Updated: Jun 5
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Are Free Test Papers From Top Schools Really Beneficial To Students?
The answer from our team of writers and editors at PhD Education is a resounding YES… as well as a resounding NO.
Before you think all sixteen of us are sitting on the fence, do take some time to hear us out. We might seem ambivalent but there are certainly some compelling reasons for us to encourage the use of free test papers found online, and at the same time, urge caution in using them.
Every year, many parents download these papers from the Internet and print them in the comfort of their homes or their offices (undoubtedly an open secret of colleagues who are parents). Some parents opt to purchase them from vendors, lugging massive stacks of hardcopies home.
Before going through all the blood, sweat and tears with your child to complete those huge stacks of test papers before the examinations, it is of paramount importance for parents to recognise the pros and cons of using such papers.
We have compiled the following content from educators’ viewpoints. We hope that it will provide insights into the use of such test papers.
1. Top school exam papers are set by highly qualified MOE teachers
The Singapore education system is lauded around the world. Undeniably, we have good schools, with capable school leaders and teachers, and facilities that are amongst the best in the world. Singapore has the highest-achieving primary and secondary pupils in international education tests in maths and science, as reported by BBC news in 2016.
All these achievements would not have been possible without the hard work of teachers to cater to the learning needs of students, as well as their ingenuity to set challenging exam questions to stretch the abilities of their students.
They do set the bar high. In fact, some parents find some exam questions so tough that they make it to the news.
For the above reasons, we encourage students to practise top school exam papers in order to get a sense of the standards and hopefully gain a competitive edge over other candidates in national exams.
2. Develop time-management skills for major exams
Working through a full exam paper is great for a student who has completed the revision of all chapters and topics just prior to the exams. It is, however, not greatly beneficial for a student who is doing topical revision, which we will explain later.
By attempting a full paper within the stipulated time, students can know how they fare in time-management. It is crucial for students to realise that time is a scarcity and the most important thing to do during an exam is to score as many marks as possible.
Working through the questions when facing time constraints can be highly stressful to many students. Hence, not only can students learn time management while practising on a full paper, he or she can also learn to manage stress!
1. SA1, SA2 papers are not sorted according to topics as we all know
Imagine red beans, green beans, kidney beans, soy beans and coffee beans all mixed up in a large sack. What would you do if you only want to cook green bean soup today?
This is exactly the scenario with free exam papers. The huge stack of exam papers is not the best choice for a student who wishes to revise for a topic that he or she has just learnt. Trying to pick out questions related to a specific topic requires the same effort as picking out only green beans from the sack. Yes, it is possible but students will be wasting precious time doing so.
For topical revisions, assessment books with content arranged according to topics are still the most suitable. Very often, questions in a topic are arranged according to difficulty levels so students can work through them progressively.
2. Wrong/ inaccurate solutions and absence of explanations
Our team of writers and editors is made up of full-time tutors, ex-MOE teachers and current MOE teachers. The following statements are some of their views:
Solutions found in such test papers are sometimes not presented in the way that examiners deem acceptable. Solutions are also not written in the way that teachers teach in schools. Also, many wrong and inaccurate solutions across all subjects have been spotted over the years.
Since these are top school exam questions, shouldn’t the solutions be world-class too?
Obviously, not all the solutions found in such free exam papers are provided by qualified educators. It is anyone’s guess who they might be.
Since the questions are set by qualified MOE teachers, what is the use if the solutions provided are erroneous?
Yes, that is why we advise students and parents to be cautious when going through their solutions. It is a huge risk to follow their solutions blindly.
Below are some examples to illustrate our point.
Let us read Question 14 carefully and understand the question. Next, spend some time reading the solutions provided. Does the solution make any sense at all – where do the numbers ‘20’ and ‘5’ come from? Can a student understand how to solve this question even after scrutinizing and poring over this working for an hour?
Let us attempt to solve Question 14 using the conventional way, a.k.a. the way that is taught in schools.
May we all agree that the working we present above is much much better than the one from the free test papers?
Another question (Question 7) is presented below. Clearly, the solution uses algebra to solve for the unknown ‘u’. Many students at the primary 6 level still do not have an in-depth understanding of how algebra can be used to solve maths problems. After all, algebra is meant to be introduced at the secondary level. An average student might not understand the solution presented here because it is not what they typically learn in classrooms.
Again, let us attempt to solve Question 7 using the conventional way, a.k.a. the way that is taught in schools.
Solving problem sums with models has always been a preferred method at primary levels simply because models aid in visualisation and understanding. A model is so helpful because it allows the student to decipher between the WHO and the WHAT in a word problem, and visually “see” the information provided in the question and what they are looking for.
Let us give one last example to show how some solutions in online free test papers are inadequate. This next problem sum actually involves some steps. We are simply unimpressed by how unsatisfactory the given solution is – how does the writer of this solution think students will be able to know how to solve this question by looking at two slipshod lines of working?
Let us present our workings for Question 15 below.
For a student to be able to fully comprehend the solution and appreciate the flow, short statements such as “Number of units of postcards = ” must be written for each step. It can be baffling for a student to see just numbers being thrown around without reference to any quantities.
Over the years, there have been numerous errors and inaccurate solutions spotted by our writers and editors during their careers as teachers and tutors. Therefore, we urge parents and students to be mindful that solutions provided in such free test papers are not free of errors.
In summary, do exercise caution and do not follow blindly when using such free exam papers downloaded from the Internet or those purchased from vendors.
3. Past years exam papers can be outdated due to changes in syllabus
MOE reviews the syllabuses for all subjects every 6 years. Hence, parents and students have to take note of the year in which a syllabus change takes place.
For example, the last change in syllabus for PSLE English was in 2015. There are major format changes in several sections of Paper 2, including the Visual Text Comprehension section and the Comprehension Open-ended section. Students who wish to use exam papers set in the years 2014 and earlier will not be able to reap the full benefits. In such cases, we recommend that students purchase assessment books of the latest syllabus instead.
Below are some examples of how major the changes in the PSLE English syllabus are:
Hope the above content has been useful!
Do visit the product pages of our exam packages to learn more on what we can offer. Our exam packages are modelled after top school exam papers and edited by current MOE teachers. You will find detailed step-by-step workings with full explanatory notes in our solutions, which can be immensely useful for your child's revision.