This year’s PSLE English oral examinations take place on 13 and 14 August 2020. Is your Primary Six-er prepared? This component may carry only 15 per cent weightage out of PSLE English exams overall, but don’t take it lightly. Maximum points here can give students extra buffer in a tough exam year. We ask Shishir Kushwaha, 47, who’s Teacher of English at British Council Singapore, for practical tips on how kids can ace their PSLE English oral, and what parents can do to help them prepare.
What is the examiner looking for during the PSLE English oral exam?
First and foremost, the examiner is looking for students who are confident when they read aloud and answer questions. They must also be able to think on their feet and expand on their answers without being repetitive. A pleasant and polite disposition is a plus!
How does the PSLE English oral exam work these days?
The PSLE English oral exam consists of two parts: Reading Aloud and Stimulus-Based Conversation. For both parts, students will be given time to think and make notes about what they are looking at. To score well, students should demonstrate their oral skills — how fluently they can read and articulate their thoughts — in both.
What it is
For the Reading Aloud section, students are given a passage they have to read to the examiner. In this section, the examiner will simply listen to them read. That’s it.
Students should use the time before meeting the examiner to read through the passage, taking note of any words that they may have difficulty with. Let’s say the passage contains an unfamiliar word, “senescent”. Students should decide beforehand how they plan to pronounce it, not as they are reading the passage to the examiner. It’s more important to be fluent than to be accurate, in this case.
If they see a verb like “exclaimed”, students should read what the verb is referring to in a corresponding manner. Practise by reading the passage to themselves quietly, as many times as they have time for. Add suitable emotion to the sentences and make them sound interesting. On the flip side, be careful not to sound like an overly dramatic and unnatural 80s TV commercial either!
How to ace it
Students should read the passage to the examiner at a steady pace — not too fast and not too slow. Adjust their voice for dialogue, or if an adjective or verb suggests it. The passage is unlikely to be about the latest Switch game, doing Tik Tok challenges, or whatever 12-year-olds are actually interested in; therefore the key to obtaining high marks is to read as if it is highly interesting, with appropriate intonation to suggest exactly this. Repetition, hesitation, and monotony are things to avoid.
What it is
For the Stimulus-Based Conversation section, students will be presented with a visual to discuss. This could be an advertisement, a photo, a graph, or something else of that nature. The examiner will then ask three questions. To give you a better idea, let’s imagine the visual is an advertisement for a fast food chain.
- The first question is solely based on the visual and involves a choice. For example: “Do you like fast food? Why or why not?”
- The second and third questions are loosely based on the topic. Possible questions include: “Why do you think people eat fast food?”, “What are some of the benefits of fast food?” or “What are some of the pitfalls of fast food?”.
- Generally, the third question has a boarder scope than the second. It may also ask for opinions on an unknown, such as, “What do you think fast food will be like in the future?”
Students should use the time before this part to look at the visual and think about what the topic going to be. They should ask themselves, “What choices might the examiner give me on this visual?” Think about what else the examiner might ask, and some possible topics relating to the visual. Next, mentally prepare your answers to those questions.
How to ace it
For the first question, don’t stop at just “Yes” or “No”. It’s best to expand on your answer as much as possible. Keep in mind that personalising responses demonstrates depth of thinking, which translates into higher marks. Also avoid being repetitive. Here’s an example: The visual is of a beach, and the first question is “Do you like going to the beach? Why or why not?”
❌ “Yes, I like going to the beach because I love playing in the sand and swimming in the sea. My family and I go to the beach during the school holidays. We usually rent a chalet and stay a few nights. We have a lot of fun swimming in the sea and playing in the sand.”
– Notice how the last sentence is actually a repeat of the first sentence?
✔ “Yes, I like going to the beach because I love playing in the sand and swimming in the sea. My family and I go to the beach during the school holidays. We usually rent a chalet and stay a few nights. We have a lot of fun splashing around and building sandcastles.”
– The repetition is gone, and in its place, added interest. Hence the knowledge of synonyms and how to describe events in different ways is essential.
How can students prepare for the PSLE English oral exam?
Students can practise Reading Aloud at home. Although reading to someone may help simulate the exam situation, it’s not necessary to have an audience. Instead, students can try recording themselves whenever they practise. Afterwards, play the recording back and listen for any issues. Make mental notes and eliminate them through further practice.
For Stimulus-Based Conversation, students can practise by expressing choices and speaking for at least a minute (use a timer). Try answering questions such as “Do you prefer chocolate or ice cream? Why?” Again, recording and evaluating themselves is critical.
How can parents help?
Show your child as many different text types as possible. A good way to do this is to get a physical copy of a newspaper such as The Straits Times, and have them read different sections (News, Business, Sports). This gives your child exposure to various styles of writing in the distinct genres.
When asking your child for their opinion, get them to justify it. For example, the next time you ask them about something you cooked, do not let them get away with just saying “Yummy!” Get them to elaborate on why the food was delicious and push for specifics. A better response: “Yummy! The sauce wasn’t too salty or spicy, and the noodles were a little firm, just how I like them.”
In the lead-up to the exam, ask a friend you trust if they could help play the role of the examiner. All the better if your child does not know or does not know this person well. It can be useful to get your child to read to them without you present; this will simulate the oral exam experience for your child.
Any last words of advice for students taking the PSLE English oral exam?
On exam day, students should try to be as relaxed as possible. It’s not easy, but just pretend that you’ll be chatting casually with a good friend. Read the Reading Aloud passage as if it is really fascinating. For the Stimulus-Based Conversation, provided it is on topic, the more you speak, the higher you are likely to score. Finally, if you have a naturally soft voice, learn to project it confidently. The PSLE English oral exam is just 10 to 15 minutes where you being heard is paramount to your success!