By Jane Ng, The Straits Times

04 July 2021 - 12:00

YL Student Parent_Sehaj and Pavinder Kaur
Sehaj Kaur has been practising for her oral examinations daily at home with her mother Pavinder Kaur. ©

The Straits Times Photo: Ariffin Jamar

With the oral segment of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) taking place next month, experts and teachers share tips and advice on what parents can do to help their children prepare for it.

The oral examination makes up 15 per cent of the English paper and there are two parts: reading aloud and stimulus-based conversation. 

The key to doing well is practice, and more practice, says Mind Stretcher co-founder Alvin Kuek. "There is no shortcut to this. It would be good to prepare for a variety of themes," he adds.

Learn more about English courses and camps for kids and teens

Practise expressive reading aloud with narrative and dialogue portions

For this segment, candidates are assessed on their ability to pronounce and articulate words clearly, as well as their ability to read fluently with appropriate expression and rhythm.

Not only should a child be expressive when reading, but he should also exude confidence, says Mrs Therese Cheng, lead head of English at The Learning Lab.

When their children are practising reading aloud, parents should listen out for intonation and emotive expressiveness as these are the most difficult aspects for many PSLE candidates, says Ms Bozena Rupnik, a senior teacher at the British Council.

Intonation describes how the voice rises and falls, and can be used to convey emotion.

One way is to have the child practise using a favourite story so that he is motivated to read.

Make sure to pick passages that include dialogue, questions and emotions, such as surprise or shock, so that the child has ample opportunity to practise varying his voice, says Ms Rupnik, who is also in charge of professional development and training.

Another way is to tap audio books online to listen to how stories are read.

"Your child can echo them to practise fluency, intonation, pacing and articulation," she says.

"If you have both the audio and text, your child can practise reading along and you can follow up with a discussion around what was easy or difficult for him or her."

As there are a few weeks before the examination, she suggests parents build 10 minutes of reading aloud into their children's daily routine. "Reward them for what they do well in and encourage them to continue focusing on areas they need to improve in," she says.

Learn more about English courses and camps for kids and teens

Gain confidence in explaining opinions for stimulus-based conversation.

For the stimulus-based conversation, candidates are assessed on their ability to give a personal response to an image and engage fluently in a conversation on a relevant topic.

Pupils may find this part challenging as they have to think on their feet, give reasons and opinions and provide examples.

Hence it is important to get children into the habit of elaborating on their answers, says Ms Rupnik.

Having ample practice will help them overcome their nerves and give better answers. 

A useful method would be to fill a jar with opinion-based questions and ask your child to pick one each day, says Ms Rupnik.

Examples of questions could be: "Do you think water conservation is important? Why? Why not?"

Or "Do you think it is important to be considerate? Why? Why not?"

Encourage children to use the following format as they answer: State their opinion, provide reasons using "because" and give examples.

"It's also very important to link the three parts of the answer by using connectors such as 'therefore', 'however' or 'in addition'," she adds.

Surgical masks compulsory for students, examiners in PSLE and GCE oral exams

The Learning Lab's Mrs Cheng says parents should have open discussions with their children about a range of daily issues.

For instance, when viewing an advertisement or a poster, parents can ask their children if they would like to buy the product or join an event. Or when watching a movie together, parents can ask if their children like the show.

"Whatever the topic, encourage your child to elaborate on the reasons for the choice. Your child will do well if he or she can justify his or her opinion well," she said.

Parents should remind their children to add personal opinions, anecdotes and examples wherever possible "for a unique response that will stand out from the rest", she says. Avoid stock answers, she adds.

Ms Rupnik adds that questions in this segment may start off specific and related to the visual stimulus, but will be followed by broader questions where the child may be expected to compare and contrast, speculate or predict a situation.

"Subsequent questions relate more to country or global topics, so building general knowledge is very important. Encourage your child to be aware of what's going on in the world today by discussing everyday topics from the news," she says.

Learn more about English courses and camps for kids and teens

In the exam hall: Make full use of preparation time

Pupils have about five minutes to read through the reading aloud passage and study the visual stimulus before the examination.

Aspire Hub Education co-founder Samuel Seah advises pupils to read the passage once through to get a gist of what the story is about, before reciting it several times in "small whispers" to know how they will sound.

 His other tips:

  • Ensure the end consonants of words are clearly articulated.
  • Take note of the tough words or phrases and read them repeatedly to nail down proper pronunciation.
  • Take note of the full-stops and commas to decide where to catch your breath. Pausing at appropriate places also reflects understanding of the passage.
  • Finally, take note of the direct speeches and read them in a way that conveys the meaning well by varying reading pace, pitch and tone to convey the emotions of the characters.

The British Council's Ms Rupnik says pupils should try not to let an unfamiliar word stump them.

"Try splitting it into syllables and blending sounds to help with pronunciation and practise saying it out loud."

For the stimulus-based conversation, Mr Joseph Lim, MindChamps' deputy director-general of education, says pupils should study the picture thoroughly during the preparation time.

"The pupil should pay attention to the minute details, as this will give him or her an idea of some possible questions that will be asked later and how he or she can respond to them."

Learn more about English courses and camps for kids and teens

Facing the examiner: Project clearly through the mask and maintain eye contact

Mr Seah adds that pupils should read clearly and steadily with appropriate expression and rhythm.

"Continue reading if you accidentally stumble on words or meet a difficult word - never stop reading in the middle of a passage."

When responding to the examiner's question about the picture, the child should not only provide personal anecdotes, but also mention relevant facts or news, and maintain eye contact, MindChamps' Mr Lim adds.

The Learning Lab's Mrs Cheng has another tip: "Be genuine. Genuine responses allow children to bring in their own outlook and justification. Not only do such responses show more conviction, but they also enable children to elaborate more."

With Covid-19 precautionary measures in place, all pupils have to wear a surgical mask during the oral examination and sit at least 1.2 metre  away from the examiner.

A child needs to articulate his words clearly and project his voice, or speak at an appropriate volume so that the examiner can hear him clearly.

Sehaj Kaur, 12, who attends English lessons at the British Council, has been practising for her oral examinations daily at home with her mother Pavinder Kaur, 48, a flight stewardess. Sehaj says: "Since I have to wear a mask and sit at a distance, I'm worried the examiner can't hear me properly. And if I speak loudly, I'm worried he or she may find me too loud."

To simulate examination conditions, she wears a mask and sits a distance from her mother as they practise reading passages and having conversations.

This article was originally published on The Straits Times