PSLEmaths3100% for Maths? Yes you can!

If your child is sitting for the PSLE this year, he or she will be among the first cohort of PSLE students which will be permitted to use calculators during the Mathematics exams, which has been revised to a 2-paper format. While Paper 1 will assess basic numeracy skills, Paper 2, for which calculators will be allowed, will be a test of students’ problem-solving skills. The rationale for allowing the use of calculators is to let students focus on exploring various solutions and discovering patterns without worrying about the accuracy of their calculations.

The format of the PSLE Maths paper:
Paper 1: 50 min Paper 2: 1 hr 40 min
Type Mark value Number Type Mark value Number
MCQ 1 mark 10 SAQ 2 marks 5
SAQ 2 marks 5 LAQ 3 marks 13
SAQ 1 mark 10 LAQ 4 marks
SAQ 2 marks 5 LAQ 5 marks

Compared to previous syllabi, the current PSLE Maths syllabus has a stronger emphasis on the need for problem-solving skills. As such, many schools have been teaching the use of problem-solving strategies known as heuristics to solve different types of Mathematical problems. Being able to apply heuristics is key to doing well in the examination. Students must familiarize themselves with how to use different heuristics such as Use of Diagram / Model, Look for Pattern, Work Backwards, Guess & Check and Simplify the Problem.

Do ensure that your child gets ample practice in applying heuristics, plus check out these tips gathered from experienced educators and ‘PSLE survivor’ parents. These will boost your child’s chances of doing well for PSLE Mathematics.


1. Revise ALL the topics that will be tested
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many students place too much emphasis on P6 content. The topics tested in the exam will cover topics taught before Primary 6 as well as topics taught during Primary 6. The earlier topics often form the basic Mathematics foundation upon which other complex topics will be taught in Primary 6.

2. Get lots of topical practice
There is no point going through piles of mock exam papers if a student’s basic understanding of concepts is shaky. Built a sound foundation in basic concepts through lots of practice on topical assessment papers. Start out with simpler questions for each topic and build towards complex problems that may contain ‘trick’ questions.

3. Manage time well
watchtheclockWhen going through mock exam papers, students must get in the habit of good time management, so to be able to attempt all questions. More time should be allocated for questions that carry more marks. However, there must be a time limit for all questions to avoid a situation where questions are not attempted due to lack of time. For example, in Paper 1, if 10 minutes are set aside to check workings, a student should spend no more than 1 min for each 1-mark question and 2 mins for each 2-marks question.

4.  Break down complex word problems
Word problems often introduce a lot of information and require students to apply multiple rules of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Without understanding the question, students will not know what to apply. Some students are intimidated by the length of these problems and  feel confused after reading a lot of details. Get them in the habit of breaking down complex questions into simpler questions, and to organize the details in a form that is easy to understand. Draw diagrams, charts, models and more. This is where knowledge of heuristics also comes in.

5. Learn to apply multiple concepts in the same problem
Some topics can be closely linked e.g. fractions, ratio and percentage. Very often, problem sums may require that a student apply concepts from several topics in order to get the answer.

For example, a problem sum may introduce several types of information: fruitbowl
Mr Tan bought three types of fruits. 1/3 of them were oranges while 20% of them were apples. What percentage of the fruits were pears?

In this scenario, the student can convert the percentage of apples to fractions, do subtraction and then convert the answer back to percentages to get the final answer.

6. Look out for the details of every question
Study the details of every question carefully, even those that look simple and straightforward. Missing relevant details may result in lost marks.

For example:
Janet left home at 1 pm and boarded a plane an hour later. She arrived at her destination at 6 pm. How long did her plane journey take?

For this question, it is easy to mistake the answer as 5 hours, if we miss the fact that she boarded the plane at 2 pm (i.e. one hour later). The correct answer should be 4 hours.

7. The first method may not be the fastest
When analyzing word problems, study them from different approaches and see if there are faster ways to solve them, and if unnecessary steps can be omitted.

For example:
Mrs Lim goes to the department store to buy a washing machine. She looks at two different models, Set A and B, which cost $1,500 each. Set A is being sold at a 20% discount while set B is being sold at a 30% discount. What is the difference in cost between the two washing machines?


A longer method would be to find the cost of each washing machine and then carry out subtraction. However, since the cost of both sets before discount is the same, a shorter method would be to calculate the difference in discount (i.e. 30% - 20% = 10%) and then use this to get the answer.

8. Memorise basic conversions
Knowing fundamental mathematical conversions at one’s fingertips can save a lot of time during the exams. These will also help to reinforce the student’s awareness and understanding of links between different concepts.

These include:
Percentages / Fractions / Decimals (e.g. 20% = 20/100 or 2/5 = 0.2)
Angles of a sector/ Fractions / Decimals (e.g. a 36-degree sector of a circle = 1/10, 10% or 0.1 of a pie chart)

9. Check and check again
Ideally, students should work towards both SPEED and ACCURACY. With accuracy, the tendency to make careless mistakes is less. With SPEED, students will have more time to set aside for checking answers before time is up. Don’t underestimate the importance of setting aside time to check workings and final answers as many precious marks are lost through careless mistakes.

In Math, a common careless mistake is due to transfer error when the ‘brain moves faster than the eye and hand’  – this causes students to transfer a number incorrectly or in the wrong sequence. Though it may take longer, one way to reduce such errors is to transfer each digit one at a time, and follow the transferring movement with the eye.

10. Practise, Practise AND Practise
maths_practiseWe cannot emphasize this enough –  students must get lots of experience handling different types of questions, and knowing how and when to apply each heuristic. They need to get their fundamentals right and the only way to do so is to get ample practice for each Mathematics topic. Start out with simpler questions for each topic and build towards complex problems that may contain ‘trick’ questions. Always challenge your child to tackle more complex questions, which can often be found in school’s past year exam papers.

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