Assessment books are not the solution to achieving PSLE success

Every year without fail we notice parents flocking to POPULAR, searching for and emptying out the shelves of assessment books. The look in their eyes betrays the ardent hope they have that these books somehow contain the secret key that unlocks PSLE success.


We do not enjoy being the bearer of bad news. But assessment books are NOT the solution to achieving PSLE success.


The main reason for this is that more often than not, the questions in most assessment books are not that similar to what your child can expect to be tested in their examinations. From our experience, we find that many assessment book questions are too difficult, too easy or simply out of whack with what will be tested in school examinations or the PSLE. Put it in another way, assessment books are not the most relevant source of reference materials for students to prepare for their examinations.


Sometimes, we too wonder why many authors of assessment books tend to craft unrealistic questions. Allow us to hazard two possible guesses:


First, there is a wide range of assessment books on offer. The competition is undeniably stiff. As such, authors might feel pressured to come up with content that is not only novel but also different from the rest. We all know the dangers of trying to reinvent the wheel. Our sneaky suspicion is that many assessment book authors fall victim to overthinking and the end result is a product that though breathtakingly unprecedented, is disappointingly irrelevant. It is thus not uncommon to hear students remark that the questions they had attempted from their assessment books did not come out for their examinations.     


Second, assessment books are usually created and published years in advance. They do not reflect the latest question trends. In contrast, it is worth highlighting that questions tested in school examinations are constantly updated in accordance with the latest PSLE trends. In fact, many school teachers get the inside scoop from the Singapore Examination Assessment Board itself. We can tell a lot from the types of questions that schools test, and this is why at Think Teach, we are always asking our students to show us their examination papers. What we then do is to carefully study these school examination questions and pick out the most relevant question trends. 


For example, in 2020, several schools in their English CA1, SA1 and Prelims tested for the first time a relatively obscure question type. We call it the “To -ing” question type. Here is an example:


B7L1 blogpost 1


Usually, students are taught in school to follow a general rule known as “To infinitives”. This rule dictates that the word “to” should always follow with a word in its base form. What was not commonly taught in schools is that there is an exception to the “To infinitives” rule. Essentially, there are occasions when the “-ing” form and not the base form of a word follows “to”. Such instances would be in phrases like “looking forward to”, “admitted to” and “used to” etc.


So to answer the above ACS question, the answer should be (4) and not (1).


Interestingly, the PSLE also tested this obscure rule for the first time in 2020. This was what came out in Synthesis & Transformation:

B7L1 blogpost 2

This question tested students whether they knew that the phrase “admitted to” should be followed by a word in its “-ing” form. They needed to therefore change “broke” to “breaking”. The answer is “Min Yao admitted to breaking the expensive vase.”

We did not just see such a coincidence in 2020. In fact, last year, in 2021, more schools started to jump on the bandwagon by testing the “To -ing” grammar rule.

B7L1 blogpost 4

Following the “To -ing” grammar rule, the answers to these 3 school prelim questions are (2), (4) and (3) respectively.


Interestingly, the PSLE in 2021 also tested the “To-ing” grammar rule yet again. Coincidence? We think not.

B7L1 blogpost 4

No prizes for now knowing what the answer to this PSLE question is. But yes, the answer is (2).


What we are trying to show through this one example is that school examination questions reveal juicy clues into what could be tested in the PSLE. This is why it is so important to be up-to-date and in tune with examination trends. Unfortunately, assessment books, by their very nature, cannot be this up-to-date.

If you have read all the way to this point, we hope that you have found this a most enlightening read. There is nothing wrong with buying or having your child practice assessment book questions. Just remember the old adage of “Buyers Beware!” Not all that glitters is gold, so don’t be surprised if many of these questions do not get tested in school examinations and the PSLE.


PS: Should you be interested in finding out why the answers to the above “To -ing” questions are the way they are, watch out for our next English blog post!

TTA Team Closing Picture

Posted by Wong Shou Yee