5 Top Mistakes that Students Make in PSLE Math, and How to Avoid Them

01/03/2020
Successfully navigating any math paper is a huge feat in and of itself. Mathematics as a subject challenges students to think in ways that they are not used to thinking. It requires them to have mental strength, good technique, as well as a detail-oriented mind. But precisely because of this, math can also be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding subject to work on.

Far too often, math is seen as a subject of rights and wrongs – so much so that it has perpetuated a mindset whereby mistakes equate to failure. The reality, however, is that mistakes are a huge part of the learning process and are great opportunities for growth. As such, to help you better understand these learning opportunities and grow from them, we have compiled 5 key problems that are faced by students taking PSLE Math.

1. Taking too long to understand the question

Under stressful conditions with an overbearing time constraint, students can panic and take a longer time to properly process and analyse the question.

When this happens, precious time that could be spent attempting harder sections and double checking answers are wasted on questions that are much less time-consuming.

The most straightforward way of countering this is through consistent practice – so much so that certain questions will start to look more familiar, and students can more quickly understand what is required of them.

The other approach is to learn how to identify keywords. Keyword identification helps students to more quickly break down questions into more manageable portions. This will then allow them to sieve out and focus on what is more important.

2. Not having a strong grasp of heuristics

Heuristics basically refer to strategies that students can employ to help them tackle more complex word problems. They come in many forms, including but not limited to:
  • Using visual representations by drawing diagrams, models, tables, or lists
  • Manipulating the problem-solving process by being able to work backwards and/or use the before-after concept
  • Making calculated guesses by looking for patterns, as well as employing suppositions or the guess and check method
  • Reinterpreting the problem by breaking it down, simplifying it, or solving part of it

When used correctly, heuristics serve as crucial short-cuts that can help students to drastically cut down on the time needed to solve certain problems. Be sure to properly understand and practice the various different heuristics so that you can use them to your advantage.

3. Losing unnecessary marks due to carelessness

Careless mistakes are often the bane of many students’ existence, and the source of many parents’ frustration. No matter how much practice we put in, careless mistakes can still eat away at our hard-earned points. Some of these common errors include:
  • Misunderstanding or misreading the question (E.g. ‘increase to’ and ‘increase by’ mean different things)
  • Transferring the wrong numbers and/or operations, which affects the rest of the workings
  • Overlooking the importance of units (E.g. not standardising them, converting wrongly, forgetting about unit requirement, etc.)

While careless mistakes are all too common, the solution often boils down to the development of invaluable habits when we practice math problems. By ensuring that we stay meticulous in writing down all the steps, doing so neatly, and reverse checking our answers, we are setting ourselves up for success for when the actual exam does come around.

4. Presentation errors

We are well-aware of how math questions are marked, and detailed workings are key to doing well. But in our haste to complete questions under stressful and time constrained exam conditions, we may resort to doing mental calculations and skipping steps in order to save time.
This may buy us a couple of minutes, but more often than not, it feeds into our carelessness via transfer errors (see point number 3). Writing down your thought process step-by-step will not only help ensure that you get the points that you deserve, it will also make it much easier to double check your work and prevent those dreaded careless mistakes.

5. Leaving blanks

PSLE Math is a dynamic subject that can be hard to master. As such, there will inevitably be times when we are stumped by difficult questions. When this happens, the last thing you should do is to leave them blank.
Skip them first if you are rushing for time, but be sure to double back to attempt them once you have cleared those that you can. Writing down a couple of workings seems trivial, but these workings may just help you clinch a couple of precious method marks that could make all the difference when it comes to your math grade. Even better, it could lead to a brainwave to help you solve the question altogether! There are, after all, few things more satisfying than working out a tough question all on your own.

In a nutshell

So there you have it, 5 key mistakes that we should learn to avoid for PSLE Math. However, it will also serve us well to remember that it is perfectly normal to make mistakes in our journey for improvement. No one is perfect and even the best of us struggle sometimes. Struggling in mathematics is not a sign of failure any more than it is to sweat while playing sports. Rather, it is part of the process and a clear sign of being in the game. So keep at it and be assured that your hard work and persistence will eventually pay off.
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