Parents irked by 'tricky' PSLE maths question, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Parents irked by 'tricky' PSLE maths question

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They hit out at 'tricky' question about ribbons, but exam board says it is part of primary school syllabus

A question in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper last week has riled parents, with some saying they had complained about it.

The two-mark question, which requires some reasoning to arrive at the correct answer, has been called "tricky" and "disturbing". (See right.)

It ignited discussion across online forums like KiasuParents, HardwareZone and Reddit, as well as news sites like Yahoo and Mothership.

In the comments thread of the Yahoo story, user Ah Tan said he had written to a school principal to give "feedback to the Ministry of Education (MOE)".

Other parents also said they had made complaints, without giving details.

In the same thread, a netizen named Michael said: "Every year there is this type of tricky question," adding that MOE should "rethink how to set PSLE questions in a straightforward manner".

  • While the exact phrasing of the contentious question is not known, this is was what PSLE candidates had to figure out:

    Jess needs 200 pieces of ribbons of 110cm each to decorate a room. The ribbons are sold in 25m rolls. What is the minimum number of rolls that Jess needs to buy?

    Get the answer here

On parenting forum KiasuParents, commenter Steffie said: "Our kids shouldn't be at the receiving end of badly set questions - as though the stress of PSLE isn't enough."


Replying to queries by The New Paper, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) assured the public that the question is phrased correctly, and assesses topics taught in the primary school mathematics syllabus.

Not all parents are upset over the question.

KiasuParents founder William Toh, whose 12-year-old daughter sat the PSLE this year, learnt about the hoo-ha from TNP.

He felt the upset parents were "overreacting".

He said: "Let the educators and examiners do their job.

"It's not the end of the world.

"If your child couldn't solve it, there will be others who couldn't solve it too.

"Some parents tend to be perfectionists, but they need to realise their children are human.

"There will be questions they cannot solve."

Mr Bhajan Singh, a 70-year-old ex-principal previously involved in the setting of examination papers, said parents should have faith in Singapore's education system instead of throwing a "tantrum".

"We have so many levels of preparation, so many checks and balances here when we set the papers," he told TNP.

"While the strong reaction is understandable, parents should know that the exam papers here are fair because the people preparing them would have taken pains to make sure they are thorough."

Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet, who specialises in family and youth, cautioned against parents starting complaint campaigns as it could encourage an entitled mindset in their children.

While she can understand their grievances, she said the PSLE's reputation of being challenging for young students is part of raising the bar.

"The real objective of exams should be to test if the children have studied enough, if they have followed the curriculum," she said.

Ms Olivia Chua, 42, whose younger son sat for the PSLE this year, felt there has been too much fuss over a two-mark question.

She said: "What's done is already done. The paper has been submitted.

"Parents are always involved in these online discussions to gauge how well their children can do, but it will only create unnecessary pressure for the children."


The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) has rigorous processes in place for the development of national examination papers.

The panel behind the PSLE papers comprises experienced personnel from schools, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and SEAB, its spokesman said in a written reply to The New Paper's queries.

They ensure that each paper adheres to a test blueprint, with questions that are clear and aligned with the syllabus and learning outcomes.

The spokesman said SEAB and MOE received feedback on the question that irked some parents and assured the public that it assesses topics taught in the primary school mathematics syllabus.

"It aims to assess candidates' ability to show their understanding and application of mathematical concepts in a given context," she added.