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PSLE Maths Paper: ‘Tough’ PSLE Maths Questions & How to Prepare For It

PSLE Maths Paper: ‘Tough’ PSLE Maths Questions & How to Prepare For It

psle maths tough questions

PSLE Maths is not your average exam. 

Every year news publications reveal the toughest PSLE Maths questions that leave students gasping for air. Although the PSLE Maths exam draws a lot of criticism because of its difficulty level, getting familiar with its questions can help you score better.

Here are some tough PSLE Maths Questions from previous years to help increase your child’s odds of scoring in the exam:

Exceptionally Difficult PSLE Maths Questions (And Why They Were Tough)

1. Here is a pattern question that students found particularly difficult:

psle maths tough questions 1

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Why Is It Difficult

This question is unlike the types of questions seen in previous years’ PSLE Maths papers and papers from other primary schools. This is the main reason students found it challenging.

2. Five identical semicircles

PSLE Maths Tough Question Identical Semicircles

The 2019 PSLE Maths paper stunned students with yet another complex question. Right when you read the question, you get the idea that it isn’t meant for a twelve year old kid. 

Why Is It Difficult

The question requires a level of analytical and creative thinking that isn’t expected from a primary 6 student. There are many ways to solve this question – using multiple equations, drawing a model and labelling overlapping lengths or redrawing the figure to complete the circles.

3. Here is a question from 2012 that left students perplexed:

A bakery and a library are 120m apart. They are located between Hong’s house and Jeya’s house, as shown below. The bakery is exactly half-way between the two houses.

One day, Hong and Jeya started cycling from their houses at the same time and they arrived at the library together. Jeya cycled at 70m per min while Hong cycled at a speed 15m per min faster than Jeya.

a) How much further did Hong cycle than Jeya?

b) How far is Jeya’s house from the library?

Why Is It Difficult

The question is tough because it isn’t exactly what it looks on the surface. If a student takes the straightforward approach, they may think get to the conclusion that Hong cycled 120m further than Jeya. 

But when you pay attention, you notice that not only did Hong go 120 metres extra, Jeya went 120 metres less than half the distance between two houses. Hence, Hong cycled 240 m more than Jeya. 

4. Another tough PSLE Maths question from 2015 that shook students and parents alike.

It became a top trending story on US site Buzzfeed

Albert and Bernard just became friends with Cheryl, and they want to know when her birthday is. Cheryl gives them a list of 10 possible dates.

May 15 May 16 May 19
June 17 June 18  
July 14 July 16


August 14 August 15 August 17


Cheryl then tells Albert and Bernard separately the month and the day of her birthday respectively.

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Albert: I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know that Bernard does not know too.

Bernard: At first I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know now.

Albert: Then I also know when Cheryl’s birthday is.

So when is Cheryl’s birthday?

psle maths tough question cheryl birthday

Why Is It Difficult

This is a really complex question with no direct logic to follow. The question tells us what Albert doesn’t know and that Albert knows that Bernard doesn’t know either. 

With a tricky word play, it requires creative thinking and using the process of elimination to get to the right answer. Try to answer this question yourself and you will realize it is too tough to be a primary 5 question. 

5. Here is a question from 2009 that left students in awe and overwhelm.

Jim bought some chocolates and gave half of them to Ken. Ken bought some sweets and gave half of them to Jim. Jim ate 12 sweets and Ken ate 18 chocolates. The ratio of Jim’s sweets to chocolates becomes 1:7 and the ratio of Ken’s sweets to chocolates becomes 1:4. How many sweets did Ken buy?

Why Is It Difficult

This question is based on secondary school level knowledge of maths. The student needs to know simultaneous equations which isn’t a primary school topic. But there are other ways to solve this question as well. The ‘units and parts’ method would be the best way to solve it. 

Public Consensus – Are Tough Questions Necessary?

Do we really need excruciatingly tough PSLE Maths questions? Everyone including tutors, education ministers, students and parents have a different opinion on the subject. Some consider it too hard for students. 

Others believe students need to face such challenges early on to survive the competition they will face in the later stages of life.

What Parents Think

PSLE Maths 2019 was more difficult than usual and parents were concerned. They thought the exam may take a hit on their child’s confidence and make them too anxious until the PSLE results are out.

A concerned mother, Serene Eng-Yeo, even wrote an open letter to the Minister of Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung, on his Facebook page:

“…Make it challenging. Make it doable, I agree. But what I don’t understand is the cruel decision to make it so unreasonably tough that children came out crying, deflated, demoralised and crushed…”

She said that her kid was smiling after he took the prelims, but the PSLE maths exam left him “crushed and defeated”. 

A mother’s protective instinct for her child is understandable. 

But the question here is, “Is it okay to shield children from such challenges or do they need to face them so as to build grit and character for the later stages of life?”

What Tutors Think

Tutors observed that students struggled with PSLE Maths questions that were never asked before and required creative thinking. While questions in the previous years were standard problem sums based on logical thinking and a drilling down approach, the questions now are more cognitively demanding and need visualization and out-of-the-box thinking.

What We Think

A paper should be balanced and have questions with a range of difficulty. But parents should also emphasize the fact that the PSLE exam is just an opportunity, not the final challenge in life. They are not the be-all and end-all of life. Also, parents should not think that hiring a tutor is for weak students only. When the exam is so competitive, a tutor is needed. 

How to Prepare Your Child for PSLE Maths Exam

Before you begin to study for the PSLE Maths paper, you must know the PSLE Maths format and any changes in PSLE Maths syllabus you should be aware of.

So, let’s do a quick rundown:

PSLE Maths consists of two exams: Paper 1 and Paper 2. 

Paper 1

Paper 1 is divided into two parts: Booklet A and Booklet B. 

You have one hour to finish paper 1. Booklet A consists of 10 multiple choice questions with one mark for each and 5 MCQs with two marks for each. Booklet B has 10 short descriptive questions with 5 one-mark questions and 10 two-mark questions.

Questions in paper 1 don’t require complex calculations. So calculators are not allowed for this section.

How to Score in Paper 1:

Since Paper 1 is relatively simple, you must aim for a high score in this section to obtain a good overall score. 

  • By practicing a few good PSLE Maths books, one can attain a high score in this section. Since the exam is easy, many students tend to make careless mistakes in this section. So one must exercise patience while attempting Paper 1.
  • Know the common types of questions that appear every year in the PSLE Maths paper. Have your child practice these questions thoroughly under strict time constraints.
  • Pay special attention to any weak areas. Solve simpler questions of that subtopic first before you attempt exam-level questions.
  • Attempt previous year PSLE Maths papers in a mock-exam environment to test your mastery over the concepts.

Paper 2

Paper 2 consists of 5 short answer questions and 12 long answer questions.

The questions in this paper are complex in nature and test a student on various areas of difficulty in maths.

This section requires out-of-the-box thinking as the questions aren’t as direct as one would expect.

Calculators are allowed for this section.

How to Score in Paper 2:

Do not put anything on a pedestal. Even though the questions aren’t straight forward, such complex questions can be solved with a heuristic, trial-and-error approach. 

But using such methods requires a strong mathematical foundation. So focus on the fundamentals during your preparation. Also, calculators are allowed for this section, so your child doesn’t have to worry about wasting time on crunching numbers.

After studying the tough PSLE Math questions in 2019, we observed that the tough questions require heuristics, visualization and creative thinking. Therefore, students should work to build these critical skills.


Students should get hold of books that teach advanced skills such as spatial visualization and advanced modeling in maths for primary students. Having the right resources is the first step to prepare for PSLE maths. When you have practiced critical thinking dozens of times before the exam, you won’t be intimidated by a tough question in the exam.

psle maths tuition

Role of Parents

The first step in helping your child with studies is to pay attention to the process. When you pay attention, you will find specific ways of helping them whether it is in the form of books, tutors or smart learning aids.

Set Realistic Expectations

Parents also play a crucial role when it comes to their child’s PSLE exam. They should not set unhealthy expectations from the get go. It is important to emphasize that the PSLE exam is one of the many opportunities that they will get to get ahead in life. Parents should reaffirm the fact that the preparation itself builds character and even when they don’t get a high score, it is not the end of the world.

Discover Their Learning Style

Children learn in many different ways – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Knowing your child’s learning style can help you support their PSLE maths preparation.

Visual: For kids who are visual learners, parents can use visual aids such as pictures, diagrams and simulations to help the kids “see” how the problem plays out in the real world.

Auditory: For kids who are auditory learners, parents can make sure that their kids listen to the explanations either by reciting themselves or hearing it from others. 

Kinaesthetic: Then there are kinaesthetic learners who learn through physical activities. For such kids, parents should arrange as much as practical activities related to the subject matter as possible. 

Nurture Their Interest in Maths

Preparing for PSLE maths is not an overnight thing. Your child is going to study for months on end. Such a long preparation with a mastery of complex PSLE maths concepts cannot happen by force. It must come from the heart, from a sense of passion. But how do you ignite this passion?

psle maths tuition 2

A simple way is to connect it with real world experiences. You can ask them to calculate the number of miles they have traveled in the last year. The answer may amaze them. 

You can have them calculate the dimensions of their room and ask them how many rubik cubes they can fit into their room if it was completely empty. Doing such calculations shifts your child’s perspective on how powerful maths is in daily life. The point here is to see maths as a valuable tool in real life. 

Previous Year PSLE Maths Papers

Previous year PSLE Maths papers can do wonders for your child’s PSLE preparation.

They are officially published by the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB). They give a quick walkthrough of the PSLE maths syllabus and show the level of difficulty to expect.

Taking previous year PSLE maths papers in a mock exam environment will also help your kid get used to the pressure and timing of the exam. They will learn to think fast, not get stuck on one question and make the most of their time in the exam.

Get A PSLE Maths Tutor

Studying for PSLE maths exam requires consistent effort and ability to break through personal limitations. Because of how challenging the exam is, it is crucial to study under a qualified PSLE Maths tutor who can inspire confidence in your child. Many parents have used to find the best PSLE maths tuition for their children.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it–a practical guide to not only qualify but ace the PSLE maths exam. 

As a parent, the main duty is to pay attention. See what your child needs–it may be encouragement, the right study material, a good tutor or sometimes a break from studies.

Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.