My daughter created a winning exam strategy

When #2 took her O levels last year, I knew it was a whole different ball game from preparing for the PSLE.

In 4 short years, they morph from caterpillars into butterflies. Beautiful individually formed strong characters, ready to flap their wings and fly.

But, along with the development of their unique and bold patterns, there are 3 areas we as parents have to come to terms with:

– They are no longer little children whom you can dictate to, and expect pure obedience (could we ever?!).

– Their phones are like an extension of their hand, which can’t be forcefully extracted from them lest I am keen on igniting a war of wills. It can be used positively, or become a huge distraction.

– They have a life (with the prom being a few days away from the last paper not helping things at all) and their friends have a far greater sway than before.

I learned that it was futile to nag and scold, and I left her to figure out her own exam strategy. Instead, I watched from the sidelines and support and guide where necessary.

I made it a point to turn up for all her parent-teacher meetings, and was so heartened to see that her teachers were genuinely concerned for her. She was a child with a lot of potential, but she was very clearly an Arts student who loved her Literature and English subjects, but struggled with the Science subjects.

Her poor Chemistry teacher found it so hard to motivate her and even encouraged her to turn the boring formulas into songs and allowed her to bring her guitar to school to sing. When she received her results, she told me: “Mum, she was the only teacher who never gave up on me.”

 
 

She devised this simple but effective strategy in the months leading up to the O levels.

She painstakingly wrote out every chapter of every subject on individual bits of paper, numbered and colour-coded them.

Once she had finished revising a chapter, she would move that piece of paper to the other side of the wall.

With this system, she demolished the chapters systematically. The brilliance lay in its visual cue, where you can see the number of chapters per subject left very clearly.

It was also highly motivating to see the bare side of the wall starting to fill up!

She was excited to take up the challenge of this crucial year and after the exams, she said, “It was actually quite fun to set my goals and study so hard.” And her great achievement was sweet reward indeed.

I am pleased that my efforts over the past 15 years of guiding them to be independent learners have finally borne fruit.

And that I was able to give them a carefree childhood where tuition and assessment books are not a normal part of their lives, yet they have emerged to be driven and motivated teenagers.

School Stories:

  1. When your son gets into fights in school
  2. My son the loan shark
  3. So kids can’t play once they start school?
  4. Things teachers say
  5. Lessons learnt from #1’s Os
  6. My son. There’s hope yet
  7. Who has an obsession with tuition?
  8. Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?
  9. I didn’t even know my child was being bullied until…
  10. How I got my son to do his homework without nagging
  11. How #2 topped her level in English
  12. DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped.
  13. Tuition – First line of attack?
  14. Why do exams have to be so stressful?
  15. First day mix up!
  16. The day I forgot to pick my son from school
  17. No more T-score. Now what?
  18. Tackling the new school year
  19. She did it, without tuition
  20. So who’s smarter?
  21. Why I do not coach my kids anymore
  22. My Best Parent Teacher Meeting EVER
  23. My daughter created a winning exam strategy
  24. 6 tips to really prepare your child for P1
  25. 6 tips to choose a Primary school
  26. 6 things to do in the PSLE year
  27. 6 tips to choose the right Preschool
  28. 6 tips to choose a Secondary school that is right for your child
  29. Our education system is starting to get exciting!
  30. PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
  31. “Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese.”
  32. A huge jump in P6 SA1
  33. PSC Scholarship? WOW
  34. My teen in a neighbourhood school
  35. What the PSLE is really about
  36. How to choose the “best” Secondary school for your child

She did it, without tuition

We attended #2’s award ceremony last week at her alma mater. It was indeed a joyous occasion for us, seeing how she has blossomed over the 4 years, not only doing well academically, but displaying leadership qualities and being surrounded by close friends. She received a leadership award for her position as band major, and topped her cohort in Social Studies/Literature for the O levels.

I think what I was proudest about was that she managed everything on her own, without me having to nag or micro-manage.

When she entered Primary 1, I gave her my expectations and her responsibilities and guided her to be in charge of her own learning for the next 6 years.

She did not have any tuition nor extra “mummy homework”.

So what did she do with her time?

She spent a lot of time reading, and went to the playground every evening with her siblings, even throughout the PSLE year. Their fond memories of playground games with their neighbours will stay with them forever.

Dinner was at 6pm and bedtime at 8.30pm, so that hardly left room for much else during the school week. When bored, she would create all sorts of things, such as mazes for their pet hamsters or swimming pools for their terrapins, and the 5 siblings would find their own fun.

The grandparents took them out most weekends, to the zoo, bird park or science centre.

The only tuition I gave her was after the P6 prelim exams because her grades were Bs and Cs. On hindsight, tuition was probably not needed as we discovered that her school had set very tough prelim papers, and she scored much better for her PSLE with 3 As and 1 A*.

In secondary school, she returned home at 8pm twice a week due to CCA and in her spare time, she wrote fan fiction (she has more followers than me!) and taught herself to play the keyboard and guitar.

I encouraged her to balance health and family with school work especially when the latter became a monster which took on a life of it’s own. And even when she bucked the trend and was the only one amongst her classmates sleeping at 10pm, she stood firm.

I did not keep track of her tests or exams, because it was her responsibility, and the message was always that learning does not equate to passing exams, nor competing against friends, but for herself.

In the run up to the O levels, I checked in frequently to see if she needed additional help from a tutor (while reminding her that it should be the last resort), but she reassured me that she was managing ok and was getting help from her friends in her weak areas. In the end, she did well and entered a JC of her choice.

School days are the best days!

I made a decision not to be sucked in to the rat race, to keep my focus on what was healthy and meaningful for them, and the achievement she attained today is testimony that pushing our kids relentlessly through the education mill is not the only way, and we do have a choice in how we want to bring our kids up in this over-competitive academic landscape.

Having walked this ‘alternative’ path alone, I’m glad they turned out alright.

10 years on, I am assured that I have not short-changed my kids in any way, and that I have achieved my simple goal of giving them a happy childhood, guiding them to be self-motivated, to discover their passions, and to never be afraid to chase their dreams.

For that, it’s time I gave myself a pat on the back 🙂


School Stories:#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

 

The O level year. Only 1 thing matters.

Below is what a 15-year old girl tweeted to her friends overseas.

You know that the education system is a mess when you spend half your time convincing classmates who are really sick not to come to school but they insist anyway because the teachers will get mad if they miss tests, hand in assignments late or miss parts of the syllabus.

Honestly, the number of people around me in class who have been coughing and sneezing and looking like they are about to throw up resembles an endemic, yet they won’t go home because they are afraid they will get behind.

It has only been 2 months yet three-quarters of our class has already fallen ill.

The O level year

We have been brainwashed that the national exams are all that matter.

Does anyone realise that our health is just as important?

Why does it seem like I’m the only one who feels this way?

Some of our teachers are concerned, but all they can say is “Drink more water and try to rest more.” Rest? Why are they seemingly unaware of our cumulative workload?

And why do teachers still yell at students who already get less than 5 hours of sleep a night trying to complete homework and rushing to study for tests as though they are lazy? How can we fit everything the teachers dole out into 24 hours, with our CCAs, extra classes and student responsibilities?


Yet all these physical demands are nothing compared to the mental ones many are enduring.


Please, we are kids!

When did the typical day of a 15-year old become downing coffee at 2am while scribbling down the last answers to an assignment long overdue, and holding back tears when you get test papers back?


Because whenever we get test papers back, there are tears.

Grades are made out to be so important that if your best cannot achieve a good grade, you are nothing.

Who allowed that “F” on a test paper to define someone?


Who let algebra and the reactivity series become exceedingly more important than our health and happiness?

Where is the balance in our lives?

At the end of this gruelling year, what might be the outcome?

Success after pushing ourselves so hard, at the sacrifice of health and family life?

Or disappointment to our parents, that our best is not good enough.


This, we call education in Singapore.

                                 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some of you may have already guessed. The 15-year old is my child.

She spent the weekend methodically demolishing her pile of homework, feeling slightly overwhelmed and trying to make sense of the stressful environment around her.

To put things in perspective, she’s in one of the better classes in an average secondary school. I hear from parents with kids in top secondary schools that the situation is very similar and peer pressure is great.

One mum even remarked, “Once the term starts, I rarely see her smile anymore. That is the life of our kids these days.” 

I remember sitting in a parents’ information session in an elite primary school, and the Principal was touching on what to do in the event that the child was sick on the day of a test or exam.

I was so heartened to hear her remind the parents that if the child is sick, they should take the child to see the doctor and get a medical certificate instead of sending the child to school only for the duration of the test, because we want our children to know that we care about them and their health more than anything else.

Looks like the O level kids don’t have the luxury of adequate sleep and a healthy lifestyle, do they?


School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A letter from a 16-year old who has never had tuition

I wrote a post “Is Tuition your first line of attack” about how children should try their very best before even asking for tuition. I received an email written by a 16-year old student, and she impressed me so much that I have to share it with you.

Hi Michelle,

I thought your latest article on tuition was thought provoking – and the conversation you had highly amusing. As someone who has not had tuition in her life nor felt the need for it, and whose parents strongly oppose tuition, I suppose I’m a sort of rare breed in Singapore.

Most of my peers are enrolled in tuition. It is easy also to find students who really enjoy tuition, up to the point where they don’t quit even when they excel in that particular field. While parents definitely remain a driving force in this tuition mentality, I wholeheartedly agree with your point on how some students themselves seem to view it as the “norm”.

Your viewpoint on how students should not be over reliant on tuition is, I feel, very relevant in our current society, for we are cultivating a generation of learners that require spoon-feeding. However, perhaps I can offer alternative viewpoints to some of the other points you made.

You mentioned that our education system is not able to prepare our children for national examinations without any external help. Perhaps that may be true for children sitting for their PSLE at 12, but I feel it becomes less so for teens aged 16 or 18. At that age, the main driving force should be themselves, and not the system they are in.

In addition, while Singapore’s syllabus is definitely challenging compared to say, Britain’s, that doesn’t mean the system is unable to prepare children for national examinations either. I believe that both the student and the system are equally important.

Lastly, you mentioned that you see tuition as a means of catching up when one is lagging behind. While I do not dispute that tuition may be an effective method, I believe that work should have a continuous standard of consistency – and tuition should not be used as a desperate measure. If used that way, the risks of the student expecting tuition, not putting in sufficient effort, and not being able to face adversity will increase.

Being able to produce work at a consistent and commendable standard is definitely no easy feat, but I believe that that is the true key to excelling academically. If one starts early and builds up the foundations from lower secondary, the chances of floundering months away from major examinations drops. Furthermore, persisting and learning how to overcome challenges in their academic life will never do a student any harm – especially when the real world is so much harsher, and when there isn’t “tuition” that can salvage damages they incur when they grow up.

Thank you for reading this email ; I like the viewpoints you offer about various academic processes!

Best wishes,
Claudia

Hear, hear.

Straight from the mouth of a 16-year old.

Her parents have done such a remarkable job bringing her up – instilling independence, self-motivation, and perseverance in their child. I should get my kids to hang out with her 😉

Here’s an excerpt of my reply:

A few things impressed me. The fact that you have no tuition at all, you embody the learning style of what every parent hopes their child would achieve (independent and consistent learning), and that you are able to put forth your differing opinions in such a pleasant and straightforward way without sounding antagonistic. Very rare for this generation of students.

Let me elaborate on the point of our education system not being able to prepare the majority of students for the exams.

When my eldest took her Os, she discovered that friends in other schools had very detailed notes which helped tremendously in their revision, which her teachers did not provide. Furthermore, some of her teachers were not able to impart skills in tackling the papers, which she only picked up in the last few weeks from her older cousins. There are many more examples, which led us to the conclusion that the standards of getting the students prepared for the Os differ drastically depending on the teachers and the school.

I totally agree with you that the right way is not to give our kids tuition as a desperate measure and they should study the way you do. However, the reality is different for many students, and as a parent, when you see your child still not making the mark months before the Os, you become desperate!

Could you elaborate on why your parents are opposed to tuition? Nice to hear from parents who hold this view.

Claudia’s reply:

Reading your elaboration of the education system, I totally agree with the points you made. Certainly, there will be effective teachers as there will be ineffective ones. When I encounter such teachers, I try to source my own notes from other platforms, rather than sit around waiting for good teaching that I know will never happen.

From young, I never possessed the mentality that all my unsolved problems could wait till tuition – I attempted it myself, and asked my parents as a last resort. This possibly bred a more independent and self-responsible style of learning, which my parents hoped to cultivate. They absolutely hated it when I wanted answers for something I had not yet attempted.

Secondly, there was also time, or lack thereof. My parents thought I should be spending time on other enrichments and lessons, or things that I actually liked, rather than go to tuition and get overloaded with yet more homework. They thought I already had enough of that in school!

Another reason is also, as you mentioned, finances. When I was younger, I was shuttled to a variety of lessons, none of which I regret taking, I must add. All those lessons must have snipped away a huge chunk of income – but those were what my parents consciously chose to enroll me in, rather than tuition.

The broad reasoning, however, is definitely difference in mentality, and what skills or passions they hoped I would cultivate in the long run.

I must really meet her parents. Not easy to find like-minded parents in today’s world, and they sound like they have succeeded in what I am still attempting to achieve with my kids! And for Claudia to assimilate the ideals, live it, and expound it at the age of 16, I really take my hats off to her parents.

Finally, I asked if she could share how she sources for better notes or help when the teaching is not adequate, as it would be insightful for all of us, especially those with children in secondary school.

And here are her tips:


I’m not clear how the situation is in other schools, but in mine, a plethora of platforms with different notes by different teachers are usually available. These notes are not printed by our teachers, but sometimes turn out to be more helpful in revision. Downloading such notes can be useful compared with your own – especially if the language used to explain concepts differs between both.

Getting hand-me-down notes from seniors is a good option as well. Between different years, there is likely to be certain variations made between the notes, like different graphics used, different explanation formats etc. These can really supplement conceptual knowledge and ensure no part of the notes is left uncovered, especially since there is the possibility of unspecific or unclear notes.

In terms of actively asking for help, I find that approaching a subject teacher individually might be more helpful. With 30 or more students in class, the teacher might adjust the teaching pace to suit the general needs of the class and not the individual. Going for a short one-to-one consultation, or group consultations might allow the student better clarification time. That being said, I feel these consultations will only be effective if the student has put in effort and hard work but still has unanswered questions.

I was surprised that notes from different teachers are available on her school’s website as that is not the case for my girls in their secondary schools. Sounds like a cheap and viable solution for inadequate notes, which would make revision for the Os more comprehensive.

Such an enlightening and motivating exchange I had with this very intelligent student. Many parents dream of moulding this kind of child, but few succeed and thus succumb to tuition, at one stage or another.

Thank you dear Claudia, you are indeed a beacon of light not only to us parents, but to fellow students, as testament that it can be done, and that we should not waver in our quest to develop resourceful, self-motivated children, but allow them the opportunity to find their own independent feet and taste the sweetness of achievement by their own efforts.



Related post:

6 tips to choose the secondary school for your child

6 things to do in the PSLE year


School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Is tuition your first line of defence


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #5: Lessons learnt from #1’s ‘O’s

The ‘O’ level exams are over. I am disappointed in #1 because she didn’t give of her best. I am also wondering if I should have done it a different way. For their PSLE I had a good strategy, but this is a whole new ball game altogether. In the short 4 years of secondary school life, the kids grow up very quickly and become more independent, more opinionated, even rebellious perhaps. I left it mostly up to her, and gave her some guidance and monitored her from arms’ length. I thought it should have been ok as she had her goals and seemed motivated to want to get into the JC of her choice, and she had her study time-table meticulously scheduled. However, she lost steam halfway and didn’t study as hard as she could have. On hindsight, these are some of the areas I should look into for the other 5 kids when it’s their turn.

Exam schedule

1) Use of gadgets

As she’s already in Sec 4, I thought I should be giving her more freedom. I did consider putting a curfew on her phone use, but she said that she texts her friends when she has questions and thus needs her phone. Her classmates also have group chats where they discuss school work and for this generation of teenagers, the phone is a major part of their lives. Something I think is detrimental, but what to do? (please enlighten me if you’ve got it all worked out). I’m sure she did spend unnecessary amounts of time using her gadgets instead of studying. Even adults find it hard to exercise self-control with regards to phone use, what more teenagers whose social lives are played out via their phones.

2) Sleep

Then there is the issue of sleep. During their PSLE, I ensure they get an adequate amount of sleep. However, in Sec 4, everything seems to go haywire. They get home late after school, and by the time they shower and have dinner, it is not unusual to sleep at midnight. In the days leading up to the exams, sometimes she studies into the wee hours of the night as she finds it more conducive then. However, her sleep pattern ends up topsy-turvy and that would have had a negative impact on her ability to concentrate.

3) Relationship issues

In my time, we’ve all seen friends breaking-up with their boyfriends/girlfriends during the crucial exams which affected their ability to study properly. Now, we are the parents having to worry. It is alarming how many secondary school kids are in relationships. Even if they are not in a relationship, the teenage years is a time when their hormones are running wild and they get easily attracted to others, which becomes a distraction. Again, I have no answer to this.

4) Prom night

I wasn’t so pleased that her prom night fell on the day right after her last paper. Being girls, they spent a lot of time stressing over getting the right dress, right shoes to match, and what to do with their hair and make-up. And she spent a considerable amount of time discussing this with her friends, surfing the net, and shopping. This distracted her from the last few days of revision. I wish the school could have spaced it out further.

I am pondering how to guide the rest of them better, and how to balance my input while giving them the trust and space to deal with it on their own. Because at 16, they are not young anymore, yet not matured enough.


What are your thoughts? Any advice?


School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~