The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is drawing closer, and you are still not seeing significant improvements in your child’s grades. Even though he has been diligently practising comprehension passages from papers taken from previous batches, the score for this section seems to be undesirably stagnated. You have been brainstorming more ideas to help him, but there seems to be none left.

Practice makes perfect. This saying still holds for this circumstance. However, students should practise smart, instead of practice hard, given the short span of time left to the examination. With that said, here are some tips to help your child improve his score for the Comprehension (Open Ended) Section.

As the name suggests, comprehension is the ability to understand. In this section, students score only when they are able to get the gist of the passage and accurately understand what is conveyed in each paragraph. Certainly, children can learn strategies that help improve their ability to understand what they are reading.

#1: Read questions before passage

First and foremost, students are encouraged to read the comprehension questions before its passage. Over the years, there has been debate over this technique. From many personal accounts of students, they feel that this reading the questions before reading the passage has worked best for them. When you choose to read the questions before tackling the passage, you get a rough idea of the theme of the passage. Eventually, you are not taken aback, or confused, by the passage, because you have expected it when you had a “sneak preview” from the questions. Furthermore, this technique helps students locate the answers while reading the passage. This helps to save time as well.

#2: Skim through the passage once before reading it in detail

The student should read the passage more than once throughout his attempt on the comprehension section. The first type of reading should be done through skimming. Skimming refers to a quick scan of paragraphs. At the end of this, the student should be able to make a quick summary of the passage –he should be able to say what the passage is about. When he is able to do that, half the battle is won because he has partially understood – or comprehended – the passage.

#3: Read in detail

After skimming, the student should read a second time. This time, he should be seriously reading every word, and absorbing details. Since he knows the main point of each paragraph from the previous skim, this should make it easier for him to absorb the content, because the content basically consists descriptions that support the point.

#4: Answer questions

The student should be prepared with answers when he has completed the active reading twice. If he still does not fully understand the passage, he should still move on to answering questions. Time is of the essence. He should answer questions that he has answers to. For remaining questions that he does not have answers to at the moment, he should re-read the passage again after he has finished answering those that he can.

#5: Clearing the remaining questions

This is a step-by-step approach to help the student clear remaining questions that he does not have answers to at the moment. Firstly, he should understand the question. This means that he should know the question type, and its focus. Question type refers to the 5 “W”s and 1 “H”. Breaking it down, they simply mean “what”, “who”, “where”, “when”, “why”, and “how”. Meanwhile, the focus is the key point of the question. If the question is “why did John go to the park”. The key point is “go to the park”. From here, you should look back at the passage, and search for the paragraph which depicts a scene at the park. Thereafter, you start searching for the reason (John goes to the park) in this specific paragraph. The entire procedure basically narrows the search to a paragraph, or a few lines, so that the process of finding the answer is simpler. It is akin to a google search button. You want to know the keywords of the question before you start searching, so that this search gives you the right answers in the quickest possible time.

#6: Skip

If the student is still unsure of the answer, the best advice to this scenario is to skip the question. Time is precious. Every minute that you spend racking your head on a question that seems unsolvable, that is a minute lost to a question that you have answers to. Take a deep breath, and skip it. It is perfectly fine to skip questions and come back to them after you have completed all that you have answers to. Honestly, your head may be clearer when you come back to it another time. Sometimes, a second attempt is easier than the first.

At the end of the day, no comprehension questions are unsolvable, and hence it is not impossible to improve grades and score in this section. Most of the time, what cripples the student’s ability to answer these questions is panic. When a student has no answers to questions after repeated scans, he starts to panic. When this emotion overwhelms him, the search for the answer can be more challenging. As an educator, there is a need to teach the student to manage his emotions before he enters the exam hall. After all, this is his first major exam. Experiences of nervousness and panic are inevitable. Furthermore, PSLE is not the last exam he will go through. There are more gruelling exams in time to come, and more nervousness involved. It is therefore, necessary for parents to teach the child this important skill. Before closing this article, bear in mind that time is currently of the essence, so study smart.

For 2016 PSLE Exam Timetable, you can refer to SEAB website.