Can You Solve These Singapore PSLE Maths Questions Which Left Some Primary-6 Students In Tears?

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Oct 06 2019
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Chinese students are said to be quite brilliant in Mathematics. However, the level of proficiency varies widely among them. So while students from Malaysian SJKC Chinese vernacular school have a better grasp of Maths, they would struggle at Singapore’s Maths, unless they learn Olympiad Maths. Still, both Malaysian and Singapore Chinese students are miles behind those from China.


Some Malaysian Chinese students who successfully secured scholarships to study engineering at some prestigious universities in China were shocked at the Maths in the country. In their first lecture, where they would be grouped together with other foreign students, they would be left speechless as they could not understand the Maths being taught – it’s simply too difficult.


Forget about China’s crazy level of expertise in Maths. Let’s look at the PSLE – Primary School Leaving Examination – in Singapore. It’s a national examination to be taken by all students near the end of their sixth year in primary school before they move on to secondary school. In Malaysia, they have a similar equivalent examination – UPSR for 12-year-old primary students.

Singapore - Landmark

Do you know that every year, Singapore pinches away some of the smartest Malaysian students with “ASEAN Scholarship”, as early as primary six (12-year-old)? Yes, almost all of those bright students who receive the scholarship to further their study in secondary school in Singapore are from SJKC Chinese vernacular school. And Maths is one of the critical subjects.


That explains why Maths tutors offering tuition to primary students in Singapore laugh all the way to the bank. It could be part of their “kiasu” (afraid to lose out) and “kiasi” (afraid of death or overly afraid) culture that Singaporean parents splash top dollars to send their children to multiple tuition classes, never mind their kids would have little time for fun and games.


However, the parents are left with no choice as the PSLE isn’t any ordinary examination like the Malaysian’s UPSR. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say the academic pressure from examinations like PSLE has contributed to mental health issues in Singapore’s society. As expected, like every previous year, parents have voiced their concerns – again – about PSLE Math questions this year.

Singapore PSLE - Primary School Leaving Examination

Three questions have gone viral after the PSLE Maths paper last Friday (Sept 27), where some parents said have left some students in tears. Some parents even have questioned the exceptional difficult questions in the Paper 2 of the exam paper. Straits Times reported that Madam Chia Su Anne, a legal counsel, said her friend saw students emerging from school after the paper with “puffy red eyes”.


A Singaporean mother, Serene Eng-Yeo, unimpressed with the jaw-dropping PSLE Maths questions, has written to Minister Ong Ye Kung on her Facebook post to personally appeal (and lecture) to the education minister over the “unreasonably tough” questions. She said her son had studied hard for the Primary School Leaving Examinations and even scored well on a preliminary exam.


Serene said her son was “smiling” and seemed motivated after coming home from his preliminary examination, only to feel “crushed and defeated” after the actual PSLE exam. Saying that her son was not the only student who felt demoralized by the paper, Yeo revealed that her son told her that he was “dumbfounded by every question in Paper 2.”

Singapore PSLE - Primary School Leaving Examination - St Hilda's Primary School Pupils Waiting Results

Singapore has seen students commit suicide over examination results, including one case in which an 11-year-old boy fell 17 floors to his death in 2016 after failing his mid-year examinations for the first time. Serene seemed to remind the Singapore education minister why some children took their own lives, and demanded the ministry to explain the rationale behind making the papers so tough.


However, some parents, after talking to their children, said that while the questions were “tricky”, they were manageable and certainly not out of the syllabus scope. The Paper 2 examination was one-and-a-half hours long, comprising five short-answer questions and 12 long-answer questions. Here’re 3 “exceptionally difficult” 2019 PSLE Maths questions.


{ Question 1 }

Singapore 2019 PSLE Maths Difficult Question - 1


{ Question 2 }

Singapore 2019 PSLE Maths Difficult Question - 2


{ Question 3 }

Jamie and X (forget name) used $61.20 each to buy some tarts. Jamie has a 15% discount coupon and bought 6 more tarts than X.

(a) How many egg tarts did Jamie buy?

(b) What is the cost of an egg tart?


The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) had previously argued that the questions in the Maths paper are based on topics within the syllabus, and are intended to “assess students’ ability to understand and apply concepts. In order to ensure that the overall standard of the paper is maintained each year, there will be a balance of basic, average and challenging questions.


According to some Maths tuition teachers, the Maths questions above were harder than many others, but they also noted and agreed that there are usually a few difficult PSLE maths questions every year. Most of the tutors noted that students struggled particularly with applying concepts they were taught to unique questions they had not encountered before.

Singapore Primary Students - Comedy - I Not Stupid

Mr Wallace Wong, co-founder of Study Room who has almost 10 years of experience teaching PSLE maths, said – “We have noticed a shift in recent years from more standard problem sums which can be drilled, to more creative questions that require thinking and visualisation.” He said that students only require patience and the ability to stay calm in the exam hall to try different methods of visualising and solving a question.


In the past, there were some extraordinary tough questions which had Singapore primary students cracked their head in disbelief. And here’re some of them:


In 2009, here’s a difficult PSLE Maths question: Jim bought some chocolates and gave half of them to Ken. Ken bought some sweets and gave half of them to Jim. Jim ate 12 sweets and Ken ate 18 chocolates. The ratio of Jim’s sweets to chocolates becomes 1:7 and the ratio of Ken’s sweets to chocolates becomes 1:4. How many sweets did Ken buy?

{ Answer: Ken bought 68 sweets)

Singapore PSLE Exam - Students Cracking Head 

In 2012, here’s a difficult PSLE Maths question: A bakery and a library are 120m apart. They are located between Hong’s house and Jeya’s house, as shown below. The bakery is exactly half-way between the two houses. One day, Hong and Jeya started cycling from their houses at the same time and they arrived at the library together. Jeya cycled at 70m per min while Hong cycled at a speed 15m per min faster than Jeya.

Singapore PSLE - Primary School Leaving Examination - 2012 Tough Question

(a) How much further did Hong cycle than Jeya?

(b) How far is Jeya’s house from the library?

{ Answer: (a) Hong travelled 240m further than Jeya. }

{ Answer: (b) Jeya’s house is 1,120m from the library. }


In 2013, here’s a difficult PSLE Maths question: One machine took 70 minutes while another took 100 minutes to print the same number of copies of a newsletter. The faster machine printed six more copies of the newsletter per minute that the slower one.

(a) The slower machine completed the job at 1pm. At what time was the printing started?

(b) What was the total number of copies printed by the two machines?

{ Answer: (a) The printer started at 11.20am. }

{ Answer: (b) The total number of copies printed was 2,800. }


And below are the answers for last week’s PSLE Maths extraordinary difficult questions.

{ Answer to PSLE 2019 question 1 }

Singapore 2019 PSLE Maths Difficult Question and Answer - 1


{ Answer to PSLE 2019 question 2 }

Singapore 2019 PSLE Maths Difficult Question and Answer - 2


{ Answer to PSLE 2019 question 3 }

  • 85% of the cost – $61.20
  • 15% of the cost – $61.20 / 85% x 15% = $10.80
  • Cost of 6 egg tarts = $10.80
  • Hence, cost of 1 egg tart = $10.80 / 6 = $1.80
  • No of egg tarts Jamie bought = $61.20 / $1.80 + 6 = 40

(a) Answer: 40 egg tarts

(b) Answer: $1.80


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Even our kangkung uni grads can’t fathom out these.

Their maths are limited to counting to 4, as that’s the number of wives they can have.

This article reeks of racism and Chinese chauvinism. It subtly implies other races aren’t good at Maths. Narrow minded and childish.

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