Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Recommendations for maths assessment books

It's exam time again and I'm stressed out... again. Four exams a year is too much, I think. Multiply that by two kids and 3-5 subjects each... honestly! It's too much!

You may ask why I don't just leave them alone. In my opinion, people who ask that either 1) have no kids, 2) have kids but are not in the Singapore system, 3) have kids in the Singapore system who are geniuses. Really, I'm not sure it's possible to have kids in the Singapore education system and not feel the pressure, even just a little. A few weeks before the exams, the kids bring home their exam timetables and the parent is supposed to sign on the slip at the bottom, stating something to the effect of: "I have noted my child's exam schedule and will help him/her prepare for it." Aiyoh, like signing my life away!

Comparatively, I'm already quite a relaxed mum. I don't dole out extra work during the rest of the year, I just make sure the homework gets done (even that is questionable, considering the number of notes I've gotten from Andre's teacher). The kids have Chinese tuition, and Kenneth supervises the tuition homework, which is done over the weekend, but that's about it in terms of academic work done at home. So maybe that's why when the exam period draws near, I suddenly go into panic mode when I realise there are so many things to cover.

I guess I should be thankful that Lesley-Anne is doing ok in school (except for maths) and she has reached the age where she's able to study independently without me looking over her shoulder too much. It's Andre who tends to give me the near heart attacks. Close to the exams, the teacher will normally give out mock exam papers, which are past years' papers. Quite commonly, he returns home with a paper showing marks in the range of 70/100, upon which my blood pressure will instantaneously shoot up.

I have to explain that I'm not being unrealistic about his abilities. Believe it or not, Andre is actually above average among his p2 cohort at his school in terms of academic performance. In exams, he has so far usually managed to meet the Band 1 target I've set for him (note: Band 1 is 85/100) for all his subjects. But his playfulness and lack of focus means that during term time, he tends to do rather badly. In fact, almost every mock paper he has done in the past month has had "Needs Improvement" stamped on it. (I personally dislike this, it's gives the child zero encouragement and doesn't motivate him to do better.)

Naturally I'm hoping that his mad exam skills will come into play again and he will rise to the occasion, but the work IS getting harder and at some point, I think it would be too much to expect that he can skive throughout the year and just shine during exams.

Anyway, I actually intended to talk about maths assessment books today (see how cheong-hei I am, take so long to get to the point!) I wanted to share my experience on some of the better ones I've come across as I know many parents have contributed to Popular's profits by investing in armloads of these assessment books. Unfortunately, we have all at some point, thrown money down the drain just to find out which are the good ones and which are just crap.

Qualifier: I have, by no means, tried every one out there, so I can't claim there aren't better ones out there. Since I don't give out work during normal term time, I usually just buy 3 maths assessment books a year. Sometimes, my kids don't even complete the whole book by year end, just certain sections.

The maths standard at my kids' school is pretty high. I used to buy test papers from other schools (you know, the kind they sell in a pack) until I realised that almost none of them matched up to the school's standard, so they provided insufficient preparation for the exams. So now, my maths preparation for my kids is quite standard - I just use 3 maths assessment books each for Lesley-Anne and Andre and give them out systematically.

The first one is by Andrew Er. This one is quite comprehensive - it's topical and gives lots of exercises, good for drills and providing loads of practice for specific topics. It contains regular questions and "star" questions which are more challenging. The questions are not too difficult, even the star ones usually don't stump Lesley-Anne. But this book is good for practice and building the foundation for concepts.

This one published by EPH is my step 2. It is also topical but with fewer exercises than Andrew Er. Each topic has summary notes and is like a paper, with Section A (multiple choice), Section B (open-ended) and Section C (problem sums). The questions do require thinking and are not so straight-forward. This book is a good step up from Andrew Er, to see if my kids understand the concepts when they are presented in a less obvious manner.

Finally, this is my step 3 - Challenging Maths by CASCO. Once my kids have completed the one above, they move on to this book. Among all the maths assessment books I've ever used, this is the most challenging. If your kids can handle most of the questions in this book, they should have no problem aceing the school exams. This book is not topical, it's grouped in terms of common tests, CAs and SAs, each testing a combination of topics, which makes it great for the final round of revisions.

But be warned: the questions in the CASCO publication are TOUGH, especially the p3 and p4 ones. There were some questions in the p4 book that stumped me, even after I'd look at the solution! So don't be too worried if your kid can't handle it, most school papers aren't at this level. In fact, when I set this book for my kids, I don't set them a whole paper at a time - it's too daunting. Dish it out in smaller doses.

Now, here's the bad news: This year, when I went to look for the p5 CASCO Challenging Maths for Lesley-Anne, I found that it had been taken off the shelf because the P5 maths syllabus underwent changes (they can now use calculators for certain sections). I was waiting for the new edition but it never came out. Later, I realised that even the p3 and p4 ones have been pulled. I'm not sure if they will re-release this, I really hope so as I never found any other maths assessment book to match this one. Meanwhile, if you have any other recommendations, do let me know!


Lilian said...

We have Challenging Math and Andrew Er but a different one (the colour of the cover is one-toned).

Re exams, I'm pretty sure Andre will surprise you yet again. So don't be gancheong, and continue to entertain us with daily blog posts :)

eunice said...

I totally sympathise with you having to go through 'exams'. Am so glad Sean is not in Sin otherwise I'll be hairless (from tearing my hair our) and voiceless (from yelling).

Down here, we don't even know when they have assessments and school always stresses, not to stress the kids then they can perform better.

Btw, bought the challenging math for Sean (P1) and I was scratching my head (am not too good at math)

monlim said...

haha Eunice, the SG maths system is really unique, sometimes i wonder at the stuff the kids have to learn!

Lilian, I know the one-toned Andrew Er... one of my friends says everytime she takes it out, her son breaks into cold sweat :D

Hsien Lei said...

Thanks to Lilian, my K2 boy is doing Andrew Er's Maths Companion and I find it very well laid out. The revisions are also good for reviewing the concepts and to build confidence.

monlim said...

Hi Hsien! Yes, generally Andrew Er's books are good for building skills in topics. Wah, k2 already do maths assessments ah?

Lilian, bet Brian just tears thru the Challenging Maths easy peasy!!

Alcovelet said...

Hi Monica, 70/100? My eyeballs fell out. Um, quite good, no? And see? Andre is ABOVE average. My SIL says the mock exams are typically harder than the real thing, so he'll surprise you yet again.

Everyone's got their favourite assessment books I can see. We're doing the Fan Learning ones which Angie, my homeschooling guru adores. It's extremely well written and clear cut, but it's not as fiendishly twisty as Challenging Math. Another one we like is the Math Olympiad. Very elegant and interesting questions! But I'm not sure about "exam value" of the books I mentioned.

monlim said...

Ad: To me, 70/100 is ok at higher levels but not at p2. I think if you get that mark for all your subjects, you'll be below average. But jmo lah!

btw, this Angie you mentioned, her surname wouldn't be Maniam, would it? I know an Angie who's home-schooling her kids.

Alcovelet said...

Uh-huh it is. Small world! She's absolutely brilliant and a good friend.

monlim said...

You're KIDDING. The world is not small, it's minute! Both she and her hubby are my ex-colleagues!! I think we haven't spoken since we both left, that was over 10 years ago.

Alcovelet said...

What a coincidence! She's a really generous and kind person and is an inspiration to me with regard to homeschooling (put in another way, I got suckered into homeschooling cos I saw how fabulously her kids are turning out. I forgot there was hard work involved!!)

monlim said...

That's great! I know when I first found out she's home-schooling her kids, I was like "WAAHH!" Please tell her I said hi!

Lilian said...
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monlim said...
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monlim said...
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bACk in GERMANY said...

Never had so many assessment books. But I did have an uncle who would asked me, "Har, how could you get only 9/10 for Math? Math must be scored 100% all the time!"
My ave score on my P1 report book for Math was 99%, and I wasn't in any of those neighbourhood schools. But that statement from my uncle had burned a complex into me...
Anyway, scoring 100% or 99% isn't quite a realistic expectation these days. You'd be surprised how some papers have been set to get the kids all out, even if it means outside the curriculum, though not for the subject I teach. ;)

monlim said...

Yes, the papers are really tough these days. The problem is, no matter how tough the paper, there will inadvertently be some genius who manages to get 100. Unfortunately, schools take this to mean they shd raise the standard even more, leaving a whole trail of bewildered students behind. I think schools shd just know that there will always be the 1% top tier and 1% bottom tier no matter what and not kill the 98% in between.

Jo said...

Hi Monica

I came across this earlier post of yours when trying to source for math assessment books. Your recommendations are very useful. Did you manage to get your CASCO book in the end...I thought I saw the upper primary ones at the Popular Fair in March.

Do you think you could recommend some assessment books for English (and Chinese) too ? I have a few but in particular, I find that for the English ones, they are either not age appropriate (some questions are really ridiculously hard eg. P1 question more like a P5/PSLE one) or too easy, repetitive and boring or worse, full of grammatical or vocab errors !

As for chinese, the topical ones are my preference but again they range from the very easy to rather challenging.

monlim said...

Jo: I never posted for English cos like you, I found it hard to get good ones. Aiyoh, buy assessment book also must vet for mistakes! So terok lah. Try this one by Casco called Model Exam Papers - it's not bad.

I called Casco regarding the maths one, they stopped printing it and came up with some new titles which I don't think are as good :(

As for Chinese, sorry, this one I leave to the tutor so I have no clue!!!

Jass said...


I find it immensely enjoyable reading your blog.. Just like to take the opportunity to share my concerns and at the same time,seek your advice.Currently,I am tutoring my girl in her core subjects and she has been doing reasonably well for the lower primary . Since it has always been my style to teach the kids in advance especially with regards to Maths and English, I would say that by P2,she probably has already grasped her p3 and p4 concepts by then. She has been consistently practising on the assessment bks and even starting on some of the fundamentals for P5 Maths .However,I dare not venture further as it seems to be too adventurous to expect or drill a p3 kid on p5 topics. Yet, I am kind of disappointed when she is making quite a number of careless mistakes in the recently bought Casco challenging assessment bk for p4,especially when she had probably tackled questions harder than those in the book before.
It troubled me. Is she deteriorating in her skills or is she perhaps not as stellar in her Maths as what I thought she used to be?

monlim said...

Jass: Careless mistakes are very common so I wouldn't fixate too much on them. I know it's hard to see this at p4 but do be careful not to overdo the assessment books. At some point, the kids do get very jaded and in the long run, it really doesn't help them grow to love learning or want to learn more. Keep practising for sure, but I wouldn't overreact to the careless mistakes and see it as more than it is. Your child is still human after all, she will get tired or distracted sometimes :)

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