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Why does removal of mid-year exams in Singapore still cause stress?

Parents and educators still unsure about weighted assessment system, and how to deal with the even more crucial end-of-year exams

Lessons at Yio Chu Kang Secondary School.
Lessons at Yio Chu Kang Secondary School. (PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE — Replacing mid-year exams with the weighted assessment system has drawn decidedly mixed feelings among educators and stakeholders in Singapore.

Starting this year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has eliminated mid-year examinations for primary and secondary school students, with the move aiming to reduce workload and stress.

Schools will continue to conduct assessments to gauge the students' learning progress, and will balance the weighting for the end-of-year examinations. They will also continue to provide students with feedback and guidance on their learning through their regular assignments.

Samantha Kee, founder and director of enrichment centre Thinktank, believes that reducing workload and stress is a crucial long-term goal.

However, she points out that changing the mindset of certain stakeholders, especially parents, may be challenging due to the deeply ingrained belief that examinations are necessary to assess students' capabilities and competencies.

Kee emphasises the importance of observing students over a longer period to assess their progress effectively, rather than relying solely on short-term assessments. She suggests that teachers should conduct assessments, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of students' abilities.

She told Yahoo Southeast Asia on Thursday (6 July), "I feel like at a young age, it's okay not to judge (students) with a pen and pencil test or a rubric, but it's good to observe them for a good period of time. So the test could be a teacher's test to observe."

Concerns surrounding weighted assessments and curriculum challenges

Kee also expressed her concerns about the weighted assessments in primary schools, stressing the significance of these assessments as pivotal milestones in a child's academic journey.

She explained that the transition from Primary 4 to 5 is particularly challenging, with new topics added to the already-heavy curriculum and the shift in complexity and difficulty posing an "uphill climb for students".

Kee highlighted how some schools prioritise difficult questions while excluding easier ones in their assessment methods, in order to find out who the outstanding students are.

She feels that these tests need to be balanced, as some do not include multiple-choice or short-answer questions. "You don't average out the difficult and easy questions," she said.

The stress of these assessment practices on parents and students was evident, with Kee sharing the sentiments of worried parents who approached her organisation for help.

She said, "That's why I think some of the parents who came to us in June were screaming for help because they felt like the kid wasn't on a par."

Educator highlights concerns over weighted assessments in primary schools, emphasising their significance as pivotal milestones in a child's academic journey.
Educator highlights concerns over weighted assessments in primary schools, emphasising their significance as pivotal milestones in a child's academic journey. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Anticipating a surge in tuition classes as end-of-year exams approach

Meanwhile, the removal of the mid-year exams also created a lot of uncertainty among parents and students.

Yvonne Chen, the principal tutor of tuition provider Future Academy, feels that while students may initially feel relieved without the stress of the mid-year exams, they eventually feel concerned about the higher weightage placed on end-of-year exams.

She anticipates a surge in the enrolment of tuition classes during the August-September period, with parents are eager to assist their children in excelling in the crucial end-of-year exams. The increase in demand could be as much as 10 per cent, particularly towards the end of term three.

"Parents would say there's no mid-year exam, so the final year exam is more important. That's why they send out their child to enrichment classes sometime in term three. Some parents have already done pre-registrations for that," she said.

The former Raffles Girls' School maths and physics teacher added that the weighted assessment system focuses on specific topics rather than testing the entire content covered in the first half of the year. This change necessitates students to engage in regular revision to ensure their exam readiness.

Are weekly tests necessary for student success?

Jacqueline Chua, the principal of Paideia Learning Academy and a former Head of Department at Raffles Institution, acknowledges that the removal of mid-year exams has been well-received by some students who appreciate the reduced workload.

However, she questions the necessity of some schools continuing to administer weekly tests, which can increase students' overall stress levels.

"For my own son in Secondary 1, there were no mid-year exams. Instead, there were small tests, and there was one paper that we couldn't complete due to a medical appointment. As a result, we didn't have an indication of his standard," she shared.

While the removal of mid-year examinations aims to alleviate the burden on students, it may still take a while before educators and parents change their views on pressure on the students, the weighted assessment system and the need for clearer evaluation standards.

Debate ensues over the effectiveness of weighted assessments as mid-year exams are removed, leaving educators and parents uncertain about its impact on students' academic journey.
Debate ensues over the effectiveness of weighted assessments as mid-year exams are removed, leaving educators and parents uncertain about its impact on students' academic journey. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

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