PSLE questions tweaked to better test understanding

Some of the tougher questions in this year's Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) were set differently to better test the pupils' understanding and guide them in arriving at an answer, the Ministry of Education revealed on Friday.

This came as schools celebrated a stellar performance, with a record 66.7 per cent of the 2013 cohort making it to the Express stream in secondary school.

In the last five years, the percentage of pupils qualifying for the Express stream has ranged from 62 per cent to 63.6 per cent. Last year, it was 63.1 per cent.

Of the 43,047 pupils who took the PSLE this year, 97.5 per cent of them passed the exam, marginally lower than last year's 97.6 per cent. Close to 20 per cent made it to the Normal (Academic) stream and 10.9 per cent to the Normal (Technical) course.

One reason for the better performance could be the change in how some PSLE questions are set.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who congratulated the pupils on their performance in a Facebook post on Friday, revealed that his ministry had tweaked the way it sets the more "challenging" questions.

"One small refinement we've made is to craft the more challenging exam questions in a way that lets our children show what they've learnt, while keeping the PSLE standard high," he said.

These questions were broken down into several parts to guide the pupils in arriving at an answer. And even if a pupil does not get the right final answer, but gets the first few parts right, he will be awarded some marks.

Mr Heng noted the positive feedback from students - that the exams gave them a chance to do well, and they felt confident about their learning. "This is exactly what we want - to bring everyone's focus back from chasing points to really learning," he said.

Following the practice last year, the Ministry did not name the top pupils and the schools they came from. In fact, it went one step further by not even listing the highest and lowest PSLE scores in pupils' result slips.

Each candidate's own aggregate score, as well as the highest and lowest scored that year, has been on result slips since 1982. Last year, the top and bottom scores were 285 and 43.

In line with the new approach, schools singled out pupils who displayed other abilities or who triumphed despite the odds, instead of highlighting only the best performers.

Nanyang Primary, which produced one of the nation's top scorers last year, did not reveal the school's highest score. Principal Lee Hui Feng merely flashed the list of "all round achievers" who scored 250 and above, and those who scored more than 260, on powerpoint slides.

At the popular Rosyth Primary School, again no top scores were revealed. The school shared general information, such as the overall pass rate of 99 per cent.

Housewife Agnes Phuah, 40, who was at Rosyth with daughter Alyssa Loo, said she did not mind not knowing the top scorers. "The result is just a number. It does not necessarily show the learning process, which is more important."

Over at Changkat Primary in Simei, the mood was celebratory. Principal May Tang announced that the entire cohort of 200 pupils passed the exam, an improvement from 98.2 per cent last year.

Pupil Sam Goh, 12 - struggling with his studies because of dyslexia - was happy that he qualified for Normal (Academic).

He thanked allied educator Tong Kum Yuen, 36, who helped him along the way. "Mr Tong helped me to learn through play. When I spelt correctly, he would give me a sweet."

At North Vista Primary in Sengkang, which saw its first batch of graduating students, principal Phua Kia Wang made no mention of aggregate scores but celebrated the fact that all pupils passed the exam. He said: "Nobody got left behind. Every one made it to a secondary school."

Additional reporting by Poon Chian Hui, Audrey Tan and Priscilla Goy

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