No doubt you already know that 2021 will bring us significant changes in the Primary School Leaving Examination. Specifically, the good old T-score system, the same that’s been in use for decades, is going to be replaced by the so-called Eight scoring bands or Achievement levels (ALs).
Where does it leave us? Well, no one knows for sure. According to our Prime Minister, the new system is supposed to reduce the exam-related stress that young adolescents experience now. Still, many believe (and it’s not without reason) that the upcoming changes in PSLE will put even more pressure on students.
In fact, if we take a closer look at the history of PSLE, it seems like it becomes more difficult and stressful from year to year and our kids have to deal with it.
A brief history of PSLE
PSLE was firstly introduced in 1960. At that time there were only two options for students: either a pass or a fail – I know, it’s hard to believe it was as simple as that!
Starting with 1973, they began to standardize results across each of the four PSLE subjects, comparing every student’s performance with an overall performance of a group. That is when the T-score system first came into play.
However, T-scores weren’t revealed to students just yet.
Another decade later, in 1980, the original pass/fail system gave way to grade letters. At first, there were four of them: A, B, C and D. A year later, they decided to add A* grade too.
Shortly after, the “bell-curve based” T-score system was unleashed. Students were now given a grade from 0 to 300, which contrary to popular belief, was not a student’s actual total score but more of an indicator of where each student stood in comparison to their peers.
Together with exam grades, PSLE result slips even contained lists of the highest and lowest scores, which turned out as a lot of stress for kids. It wasn’t until 2012 that those lists disappeared.
Finally, after the recent announcement our Prime Minister made, we all have a clear understanding of where the PSLE evolution is going to take us next.
The impact of PSLE changes
Analyzing it all, it’s hard not to notice that PSLE has become more and more difficult over the years. Starting from a simple pass/fail scheme, we’ve already come all the way to generating bell-curved T-scores. And the next stop is the more sophisticated ALs system!
When the Singaporean government decided to stop listing the highest and lowest students’ scores, the reasoning behind that was to encourage kids not to compare results. However, we never actually stopped comparing, and the new grading system won’t likely change anything.
With the fixed Achievement levels instead of T-scores, it is arguable even clearer which students are considered top grade or which students are below average. Consequently, there is even more pressure for students to be the top and it’s even scarier for them to not end up there.
While scoring 70+ or 80+ is good enough right now, with the new system students will be pushed to get the highest score possible, which is AL1 and equals 90+. Who said something about stress reduction? Hmm.
How to mitigate the negative effects of PSLE changes?
If PSLE isn’t going to become less stressful, we should take matters into our own hands and protect our 11-12 year-olds.
We need to convince them that it’s not their academic results that are the most important about education – its education itself. Just like the goal of studying a subject is to understand it, not just to get the highest score.
Parents should talk to their kids and ask them if they’re too stressed about their grades. Find out the reason of that. If there is a particularly weak subject or a teacher’s style your child doesn’t understand, it might be a good idea to find a good tutor in Singapore.
If your kid’s doing great with all the subjects but is still stressed out about every single assessment paper, maybe he or she is just overloaded with all the homework and extra classes. In such a case, help your child to relax and engage them in activities that would let off some steam.
In one of the previous articles, I’ve already listed a few great tips on how to get over exam-related stresses. Take some time to check it out. I wish both you and your child to remain calm and positive, whatever the PSLE system is.