Insights & Strategies: A Review of The 2023 PSLE English Paper

Sen­ti­ments from the ground fol­low­ing the PSLE Eng­lish writ­ten papers indi­cat­ed that it was eas­i­er than expect­ed. With 2023 mark­ing a return to life before COVID, there was an expec­ta­tion among many that the papers would revert to their typ­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el, which was last seen in 2019. How­ev­er, con­trary to expec­ta­tions, the 2023 Eng­lish papers were in fact, sig­nif­i­cant­ly more man­age­able than the pan­dem­ic years. Nev­er­the­less, chal­leng­ing ques­tions which were meant for dis­tin­guish­ing the AL1s and AL2s were still present. Ulti­mate­ly, in order to score for Eng­lish, the defin­ing sec­tions that stu­dents will need to do well for are: Con­tin­u­ous Writ­ing, Gram­mar relat­ed sec­tions and Orals. 

Let’s take a look at some of the sec­tions and ques­tions test­ed in the 2023 PSLE.

1. Paper 1: Continuous Writing 

The top­ic for  2023, “A Change for the Bet­ter,” might have giv­en stu­dents a mini heart attack when they first read the top­ic due to its unique­ness, as it is in the form of a longer phrase, which was last seen in the 2020 PSLE, “Some­thing That Was Lost.” Nonethe­less, 2023’s top­ic can be con­sid­ered to be more man­age­able than 2022’s, “A Long Wait,” as once stu­dents break down the top­ic, they would realise that the direc­tion that they need to take for the sto­ry is noth­ing that they have not encoun­tered before. 

Suc­cess­ful com­po­si­tions like­ly demon­strat­ed a clear elab­o­ra­tion of the “change” ele­ment, por­tray­ing both the before and after, along with mean­ing­ful char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. Addi­tion­al­ly, it is imper­a­tive that a neg­a­tive sit­u­a­tion should be pre­sent­ed before the change and that the sto­ry should end on a pos­i­tive note, even if not entire­ly.  For TTA stu­dents, using our sig­na­ture One Sto­ry­line Approach would have com­fort­ably got­ten them past the line. Notably, the use of the “Snail Boy” sto­ry­line was pop­u­lar among our stu­dents due to its impec­ca­ble fit with the top­ic and pic­tures. 

Year after year, we see the pow­er of our One Sto­ry­line Approach. Indeed, the best strat­e­gy to tack­le con­tin­u­ous writ­ing is to arm stu­dents with a num­ber of flex­i­ble sto­ry­lines. Teach them how to adapt those sto­ries and regard­less of what gets test­ed in the PSLE, stu­dents should breeze through the paper.

Watch this video to see how the “Snail Boy” sto­ry­line can be adapt­ed into the 2023 com­po­si­tion top­ic.

2. Paper 2 (Booklet A): Vocabulary Cloze 

If there’s any­thing that the past two years’ PSLE papers have shown us, it is that the trick­i­est ques­tion of the Eng­lish paper seems to appear in the Vocab­u­lary Cloze sec­tion more often than not. Let’s have a look at what our Eng­lish team has iden­ti­fied as the most dif­fi­cult ques­tion of Paper 2. 

Q18: My curios­i­ty soon got the bet­ter of me.

Options: over­took, out­wit­ted, out­weighed, over­whelmed 

Q18. My curios­i­ty soon got the bet­ter of me. 

1. over­took
2. out­wit­ted
3. out­weighed
4. over­whelmed
Answer : 4

To get the bet­ter of (some­one) means that you can­not stop your­self from allow­ing that feel­ing to make you do some­thing. The options “over­took” and “over­whelmed” were close con­tenders for the final answer, but “over­whelmed” was the cor­rect choice as it best cap­tures the mean­ing of the phrase, con­sid­er­ing that “over­take” is typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with neg­a­tive emo­tions such as “fear over­took me”.

3. Paper 2 (Booklet B): Editing 

Q39: Grand­ma had a pair of glass­es which she had worn for over a deck­aid

Answer: decade

Q41: Even with her glass­es, she could hard­ly make out the feech­ers on my face when I stood in front of her. 

Answer: fea­tures

Q43: In spite of Grandma’s rilark­tence, I insist­ed that she should get her eyes checked. 

Answer: reluc­tance

Q44: Grand­ma was vezee­bli upset as I held her hand and slow­ly led her to the bus stop. 

Answer: vis­i­bly

Q45: On the bus, I took the win­dow seat and told her about the seeneri out­side. 

Answer: scenery

Q48: Grand­ma gave an orkuard smile upon hear­ing that. 

Answer: awk­ward 

For the edit­ing sec­tion, it came as a sur­prise that the dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el was sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced. With a total of 12 gram­mar and spelling errors, six errors respec­tive­ly, cor­rect­ing spelling mis­takes often prove to be chal­leng­ing for stu­dents. How­ev­er, in the 2023 paper, the spelling errors were of lit­tle resem­blance in dif­fi­cul­ty com­pared to the past five years. While it may not have been as tough, the ques­tions are not with­out its chal­lenges as demon­strat­ed espe­cial­ly in Q45 and 48. Stu­dents tend to mis­spell it as “sce­nAry” and “awk­ward” may not have be the eas­i­est of spelling for weak­er stu­dents. What this how­ev­er reflects, is that stu­dents should con­tin­ue to prac­tise spelling com­mon­ly used words and to have their own sys­tem to track words that they tend to mis­spell or are con­fus­ing. It is also cru­cial that stu­dents do not excuse them­selves when­ev­er they make spelling mis­takes in their dai­ly work. Instead, one should aim to prac­tise spelling it until the cor­rect spelling becomes ingrained in their mus­cle mem­o­ry.

4. Paper 2 (Booklet B): Comprehension Cloze 

With­out a doubt, com­pre­hen­sion cloze can be a killer sec­tion for stu­dents who do not read wide­ly. We are not going to sug­ar­coat it, the com­pre­hen­sion cloze is ulti­mate­ly a test of a stu­den­t’s vocab­u­lary and those armed with a wide repos­i­to­ry of it often find them­selves in a bet­ter posi­tion to score. For­tu­nate­ly, the 2023 pas­sage was on the whole, still man­age­able. 

Some of the trick­i­er ques­tions we thought were (parts marked out in yel­low are the clues for the ques­tion): 

Para 1, Q52

For Q52, most stu­dents were able to fig­ure out that the visu­al­ly impaired are paired with guides who can see. How­ev­er, the chal­lenge lies in find­ing the most appro­pri­ate col­lo­ca­tion for “sight” in con­text. It is rec­om­mend­ed that stu­dents avoid using impre­cise and rel­a­tive terms such as “good” sight. Fur­ther­more, the rec­om­mend­ed answer pro­vid­ed by SEAB is “per­fect”, so we can safe­ly assume that there was a high prob­a­bil­i­ty that mark­ers did not accept “good” as an answer. A tip from us for this ques­tion is to change the word “sight” to “eye­sight” which could have helped in guid­ing stu­dents to the best answer. 

Q56 test­ed stu­dents’ knowl­edge of their idioms. The idiom, “all it takes” means all that is required or nec­es­sary. Some stu­dents might have cho­sen the word “what” instead but they were like­ly to be think­ing of this idiom, “have what it takes (to do some­thing)”, which means to have the qual­i­ties or char­ac­ter need­ed to be suc­cess­ful. 

For Q63, stu­dents would have to select an appro­pri­ate cat­e­go­ry that encom­pass­es “humil­i­ty and deter­mi­na­tion”. These are exam­ples of val­ues, which are the fun­da­men­tal ideas or beliefs peo­ple have that guide and con­trol their behav­iour. “Traits” or “qual­i­ties” would not work as they refer to the notice­able fea­tures or per­son­al­i­ty that a per­son pos­sess­es.

While the com­pre­hen­sion cloze may appear to favour those who have a wide range of vocab­u­lary, it’s impor­tant to note that stu­dents with weak­er vocab­u­lary skills can still achieve a decent score. At Think Teach, we equip our stu­dents with strate­gies to dis­cern con­tex­tu­al clues and recog­nise var­i­ous types of blanks to help them derive a log­i­cal answer. Fur­ther­more, we give stu­dents ample com­pre­hen­sion cloze exer­cis­es which expose stu­dents to diverse word pair­ings and its usage. Nonethe­less, our rec­om­men­da­tion will still ulti­mate­ly be for your child to read wide­ly should they want to excel in this sec­tion. 

5. Paper 2 (Booklet B): Synthesis & Transformation

If any­thing, 2023’s S&T was far from tough. In recent years, this sec­tion has been chal­leng­ing due to word trans­for­ma­tion ques­tions. A good exam­ple of how chal­leng­ing it can get would be 2021 and 2022’s PSLE paper. How­ev­er, stu­dents would like­ly have heaved a huge sigh of relief to find the 2023 syn­the­sis ques­tions rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward, even for the word trans­for­ma­tion ques­tion. In Q69, stu­dents were test­ed on whether they were able to change from advise (verb) to advice (noun), a sim­ple and com­mon­ly test­ed word form. A note from us is that while it was man­age­able, there were no repeat­ed ques­tion types test­ed for the 2023 paper, which was last seen in the 2020 PSLE paper. Stu­dents were test­ed on gerunds, con­di­tion­als, adverbs, word trans­for­ma­tion and direct and report­ed speech. Thus, it is cru­cial to note that the PSLE con­tin­ues to test a wide range of rules and ques­tion types, so it is impor­tant that stu­dents do not bank on spot­ting ques­tions but to expose them­selves to a wide range of ques­tions as well as main­tain­ing a high lev­el of metic­u­lous­ness while attempt­ing S&T. 

In this ques­tion, upon is a prepo­si­tion. Hence, it needs to be fol­lowed by a gerund. Q66 of the PSLE paper test­ed stu­dents on “instead of”. Since “of” is a prepo­si­tion, stu­dents will need to use a gerund after it. 

In order for the out­come to hap­pen (attend­ing the con­cert), the con­di­tion that needs to be ful­filled is that Jer­ry has a tick­et. 

To answer this ques­tion, “lost” (verb) needs to be trans­formed into “loss” (noun). 

Tense: did go → had gone 

Pro­noun: you → I 

Time: yes­ter­day → the pre­vi­ous day 

As we are report­ing a ques­tion, the sub­ject (I) needs to come before the verb (had gone). 

6. Paper 2 (Booklet B): Comprehension Open-Ended 

Whether the com­pre­hen­sion open-end­ed is chal­leng­ing hinges on the num­ber of infer­ence ques­tions present and the ease of search­ing for clues to the answers. Exam­ples of tough com­pre­hen­sions would include the 2019 paper with near­ly every ques­tion demand­ing stu­dents to infer and the 2020 paper where clues for some of the ques­tions were scat­tered across var­i­ous para­graphs, adding to the dif­fi­cul­ty.

 The 2023 com­pre­hen­sion mir­rored a sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ty seen in 2022, fea­tur­ing only a hand­ful of infer­ence ques­tions. Had stu­dents read the pas­sage care­ful­ly, they would not have found the infer­ence ques­tions hard to answer. Suc­cess in this sec­tion typ­i­cal­ly relies on the stu­den­t’s abil­i­ty and will­ing­ness to metic­u­lous­ly source for clues, cou­pled with being pre­cise in their answers. Thus, it is para­mount that stu­dents employ close read­ing skills, make sense of the pas­sage by mak­ing anno­ta­tions, as well as to analyse the ques­tions to deter­mine what is required of their answers to ensure that they craft the most accu­rate and spe­cif­ic response. 

7. Preparing for the PSLE 

As the say­ing goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So, where do we begin? For a start, stu­dents should be clear of the exam­i­na­tion for­mat. Begin by review­ing past work to iden­ti­fy areas that require more work. Once it has been pin­point­ed, pri­ori­tise revis­ing con­tent. It is vital that stu­dents do not try to fly before learn­ing how to walk. Rush­ing into prac­tice papers or attempt­ing ques­tions pre­ma­ture­ly is inef­fec­tive as one should solid­i­fy their under­stand­ing of the mate­r­i­al before apply­ing their knowl­edge through tack­ling ques­tions. 

As cliché as it may sound, do not be afraid to make mis­takes! Mis­takes are the best indi­ca­tors of our learn­ing gaps and being able to iden­ti­fy that is half the bat­tle won. Last­ly, do not hes­i­tate to seek help when need­ed. While per­son­al efforts are cru­cial and nec­es­sary, guid­ance from teach­ers or any form of avail­able sup­port can go a long way. Hence, do not shy away from ask­ing for help!  

8. Concluding Remarks

Much to the delight of many, the 2023 PSLE Eng­lish papers were unex­pect­ed­ly straight­for­ward, for a year where we were no longer dis­rupt­ed by the pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, this does not mean that we should rest on our lau­rels. Despite the rel­a­tive ease of the 2023 paper, what this and past year PSLEs have con­tin­ued to prove is that a sol­id foun­da­tion in the lan­guage, con­tent mas­tery and exam­i­na­tion skills remain the keys to suc­cess. At Think Teach, our results speak vol­ume. For our 2023 cohort, 1 in 2 stu­dents attained AL1 or 2 and 80% of our stu­dents scored with­in AL1 to 4 for Eng­lish. The suc­cess of our stu­dents rein­forces the impor­tance of lay­ing a strong foun­da­tion, hav­ing the right mate­ri­als, ample prac­tice and a tar­get­ed revi­sion plan.

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