Overcoming Anxiety for Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)

Primary School Leaving Examination in Singapore is round the corner and it is the final examination in the primary school that many parents place high priority on and send their children for tuition and any other help to ensure that they excel for this examination. In schools, students are also emphasized the importance of this examination and students are geared early to prepare for it.

Hence, in a way, students are given the pressure of going through the PSLE and needless to say most would feel the tension even before they sit for the examination itself.

I have been asked by friends on how I helped Brendan to overcome the PSLE stress, how I prepared him for his successful admission into the integrated programme in the secondary school, and my personal views on tuition to aid in achieving academic excellence. So, I will share this post on my personal experience. As for our personal insights on integrated programme and views on tuition, let’s share it in a separate post. In fact, this post can be applied on any examination and not only PSLE.


As I have mentioned before, I never believe in last minute preparation or burning midnight oil for my children. As PSLE syllabi cover that of earlier years too, I advised Brendan to revise early the P3-5 syllabi at his own pace. The key is to UNDERSTAND and not MEMORIZE without understanding. Understanding the concepts allow them to be able to handle the questions even if they are phrased in a different manner.

Paying attention in class and clarifying doubts as soon as new topics are taught are useful. Understand our children’s weaknesses in certain subjects earlier and work on it. Even when I was holding a full-time job, I have always made it a point to constantly review our boys’ progress and learning aptitude without leaving it to a third party.

[As primary 6 syllabi are often taught in a fast pace, in view that school preliminary examination is held early, students are often given not much time to revise their complete syllabi for PSLE if they do not practise regular revisions or ask/find out as soon as they do not understand the approach.]


A healthy mind is critical in helping our children to focus and think.

- Encourage enough SLEEP and short nap (20 to 30 minutes) in between revisions to ensure an alert mind and better health.

- Stop what I call as “harrassment of the mind”.  Avoid imposing additional pressure by making comparison about academic progress with peers.

- Introduce more fresh air and greenery to the eyes. Morning nature walk or evening nature walk after a hectic day of studies really does wonder to the tired mind. Simple exercises like kids’ yoga helps too.

- Give the mind a break. Despite his hectic schedule then, I allowed Brendan to find some entertainments for his brain by taking some breaks to pursue his movie trailers, read on movie synopsis, draw on his board and any short activities which he enjoys. If background music helps in soothing their mind, let it play!

Remember that young mind is not a 16/7 study machine.


I came across this book on “Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul”. To me, I agree that “nourishing the stomach  - nourishes the soul”.

I also believe in the importance of “being present” as an important source of motivation for our boys.  After leaving my full-time job, I had the advantage of personally preparing food that Brendan loves, making everyday meal an enjoyment for him, something he could look forward to amidst the revision for preliminary, preparation for direct school admission exercise and then PSLE. He was racing against time then and I could not relieve the amount of knowledge he has to digest but I could ensure the healthier diet that he digests and provide spiritual support.

pic31Source: Inspiration from MOE Excel Fest 2012

For Brendan, he always looks forward to the new food that I learn to prepare and so I started to cook, bake and prepare desserts, yet not forgetting not to overload him with unhealthy food.

More fruits, vegetables, homemade yoghurt, green tea, honey, salmon and other healthy diet, with chicken essence as a booster.

I guess by rewarding his stomach in a delightful and healthy way, his mind was rewarded too. In a way, it was my method of showering him with unspoken encouragement.


Since P4, Brendan has been among the top 3 in class for academic performance.  I am thankful that he takes initiatives to put in constant effort to revise and achieve personal improvements without me having to nag at me in this aspect.  Understanding that he has weaknesses in certain subjects, I avoid stressing him with unreasonable expectations like achieving A* for all  subjects despite him coming from one of the top primary schools in Singapore. Seriously, when he shared with me that his teacher openly told him that he had to score A*s for certain subjects since he topped the class, I had to “undo this unnecessary pressure” on helped him set reasonable expectations instead.

I allowed him to understand his weaknesses in subjects and guide him in setting achievable targets for his different subjects since P4.
[Eg. if he used to achieve 70 over marks in his Higher Chinese, he would set next targets of improving himself to achieve 80 marks and put in additional efforts in comprehension if that was his weaknesses. He had high confidence for his Math, wanted a breakthrough and worked towards achieving A* for his Math, and we helped facilitate it.]

He was encouraged to voice out his priorities and decided to stop pursuing his music advancement for a year so that he could still find time to enjoy studies and play, without having to sit for more tests. By listening and cooperating with him, it helps.

Through discussion and understanding our children’s progress, we allow our children and ourselves to make reasonable expectations, review them and work towards continuous improvements. I know of parents who load their children with tuitions on weekends and after school with expectations of them to achieve 4 A*s in primary school and all band 1.

Personally, I feel this might not be useful and understanding our children’s learning aptitude and constraints might bring more benefits. So, as parents, we need to understand our own children and consider “are too many tuition sessions” really necessary for our children? In fact, it might end up adding additional stress.



pic21Source : Inspiration from MOE Excel Fest 2012

Learning should be an enjoyable journey. As a parent, I understand that it is unavoidable for parents to exert pressure on their children to perform well academically in a meritocratic education system.  Unconsciously, we might have instilled examination fear in our children through our constant emphasis for them to obtain excellent grades. In a way, we end up being discouraging and it might take away the joy of learning.

From my personal experience, our boys tend to fare better in subjects which they enjoy. The method of teaching and teachers play an important role in building the interests in the students too.

It is natural for our children to feel anxious for examination. Learn to listen and help them overcome.

Next time, instead of breathing down their necks, try doing some simple massages on their tired shoulders, shower some motivating words and encouraging smiles or hugs. It is more effective! Even if they return home and express low confidence for any paper that they have sat for, do not be quick to condemn or discourage. If they start comparing themselves with friends who perform better, help them build their self-esteem and give affirmations over their strengths.

I am not an education professional but my experience teaches me that individual child has his/her own learning style and ability. By understanding our child better and “not exerting unnecessary pressure on them just to blindly follow their peers” might create a better learning atmosphere for our children.


Before I end my post, here’s wishing students who are sitting for PSLE this year -  Good Luck and Stay Calm.

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