Acing the PSLE Chinese Oral exams isn’t just a matter of language fluency. This post lists out a few practical tips to prepare wholesomely for your child’s Chinese oral assessments, without trying to sell you a tuition class to solve the problem! How you ever noticed that if you google ‘Tips for PSLE Chinese oral exam’, most of the top posts come from tuition centres selling you their services…..?
Here are my authentic home tips – and no, nothing in this post is sponsored or affiliated!
1) Be Loud, Clear, and Opinionated
To do well in the assessment, your child needs to pronounce words clearly, maintain eye contact with the teacher, and speak louder than usual to show their confidence. These can be helpful skills for life too.
As a parent, you can help your child to prepare by asking random questions about your child’s day, or how they feel about particular issues in the news. Try doing it over a meal at the hawker centre, to make sure they can really speak loudly! Better still, see if you can get your child to spark a meaningful conversation with the hawker aunty whilst you rare there. Nothing like having your child order chicken rice, whilst explaining to the auntie why you don’t need a plastic bag or why she should accept PayNow.
Another way to develop opinions and confidence is through being involved in debating, acting or hosting courses taught in Chinese. Plenty of these which exist in person and online. One which we have particularly enjoyed was through Bilin Academy and collaboration with the Taiwan Association for Sophist.
2) Practice reading every day
This is such a simple thing to do. Get your child to read out loud to you the books they’re reading or pages from a newspaper/magazine. The broader the vocabulary the better. As your child reads, ask them to make sure they’re comprehending what is being read, and taking this into account with their emotions and pauses.
If you’re like me and don’t read Chinese yourself, please don’t let this stop you from listening to your child read. As long as you have the time, you can sit with your child and ask them to read aloud. An optical reading pen will help with the pronunciation and meaning of any unfamiliar words or phrases.
There are top-notch, inexpensive tools online like Vitamin M oral practice or Mandarin Bean which provide helpful practice pieces including sample audio recordings. If you want your child to practice with a native speaker, there is an excellent and value-for-money service called Instant Mandarin, who run a Storybook Curriculum, which involves a child reading aloud to a teacher based in mainland China. Lessons can be booked and canceled at 3 hours notice, and 25 minutes can cost as little as USD7 if you buy a package. If you’re signing up for Instant Mandarin, they do have a free trial (they do have a new student referral plan, where you’ll get a free lesson if you come through a referral …… so my little ask if you do sign up, please email their customer support via the email on their website and claim your free lesson and mention me (Emma Lee) as the referrer….. We literally buy their classes in hundreds, so always welome an extra one!).
If you still really really don’t know where to start, just ask you child to read aloud their 欢乐伙伴 Chinese textbook to you! This already has a good selection of words and phrases which the examiner will expect your child to know.
3) Learn easy-to-remember phrases and idioms
Reading helps with this, or try joining the online Dim Sum Warriors 成语 Chinese Idioms doodle dates, which are held several times a week for 10 minutes, explaining idioms in memorable ways.
Get your child to watch Chinese news recordings from Youtube or watch online debates. If your child comes across phrases that resonate, get them to write them down in a notebook for future reference. It will make revising so much easier! Google for some of the most common Chinese phrases (or look at this fun Chengyu cartoon dictionary), and try to start putting them into your conversations and writing (practicing for orals can reinforce written composition, and vice versa, which makes a lot of sense).
4) Watch videos that are similar to those used during the PSLE Chinese Oral assessments
This is imperative as you’re approaching the exam time itself. It’s important to revise effectively. Make sure your child is familiar with what the exam situation will be like – the video is only 1 minute video. Teach them how to understand the theme of the video, and have (an opinionated) conversation around it. Things like key events, the setting, the action/feeling of the characters. Practicing this structure is essential.
A tool like Vitamin M provides ten self-guided video questions with model answers on how to ace this aspect. I’ve written a full blog post about how the self-guided online course from Vitamin M called “Let’s Score! PSLE Chinese Video Oral Practice” module works.
5) Focus on vocabulary which will be relevant
The questions asked in oral examinations tend to be more open-ended, so your child really needs a wide range of vocabulary to express their thoughts and opinions clearly.
There are some common themes that reverberate throughout the Singapore primary school curriculum (it’s not just constrained to the Chinese language either). If you’re looking for materials to read or videos to watch, try to consider their relevance with the below themes:
- Being helpful and considerate (eg helping an elderly auntie, being quiet in the cinema)
- Family piety (doing housework, visiting a grandparent)
- Environmental awareness (cleaning the estate, recycling)
- Being healthy (health foods, exercising, good habits, road safety, having an accident)
- School issues (bullying, failing an exam, doing a performance)
- Favourite foods, places, sports or hobbies
Try to prepare vocabulary and ideas for these themes.
6) Have a framework for how to respond to Chinese oral questions
In Singapore, everything is structured, and your child will do better if they can respond using a well structured manner. If your child is taught a framework at school for orals, then reinforce this with them. I personally think it’s confusing to try out too many different frameworks.
If your child isn’t taught a framework in school, or they are given a choice, consider something like PEEL (Point, Explain, Example, Link) or DCFS (Description, Comment, Feeling, Suggestion). Thinking in this framework, and writing down model answers in this framework can also be helpful for revision.
I’ve seen some useful tips at Eileen Choo’s site.
7) Prepare early – PSLE Chinese isn’t a subject you can last minute cram in and memorise
The above tips 1 to 6 are really for those who are approaching their PSLE CHinese oral exams. But you can (and should) start preparing well before Primary 5 or 6. It doesn’t need to be insane; just a daily habit of building conversational and literacy skills.
Give your child exposure to various mediums where Chinese is used to discuss real-life subjects like local radio, TV and newspapers (Lianhe Zaobao and Shin Min Daily News are great choices). Exposure like this can make a big difference through accumulated passive language learning.
One current affairs programme my kids like* (*let’s say they tolerate this one more than others) is from Taiwan and available on youtube called 小主播看天下WOW. ZB schools has great free content for reading simplified news articles especially designed for students (they also have a paid area for oral practice too).
Using an adaptive reading programme like Dudu Town is another way to slowly build up vocabulary and reading skills over time.
Overview of oral examinations in Singapore primary schools
In Singapore primary school system, the Oral and Listening comprehension assessments typically go together in what is called “Paper 3” and comprise 35% of total year-end marks.
The oral assessment component is done by way of e-Oral and Video Conversation (看录像会话) assessment for the PSLE.
In the exam situations, students have ten minutes of preparation time to read the passage (on a computer screen) and watch a one-minute video. Then in the exam room, they’ll proceed to read the passage out aloud and the examiner will ask guiding questions related to the video. The intention behind this assessment structure is for language learning to reflect living, everyday context and provide authentic situations for discussion.
Enjoy the journey
I hope that this post has helped you to put Mandarin into perspective. Most importantly is that your create a family and schooling situation where the child loves the language and wants to learn it!
I hope that you can achieve that in your family. For us, it’s been a joyful experience. I would love to hear what’s been helpful on your journey, or if there are specific books or tips which you would recommend too. If you have reached the end of this, and still wanting to read more, some other posts of mine which you may find relevant include: