Exams? What exams?

It’s exam week for eight-year-old Jason. They didn’t have exams in Primary 1 last year, so this is his first exam in primary school. As usual, I was more excited than him about it. I had grand plans to get him on a study schedule a month before. I drew up a calendar, telling him when his exam would be, started planning out which chapters(mainly Chinese) to revise when. He gave the calendar a cursory glance, said “ok, ok”. Nothing happened.

There were four weeks to go so I decided I’d leave it. I thought he would start to feel a sense of urgency nearer the date. I thought wrong, as it turned out. Exams start tomorrow. I’ve asked him the same question in various ways over the last few weeks: “Do you know your exams are coming soon?” I always get the same reply: “Yes, I know.” Still, nothing much happened.

In an attempt to motivate him, I told him stories about students I’ve interviewed, the ones who slog their way to As, the dark horses, the PRC students who come with a smattering of English but leave with an A1 for English in two years because they memorise the dictionary, and so on. He is captivated each time I tell a story but I’m not sure if there will be any lasting impact.

My academically high-achieving sister asked why I wasn’t upon him with a cane and more. I’m not sure if it would make a difference. After countless interviews with students and parents over the years, I’ve seen time and again that a child does better if he’s motivated, and works hard because he wants to do well, rather than works hard because his mum forces him to. I’m sure teachers would say the same based on their experience. So with that principle in mind, I’ve left him mostly to his own device, apart from occasional reminders and prodding. As it is, our weekly Chinese revision sometimes leave me wringing my hands in frustration.

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My husband thinks the answers are hilarious. I suppose I might find them funnier if I wasn’t the one marking them.

When I do revise with him, I try to vary my teaching methods, customising to his learning style. A parent of a top student told me once that her daughter is an auditory learner, so she teaches her Spelling while sending her to school, by reading the words to her, rather than getting the girl to write it on pen and paper. So understanding how a child learns best would help both parent and child, she said.

Even as I remind myself that all kids are different, I marvel at some of Jason’s schoolmates. One parent tells me her daughter loves doing assessment books, and asks to do them each night. Another has a son who asks for tuition. Assessment books and tuition are like dirty words to Jason – if he knew what dirty words were. “Yucks, no thanks,” is his reply.

Reverse psychology works, to a certain extent, for him. Occasionally he asks what he should revise. I give him some pointers but leave him to work out when and how long he wants to spend on revision. He wants to do well, he says. But baulks at having to work hard to get to his goals. My mum thinks he will “wake up” one day and finally be motivated to do well. The trouble is he thinks he can get to his goals without having to put in real effort.

So exam week hasn’t really felt any different. He discovered the Disgusting Dave series recently and the humour is way up the alley of an eight-year-old boy. I’ve been hearing more about farts, vomit and maggots than I really care to hear. wpid-imag0831.jpg

We thought of putting off outings these two weekends, but decided it wouldn’t make much of a difference to his exam preparation. It’s not like he would use the extra time spent at home on revision. So with outings as a motivation, he did some revision, and we went swimming this evening.

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I’m fairly sure he regretted asking me why the pool looked quite empty today. Because I couldn’t resist a dig: “You know, it’s exam period, most people are studying…” He quickly replied that the sky looked dark as well so that may be why people are staying away.

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The lightning alert did sound later and we had to leave, but at least we got in an hour of fun and exercise.

And I suppose, if there is any time to take exams easy, it would be in Primary 2. Because, if not now, then when?

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