“The review of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is a complex issue and will take time, but parents should recognise that the national exam is not the be-all-and-end-all for their children, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong” (PSLE Not ‘Be-All-And-End-All’).
The news report “PSLE Not ‘Be-All-And-End-All’” (November 17, 2012): reforming standardised examinations is necessary, so besides rendering the assessment less absolute (for instance, not benchmarking primary school students based on their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) score), the Ministry of Education (MOE) could introduce constructive post-paper feedback and review after the examinations. In other words, the young test-takers should be given further information – beyond the grade – on how they have performed, and educators would be encouraged to identify areas for improvement.
Since learning is a lifelong process, the rationale for doing so – especially at the primary school level – is simple: we want to help schoolchildren recognise their academic strengths and weaknesses, which could also affect their choice of secondary schools. For instance, diagnostics for the English examination would encourage the student to strengthen his grammar or vocabulary, and whether he needs to write and read more regularly.
Post-Paper Feedback And Review
I recall an anecdote from a close friend, who told me about an unconventional strategy one of his educators adopted, when it came to the management of post-paper feedback and review. When the scripts – an English essay, for example – were first returned, there were no scores, no marks, and no grades. Instead, little ticks or crosses, coupled by annotations, adorned the papers. The class, unaccustomed to such a practice, began to badger the teacher, claiming that he had carelessly forgotten the all-important component. “No grades; not yet.” The teacher staunchly turned down these requests, and implored that it was more crucial that they paid attention to the lesson, so that they could analyse the test together. For the next hour or so, they began a rigorous discussion on question analyses, essay structures, common pitfalls, assessment criteria, key terms, writing techniques et cetera.
At the end of the test evaluation, before giving them their provisional results, he instructed the class: “Now, how would you grade your own submissions?” The results rarely differed.
Standardised tests and assessments have received such a bad reputation in Singapore, because we have been conditioned to be disproportionately obsessed with the end-result per se. To better teaching-learning pedagogies, educators need to inculcate – within students – the notion that examinations can help one grow; that is, if they are managed meaningfully. If standardised examinations can set a healthy, widespread precedent of providing paper feedback and comments, schools would then be galvanised to do the same for their students.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.