PSLE English Tips | Oral: 8 Essential Steps for a More Successful Conversation

Thank you to all of you who took part in our poll in the last post! Majority of you gave a resounding "YES" to our question of whether you would like to see a post that walks through the process of stimulus-based conversation. We heard you and in this week's posts, we will talk about this new component in PSLE 2015. There will be two posts on this topic. Today's post will be an outline of eight essential steps to help increase your chances of a successful conversation. For an overview of all things to look out for, you may refer to the BLARE Checklist and use it for your child's practice. 

What is the new stimulus-based conversation all about?

For educators and parents whose children have taken the PSLE in the previous years, you will know that the picture used in the new format is slightly different from what was used before. In the past, the pictures consist of a particular scene (e.g. Airport, market etc.) with a few events taking place throughout the scene. That section was known as "picture description" and a separate component, named "conversation" follows. 

The 2015 PSLE Oral Syllabus from SEAB (Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board).    Mo  re on the   20  15 English syllabus from their release   here  . 

The 2015 PSLE Oral Syllabus from SEAB (Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board). 
More on the 2015 English syllabus from their release here

The new format combines these two components ("stimulus-based conversation") for the oral examination to be more meaningful, rather than just having a mere description of a picture which honestly, does not seem to be as authentic an assessment for one's oral skills. Hence, the new pictures tend to come in the form of brochures, instruction manuals, posters or even signages. The picture now acts as a conversation-starter, hence, it is referred to as a stimulus that stimulates conversation. Questions will be asked based on the picture with the first question being directly-linked to the picture. The subsequent questions are usually broadly-linked to the stimulus, meaning that these questions will be related to the general topic of the picture. 

With a clear understanding of this new section, let's take a look at the steps required to tackle this section now. 

During Preparation Time (2 minutes for Reading, 3 minutes for Conversation)

Step 1. Study the Picture Carefully with a Purpose in Mind

What candidates need to understand is that they still need to use details in the given picture. This is especially important for the first question, the directly-linked question. Most children cannot establish a purpose in looking at the picture as they do not know what questions are going to be asked. However, knowing that the first question is directly-linked means that the first question is likely to be about your choice or the function and purpose of the picture (more on this in the next post).

During the preparation time, candidates should therefore study the picture carefully. It will help to have an idea of the possible questions (e.g. Which will you choose, why? Will you attend this event, why? Where will you see this, why?) to guide you so that you will study the picture with a purpose. If it is a brochure or something which has words and features, be sure to read through them carefully and not just skim through. Even if it is a picture of signages with minimal words, study it carefully. 

Step 2. There is always a "Why?" - Use the Details 

From the questions above, You will notice that there is always a "why" question for you to support your choice or answer. For the directly-linked question, candidates must make a link to the picture by using the details provided to support their answer. For instance, if it is a promotion brochure for a visit to The Singapore Zoo and members of the zoo will have a further discount, candidates should use that detail as a reason to attend by saying that their parents or relatives are members and it will be a great chance for them to attend together. Try to use as much of the details and link them to your personal response as much as possible. 

For broadly-linked question, answers should be supported with personal opinions or relevant experiences, stories and new ideas

Step 3.  Think about the Possible Topic for the Conversation

This is essential to help the candidates to brainstorm on the broadly-linked questions that will be asked after the directly-linked question. Candidates should already have a sense of the the topic from the reading, which usually has a similar topic or theme as the stimulus. For instance, if the reading is about a trip to Sentosa and the stimulus is a promotion brochure for a visit to The Singapore Zoo, the general topic will probably be about places of interest in Singapore or tourism. 

Step 4. Brainstorm about the Stories to tell - Related Experiences

Conversations with friends are essentially a session of story-telling.

Ask your children to think about the last time they spoke to their best friends or what they had shared with their parents after school each day. They are likely to remember that they told their parents about how Jake, the funny boy in class, made everyone laugh or to their best friends, that awesome Minion movie they had caught over the weekend.

Conversations with the examiner is the same except that you need to answer their questions before going on to share about your own related stories. Once candidates have an idea of what the topic might possible be, begin thinking about any possible experiences related to the topic. Other than stories, related facts, news, watched movies and programmes should be tapped on too. These experiences may not be candidate's personal experiences. They can be stories which the candidates had heard from their relatives, friends, teachers or on the television. Dig them all out.

As you can see from AO3, the ability to give your person stories and introduce new ideas are one key markers for success in this area. Source : SEAB

As you can see from AO3, the ability to give your person stories and introduce new ideas are one key markers for success in this area. Source : SEAB

During Exam

Step 1. More is More - Show Initiative and Introduce New Points

Whether it is a directly-linked or broadly-linked question, remember to respond to the examiner's question and continue talking by showing initiative and introducing new points. Now is the time to put in the stories, facts and news. The ability to initiate conversation and give your opinions are essential ingredients for scoring well. Speaking more increases the candidate's chance of doing well provided that they use grammatically accurate sentence structures with appropriate vocabulary. If you do not speak, there is nothing much to impress the examiners so speaking more is a better step to take. No story, fact or news is boring to an examiner as long as it is relevant. Remember, all these help to lengthen conversation, shows the candidate's initiative in introducing ideas and also adds life to a conversation.

Step 2. Mind your Body Language and Language

These points are outlined in the BLARE Checklist and are quite straightforward. Make sure that formal English is used and do maintain eye contact with the examiners once in a while. Take a read and if there are any questions, feel free to let me know.

Step 3. Do not Panick and Keep Quiet. 

If the examiner had asked a question which was not quite clear, please do not freeze to try and figure it out in your mind. Keep calm and ask politely for the question to be repeated again.

Step 4. Pause and Think.

Contrary to belief, it is fine for you to take a few seconds to think before answering. Another way is to repeat the question before answering ("If I was to bring someone along, I would...") or to use fillers as a way to stall time and maintain the connection while you ponder and frame your answers. Examples of fillers are, "Well...", "I think...", "I would say...". 

In Summary:

During Preparation
1. Study the picture with a purpose
2. Think and prepare for the first question, using details to support
3. Think of the topic
4. Brainstorm possible stories, facts, news and videos related to topic

During Examination
5. Answer the question and introduce these stories
6. Mind your body language and language
7. Do not panic and keep quiet
8. Pause and Think

Initially, these eight steps require practice but after a while, candidates will be used to this routine and they should be carried out naturally. For candidates who did not have sufficient time to brainstorm about stories and facts before reading, do not worry as this can still be done as the examination goes on. Just remember to keep cool and try to enjoy yourself as you share stories with the examiner. After all, the eight steps above should have helped in preparing you for a successful and enjoyable conversation.

Try practising with the BLARE checklist and give me feedback if you have any (: 

In the next post, I will be giving examples on the types of questions commonly asked and how to brainstorm for new points to be introduced. As the examination is so near now, I will be posting tomorrow once it is done, watch out for it!


Update on 21/07/2015 : Thank you for your participation! Our poll on the most challenging new PSLE component is now closed. 

The Lil' Chatterbox Course

If you are still looking for a way to do better for your oral and need a structured approach to craft your answers in the stimulus-based conversation section, we are happy to share with you that our online oral course, "Lil' Chatterbox" is now available! 

Other than our compilation of vocabulary, you will also be getting the videos to walk you through our simple yet effective framework to answer the SBC questions as well as the Oral Workbook consisting of 9 practices with model answers. Find out more about this essential PSLE English oral course here now.

Lil' Chatterbox Stimulus Based Conversation PSLE Oral Course