Our 2023 P6 students did well for their PSLE English with 68% of our students scoring AL 1 or AL 2 (20 of our students scoring AL1 and 13 scoring AL2.) I do not doubt that Paper 1 played an important role for them in achieving these scores. The informal Situational Writing was straight forward and after almost a year of writing SWs twice a month, this was a piece of cake for them.

The Composition theme was also one that we had worked extensively on before the PSLE. Lucky again? Maybe. However, I don’t believe ‘spotting’ themes or topics for Paper 1 and Oral should be the basis for preparing students for their PSLE English. While we like to analyse the Preliminary and previous SA1 themes of that year and list them for our students to plan and use for discussion, we also believe in preparing them thoroughly for any theme that can come out for Paper 1 and Oral. With enough experience, teachers can make educated guesses on what may be tested but no one can predict the exact themes that will be set for the PSLE.

So, how do we prepare our P6 students every year to score for their PSLE Paper 1 Composition? Let us use the 2023 PSLE Composition below as an example to illustrate the ways.


2023 PSLE Composition Preparation Step 1: Study the theme

Our students are taught to analyse the theme.

Is this a straightforward theme? How many parts should my theme be divided up into?

In A Change for the Better, the plot should be divided up into two clear parts. Make sure that each part should be written equally.

2023 PSLE Composition Preparation Step 2: Study the pictures

Our students are also taught to analyse each picture given and come up with possible plots for each picture, finally deciding on the best one they may like.

Picture 1 – A change in diet and exercise / a change in attitude when training for a competition

Picture 2 – A change in behaviour towards doing chores at home

Picture 3 – A change in attitude towards gaming/ A change in attitude towards studying and school

2023 PSLE Composition Preparation Step 3: Planning

After analysing the pictures and theme, our students move on to planning.

In A Change for the Better, the first part of the story should be on what the habit/behaviour was that you wanted to change + what happened to make you want to change.

The second part of the story should be about how you changed that habit/ behaviour for the better. This part of the story is crucial and should be the main focus of the story. Make sure that you write at least two paragpahs, describing the changes you made.

2023 PSLE Composition Preparation Step 4: Developing the theme

This step is one that we emphasise every time our students write a composition. We begin doing this from the P4 year. In the P6 year, we become much stricter in awarding marks to our students if we deem the theme in the composition was not developed sufficiently. Why is developing the theme in a story such an important technique to master?

When a student knows how to weave in the theme in their story, he or she will be able to manage any theme that they face. Developing the theme often in their stories will also keep them from going out of point. If they are unable to fit in the theme often in their stories, then they know that something is wrong and go back to review it before continuing.

This technique becomes especially important in the P6 year. Some schools place so much emphasis on it for preliminary exams, that even good writers are marked down for their Prelim Compos despite adequately developing the theme. While I can sympathise with my students that they felt it was ‘unfair’, I also feel that those schools want their students to understand the importance of theme development before the PSLE.

For the 2023 Preliminary composition, several schools tested their students on a similar theme to A Change for the Better. One of those themes is Developing a Good Habit. Below is the model of one of our students who scored above 35 for her prelim composition. Take note of how she developed her theme from as early as the first paragraph. She also planned out her composition into two parts, explaining why there was a need to make a change and how she made those changes.

PSLE Paper 1 Composition Model on the theme of ‘A Change for the Better’

Developing a good habit

            Whenever I pass by an old lady, memories of that fateful day when I kicked a bad habit and started developing a good one flood my mind. I think of how lucky I was, and I smile to myself in relief.

            Forgetfulness. My ultimate personality flaw. I was a person who had almost everything right, except for this one annoying bad habit. I was smart, kind, funny, but there was just this one thing that really irked me. However, one day, something happened that made me develop a good habit of making myself remember important things.

            “Natalie! It’s time to wake up!” Mother nagged incessantly.

Pulling my pillow over my head, I rolled over in bed and lazily closed my eyes, feeling my body melt into the bed once again. “Natalie, remember to visit Grandmother later at noon and give her medication!” Mother shouted repeatedly, trying to drill that thought into my head.

She continued, “It is extremely important or she will feel very dizzy, alright? I cannot do it as I have to rush for a meeting!”

Groaning with annoyance, I hollered back, “Yes Mum, I will!”

With that, Mother strode over to the door and hurried out. As Grandmother was paralysed waist down, I had to help give her medication as her domestic helper was away for a holiday.

            After a few minutes, I could no longer get back to sleep and instead prepared myself a savoury breakfast of fried eggs and toast. Slowly but surely, my bad habit of being forgetful started acting up again. As the seconds ticked by, all thoughts of giving Grandmother her medication left my mind. As noon slowly arrived, I had totally forgotten about visiting her, and instead just played computer games before doing my homework.

            “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away…” the movie Star Peace played on my television as I eagerly sat watching it. Losing all track of time, I was extremely startled when my handphone started ringing. I frowned fiercely, annoyed at having been interrupted. Seeing that it was Mother calling, I said haughtily, “This is your daughter speaking. You have just interrupted her adventure into an amazing world filled with spaceships and aliens.”

            However, I soon stopped short of my sentence when I heard what Mother was saying. “Natalie… Grandmother… dying… hospital. Away! Go right away!” The usually prim and proper grammar of Mother had turned into downright stuttering. She sounded panicky and out of breath. Fearing the worst, I dashed out of the house like lightning and boarded the train, trying hard to squeeze past the queue into the train as it was peak hour. Everybody shot me dirty looks. I pleaded, “Please… Grandmother dying… hospital.” It worked. They started making way for me in sympathy and one even asked what had happened in concern.

            After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the hospital. Fumbling for words, I approached Mother hesitantly, “W-w-what’s happened to Grandmother?”

Turning to me with tears streaming down her face, she sobbed, “When you forgot to turn up to give Grandmother her medicine, she started becoming extremely dizzy. Desperate, she tried to reach for her wheelchair but it was too far away from her and she fell on the floor, hitting her head on the ground. The doctors are not sure if she will live.”

Appalled, everything suddenly came back to me. With a heavy heart, I realised that I had forgotten to give Grandmother her medication. It was all my fault. Anger. Sorrow. Bitterness. All those emotions coursed through my veins, leaving me heaving for breath. How could I be so forgetful? Shaking my head, the words “my fault” echoed in my heart, and I crumpled to the ground in despair.

            Thankfully, due to Grandmother’s will to live, she managed to pull through. However, for her sake, she was sent to an old folks’ home. From that day on, I vowed to never be forgetful again. Every time something important came up, I would always write it on a piece of bright pink paper to attract my attention and place the word “Reminder” in big, black, and bold letters on it. Then, I would immediately paste it on my door at my level so whenever I wanted to go out of my room, I would be able to see it. This helped to remind me and whenever I had a task to do and there would be something to distract me, memories of how I had let my grandmother down were enough to motivate me to develop good habits.

Eventually, my parents saw the change in me and forgave me. I was given more responsibility at home and I made sure that I did not disappoint them. Over time, I managed to kick my bad habit of being forgetful. In turn, I also developed a good habit of never forgetting to do anything. This painful but essential experience certainly taught me a valuable lesson, and I was grateful for that.

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