How do I help my child maintain a consistent sense of rigour without Mid Year Exams?

How do I help my child maintain a consistent sense of rigour without Mid Year Exams?

The removal of the all too familiar Mid Year Examinations across schools since 2022 has been the talk of the town and a contentious one at that. As with every decision made by our country’s leadership, this announcement by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on 7 March 2022 was a calculated move to usher in greater flexibility in the curriculum, allowing for “self-directed learning and developing 21st-century competencies”.

Yet, what exactly are 21st-century competencies? The Ministry of Education (MOE) lays these out as skills necessary to set our children up to thrive in a globalised, interconnected world:

  1. Civic Literacy, Global Awareness and Cross-Cultural Skills
  2. Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills
  3. Critical and Inventive Thinking

As parents, most of us easily see the merit in these 21st-century competencies and would agree these can neither be developed through repeated practice papers and exam skills courses, nor assessed using conventional written exams. Nonetheless, the removal of MYEs threw a spanner in the works of the well-oiled machine that the Singaporean education system is — a system we have all tried to help our children outsmart.

While some of us have embraced this change with open arms, others have more than valid reservations to this upheaval.

“Scrapping the MYEs breaks my girl’s momentum of preparing for exams and it’s going to be so hard to get her to pick up the pace towards the Final Year Exams.”  

“Fewer exams means fewer chances to work within an exam setting under time pressure — what if my son just gets so nervous that he ends up not testing well, even though he could very well answer the same questions at home?”  

“It’s so stressful not knowing how my son is performing early in the year. What if I only find out at the Final Year Exams that he’s struggling with a subject? Now he has so little time to catch up before the next school year starts.”

Some parents have even likened pop quizzes to mini heart attacks sprinkled throughout the year.

The MYEs, a summative assessment, were aimed at gauging how much a student had learned. In its place are formative assessments — these take place throughout the year and are aimed at helping students identify gaps to improve their learning. In other words, now, consistency is key.

Consistency and a love for learning starts from a young age. Little ones have minds so receptive to everything around them, their eyes filled with a wonder and spark as they soak in the world. However, where does that wonderment go by the time children hit their teens? The good news is that consistency and curiosity aren’t just the job of educators. It can be modelled within the home by the people children look up to the most — their parents.

Here are 3 categories of strategies to help our children in their pursuit of consistency.

1. Support our children in the task of learning

1a. Help our children stay organised

The biggest challenge many students face before learning even begins is getting and staying organised. Disorganisation can lead to students feeling overwhelmed, resulting in more time and effort spent being frustrated or trying to get reorganised rather than learning. Helping our children organise their school supplies, assignments, and their daily or weekly schedule can help them feel in control and more motivated to learn.

  • Provide structure and routine for their day or week. Visuals (e.g., hard copy printouts in their school bag, a timetable template on their wall or desk), and using colour coding systems may help.
  • Organise stationery using pencil cases with compartments.
  • Have study materials organised by topic / subject on their shelves; labelling the shelves may help with returning files to the right place for easy retrieval.
  • Have worksheets or topic materials filed; colour coded dividers may help.

1b. Jointly formulate a realistic study schedule with achievable short term goals to build an experience of success

Motivation wanes when we are met with failure. Similarly, motivation receives a boost at the sweet taste of success. Helping our children chip away at revision and master content in bite-sized pieces not only keeps discouragement at bay, but also helps them see themselves as successful learners. Setting small, achievable, short-term goals is a powerful, highly motivating tool in showing our children that they can achieve their goals.

1c. Incorporate ‘Distributed Practice’ within their study schedule

Distributed Practice is a well known finding in the field of psychology where interrupting practice or study time with rest intervals often enhances performance on a later memory test. For example, studying a topic for 20 minutes a day, over 3 days (i.e., distributed practice), is likely to be more effective than studying the same content for an hour at one sitting in a single day (i.e., massed practice). Theories posit that reviewing the material on separate occasions strengthens the memory trace, and consolidates or stabilises the content learnt.

1d. Practice Testing

Practice Testing, or The Testing Effect, is a term in cognitive psychology referring to the finding that taking practice tests, or any retrieval-based learning activity, on studied material subsequently promotes greater learning and retention on a final test compared to more common study strategies (e.g., restudying, rereading, highlighting). It is the act of retrieving information, as opposed to passive reading, that yields powerful benefits on learning and long-term retention.

Examples of practice testing include:

  • Completing low stakes practice tests at home prior to high stakes graded exams.
  • Answering a quiz at the end of a textbook chapter; it may be tempting to peek at the answers but do resist the temptation! Highlight the importance of trying to recall the information even if it seems difficult — working harder to remember the material forges a stronger memory for the material.
  • Writing a one-minute summary of what they’ve learnt from the day’s lesson or revision session.
  • Self-testing by trying to recall material that was just learnt. This may take the form of the 3R technique — Read-Recite-Review.
  • Read a passage in their study material.
  • Close the book and try to recite to retrieve as much of the material as they can aloud.
  • Review the passage to identify errors or gaps in their knowledge; they can then re-study effectively to fill in the gaps.

2. Making learning meaningful for our children

2a. Identify our children’s learning style

There are seven fundamental learning styles – each child may work best with a combination of styles, and to varying degrees. Being aware of our children’s learning styles may better help us devise activities that cater best to our children’s interests to reinforce their learning.

The seven learning styles are:

  1. Visual (spatial) – Using pictures, images, and spatial understanding to see patterns, relationships and connections.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical) – Strong listeners who are good at remembering things they hear.
  3. Verbal (linguistic) – Learning best through words – both spoken and written.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic) – Learning through doing, using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical) – A preference for using logic, reasoning and systems to problem-solve.
  6. Social (interpersonal) – A preference for learning in groups or with other people; learns best through being actively engaged with peers.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal) – A preference to learn in solitude, likely to prefer quiet.

2b. Highlight the relevance of what our children are learning

Adults rarely pay attention to things we feel aren’t relevant to us – the same goes for children. The “expectancy-value model” of learning was developed by Eccles and colleagues. It puts forth that students are more likely to be fully engaged in school if they expect they can do well, and if they value the learning that schools provide. Helping our children see how what they’re learning is relevant to their lives helps them accord greater value to what they learn in school (as opposed to just memorising or studying content to achieve a good grade). For example, with maths and learning percentages, we might ask our children to calculate how much something they wanted to buy would cost after factoring in the current promotion of a 15% discount. This is more likely to keep them more engaged, proactive, and motivated in their learning journey.

2c. Paint the big picture

Over the course of a long school year, it may be easy to get caught up with the day-to-day that our children lose track of why they do what they do. For older children and youths who understand the concept of delayed gratification (i.e., putting in effort now only to enjoy its fruits some time down the road), we can help nudge them along by providing reminders of their long-term goals. For example, the next school, institution, or course of study that they are working towards; or their ambitions or dream jobs and the skills required to serve in those roles. Helping them build a connection between school and their long-term goals can help make their learning journey more fulfilling.

3. Modifying our perspective & Modelling our approach to learning and education

3a. Get interested, get involved

It’s not uncommon for parents to open a conversation with our children about school by asking about homework assignments, to-dos, or grades. While such discourse is a demonstration of our interest and involvement in our children’s academic career, such task-orientation may crowd out the chance to unearth what truly mattered to them in their educational experience.

Instead, encouraging open and sincere communication about what’s going on with their education and validating their feelings affirms them that their opinions matter. Reassuring them that they can be open about their educational experience without judgement can avoid having them become disengaged from the learning process. Perhaps we could ask “What was something you learnt today that you really enjoyed or found really interesting?” or “What was something that you found tricky or got stuck on today?”

3b. Build a Growth Mindset by rewarding effort instead of outcome

Stanford University educational psychologist Dr Carol Dweck introduced the influential Mindset Theory involving a “fixed” or “growth” mindset. Students with a “fixed” mindset see such traits as intelligence as immutable – they may view poor grades as a reflection of themselves lacking an innate ability to perform and lose motivation since success seems an impossibility. Meanwhile, students with a “growth” mindset delight in learning for learning’s sake and see intelligence as a flexible trait  – poor grades may be due, say, to a lack of preparation instead of poor intrinsic ability.

How can a growth mindset be built? By praising our children for their effort invested into their education, instead of focusing on inherent abilities or outcomes. This communicates to our children that actual learning is more important than test grades, and that we are more concerned about them than their performance. We could:

  • Commend our children for their perseverance when things get difficult, and that actual learning takes precedence over grades. This perspective teaches them the pleasure of pushing themselves and builds a growth mindset.
  • Instead of asking how they did on their test, ask our children to teach us about what they learnt in that subject. This can help them solidify their learning and also teaches them reflexivity and awareness – in other words, to self-evaluate their learning. This is an important metacognitive skill where children learn to identify what they don’t know – a necessary step before they can make plans as to how to fill in these gaps.

3c. Let’s not compare

Comparison is arguably the key perennial issue among Asian parents – or perhaps parents the world over. It starts even as early as infancy where we compare how quickly our children attain their developmental milestones, and the advent of social media has not helped with relieving this pressure. Unfortunately, comparing grades and scores within the classroom fixes our children’s eyes outwards, using others as a yardstick instead of themselves. Instead, we want our children to be excited and motivated by their own growth, not that of others. Growth should be ascertained by evaluating where they are now compared with where they were a week, or a month ago.

In summary, with a reduction in the emphasis on traditional summative assessments, our understanding and definitions of intelligence, a high-performing student, and academic success have been turned on its head. Perhaps, so must our mindset towards assessments and education. In Education Minister Chan Chun Sing’s words, the aim is to bring about “a cultural shift where students are intrinsically motivated to learn and worry less about comparing with others.”

Instead of trying to process how well our children are learning in school, perhaps it’s time we turn our (and their) attention to the learning process which begins first within the domain of the home. This shift in perspective for both ourselves and our children may well unleash their potential to thrive in a generation of novel challenges – the likes of which we had not seen in our time.


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