Saturday, November 10, 2012

How to get straight A's in the PSLE Part 2

I used to hate Maths and most of my bad dreams were of me in an exam hall doing a Maths paper.  A good friend of mine once told me about a Maths course for parents that she intended to take together with her husband.  It was run by an extremely famous and effective Maths teacher who turned out to be what a good teacher should be - she was quick-thinking, pleasant, fat and charming.  I didn't think I would benefit from the course but since it only cost $50 per parent and would only take up one Saturday afternoon, I went and took along a novel to read if it should prove to be way over my head.  The venue was some unfamiliar place and I had a tough time finding the place and so I was a little late but the course hadn't started yet when I arrived.  The hall in which the course was held was very large and it was full of parents and so I had to go to the front and I sat on a vacant seat that happened to be just next to the teacher herself which was a bummer as I was hoping to sit with my friends who were somewhere in the middle of the hall.  The teacher was friendly and she asked me if I was good at Maths.  I told her a village idiot could beat me in a Maths test.  She laughed and said she could turn me into a Maths whiz.  She then walked to the podium and started the course with a question which she said was one of those really tough Maths questions that you always find in the Maths paper at PSLE.  They're reputed to be so tough that not just parents but even Maths teachers are stumped by them.   She promised to give any parent who could come up with the correct answer a free ticket to another course of hers worth $50.  I looked at the question and my mind became a complete blank, as it always happened when I looked at numbers and symbols, so allergic was I to anything mathematical.  But since nobody gave an answer and the teacher continued to wait for one, I thought I'd just go through the problem when all of a sudden, I thought I saw a clear pattern in the set of numbers and I raised my hand confidently.  I gave the answer and it must have been correct because the fat course presenter mumbled to the whole hall, "And he told me earlier he was bad at Maths".

That really turned me round.  She promised to turn me into a Maths whiz and I truly became a different person after that.

Do you see what happened that afternoon?  I tried out the Maths problem.  I started out thinking I couldn't do it.  That's precisely how it is with most of us who profess to be bad at Maths.  But all it takes is for us to do it.  Nike's motto "JUST DO IT" should be our personal motto.

Here is how I can help you be a Maths teacher to your kids.   Maths is different from the other subjects in that you can't look up the answer in google.  You can do that with everything else.  So kids really need a parent who can answer the difficult Maths questions that they can't do on their own.  You may say you're not the mathematical sort but that's rubbish.  I used to say that of myself.  What caused the change?  First, get rid of that stupid notion that you're bad at Maths.  A lot of my friends seem to take pride in being bad at Maths.  You can only be bad at Maths if you've got a low IQ.  Now, none of us will say with pride that we have a low IQ.  Of course I'm not talking about secondary school mathematics which comes with equations and things you have to study and memorise.  But a person with a reasonable IQ should not have any problem with PSLE Maths.  It's that basic.

It's not easy to get rid of this mentality that it's cool to be bad at Maths.  It's something you really have to overcome.  I don't know why but I know many people who will, at the drop of a hat, declare to everyone how bad he or she is at Maths.  From my experience, women usually are guilty of this.  They think being bad at Maths makes them appear more feminine and more desirable.  If you haven't got kids taking the PSLE, fine.  Go ahead and indulge in your fantasy that you're bad at Maths.  But remember, whenever you say you're bad at Maths, you're disclosing to everyone that you've got a low IQ.  Studies have shown that there is nobody with a high IQ who's bad at Maths.  If you get a kick from telling everyone you're stupid and have a low IQ, go ahead and do that but just make sure your spouse hasn't got the same perverted need to appear blissfully innumerate.  Your kids need at least one sane parent.

The reason why I spend so much time slamming people with this problem is I know it's a real problem.  The problem is not so much we can't do Maths but we begin by thinking we can't and after some time, we take pride in being bad at it.  I'm not sure if this distaste for science and Maths is an Asian problem or if the rest of the world is afflicted by it.  I once mentioned in passing that I thought a friend of mine did the sciences at A-levels.  She was visibly upset and she immediately denied it and insisted that she did pure humanities.  Later when nobody else was around, she asked me quite unhappily why I said she was a Science student.  I had to apologize!!!   I know of another woman who was terribly embarrassed of the fact that her husband did Engineering at university.   And then there was this woman I met years ago when I was with a group of friends.  She told me that she did literature at A levels.  I was puzzled because she was a medical doctor and as far as I know, all doctors my age and older could not have done literature at A-levels.  It's different today when you have to offer a contrasting subject at A levels and all Science students have to pick a humanities subject.  I subsequently discovered from one of her friends that she was a pure science student at A-levels and a pretty good one too.

Why is there such a social stigma attached to science and maths?  Why do some people find it so embarrassing to be good at Maths and would rather live their lives pretending they're bad at it?  It's not within the scope of this post to examine the psychology of women and what makes them tick.  Greater thinkers than I have explored this subject and they remain totally befuddled.  I won't even presume to understand women but what I want to impress upon you is this: stop pretending you're bad at Maths and do your duty as a parent - coach your PSLE kids when they need someone to show them how to answer those tough Maths questions.  Wait until your kid is in Sec 1 before you tell the world how absolutely hopeless you are at Maths if this is the kind of image you want to have.

Once you have got over the mental obstacle in Maths, it's half the battle won.  Ask your kid to give you any Maths question he can't do.   Read the question carefully.  Pretend it's something you have been asked to solve on television in a programme called "Are You an Idiot?"  This will ensure that you don't go back to your "I'm  really bad at Maths" excuse.  Nobody wants to be called an idiot on national tv so you will at least concentrate on the maths question.  You will find that there is no question you can't answer.

Continue asking your kid for questions he can't do and soon you will find that he has fewer and fewer questions.  There MUST come a time when there is no question your kid can't do and that time must be at least a few months before the PSLE.  If that doesn't happen, it's another A* slipping out of his hands.  That's because you must give allowance for the occasional carelessness in answering exam questions.  The tough questions carry many marks and your kid MUST be able to answer them if he wants to secure an A*.

I'll give an example here.  I just did a search in google for "tough PSLE Maths" and I had a few links that were not useful.  What I want is one of those difficult questions that carry 5 marks each. My searches led me to this link which gave a sample question: PSLE Maths question 

Here is the question and I suggest you work on it as an exercise:
Jim bought some chocolates and gave half of it to Ken. Ken bought some sweets and gave half of it to Jim. Jim ate 12 sweets and Ken ate 18 chocolates. The ratio of Jim's sweets to chocolates became 1 : 7 and the ratio of Ken's sweets to chocolates became 1:4. How many sweets did Ken buy? (PSLE 2009, 5 marks)
This is actually a very simple question but it's the only one I can find online.  Let's use basic logic. Each person started with the same number of sweets (let’s call this S) and the same number of chocolates (we’ll call this C).

What's written in the narrative of the question can be worked out in this way:
S–12 (eaten) = 1/7 of C  and  C-18 (eaten) = 4 x S ie C = 4 x S +18

So, 7 x S – 84 = 4 x S + 18

3 x S = 102
S = 34.

The sweets Ken bought would have been 34 x 2= 68

Why on earth did the parent in that website give this sample question as a difficult PSLE question when as I have illustrated above it is so easy and straightforward?  It's all because of the mental block I've been talking about.  Many parents simply assume they can't do Maths and some even take great pride in not knowing Maths.  If parents really want to help their kids, they must overcome this mental barrier.  Begin by telling yourself over and over again that it's not cool to be bad at Maths.  It's the surest proof of imbecility.   You then go through the question in a logical manner and if you still can't get the right answer, you can claim your money back!  Oops, you didn't pay for this advice so there's nothing to return to you but you get my drift - you'll most certainly get the right answer.

Of course if you are going through this Maths problem with a child, you have to explain more clearly.  Tell the child for example that if the chocolates are 7 times more than the sweets, the sweets must be 7 times fewer than the chocolates and in order to make them equal to the chocolates, you have to multiply them by 7.  You need to get into the shoes of the child and see things from his perspective.

There are a few pitfalls you must look out for.  A child may sometimes be careless in his work.  If your child comes up with the answer 34, don't despair.  He's on the right track but he just forgot the precise question asked.  34 is the number of sweets Ken had after giving half of his original number to Jim.  The number of sweets he bought must be twice that number.

Good luck and may your kids secure that A* for Maths.



  1. Ans is 68 coz it is 1:7 which 1 out of 7 not 1/8

  2. The answer is actually 68 if you do it backwards :) Your answer doesn't work i think you have made a slight mistake :)

  3. Hi folks,

    I have only read the comments above and I'm afraid I initially got the wrong answer because I did my working on the computer and hit the wrong numbers. And because I'm not in the habit of reading through what I've written for each of my blog entries, I did not spot the error until I read the comments above.

    Thanks for the comments and if there is one lesson we can learn from this is don't ever do your workings on the computer. Always do it on paper. It's far more likely for you to type the wrong number than to write the wrong number. What is likely is I must have positioned my hands on the key board in such a manner that I typed 8 instead of 7 and 5 instead of 4. But this is an error that is not likely to occur at the PSLE because you don't type your answers on a keyboard.

    I have since corrected the error. Thanks again.