity, WHILE removing, at least partially the possibility of the student trying to grab some marks via trying to write what they have learnt in class. Simply put, this is a question that is purely critical thinking.
So, to sum it all up, to get good marks, a Primary 6 student taking PSLE this year will need two components: Lower level skills and Higher order thinking. Both components are needed to actually do well – neither can be excluded. If your child cannot answer the lower level questions, they will not have the backing needed to think critically, as they will not even know what they don’t know. If they cannot answer at least some of the higher order thinking questions, then they will definitely still pass, but they might receive a grade below yours and their expectations.
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If you liked this article and are interested in additional reading, feel free to check out this article from Kiasu Parents called “Avoid These 15 Mistakes During The PSLE: Tips From The Learning Lab” over here.