PSLE English 2016 | Oral: Top 5 Misconceptions During Stimulus-Based Conversation

July is almost here, how exciting! To readers who have sent in your well-wishes for my new baby, thank you so much and I really appreciate the warm gesture (: thank God for a smooth delivery and good rest during this period. I am feeling all ready to help my other kids in their race to the finishing line for this year! 

With the prelims and PSLE Oral looming ahead, we are starting to prepare the children for their oral examination. Today's post seeks to answer 5 common misconceptions that children and parents have regarding the examination. During my conversations with parents and children, I realise that these 5 misconceptions often create unnecessary fear and are even stumbling blocks for children during their attempt of the examination. Let's see what they are today!

Misconception #1: The longer the answer, the better it is.

Why it is untrue: If an answer is long but irrelevant to the question or topic, it does not reflect the child's understanding and answering of the question. Take the following as an example:

Q: Have you made any of the following desserts before? Tell me more.
(based on a stimulus that showed different types of desserts)

A: Yes, I have tried making the cupcake before. Last year, I was at my grandmother's home and my aunty taught my cousins and me how to make cupcakes. We used flour, sugar, chocolate and a big mixing bowl to place all the ingredients in. However, we started playing in the kitchen and my aunty chased us out of the kitchen. 

After we were chased out, we went to the garden and I saw some snails. I picked up a snail and...

At this point, I interrupted the child and proceeded to ask the child if the snail is going to be related to the making of the cupcakes. The child gave me a cheeky smile and answered no. I praised him for his effort as we both knew that he had made some good points at the beginning and was trying very hard to extend his answer about the making of the cupcake. However, it is also true that the details he was adding in later are not relevant to the question

In some children's attempt to lengthen their answers, they must be aware that the details added or the new topic initiated should be related to the question. They should also be able to make a link back to the question very smoothly and easily at the end of the sharing. With a good link made to the original question to show the relevance, the details in the developed (or long) answer will then serve to to help the child score.

Misconception #2. As long as my answer is long and interesting, I will do well.

Why it is untrue: As much as an engaging conversation that is interesting and relevant does capture the examiner's attention, it is important to remember that the language used to express this answer is of equal importance. I remember how a child had provided interesting experiences and responses but was penalised rather heavily due to his usage of Chinese and Singlish during the examination. It was really an area which I wish he had been more careful in.

Looking at the assessment objective (AO) for the PSLE Oral examination, you will see that:         

Source: http://www.seab.gov.sg/content/syllabus/PSLE/2016_PSLE_Subject_info/0001_2016.pdf

Source: http://www.seab.gov.sg/content/syllabus/PSLE/2016_PSLE_Subject_info/0001_2016.pdf

Some important language features to take note of include:
1. using the correct tenses and subject-verb agreement, (My mother say... should be My mother says/said...) 
2. using a wide range of vocabulary (sad, crestfallen, devastated etc.)
3. standard English (No slangs or switching to other languages except for names of food e.g. Nasi Lemak)

You may wish to use the Blare Conversation Checklist to take note of these language features during your practice!

Misconception #3: I must always agree when answering yes/no questions.

Why it is untrue: There is actually no standard answer that is given for each question stating points that you must mention in order to score points during the examination. Do not be pressured into thinking that you must always agree with what the question is asking about. 

Hence, for a yes/no question that asks you for your opinion (e.g. Will you wish to take part in this event?), what is more important is for you to give an opinion which you are confident in developing as an answer. At times, by agreeing with the question, you may realise you do not have much to say to support why you chose that option. On the contrary, by disagreeing, you may find it easier to support that decision.

Another route which you can take is to discuss both opinions, weighing the pros and cons before sharing your decision

Misconception #4: I must make up stories if I do not have the relevant experience.

Why it is untrue: There are other ways that you can share stories and experiences. Some children have the impression that the story must involve them and thus, they must create unreal experiences. The problems with this are that some children are uncomfortable to do this (I have a child who was very distraught and told me that he did not wish to lie.) and for some children, the stories which are created tend to lack logic.

Instead of spinning stories and creating these unreal experiences, what you can do instead:

1. Relate experiences of family and friends.

2. Relate stories which you have read about (in stories or the newspaper etc.) or watched (in videos and movies etc.)

3. Think about a hypothetical situation. Express what you will wish for if you have not had the experience. (E.g. Have you kept a pet before? Tell me about your experience.)

Child A: No, I have not kept a pet before. (...and the response ends there. This is definitely not what we hope for.)
Child B: Although I had not kept a pet before, I have always wished to be able to keep a dog. (Child went on to discuss why he/she would like to keep a dog and what he/she thinks keeping a dog would require him/her to do.)

Misconception #5: If the examiner asked me a lot of questions, I must have done poorly.

Why it is untrue: There is a set of questions (usually 3) which each examiner is required to ask each candidate. Depending on the child's response, examiners have the flexibility to ask all or most of the questions and prompts or ask fewer questions if the examiner has heard enough to assess the candidate.

Sometimes, when an examiner asks more questions maybe that he/she just wants to hear more to give a better assessment of you. There are situations too when examiners may ask more questions that are related to the child's response simply because he/she is engaged by what the child has shared. As a candidate, as long as your responses are relevant and developed (not just two or three lines.), do not worry if your examiner has asked more questions. If the examiner is smiling and seems interested, you should know that you are engaging him/her and that is always a positive thing.


I hope that with the above misconceptions clarified, you will be more confident in your answers and be aware of what makes a good answer. Fire away in the comment section or drop us an email if you have any other queries or requests for topics that you would like to see us do a blog post on!

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.