Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Math Challenge to parents

When I heard the news that the swine flu has become pandemic, I turned to Kenneth and asked, "If it spreads and schools have to close, will that mean there's no PSLE? Then all the kids this year can have a free pass to sec. 1!"

See how deluded I've become? Well, rather than wait for that pipedream to turn into reality, here's a better suggestion: prepare your kids for the eventuality. And by prepare, I don't necessarily mean teach. I mean prepare them psychologically and emotionally and most importantly, support them.

The best form of empathy is to walk in the footsteps of the other person and that's what Lilian and I did. Well, Lilian did it first. She actually printed out the Nanyang Primary School p6 prelim math paper 2007 and DID the paper. Then she urged me to do the same, which I did, based on allocated time and everything.

Guess how we performed? I amassed a dismal score of 73/100. Even more mortifying, I made four careless mistakes (the thing I'm always nagging Lesley-Anne about!!) which cost me 8 valuable marks. (I had to mention this because I'd like to think that I could have scored over 80/100 which wouldn't be quite so embarrassing.) I'll let Lilian decide whether she wants to reveal her score but here's a hint: she performed even worse than I did LOL (sorry Lilian!!) Her son Brian, on the other hand, managed to score 82/100 and mind you, this is without having ever attended formal math lessons on most of the p6 topics! Brilliant lah, Lilian. Luckily he's the one sitting for the exam, not you, hehe.

I learnt plenty from this exercise, mostly that when you have a time crunch, it's extraordinarily difficult to think clearly and it's all too easy to make careless mistakes, especially when you have very complex questions with multiple steps. I didn't have time to check - I had the grand total of 3 minutes left for the last problem sum which didn't matter anyway because there was no way I could have solved it. 5 marks out the window.

It is a very stressful and draining process, even more so for our kids because they know how much is at stake. So today, I'm issuing a Math Challenge, especially to parents whose kids are taking the PSLE this year - walk in the footsteps of your child. Since Lilian and I took the Nanyang Primary School p6 prelim math paper 2007, this can be a benchmark (plus I'm curious to know how other parents will fare!) You can print out the paper here. Give yourself 2 hrs 15 mins, no breaks. I'm even ok with giving you a handicap since some of you might protest that you're rusty when it comes to maths formulas - you're allowed to refer to your kids' p6 math textbooks.

Nanyang Primary School is one of the local primary schools known to have the toughest maths papers, so don't be discouraged if you can't do some of the sums. But I guarantee you that after that exercise, you will gain a newfound respect for what our 12-year-olds have to go through. And when you understand better how it feels to be them, I'm sure you'll be better able to guide and coach them in their education journey.

45 comments:

Lilian said...

Brian insists that I reveal my marks. Okay, we both did this paper together at the end of last year; as I told you, at the time, he was not focussed when doing papers, kept making silly mistakes. And I sensed he wasn't happy to be left alone to do work, like he felt it was unfair that I surfed the net while he worked. So I started sitting together with him,doing work together. Don't do that anymore, lost momentum, plus he is able to work alone now and even checks his work as best as he can, using all the time allocated.

Back to this ridiculous Nanyang 2007 Prelim paper, I am happy to announce that I got a GRAND total of 55 marks! I couldn't do most if not all of Section C.

Yesterday, when Monica told me she got more than 70, I thought, hmmm, it's been some months, I think I've gotten better at this, so I tried doing the paper again, and got less than 50!

So please, don't anybody say I'm good in Math anymore. Hmm, but I did get 92 for RGPS 2007 Prelim.

monlim said...

Haha, Lilian nolah, not that you're not good at math, you're just not good at the SG math system which requires a lot of practice to get used to the complexity of the sums. They require a very sound knowledge of concepts and each sum often calls for the application of several concepts. Like you said, the papers here are created to try and trip you, not test knowledge!

92 for RGPS? So maybe you should have been an RGPS student, hehe...

Lilian said...

All I can say is, the people who set the questions are EVIL GENIUSES! You're spot on, in Section C, each sum really requires application of several concepts, and that's what trips me up. My mind just goes blank. This lil' ole' brain of mine can't work out so many steps in one go!

I have the utmost, greatest, respect for Singapore kids. This is only Math, I'm sure all the other subjects are equally, if not more, demanding.

monlim said...

I think in SG, the Math and Science papers are the most demanding, Math especially. The languages are more manageable. I'm pretty sure if you give the Math papers to adults all over the world, many will fail!

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica

I am both tickled and amazed that you and Lilian did this! I don't think I have the courage to take up this challenge. At this point, I can't help but feel a little anxiety creeping up......

Yes, working under exam conditions is very different from practising sums at home. It is a tall order to expect the 12-year old kid to minimise careless mistakes and complete ALL the questions within the given time.

Lilian's score of 92 for the RGPS paper is just super!

LL

Lilian said...

Thanks LL: I did the RGPS paper the very next day after I got 55 marks for the NYPS one! Cos I couldn't believe it, I mean, I used to do really well in Math, granted it was Malaysian Math, not Singapore Math LOL!

I thought the RGPS paper was wayyyy easier than the Nanyang one, but my son did worse than me, so go figure.

Albert said...

Hi Monica and Lilian,

I think you both don't really instruct your kid at math. I often are asked math questions be my daughter because I am her math tutor at home. I have to give her clear answers. They are really difficult for those Olympic math. For her current topics, I also are hard to understand her work because she always short cut at her worksheet. Her teacher allows them to do that way because they need to save time to complete all questions. So she doesn't list all known variable at her worksheet. She just does them in her mind and uses the results. She told me her classmates all did by this way. I looked at the math paper of Nanyang.I don't think it is hard for GEP kids because they do a lot of papers at math every week now.The math competition is hold today too. :) Then IT competition will come soon. So how. My wife and I just relax for her PSLE. We know she will confirm her school after we visit RGS and NGS. She just needs to get 200 at PSLE. We cannot believe she cannot pass the line. We love to see her to enjoy her competitions. She may know a lot of new friends and learn a lot from them. Life is excited for GEP kids.

Lilian said...

Yes Albert, with my 55 marks, it's definitely better for me not to teach my son!

As I told Monica in an email, "The scary part is, I bet there are many Nanyang kids who get 100 or close to it. Or maybe they're just naturally fantastic in math, plus excellent instruction from the teachers there. Who knows?", so your daughter definitely falls in this category. But not all kids in Singapore will find this paper a piece of cake, I'm sure there are also GEP kids who will find these a challenge too.

As for my son, I know he will never get close to 100, but the extra effort required to get him from the 80s/very low 90s to above 95 is exponential and too great a sacrifice. So won't sweat it.

As it is, I'm already very grateful that he's even able to tackle such questions having been away from Singapore since mid-P1 and not getting any help from his schools overseas (at least not where Sg Math is concerned) or from his barely-can-pass-math-test mum!

99% of his math knowledge is self-taught, so while he may not be a fantastic math student by Singapore standards, I think this can-do attitude, independence and self-reliance put him on strong footing for the rest of his educational journey.

More importantly, he's having the time of his life in his Moscow school now :); while at the same time honing non-academic life-skills such as teamwork, cooperativeness, empathy, relationship-building, respect for others, courtesy and most importantly humility.

All the best to you and your girl, I'm sure she'll sail through her education in Singapore.

monlim said...

Albert: Your daughter is obviously very bright and you're rightly proud of her. But many kids struggle with math and majority of parents who read this blog don't have kids in GEP. Lesley-Anne is in GEP and I'm sure she'll find the paper tough. The point Lilian and I were making is that instead of always chastising our kids for mistakes, parents should encourage them to persevere. Good for you that you can teach your daughter maths, I'm sure many parents wish they have the same ability to help their kids!

Lilian: Thanks as always for the insight and the reminder that there are many more qualities that are more important in life, that can sometimes be overlooked in our zeal for academic excellence. Brian is obviously on the right track and he's lucky to have a mum like you to guide him :)

Alcovelet said...

Hats off to both you moms for being so in tune with your kids and being willing to do the paper. L-A and Brian, you guys are lucky to have moms who are willing to work together with you rather than work on you. Ok lah, you guys may/may not feel it now, but you certainly will later when you look back.

Albert said...

Hi,

Actually my daughter always struggles with math too. She is quite sad that she just got 29 for the RI math competition. So what I told her? Is her math not good enough? I don't think so. So I told her no matter what her math result. This is not for her. That is just for those people who enjoy to play bored game. They never think the capability of most pupils. Just let game play for few talents lah. We have a lot of thinks to do. Then Huazhong math is easy for them. Most of them may achieve over 100. I think it is good to them. They may have confidence via it. Why take trouble to those pupils? They already are top in those p6 pupils. The PSLE math is for all pupils in Singapore. Most of them need to pass PSLE. Due to this, the math should be easy for these GEP kids. I know their math level is higher than some secondary topics. Some logic questions made me trouble too. The Olympic math often makes me trouble. I have to look at answers then try to explain. I don't think they will appear on PSLE. :)

Anonymous said...

And that is why I enjoy reading both your blogs, Monica and Lilian. Both of you are very 'grounded' in teaching kids about other more important things in life. The pursuit of academic excellence sometimes become a pre-occupation for most parents, and that really can cause alot of tension between parent and child. Thanks for sharing so openly.

Lilian, time to confess... I read your blog too and find that you have a great sense of humour! Very entertaining. My son is in P1 this year (same age as Sean).

LL

Lilian said...

Hi LL, nice to 'meet' you. Actually, every time I see your comment on Mon's blog, I'll do a double take, cos of your initials; mine's LLL! I feel like I already know you :)

Anonymous said...

Mon & Lilian, both of you are really farny... LOL

Btw, I did the P4 mid year paper 2 weeks back, guess what...., I got 68/100 and after the paper, I felt that my brain has swollen to double of its size....so heavy & big... *sigh*, and I couldn't finish th english paper, gave up half way, too difficult for me. :-p

Chris

Lilian said...

Chris! I totally get what you mean about brain swelling to double its size, cos when I'm doing Sg math testpapers, I'm always holding my head cos it feels so heavy...LOL! Also sometimes feel like smashing my head as I wonder why the heck can't I do this!!!

eunice said...

Monica and Lilian you both are VERY brave to take on the maths paper. I dare not even try. I agree with Lilian that there is more to school than academics ie life skills. I meet many academically bright children and even adults who don't have the social skills or street smarts.

Since i dare not do the Sin math, I'll not torture my son by making him do it. Btw, Lilian, my scores are sure to be even less than yours! I'm that bad.

Anonymous said...

Mon and Lil, take my hat off both of you to think of this challange.
So I tried.....and the verdict was I am really not up to it! I could not finish the paper in 2h 15 mins!! It was the most horrible 2h 15 min late last night after so many years away from exams. LOL...

My score is 16/20, 22/30 and 26/50 totalling 64/100, a disaster in section C cos I could not finish many questions and my brain dead by then, so exhausting. haha. And in one of the questions in section B, I did it before but under time pressure I got the answer wrong and lost all marks. So I completely agree the children today are amazing, salute to them. Now I also wonder if a better exam strategy is to do Section C first, followed by the higher-marks questions in A and B before the brain goes limp... :D

Before trying, I am clueless about Albert's comment about not instructing the children yourself, After trying, I believe most of the issues are speed related due to lack of practice. So the score may not reflect that you are not good in concepts but more of speed, Lilian. Just my 2 cts.

Btw, under pressure, I use algebra more than modelling method...heeheehee

Also, I must say some of the questions are really good questions, they really test thinking skills and once you crank the engine, to work the answer is actually simple, i.e. no tedious working required. Personally I like this type of questions compared to tedious lengthy-answer type of questions. But it is a KILLER paper indeed, no doubt about it. And if you notice the paper was set by 3 LADY teachers...so the common belief of boys better at Math may not be true in NY teachers or they are the exceptions?

Finally Mon you are good to get above 70 score! :)

I am only glad my ordeal is over.. LOL..

qx

monlim said...

QX: I'm so sorry to know that we put you through such a traumatic experience! :D But it is very humbling for parents, isn't it? And I take my hat off to you for accepting the challenge!

Actually, this year, the format is changed so it's not longer a straight 2 hr 15 mins. It's now divided into 2 papers, Paper 1 is 50 mins, Paper 2 is 1 hr 40mins, with a half hour break in between. Calculators are allowed for Paper 2. This will be the first year with this format, so it's yet to be seen whether kids will find it easier or harder.

Anonymous said...

Haha yes...terribly traumatised and certainly humbling.... When I lamented to my hubby that our child is born in the wrong times...work is so hard these days. You know his comment? He said.."No, this is her cohort's standard so she will fall in line...I am sure during our time, our parents also found our work hard." *roll my eyes at him*

Hmm...I hope the NY paper is not a good representation of what PSLE is going to be. If it is as intensive as NY paper, the half -hour break in between cannot refresh the brain so quickly. Also, kids have to learn not to be affected by the first paper if the first paper turn out to be a killer paper.

I still think it is not easy being a child in today's world, other than just exams.

So looking into the other aspects of life for a child may help them find better peace in coping with the harshness of the world like the qualities Lilian has written above.

I cannot imagine tying my kid's ability only to her Math skills or SG education standard alone. JMHO.

qx

Veronica_L said...

I was so amused by your test that I took it too. I got a miserable(with cauculators for paper 2)61/100. Section C was killing me, literally.

Don't worry lah, Lesley-Anne and Andre are sure to do better than all of us. Especially Lesley-Anne.

monlim said...

QX: no, be assured the PSLE will definitely not be as "killer" as Nanyang. Most of the top schools set papers that are much tougher than the PSLE and Nanyang is possibly one of the toughest of the tough! Basically, if you can handle Nanyang's paper, you can handle any others. Like Lilian said, she did RGPS and scored 92!

So don't be overly anxious just yet. Plus like you said, it's the practice that makes the difference and the kids do get lots of practice in school. So in a sense, your hubby is right in that when everyone goes through the same process, most of them will be able to adapt some how.

Anyway, I can't quite recall but you still ahve a way to go before your kid hits PSLE right?

Anonymous said...

Actually your memory is as excellent as your Math skill. :D

We are currently at the other spectrum and now I sound like super ks mum to look at PSLE papers.. LOL...

My guess is it will be progressively more challenging looking at the way things move. But I am not stressing myself nor her, just keeping myself updated and not get any rude shocks when I wake up suddenly to changes around me. :D

qx

Lilian said...

I'm really upset that the mums here who tried the paper did better than me!! I'm starting to doubt my mathematical ability now. I guess I'll just blame it on my Malaysian education then! hehe...

monlim said...

Lilian: like I said before, why you worry? The rest of us have to teach our kids, your Brian (and Sean too I'm sure) don't need help, so you just enjoy being a surfing mum lah! LOL

Alcovelet said...

Don't say ah, Lilian, but you KNOW you're better than me at math, and I'm not even Malaysian, LOL! And of course the thought never crossed my mind to try the paper.

Nice to know there are so many math-y moms out there so, so I'll be calling out for help on these pages!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mummies,

You have been talking about Math, what about Science? I really find the P4 science very tough, cannot imagine P5 & P6. To answer a question, one has to eliminate many possibilities before we can get an answer. I never want to look into my older gal science homework since beginning of this year, really send my head spinning.

P.S, Lilian, Did you let your son try the sg science paper? Any comment?

Chris

monlim said...

Chris: haha, that's the catch, I was just telling Lilian I'm willing to try the math paper cos I like math but no way will I try a science paper! Sure fail...

Ad: with your little math whiz, no need for you to know math lah, give him a couple of years, he'll be teaching all of us!

Anonymous said...

Ya I think Monica hit on a very valid point...when your kids are so able, there is no need to try to work out the solutions. I have this strange suspicion that my kid will be Math-handicap as we move up the chain from what I observe in the daily happenings now.. LOL.

As for Science, I really *cold sweat* when I look at some of the questions being posed by other parents on the web. One needs to know the universe very well to attempt some of these questions, cannot just derive logically leh in some cases...

qx

monlim said...

QX: I also get *cold sweat* when I see science papers, so donwanna see! And that's not even the worst. If I ever have to do a p6Chinese paper, I'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Any mark I get will be from lucky tikam. LOL

monlim said...

Veronica: Think I forgot to reply to you. I just let L-A try the Section C, killed her too. Didn't bother to total the marks, she kept wailing "so hard!!" And give you chance lah, use calculator, not allowed in 2007 leh!

Lilian said...

Chris: The word Science sends shudders down my spine! I am so bad at Science I avoid the subject as far as possible. With Math, when the kids ask me anything I can at least hazard a guess. With Science, I go er, uh, ah, em, arrrr...go google it. I really catch no ball. This time I blame it on my female brain LOL although I know Mon says no such thing.

I've told Brian we're gonna take a break from Math now and he'll start working on his Science more. His first choice is always Math; well actually, his first choice is always Do No Work; but if had to do some work, he'll choose Math, then Science and only with great reluctance will he work on his English. Since I can't help him at all with Science, he has to rely on his Male brain, hope that's enough!

Domesticgoddess said...

OMG! Monica and Lilian, you just sent shudders down my spine as i read this post and all the 31 comments! Bravo for taking the test! I think I will most likely be one of those mums who will take the test when my boys are ready for PSLE so I can prepare myself. But sadly I suspect I will also be one of those mums who will be stressing our kids out over exam preparation! :( And I don't want to!

monlim said...

DG: Don't worry so much lah! You still have a long way to go since your kids are so young, and from what you've described, I'm sure they'll be able to ace the school work, no problem :) Anyway, you were thinking of home-schooling right? I think home-schoolers face less (a little at least) stress cos they don't face the day to day pressures by teachers and school mates.

Anonymous said...

Mon: I forgot to share that after Science, Chinese is probably the next killer subject I need to fret over. Hai...feel like we are 'back to school' with our kids. And now I understand why the programme "Are you smarter than a 5th grader" is so successful after watching the Chinese version on Taiwan channel.

qx

monlim said...

QX: If there was a show, "Are You Smarter than a PSLE Student", sure FAIL. Cos most of us adults wouldn't be able to answer any question!!

I don't fret about Chinese cos I am helpless, end of story. That's why got tutor lor :P

Anonymous said...

Dear ladies, thank you for the replies. Now I know I'm not the only one avoiding science...LOL. Like most of you, I also love to do Math, but for Science, I couldn't even pronounce some of the names mentioned in the questions, let alone knowing if they were referring to an animal or a plant. :-P

Lilian, same here. I always ask my older gal go google for the answer, so much so that, now my 6yo will come to me with a question, but she is not asking me for the answer, she wants me to google the answer for her. ^_^

Chris

Anonymous said...

You gals are very wicked. Guess what I did on Labour Day evening? Attempting the paper lor. Good news for u Lilian... I failed!!! Nevermind lah...Math has never been strongest subject. I only did well in Add. Math in secondary school. Don't know why?! I was so tired and demoralised last night that ds even helped me out after time-out. He is more clear-minded than me!
Later I will look at the answers in your latest post.
S (Sob! Sob!)

Anonymous said...

heh heh..Mon...I am sure I QUALIFY to FAIL in current day's PSLE without a doubt... kekeke

And I thought my ordeal was over until I saw your new post on the solutions in Section C... STRESS!! I have failed to attempt many questions in Section C. Now I feel I have to do "corrections" and check against yours...donch like that leh....hahaha

qx

monlim said...

S: No worries lah, you're in good company here! None of us would have even scored an A in the paper, let alone A* :P

QX: You are so cute, you really are a product of the Singapore education system!! ROFL!!

Lilian said...

S: No offence,...but YAYYYYYYYY!!!!! LOL!!!

I betcha your little son has some very interesting solutions of his own.

Jo said...

Have years to go before the dreaded PSLE exams but was wondering if anyone tried to get the daddies to attempt the paper ?

The other day I got hubby to supervise my daughter in some P1 maths questions and I'm sure I heard him mutter "wah so difficult" under his breath ! Hee....

monlim said...

Jo: No idea! Kenneth refuses to try except when I ask him about specific sums that stump me. But with the male ego, maybe dads won't reveal their scores if they're less ideal :D

Jo said...

Am very inspired by your marvellous maths skills ! I don't know if can keep up with my kids when they move from lower to upper primary !

A couple of friends we know who are academically brilliant (scholar types) have given up after P3 math and hired tutors for their kids !

monlim said...

Jo: It really is about practice, practice, practice. Many who were good in math 20 years back can't do the sums now cos in our time, it was about applying formulas, eg. if the question is on circles, you apply the formula for circles. Now, a question on circles can call for application in circles, algebra, geometry. It really calls for total understanding of concepts. As QX said, the papers test thinking skills.

So it's not that the questions have become too hard for parents, the parents just need practice and familiarity with these sorts of questions. Don't give up! I'm sure if you follow through, you'll be ready by the time your kids hit p6 :)

palindrome said...

In case any one ever attempts this paper in the future, the answer to qn. 21 is wrong. There are actually infinite ways to slice the prism into 2 identical parts with a single cut.

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