Is your child facing his PSLE this year? Does he struggle with the PSLE English papers? Do the revision questions befuddle even you, his parent? Here are some useful tips.

Having taught several cohorts of primary school graduating classes, I have amassed quite a few tips and strategies that can be used for revision right before the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) English papers (or any upper primary English exams, for that matter).


This may be construed as ‘spotting’ questions, but these questions are repeated in almost every English exam for a reason. Kids keep getting them wrong!

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Here are some popular grammar question types:

1. The ‘as well as’ and ‘together with’ Puzzle

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Basically, IGNORE what goes on between the commas. No matter how many friends Bala has, it is ONLY BALA who loves to rollerblade. BUT if the subject is PLURAL (girls), then the GIRLS love to go shopping.

2. Who? Whom? Whose????

Not sure when to use ‘who’, ‘whom’ or ‘whose’? Follow this simple flowchart!

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3. Nobody’s PERFECT

The Perfect tenses stump even adults. Here’s a simple way to remember them.

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4. Sensory / Causative Verbs

Now this one’s a doozy. Comes out EVERY year, in EVERY school English test and STILL kids get it wrong. And some adults too.

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Here are a few exercises for you to try out:
1. I helped my mother (bake / bakes / baked / baking) a cake yesterday.
2. My friend saw me (kick / kicks / kicked / kicking) his football last week.
3. Jia Jun made Xie Feng (cried / cries / cry / crying) today.

What answers did you get?

(See also: Scrapping the PSLE aggregate score — for better or worse?)

Now, let’s take a look at some common types of questions seen in the Synthesis/Transformation section:

5. Simon says, “Put your right foot in.”

This is known as Reported Speech or Indirect Speech. It’s one of the most popular Synthesis/Transformation type of questions. Doesn’t appear EVERY year, but teachers still make it a point to drill, drill and DRILL!

There are FOUR things to look out for and change when you’re transforming what someone says into Reported Speech.

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I make my students repeat this as a mantra: “Present to Past, Past to Past Perfect!” (Past Perfect MUST come with ‘HAD’.)

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Here’s another tip when handling Reported Speech: If the direct speech is in a Question form with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer, I advise using “IF” instead of “WHETHER”. Many kids misspell ‘whether’ as ‘weather’ or ‘wheather’ or some other unreadable form. SAVE TIME WITH JUST TWO LETTERS!

Here are a couple of exercises for you to try out:
1. Mr. Lam asked Maria, “Did you go to the zoo today?”
2. Jane told Peter, “I ate a sandwich yesterday.”

What would be your answers in Reported Speech?

Special mention: the DOUBLE HAD

IT EXISTS. IT’S NOT A TYPO OR GRAMMAR MISTAKE!

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6. Transformers! Roll out!

Transformation questions are extremely, extremely popular nowadays for Synthesis/Transformation. Students with a weaker vocabulary have a particularly hard time with this, as they have no idea how to contort the given question into a form stipulated by the provided hint.

Such questions include expressions like ‘Much to…’, ‘Due to…’, ‘Because of…’, ‘Despite…’ and more. They usually involve a transformation of an ADJECTIVE into a NOUN. Here are some common transformation words:

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Another common type of Synthesis/Transformation question is Cause and Effect.

When faced with Cause and Effect type of questions, such as “Due to…”, “Because of…”, “As a result of…”, “Despite…”, “In spite of…”, etc, try this shortcut:

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Note that this works in MOST cases, UNLESS a pronoun is inserted in the answer line. In which case, the answer would be:

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psle english -tips-examImage cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr image No Pressure Then by Pete

These tips and strategies for PSLE English have helped my students in the past to get their mind in the game, and to prevent losing marks to common errors. Drill these into your kids, follow my grammar check rules, and they WILL do better for grammar!

(See also: 7 Top Tips for Situational Writing that will Help your Child Excel in PSLE English)

Grammar Check Rules

Check the sentence to see if it is in the present or past tense.

  • e.g. The boy goes (present) to school every day (present).
  • e.g. The boy kicked (past) the ball into the goal yesterday (past).

Check for agreement (singular noun/verb or plural noun/verb)

  • e.g. The boy (singular) goes (singular) to school every day.
  • e.g. The boys (plural) go (plural) to school every day.

Good luck for your child’s PSLE English!