Important strategies to improve Primary Sciences

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Linus Lin Guo Yao

An educator and entrepreneur at heart, Linus creates value for parents and students by imparting practical academic strategies and techniques to students, and assisting parents to improve their mentoring process through numerous workshops in schools and corporations.

For more than 13 years, parents and students from Maris Stella High School, Peirce Secondary School and ST Kinetics have benefited from his expertise.

Important Strategies for Improving Your Child’s PSLE Science

I hope that this article and the complete downloadable version of Important Strategies for Improving Your Child’s PSLE Science can provide some useful ideas for your consideration. Strategies shared here are not meant to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ or ‘sure-fire’ miracle strategies. They serve as guides for my readers to make the necessary adjustments that will suit your children better in their continual pursuit of excellent results as a Science student.

We know that every child is unique and diverse and so are the strategies that will work best for him or her. However, many parents I have worked with typically adopt the same strategies. One of the most common strategies adopted by parents is the purchase of several assessment books (especially during the year-end book sales) for their children to practise.

The subject of science requires different study methods for scoring well in the exams

Buying assessment books for our children can only do so much. They may be able to see a little improvement through sheer hard work and practice, but as we’ve mentioned before in my earlier article, they have to put the hard work in the right places in order to see great results. (Read: Does Hard Work Really Equal Good Grades?)

Depending on your child’s school level (primary school, lower secondary, upper secondary, Integrated Programme), the subject of science requires different study methods for scoring well in the exams. Here’s what you need to know about the questions asked.

Information Based and Application Based Questions

For those in the primary school or lower secondary level (with the exception of some schools like NUS High and Integrated Programme, IP Schools), practicing with assessment papers would help to an extent because most of the questions are information based. This means that by working hard on memorising the right things, they would do well.

For students preparing for their ‘O’ Levels in Science (Sec 3-4), however, only 45% of the questions have answers that can be learned straight from the textbook, and among it, only 15-20% are recall/memorisation questions. 55% of the questions, on the other hand, focus on problem solving & application of the concept in real-life scenarios. What does this mean?

It means that you can work hard to memorise terms and explanations on a daily basis, but if you are unable to put that understanding of the science into context and into various real-life situations, your results will still be low. Despite the differences in methods, there is a crucial underlying premise that I hope to get across.

The Purpose of Test Papers

The purpose of test papers is not to condemn students to a grade, but to help them identify the areas in which they can improve on. This idea was also once mentioned by British author, speaker and international advisor on education, Sir Ken Robinson, in his famous TED Talk entitled ‘How to escape education’s death valley’.

He asserted that school testing should be diagnostic. This means that from the test results we will be able to see where the areas of weakness are which enables us to devise a plan to improve on them. It is therefore, not advisable to treat test papers like a judge who tells you whether you are good enough or not.

Consider this, if a student gets a 60% mark for a test paper, they’ve gotten 40% of the questions wrong. But that’s not the big issue – the problem is when the student does not attempt to understand why they’ve gotten them wrong. The 40% is not a mistake, it is a learning process. It is a message that you have made careless mistakes or you do not understand concepts in that topic.

With that approach in mind, let’s move forward with the strategy for improvement in Science.

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Short Term Remedy or Long Term Solution?

There are 2 distinct ways to score good results in PSLE Science, which I shall term ‘Short Term Remedy’ (STR) and ‘Long Term Solution’ (LTS). There are pros and cons in both approaches.

The STR approach is more mechanistic and structured. It is a set of easy to follow instructions which could potentially help boost students’ results within a short amount of time of about 6 months. It is also easier for parents to guide their children by supervising the amount of work done on a consistent basis.

The STR approach is more mechanistic and structured. LTS on the other hand is a more creative and inquisitive approach.

The down side, however, is that students may not truly understand scientific concepts deep enough to really appreciate and enjoy what they are learning. This approach looks more like a ‘Touch and Go”.

LTS on the other hand is a more creative and inquisitive approach. It enables students to draw parallels between what they learnt in books and real-life situations. Students tend to appreciate and enjoy what they are learning as they discover new knowledge and develop a more investigative and curious mind.

The down side, unfortunately, is that it is a lengthy process and what they learn through the LTS strategy may not directly translate into grades in tests and examinations. It is also harder for parents to monitor the progress unless the parents are themselves, scientifically literate. However, in the long run, they will benefit a lot more when they are in Secondary 3 and 4 preparing for their O level exam.

Which approach should we use to help our children excel in PSLE? There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what the parents hope their children will achieve and also whether the children are naturally interested in Science by the time they are in Primary 4.

I will share some basic strategies for both approaches for your awareness and it is up to you to decide what is best for your children – more towards STR, more towards LTS or a balance of both. Do take note that these strategies are general guidelines only. It takes experience to modify these strategies to best fit the learning habits of your children. Please always remember that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ or a ‘sure-fire’ miracle strategy. When in doubt, feel free to leave me a note via the comments section below.

The Short Term Remedy (STR)

This strategy involves the following steps:

1. Attempt a paper

2. Mark the paper

3. Understand the mistakes

4. Copy corrections into a knowledge bank

5. Revisit the questions in the knowledge bank

I have included practical examples and methods to be utlised for STR in the downloadable copy of Important Strategies for Improving Your Child’s PSLE Science.

Get a list of practical examples and methods that works for 'Short Term Remedy' now!

The Long Term Solution (LTS)

Let us consider how scientific laws and theories were derived historically. Assume that a cave man, who had no knowledge of fire, came across a forest fire one day and was mesmerised by the sight of the inferno. He had absolutely no idea what those flickering reddish motions were.

For days he was wondering to himself what they were. He started making guesses of the different ways fire could be made and he started trying out those ways he thought of from nothing to recreate that fire and eventually found out that it could be done by striking 2 rough rocks together quickly. He then attempted to recreate fire over and over again until he mastered it well.

Excited, he started showing everyone in his tribe what he could do with the 2 rocks. Based on the above illustration, what have we realised? This is the typical process of scientific discovery and I dare say this person who understood how fire could be made and will unlikely forget this understanding.

In short, the following is the flow:

1. Observation

2. Questioning

3. Hypothesis

4. Experimentation

5. Communication

On the contrary, many students learn Science in a different sequence which I believe could be due to the way science textbooks are designed to communicate ideas or perhaps how the school teachers teaches Science. A typical sequence of how students learn Science is as follows:

1. Memorising the complicated scientific laws and formula (usually without clear understanding)

2. Doing school and tuition homework for the sake of completing the work

3. Memorising model answers to past years’ exam questions in guide books

4. Seeking help and clarification from friends rather than the experts

Realise that the way students learn Sciences are more ‘short cut’. Their main objective is to put the right answers in the right place rather than to really appreciate and understand Science. To understand scientific laws require students to be constantly exposed to new real-life situations through videos or daily experiences which are interesting. This will then propel them to want to understand how things work.

From my 15 years of learning and teaching Science, I realised that students understand scientific concepts better in a similar sequence:

1. Discovery of an unexplained phenomenon

2. Seeking for an understanding to satisfy curiosity

3. Execution of experiments

4. Communicating their findings

5. Memorising the laws and formula

I have included practical examples and methods to be utlised for LTS in the downloadable copy of Important Strategies for Improving Your Child’s PSLE Science. 

Get a list of practical examples and methods that works for 'Long Term Solution' now!

Comments and Advice

Through my 15 years of experience working with primary and secondary students, I realised that many students have the bad habit of procrastination when it comes to understanding concepts. Moreover, they also tend to forgot concepts that they have once understood. Eventually, the ‘snow ball’ effect kicks in and students will try to cram many concepts into their head just before the exams.

What is worse, after the exam, they would forget most of these concepts and will have to relearn and re-understand those concepts again in their next exam. The trouble is, there will be much more concepts to recap and understand as the lessons progresses and students may start to feel stressed up and in some cases, decide to give up on that subject altogether.

After the exam, they would forget most of these concepts and will have to relearn and re-understand those concepts again in their next exam...

As an educator, it is not just the grade that matters to me. It is the kind of habits these students bring with them beyond their school education. A student who tends to procrastinate and believes in this ‘last minute strategy’ will often behave similarly in their future careers and family lives. Such habits may unintentionally influence their next generation as children learn from their parents’ daily actions, and believe incorrectly that procrastination and doing things last minute are actually good habits.

While the STR approach does have its appeal in boosting grades for tests and exams, the foundation building process of the LTS approach cannot be totally ignored. I believe, we should guide our children in the direction of the LTS approach from a young age of no later than the end of their Primary 2 education to gradually build up this habit over time. Coupled with the STR approach before tests or exams, I believe, this will greatly increase the chance of our children achieving A* for Science in their eventual PSLE.

Get the full downloadable copy of Important Strategies for Improving Your Child’s PSLE Science!

*I did my best to put as much content as I could on this page, but there's more. Just enter your name and email address and I'll send the full copy to your inbox!

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