On our living room, we have this piece framed up, to remind us that hard work matters. There’s a verse in the Bible that goes “… suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5: 3-4)
Hard work doesn’t always translate into success and achievement, but hard work has value in and of its own, and that’s one of the values we try to intentionally inculcate in the boys. And when school is the topic, there’s definitely lots of room for talking about what hard work looks like and why it matters.
But let me back track a little. During the early part of Term 2 this year, David came home one day and announced that he had done a Math test in school. My first reaction was “WHAT TEST?!”
So apparently this noob and irresponsible mummy had somehow missed a notice in his school jotter that informed parents that there would be said test that day. And no, we did not have a regular practice of doing any sort of assessment books. What was the test like, I asked him.
“It was ok. Teacher said cannot talk or ask our friends, and must try to finish everything on the worksheet. I can do almost everything,” was his innocent and carefree reply.
[Side note: David’s school has no exams for P1s. Instead they have regular Show-and-Tell for English and Mother Tongue. His first English and Mandarin tests were in Term 3, while he has Math tests from Term 2-4. I really like how this eases the kids slowly into the primary school system.]
I decided that I must explain to him what “test” means. But I wasn’t sure how to start, and what to say – I didn’t want to contribute to the pressure cooker mindset that pervades our educational system in so many ways, yet I wanted him to know that tests were important nonetheless, and grades too. I needed time to plan what to say, so I left that talk to the start of this term, when we got the notice about tests in Term 3.
Our conversation went something like this. Disclaimer: It’s a bit long 😉
David, do you know what a test is?
Ya, like a work teacher wants us to do ourselves. And we cannot ask our friends or mummy and daddy to help.
That’s right, and then you get a mark on it right? Teacher marks your answers and gives you marks.
Ya, and then daddy and mummy must sign.
Yes. Do you know what the test is for?
Well, a test is a way for teacher to tell how much you understand about what she has been teaching you. She wants to know if you can find the answers by yourself without anyone helping you.
Ok! I can do it. I always do my worksheets myself in school also. Except sometimes I don’t know then I ask D. (his partner). Do you know, she always knows the answer!
Oh… well, ok. Are you sure teacher lets you check with your friends?
Ya, teacher said can ask, but cannot just copy. So D. will explain to me.
Ok, but test cannot right?
Ya, for test we cannot ask anyone.
Right, so the reason teacher gives us the test date before the test is so that we can practice together and be sure that you understand all the things before you go for the test.
Oh.. means must do practice at home?
Yes. Remember we got those assessment books that we did in June (during the holidays)? We can do some of those to practice before the test also.
Haaaah… Why must practice?
Because that way you can be sure of what you know, then you can take the test without being not sure. And then you can get more marks.
Oh ya, E. told me we must get full marks. (Sigh, the beginning of peer pressure…) But I don’t know if I can get full marks.
It’s ok, mummy and daddy are not asking you to get full marks. But you know what is more important? You must do your best.
Then if I don’t get full marks, it’s ok?
(Internal stress wondering how to explain to him that it’s ok, but still a worthy goal… …) Hmmm…. yes it’s ok. What’s the MOST important thing is that you do your best. You prepare your best, and you do your best, and then whatever marks you get, it is ok. Mummy and Daddy will be very proud of your hard work.
But E. told me we must get full marks. E. is also very smart like D., they always never get questions wrong in class.
Well, that means they understand the things teacher is teaching very well. It’s ok if E. and D. get full marks and you don’t get. They are doing their best and you are doing your best. Last time, mummy also didn’t get full marks in class when I was in Primary School. But I always did my best. You can do it too.
Then any mark is ok.
(More internal stress… …) Well… if you do your best, and because you have been doing your homework well and paying attention in class, you will be able to get a good mark. It doesn’t have to be full marks, but I think you will get a good mark. If you prepare for your test and do your best, you definitely won’t fail.
But what is fail?
Fail means you get more than half the questions wrong.
Ohhhh… ya I always get only one or two questions wrong. I don’t think I will fail.
(Internal phew) Ya, I don’t think so. David, you are a good student and you have been doing your work well, so mummy is pretty sure you won’t fail. But you should still try to get the best mark you can, by doing your best.
Do you know why your marks are important?
I don’t know…
Well, when you are in P2, and older, you will begin to have more tests and something called exams. Exams is like a test with more questions and marks. Then at the end of every year, all your marks are added up to give you a grade. Like A or B or C.
And when you are Primary 6, there is a special exam called PSLE, and the marks you get will allow you to choose certain schools for secondary school.
Oh! I can’t wait t go to secondary school. I love secondary school.
Yes, next time you can go to secondary school. But which school will you got to? You can choose it when you are older. But some schools need higher marks to go in. So that’s why your marks will matter – if you have more marks, you can have more choices. But more importantly than that… remember what you said you want to be?
An explorer! Oh, no, a dinosaur bones discoverer.
Yes, remember you said you want to be a palenteologist right?
But for now, you don’t have science yet, but you have English, Chinese and Maths ok? So you can begin by practising well for the tests this term. So that means we must do assessment books to prepare for the test ok?
Haaah…. ok lah. But, is it a lot?
If we start earlier, like maybe more than a week before your test, then it won’t be a lot every day. Some work every day. Ok?
You can do it! And then, David, when you do your best, you can go to take your test without worrying about the marks. Because you already know you have done your best. And that’s enough. And whatever mark you get, you can be proud, because you have done your best. You won’t have any regrets. See?
Ok. But what is regret?
Er… regret means you wish you did something, but you didn’t. And you can’t go back. So if you always do your best, you never have to wish you had done more. No matter what the result is.
Ok. But must I start the work today?
No, not today, maybe in two to three weeks more.
(And because this mummy can be kind of naggy…) David, so… what’s the most important thing we talked about today?
Do your best!
Ok! Do your best! Ok mummy! Now can I go and play?
– – end of conversation —
Sharing my experience for fellow P1 parents (or even K2 ones who are thinking how to prepare your kid for P1), in case you have also struggled with how to explain tests and grades to your child. I’m sure I didn’t do a perfect job, but having time to process what I wanted to say definitely helped. Hope that my sharing will be helpful to some of you. 🙂