Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The "Magic" of Assessment Books

A mum I know had her Primary 2 child complete 20 assessment books this year.

Her rationale was if the girl survived 18 books in Primary 1 and came in 2nd in class, then she should be able to handle two more this year. The additional drills should help her maintain her class ranking and cope with the tougher Primary 2 curriculum.

But it did not. Her ranking slipped to 6th in class and overall result was also not as sterling as the year before. Her Chinese grades slipped the most, to a low Band 2, despite completing nearly 10 assessment books in the year and attempted all the top schools' past year exam papers.

The parent was crushed. Until I spent a whole night "brainwashing" her to set the perspectives right.

My concern was not just my friend's feelings, but I was hoping to help save the girl from being buried under an even bigger pile next year. Already, she goes to bed at midnight daily, with no time to watch TV, read or play.

The thing is, Primary 1 is really the honeymoon year in most schools. The exams are easy and scoring above 95/100 is highly achievable. In some schools, even the Primary 2 year is not that tough. A child with a good foundation in English, Chinese and Math will breeze through these first two years.

Assessment books are not magic pills. While they may help to a certain extent, I just don't believe that doing more will compensate for poor teaching.

I am often asked by parents of my boys' classmates and friends if my boys use assessment books and how many for each subject. My Primary 3 boy had none for English, two for Chinese and one each for the other two subjects. So that was a grand total of 4 assessment books for the entire year.

My 7 year old, at Primary 1 this year, had it as easy as his brother when he was that age, with only a challenging book for Chinese and Math. He doesn't need any assessment books to master Primary 1, but I think working on some challenging questions for the syllabus helps to pique his interest and keep him suitably motivated since the school syllabus is so elementary.

Usually at the beginning of the year, I will spend a little time at Popular to browse and select the ones that I think would meet my objectives for the year. I don't see the necessity to do ahead of school syllabus. The kids will have to spend time in school anyway, so let the teachers do the basic teaching. So my boys do not begin any work on assessment books until mid February.

Now, this is different from learning advanced (out of syllabus) material following the child's interest, which my kids do in their free time. This year alone, both boys have been pursuing fascinating interests which I have not blogged about. But that, I shall reserve for another post.

Anyway, back to the topic.... I also don't believe that working on 100 similar questions will help one understand or be better at the subject, even for Math. Once they master something, I don't ask them to do another question. I also tend to skip questions that I know my boys can manage, for that would be a waste of their precious time.

On average, I spent about 4 hours a month with each boy, explaining challenging questions or revising their month's work. While they are independent learners, I just don't think they are thorough enough in revision or mature enough to understand the importance of revisions. Since I know their strengths and weaknesses so well, I could also help them revise more efficiently by only spending time on the vital areas.

The method is working great, with both boys topping their respective classes with relative little effort. The 9 year old scored 95% overall this year, and will be going to the top class of the cohort next year (though we toyed with the idea of a change of school recently, we have finally decided to stay put since the top Pri 4 class offers a grooming programme that mirrors the GEP syllabus, which is sort of the best of both worlds).

There are people who commented that my spending a few hours a month revising with my boys is effectively another form of "tuition", just not outsourced. Some would go as far as insisting that it is incorrect to say my boys are not tutored. Oh is it? Isn't there a difference between revisions and tuition?

Some parents told me things will change at the upper Primary level and that some form of tuition and/or more assessment books is necessary just to cope. Many caution too that grades will slip big time in Primary 5.

We shall see.


The Beauties In Our Lives said...

Hi Shirley,

I agree with you completely. Having interests outside of the usual academia and nurturing self-motivation is more important than drilling assessment books. For me, I bought some assessment books for my girls but they never complete more than 50% (which is such a waste of money!!). But I insist on multiple CCAs so they have friends outside of their classes and they can indulge in multiple non-academic activities. And despite what many parents advised, I am still asking my older girl next year (in her PSLE year) to take part in at least 1 CCA, on top of her ballet and music enrichments. She had found these enrichments and CCAs fantastic for destressing...and nope, her grades did not really slip in P5 :) So, I think your approach is great!

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Linette, thanks for sharing your views. I totally agree with you on the importance of CCAs to balance out school life.

Sunflower said...


I am very sure your kids will do well
In their studies! I am a mum who believe reading and playing are as impt. It must be part of the kids' life!


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