Allot more time for exam papers (Straits Times Forum)


This reader has called for allotting more time for exam papers. He/she has made a very valid point:

The time allotted for some papers, such as mathematics, is so limited that the opportunity cost of stopping for just a few minutes to think about how to solve a problem may result in one being unable to complete the paper.

For essay papers in subjects such as economics, it becomes a test of how fast one can write, as opposed to the quality of one’s answers.

This is very true, the reader is being 100% honest and not exaggerating at all! For O Levels and A Levels Maths, the student can only spend 1.5min per mark. That means, for a 5 mark long question, he can only spend 7.5 min at the maximum or risk not being able to finish the paper. To have ample time to check the paper, the student needs to do even faster than the minimum of 1.5 min per mark.

Yoda’s quote “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” holds true for Mathematics exam papers in Singapore. There is simply no time to “try” out questions in O Level or A Level Maths. Once a student looks at the question, his fate is sealed, he/she either knows the method how to do it, or does not. There is no time to try!


Hence, exam time management skills and speed in Math are essential. (I have written a previous post about it.) Nowadays, questions are not arranged in order of difficulty. This means that Question 5 may be much harder than Question 10. Sometimes, it is better to skip Question 5, rather than get stuck on it and never reach Question 10. Getting 100% is not necessary for getting an A for Math. In fact, getting 100% for Math after Primary 6 is a rare occurrence. Getting 70 for Math in H2 Math is a very decent score, and getting 80 more or less guarantees an A even with a bell curve.

Also, knowledge of the essential formulas are extremely important. Yes, it is possible to derive the quadratic formula by completing the square, but there is no time for that during the exam. Time is of essence. Formula for AP/GP, Vectors need to be known by heart. Spending 1 min to recall or derive them may lead to severe time pressure later on. Recalling the wrong formula leads to disaster, and potentially zero marks for the entire question, as “error carry forward” is only applicable for limited scenarios. Students may need a Formula Helpsheet containing all the essential formulas for easy memorization.

Lastly, the most important thing the night before the exam is have a good night’s sleep. A previous blog post discusses the importance of sleep, and how Good night’s sleep adds up to better exam results – especially in maths. Also, have a good rest after the Math paper, the 3 hour H2 paper is mentally exhausting, and the 2.5 hour A Maths paper is not a stroll in the park either. After the long Maths paper, your brain deserves a good rest.


Author: mathtuition88

Math and Education Blog

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