Primary school science questions having ‘model’ answers

From ‘Only one right answer to science questions?’23 Feb 2015, article by Amelia Teng and Pearl Lee, ST

EXPLAIN how the hard, bony body of a seahorse could be an advantage. The right answer, according to one Primary 6 science teacher, is: “It protects the seahorse from injury and reduces the chances of predators successfully feeding on it.”

But the child who wrote “It acts as an armour that protects the seahorse from predators” was told that her answer was wrong. This was one of several examples thrown up by parents, who have complained recently that primary school science teachers are too rigid in marking open-ended questions, and are emphasising rote learning over the understanding of concepts.

This, despite schools having shifted to an inquiry-based learning approach in science since 2008. With the approach, pupils are encouraged to ask questions, analyse data and come to their own conclusions.

Several parents wrote to The Straits Times Forum page earlier this month, calling for schools to be more flexible. Most said their children were unduly penalised for answers that had the same meaning as the correct ones, but did not contain the right “key words”.

The children had been told by teachers to stick to key phrases and words found in textbooks, in order to get full marks in assignments or tests.

Here’s another Primary 3 head-scratcher for you:

What is the difference between a bird and a lion?

If you said the ‘bird has feathers but the lion does not’, you’re wrong. You’re also wrong if you said ‘The bird can fly but the lion can’t’, ‘birds evolved from flying dinosaurs but not lions’, or even ‘birds poop on cars but lions poop on the ground’ (assuming the question involves you staring at a picture of a bird and a lion). The correct answer, according to a parent complaining to the ST Forum earlier this month (‘Good science=Poor English’, Feb 5 2015) is ‘The bird has feathers but the lion does NOT HAVE FEATHERS’, which basically means the same damn thing as your original answer, except annoyingly repetitive. (Well if you want to be even more specific: a bird has feathers but a lion has fur, not feathers).

Clearly, the student knows what he’s talking about, that a lion does not have feathers, but the science teacher here doesn’t give a hoot about your ‘understanding’ if it does not fit into the template answer scheme, even if the same statement in a composition about bird and lions would make your English teacher squirm in her seat, and accuse you of trying to make up the 500 word quota with redundancies. The parent summed it up perfectly in his letter: “Is there rigidity in the teaching of science? It would certainly appear so (that there is rigidity in the teaching of science)”. Take that, Rigidity!

Not convinced that teachers can be anal about science answers? Here’s another puzzler on animals.

You could be thinking of the following possible answers:

1) Both the bull and the lion give birth to their young
2) Both the bull and lion poop and pee
3) Both the bull and lion can kill you
4) Both the bull and lion are mammals

ALL OF THE ABOVE ARE WRONG. (The answers are ‘4 legs’, ‘have hair’, or ‘similar body shape’ i.e something you can actually see from the illustration). The thing that you should be staring hard at isn’t the actual drawing, but the phrase ‘STUDY the animals BELOW’. Gotcha.

Let’s up the ante with a dreaded multiple choice question about the properties of a light bulb.

Now read the last option carefully before you make your choice. If you chose ‘all of the above’, you are interpreting D as ‘the bulb lights up only when electricity passes through it’. If you chose ‘A, B and C’ you read it as ‘light energy is the only energy that is given off when electricity passes through it’. The correct answer happens to be the latter. Answer D, in the spirit of the other animal questions, happens to be the grammatical equivalent of the rabbit/duck gestalt optical illusion. Given the ambiguity of this shitty question, no student should be penalised for seeing a rabbit when the answer scheme says duck.

Do you know how a shadow is formed? Here’s one student’s answer to a puzzle that has tickled the intellect of many an ancient Greek philosopher.

 The complete answer is ‘Because the sun is behind her and she is blocking the path of the light’. You know what this obsession with ‘complete’ answers will do to our kids? They’ll never be able to complete their paper on time because they’d want to add details like ‘because light travels in straight lines and Betty is an opaque human being and she will generate a penumbra and umbra depending on the angle and intensity of the sunlight’. Just to play safe. Except that some teachers will still mark you wrong for ‘trying to be clever’ when penumbrae and umbrae are not taught until you’re in secondary school. If you mention anything about photons or the particle-wave duality you may be suspended from school altogether.

But back to the seahorse question. If I were grading the student I’ll not only let it go, I would also give her BONUS marks for using her imagination and drawing a figurative analogy between ‘hard skin’ and ‘armour’. By our school standards, this paper published in the rather obscure ‘Acta Biomaterialia’ journal is pure BULL. Its title? Highly deformable bones: Unusual deformation mechanisms of seahorse armor (Porter et al).

All this nitpicking over ‘key words’ will not only kill our children’s love for science, but also restricts how individuals grasp concepts, punishing those who, well, ‘think outside the box’. A student who sees beyond 4 legs and digs deeper into the taxonomic characteristics of mammals vs birds is given zero marks vs another who memorises ‘key words’ because his tuition teacher said so. Flowery language, like ‘armour’, is not ‘scientific’ and has no place in a science paper, they say. Well try describing DNA to laymen without ‘unscientific’ analogies like zippers and enzyme/cell receptor interactions without using ‘lock and key’.

Final question: What’s the difference between a robot and a typical Singaporean Science student?

Answer: The robot needs electricity to recharge but the student does not need electricity to recharge.


75 Responses

  1. Hi, a happy CNY to you!

    Can I ask for your permission to reproduce this post on our education portal As usual explicit mention shall be made of the fact it first appeared on your site, and we shall cite gdy2shoez as the author. Hope to hear from you again 🙂

  2. In my opinion, such keywords is necessary to mark the exam fairly. No matter what, exams at pri and sec level is still mainly on memorising.

    In my own experience, my science teachers always say that what ever science we learn at pri and sec level is all wrong when compared to a higher level, and remind us that we should always keep to the syllabus at our current level.

    This might seem to be stifling our ability to think out of the box but it is definitely necessary to keep science education progressive. If a student is creative and clever enough to think out of the box, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to understand that there is a standard model to follow for exam.

    Another point to note is that my teacher usually give me the mark if i can argue through the logic of my answer if the answer is not in the marking scheme, but will remind me that while my answer is correct we should not stray away too much from the syllabus. Until exam is abolished, i suppose we should still remain exam smart.

    Most importantly there should be no ambiguity in science, if you are used to writing science experiment report/research report at diploma or degree level, you would have known that data/values/result is repeated many times throughout a report. The point on ‘no ambiguity’ in science should be reinforced from the beginning of science education.

    • Jerome, can you kindly provide the name of your science teacher, your school and the class you are in? If you can, I will write to MOE about this.

    • Jerome, if you would be so kind as to do us a favour: don’t ever be a teacher.

      Our society will appreciate that

    • “No ambiguity in science”???? Dear Lord.

      • Try submitting a science paper/report and see what would happen if you phrase the result in an ambiguous manner.

    • “no ambiguity” in science. Maybe now try to clarify research paper/discussion/topic by only using vague questions. What is the difference between a human and a rock pigeon? I’ll make it easier than a pri school science paper, This answer scheme has 20 differences that are scientifically true when comparing 99% of humans and a rock pigeon (so specific already). This is a 1 mark question so your answer can only contain one point.

      It feels more like a lottery now doesn’t it?

    • I agree with a number of your points and feel the negative comments here are unfair.

      Yes, scientific papers have to use objective language. After all, it is based on observation and descriptions must be universally understood. Metaphors such as “is an armour” are more helpful in English paper. Of course, they can be used as AN ADDITIONAL description to make an explanation more vivid, but only after an objective description. In this case, the main point is “protection” and so the child should at least get a mark, unless the other mark comes from “from predators”. (I mean, it’s logical to expect the examiner to know, protection from what. It could be from the elements or the surroundings in which they live.

      Can you imagine if medical reports used metaphors? “She felt the cold grip of death” As opposed to “she experienced severe chills”?

      Keywords are important in enriching a child’s vocab (where else would I have encountered words like “adapt” and “arctic” and “mammalian” at 9 years of age?). They also ensure that everyone in the field speak the same lingo. The same applies to geography – we need to learn the terms “ox-bow lake, cirrus or cumulonimbus clouds” so we can communicate effectively.

      The only thing I don’t quite agree with is memorisation. Treat it as gaining understanding, or an expansion of vocab. See the beautiful type of cloud in your head when you say, “Stratocumulus”. If you can understand it and picture it, it isn’t really ‘memorization’.

  3. This makes primary school science a bit of a farce, then?

  4. IMO, its not as much the education system’s fault as it is the people who set the papers. I didn’t face such problems back when i was in primary school (although that’s a decade ago), and it is clearly how badly the questions and answer schemes were designed (or phrased) that is causing all these problems. The rigidity is definitely an issue that ought to be dealt with but i doubt the issue is that terrible in all primary schools.

  5. Oh well. I never had such problems before. I guess I was not that “creative” or “trying to be smart” when I was a kid. In the past, what I had in my head were just stuff taught in class, so its naturally easier to write answers that are based on the syllabus. I guess kids these days are exposed to many more stuff and have much more knowledge than what kids have 10 years back. In short, they are way smarter than what we were. We might need to review the rigid education system to accommodate it. Oh well, I am not suggesting a revamp, but a little more flexibility would definitely go a long way 🙂

  6. and you wonder why our scholars (minsters, generals and what have you not) seem to fail at any and every real-life challenges thrown at them

  7. And then people like you blame the school when your child doesn’t do well in psle, not knowing that’s exactly how the psle expectations of a complete answer is.

    • So you mean our intelligence should be built based on a rigid examination system?

      • No one said that the PSLE determined your intelligence quotient. While the exam is rigid, and it is true that perhaps it could be structured in a more flexible way, Science is a subject of ‘accuracy’ and certain keywords do need to be used, especially when you go up to higher levels.

  8. In the world where real scientists and engineers work, if you want correct answer, ask the right questions. This is really just lazy question writing. Can you imagine how unproductive it will be if two scientists discussing research opened with “so what is the difference between cell A and cell B or chemical A and chemical B?”

  9. Primary school:
    “Limewater turns white” WRONG
    ” Limewater turns chalky” RIGHT
    Secondary school:
    “Limewater turns chalky” WRONG
    “white precipitate formed in limewater” RIGHT
    “white precipitate formed in limewater” WRONG
    “white insoluable Ca(CO3) (s) formed in limewater ” RIGHT

    Pedants. Pure Pedants.

  10. I think what the teachers want is that you answer to the question given. For example, when asked for the difference between a lion and bird, I believe you ought to make a direct comparison with specifics, like how you wouldn’t compare apples and oranges. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding between parents and the teachers, which of course teachers need to clarify and parents need to verify. I’m rather disappointed at the state of affairs on the relationship between teachers and parents.

    Btw: it makes sense that they give you a picture of a bull and lion that you answer and explain from what is given. Then what for they give you the picture. It’s as though I ask you for the time of the day and you tell me the sun is shinning brightly in the sky.

    • if flexibilities were to be allowed and synonyms of keywords are accepted, its like opening the floodgate. Then how to set standards? If any parent were to challenge this, i would like to know if the answers to what is being challenged is exhaustive in nature. If so many things can be accepted than make Science examinations oral. The thing is assessment is written, to determine if an answer is right or wrong since language ability is not penalized is to look for the correct keyword, if not, what esle?

      • It’s simple. If teachers expect unambiguous answers then they need to stop asking ambiguous questions.

    • Yea, that’s what teachers intended, but is not made clear within the question itself. Would it be wrong then if both the lion and bull have one tail? How is that wrong and “both have 4 legs” is correct. How is “a bird can fly and a lion can’t” not making a direct comparison with specifics? I think what the teachers are looking for are differences in “physical, visible attributes”. BUT that wasn’t stated at all in the question.

      You are basically saying the answer given by the student is wrong because it’s not what I expected. Not because it isn’t factually correct. Not because the difference you stated isn’t substantial. But simply because it wasn’t what I wanted, it isn’t a standard model answer. How do you expect someone to know what you are trying to ask when you don’t spell it out clearly?

      Let me ask you, what is the difference between an atom and a photon? Your answer must correspond to what I have in mind. Did you say a photon has no mass while an atom has? No, that’s wrong, an atom generates gravitational fields but a photon doesn’t.

      • Hi I think I may need to clarify my position in this first to set the context for understand where I’m coming from. I’m a undergraduate student majoring in Physics in a local university, I love Physics, I love science.

        Okay, so that being said. “Both lion and bull have one tail.” I don’t think it was stated anywhere that is a wrong statement. It just wasn’t included in the list. So, no assumptions there.

        “Bird can fly and a lion can’t.” I actually realised that the author here added his/her own side of the story on the bird and lion which was not found in the article. I think this makes the article a way lot unreliable. And we don’t know the context of the question for bird and lion. So let’s skip that. Also, in view of this, this author’s reliability throughout the essay just when skinny-dipping.

        And yes you are right in I’m saying the answer is wrong because it is not what is expected. Because that’s not what you’ll arrive at from inspection of the picture. Suppose you are a caveman who have never seen a lion or bull before, can you tell describe it? I think that’s the idea, which makes sense.

        Science is about prediction, but at the same time, it’s value is in communicating physical ideas of physical phenomenons. So for most part, science is universal, if what you are saying cannot be understood by the next person because of cultural differences, then that would be universal. At the same time, Science is about the standard model, at least Physics is that, and nature ain’t telling you what’s right and what’s wrong.

        I think it was spelt very clearly in the bull and lion question when they gave your the picture, and probably preached in school as well. You are in fact just cherry-picking.

        By the way, had you asked me regarding the question on atom and photon, I would tell you a lot more than that that statement. And before answering your question, I would clarify in which context are you asking, if not I’d be writing an essay, or simply asking you to Google for it.


    • Did you ask for students to answer based on what they see? If you are not precise in your questions, how therefore can you mark the kids wrong? Unless the question says – Based on the pictures or using your observation skills… this missing phrase would open to a myriad of logical possibilities as answers. And even with pictures, i say things like – both lion and bird have eyes? they have legs. – are you going to pinpoint and say number of eyes or number of legs and go all mathematical? So i think precision in questioning is important.

      • Hi sir, you are cherry-picking and the fact that the pictures are given, that says a lot. And they have probably been taught what to answer in school. It sounds more and more like the students are forgot or are being rebellious to answer to what was asked then being creative and thinking out of the box.

        As for other questions in which no context was given by the author, I will not dwell on them.

  11. Answering with the proper key words and proper english is very important for science. This applies to reading and understanding what the question is asking for. For eg, the answer of the question to the shadow, “Because the sun is behind her” doesn’t fully explain why the shadow was casted. The answer only explained one part of the question to why the shadow was in front of her so the teacher gave 1/2 mark for that answer which was reasonable as the setter’s intention was to ask why was there a shadow and why was it in front of her. But people reading the question, “explain why her shadow appeared in front of her” tend to focus on the “in front of her” rather than the appearance of the shadow.

    • “proper english” is important in Singapore. But great scientists are all over the world, some research papers are not even published in English.

      • So your point being? Answers or research paper not written in proper English should be accepted? What should be used as a standard then?

  12. I would like to clarify the comments you made about the “shadow” question.
    The mark given was reasonable because the question has 2 parts to it and the answer given only explained one part thats why the teacher awarded 1/2 mark for that question.
    “Explain why the shadow appeared in front of her”. People tend to focus the question to only “in front of her” and neglect the “appeared”. The setter’s intention was to ask 1. Why is there a shadow and 2. Why is it in front of her.
    Many times teachers mark students wrong for their answer is not because their answer is “wrong” (as in not logical to the question) but because the answer that the student gave did not deserved to be awarded that 1 mark.

    Regarding the lion and the bull question, the setter specified to “study the animals below”. What the setter meant was to study the picture of the animals and state one similarity between them. These are “understanding the question” skills that the students need to know in order to answer the question correctly.

    And for the light blub question, the answer isn’t ambiguous as you said. People might interpret the statement wrongly and this is normal as they don’t read and understand the statement fully. It is not the question that is ambiguous.

    School exam papers goes through rounds and rounds of vetting before they are printed and they are approved by HODs and Principals. So if you condemn one question, you are questioning the professionalism of the teachers, HODs, the school leaders who are the expertise in this area.

    • “And for the light blub question, the answer isn’t ambiguous as you said.”

      It’s not that it is ambiguous. The statement is WRONG in formal English. If the teacher had meant to say that “[the material] produces ONLY light energy when electricity passes through”, (s)he should have used this sentence construction. “Only when” is unambiguous. “…only when an electric current passes through.” The clause before “only when” is fulfilled ONLY WHEN the clause after is.

      Refer to dear old Cambridge in the above link, in particular:

      “Only: position
      As an adjective, we use only in front of a noun or one, or before another adjective or a number:

      We can use only as an adverb in different positions, depending on its focus. If the subject is the focus, we put only in front position:

      If the focus is on another part of the sentence, we usually put only in the normal mid position for adverbs (between the subject and the main verb, or after the modal verb or first auxiliary verb, or after be as a main verb):

      I only go home once a month. (between subject and main verb)
      She had only arrived at midnight the night before. (after the first auxiliary verb)
      She’s only sixteen. (after be as a main verb)


      If the focus is a whole clause, we can put only in front position:

      My arm hurts but only when I try to raise it.

      *My emphasis.

      Please do not justify poor English in exam questions with nonsense like people misinterpreting the question wrongly.

      Lastly, that Lion/Bull question can also be more clearly worded. For example,
      “Study the animals in the picture below. List one observable* similarity between the two animals”

      *Again, my emphasis

      The simple addition of the word “observable” leads students to answer in the right direction. It instructs them that their preconceived ideas and knowledge of the animals are unimportant and that what CAN be seen is in answering the question. It would be absurd for them to then say that both animals have a heart or that both are mammals – both are these answers are correct but CANNOT be observed in the picture.

      Oddly enough, James Flynn of the Flynn Effect fame was describing how scientific thinking results in abstraction rather than concrete ideas. Yet in this particular question, the student is challenged to do the exact opposite and identify concrete ideas of an animal (4 legged, hairy…etc) vs scientific abstractions like classification (male, warm-blooded, placental, etc).

      So, no, despite the “rounds and rounds of vetting”, this country, obviously, has teachers who are terribly deficient in the English language. They need to have scientifically literate English teachers (I’ll assume their proficiency for the sake of it) vet the papers so our children can be spared from this nonsense.

      -Recent PhD grad who’s mildy amused by the abysmal state of education in Singapore.

  13. tl;dr most of the answers are JUSTIFIED; the wrong answers are wrong because they DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION. answering the question is a vital skill for life and should not be taken away to make exams easier for students.

    ok i’ve put the tl;dr first so people can understand from the outset what i am want to say. now let me get to the details.

    let me just point out very briefly why 3 of the 4 seemingly ‘problematic’ answers are NOT problematic and justified:

    1. “EXPLAIN how the hard, bony body of a seahorse could be an advantage”
    This question is asking WHY the bony body could be advantageous. Explaining this requires the student to point out the ADVANTAGE. so the advantage must necessarily include: protection FROM INJURY. protection BY ITSELF is not an advantage.

    analogy: explain why we need to wear condoms if we engage in pre-marital sex.
    answer: for protection.
    UNSATISFACTORY. is this answer sufficient? has this answer addressed my question? NO. protection for what? STI? Pregnancy? Humiliation if an unwanted pre-marital pregnancy ensues?

    See what I am getting at?

    2. “Study the animals below … State one similarity”
    This question is a great test for whether the student could make a good scientist, because it is NOT testing scientific knowledge, but rather is testing the scientific METHOD.

    The question instructs (“study the animals below”), provides a picture, and finally asks for an inference. The instruction and the pictures are not there for no reason. They are putting the student into the shoes of a field observer: so he/she can infer FROM observations. this is testing the scientific skill of inference. NOT knowledge.

    So the only answers that can be drawn are the provided answers: 4 legs, have hair etc. The answers provided by the author of the article (e.g. mammals etc) are all NOT drawn from the observation. This is wrong. When conducting a scientific observation, one can ONLY infer what is observed – nothing more. this is central to the scientific method.

    analogy: study the girl in the picture. (provides a picture of a chinese boy and a chinese girl). state the similarities.
    Answer: the two are chinese.
    UNSATISFACTORY. How can you tell necessarily that the 2 are asian JUST by observing their skin tone or appearance? they could be of a mixed descent. or japanese. or south korean. etc.
    a proper answer drawn from a scientific observation would be what you can observe ONLY. e.g. a nose. a mouth etc.

    3. the sun and shadow question.
    Let me explain why the answer is necessary in this manner: An answer – whether for science or for anything else – is only sufficient if it provides all the CONDITIONS required to answer the question.

    Now let’s look at answer given by the student: ‘because the sun is behind her’.
    Is this sufficient to explain why the shadow is in front of her? From this sentence alone can you deduce WHY there is a shadow in front of her? NO. The shadow is in front of her not only because the sun is behind her BUT ALSO because she is blocking the path of light!

    analogy: why are you full?
    ans: because i ate.
    UNSATISFACTORY. am i full JUST BECAUSE i ate? NO. i am full not only because BUT ALSO because i ate to my heart’s content. or because i ate 2 bowls of rice while i usually have one. etc etc.

    (the ‘feathers’ answer is obviously right. so the author is not wrong in this regard. the teacher was too rigid and should be kept in check. but this is obviously the EXCEPTION and not the norm)

    so my point to everyone is: there is a REASON why science is taught and examined in the way it is. precision of language is important not only in science but in every day life. I drew some analogies to illustrate this. FYI i am neither in the science-related profession nor was a science student in JC. but I know the importance of language precision.

    Most importantly, knowing what the other party wants is a VITAL LIFE SKILL. the other party in this case is the examiner. but it has many practical purposes when translated into other aspects of life e.g. knowing what the client wants, what the consumer wants, what your spouse wants, what your voters want etc etc.

    so PLS PLS PLS stop blaming the ‘rote learning’ system. that is not the problem. the problem is your misplaced judgment.

    • The seahorse example: The student’s use of ‘armour’ implies that the skin is a form of protection against external trauma. If we think that this is still not ‘answering the qn’ even if the student knows her stuff, then doing well in a paper speaks more about exam ‘technique’ rather than ‘knowledge’, as what u mentioned.

      As for bull vs lion, maybe the qn should be ‘spot the difference’ just to make it absolutely clear that you don’t care if the two animals have placentas or not.

      I accept that exam smarts are necessary in addition to book smarts. I have my doubts that this is the proper way to instill ‘scientific method’ in kids, which here involves linguistic juggling and reading the mind of the examiner, and how this helps in critical thinking of journal papers or hypothesis making. Being precise in your answers and knowing what people want is a life skill indeed, but at the same time you also need to be economical and know how to create mental shortcuts when u dun have the luxury of time, or u’re dealing with ppl who just have no clue. This develops thru life experience, and schools shld be focussed on imparting ‘building blocks’ and recognising ‘knowledge’, rather than penalise ppl cos they lack the ‘technique’ of ‘answering a question’. Especially in Pri 3.

      • I believe armour would be correct IF your teachers did not tell you the right word to use. For example, an exo-skeleton to protect your from harm. Most of us are missing the point that we are ignoring what the teachers have already taught the students, and under what circumstances did the student choose to write that down as an answer. It may well be that he/she was lazy and forgot, etc. Borrowing an idea above, a myriad of possibilities is possible.

        I’m also quite sure I would be able to sell this story for another viewpoint by twisting and changing the context. Hence this article is rather unreliable.

    • Agree with you on everything except the study the animals.
      1) Both the bull and the lion give birth to their young
      2) Both the bull and lion poop and pee
      3) Both the bull and lion can kill you
      4) Both the bull and lion are mammals

      Are as correct as have hair, similar body shape and have legs. It is impossible to utilize the scientific method without scientific method.

      If “has hair” is the correct answer then the presence of “hair” is observable. From the observations you can come to the conclusion that no.4 is definitely correct. no.2 is correct but not restricted to mammals only. no.1 is correct but a few mammals do lay eggs. It might be a bit of a stretch to declare “these two animals do not look like Monotremes” without prior scientific knowledge so it may be a grey area. no.3 is a pure assumption so yes it is wrong.
      Also, take note that the names of the animals are presented as part of the information. Are we telling students to ignore information?

      • precisely….it is about how imprecise the questions are. it is almost like a lottery. ask a questions, then pick and choose and decide who i want to mark as correct and wrong.

    • I think the greater issue at hand is how the education system masquerades as a means to impart knowledge and learn skills DIRECTLY. The “practical” purposes you mentioned such as reading social cues to understand what others want is, at best, a byproduct of being put through the system. If the system seeks to teach such skills a more direct way should be devised, instead of tricking students into believing they are learning one thing but then when they question the legitimacy of the system, tgey are told they are learning “life skills”.

      To me , the above is morally equivalent to hitting someone for no reason , and then when confronted, saying”what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. There is an underlying dishonesty in a system that allow such ambiguity

    • Something is henceforth wrong with the design of the question. Basically unless you direct the candidate to make inference from the pictures by observation, you cannot assume putting a cow and a lion will automatically calls for students to use their visual skills. So what if I say both animals have eyes – which is a correct and logical answer based on your argument that it has to be inferred from pictures. Do we therefore tell our kids to look at the pictures and see what’s the same – four legs, have ears, have eyes.. can stand. All therefore would be correct.

      Eg. What is your name

      Answer. LUAN JIANGHUA

      WRONG – I ask in english so you give me your english name.

      Fact: Luan Jianghua IS MY NAME YOU ONLY ASK ME FOR MY NAME!

      Rest my case.

      • You rest your case with lack of common sense. It’s like saying I’m going to pass you an apple and orange. But I didn’t ask you to eat it.

        They have been told how and what to answer. You are cherry-picking on the details that have not been specified. You might as well include the language that should be used to answer the question as not being stated.

      • precisely. it is because the questions were pose so vaguely and unspecifically……but the setter simply assumed that because they are the authority, you must read their minds and know what exactly they want, and they will determine if you’re right or wrong based on their own presumptions.


    • so is the question’s fault, because even as an adult, i was misled to think the child’s answer is what the test requires. How more a child reading the simple question able to accurately discern what the examiner wants.

      Also for the “observing bull and lion” questions… if its is the picture they are suppose to observe, why write there “Bull” and “Lion”. I obeserved “B-U-L-L”, even not seeing the picture, I perceive a mammal.

    • the “critical” problem here….is not the answers but the questions. Specific answers cannot be expected when the questions are vague, and open to interpretation

      1. “EXPLAIN how the hard, bony body of a seahorse could be an advantage”
      But by your own reckoning: so the advantage must necessarily include: protection FROM INJURY.
      Armour is self-explanatory and understood that it is designed for “protection from injury and/or damage of the wearer or the equipment it is fitted to”

      but it seems, the explanation of ARMOUR isn’t enough for you….

      so do you want to tell me, that the basic function of armour is something else, like fashion style? or to add unnecessary weight? psychological effect? “doesn’t matter what armour is made of or how it works, just wearing armour, even paper armour can protect against injury”?

      and you didn’t explain why “protection from injury” is an advantage? because for many organisms, receiving injury that doesn’t result in death usually results in the toughening and hardening of certain body parts, which helps to decrease injury in the long run, better ensuring the survival of the species. So suffering injury can be an ADVANTAGE instead. UNSATISFACTORY

      your analogy: “explain why we need to wear condoms if we engage in pre-marital sex.
      your explanation of : “for protection” is not enough……
      your satisfactory answer:? . protection for what? STI? Pregnancy? Humiliation if an unwanted pre-marital pregnancy ensues?

      “See what I am getting at?”

      so it works by wearing it on a finger? UNSATISFACTORY

      2.“Study the animals below … State one similarity”

      i’m very very sure that by stating both have 2 eyes, or a mouth or a nose will be deemed too ridiculously simplistic and marked wrong. Because I have done that, and I got it wrong, and my tuition students also got it wrong.

      The pictures are not there for you to simply observe, you’re also supposed to be able to identify what animals they are and describe the similarities they have.

      The problem is in the unspecific question: “State one similarity” instead of “State one similarity in their appearance”

      3. the sun and shadow question.
      YOUR EXPLANATION that the sun is behind her is not reason enough for the shadow to appear, so it should instead be: she is blocking the path of light.

      But your answer isn’t enough. Where does the light come from? Why does it come from the sun?
      Light can reflect off objects, why doesn’t light reflecting of the leaves and bark of the tree illuminate the shadow, or even cast a shadow behind the girl?

      Just as your analogy : why are you full?
      your “CORRECT” answer : because i ate to my heart’s content. or because i ate 2 bowls of rice while i usually have one

      But that answer is not enough…..

      eating to your heart’s content is a psychological result… doesn’t have any effect on your digestive capacity. there are weight loss products in the market that gives you the sensation of feeling full, while your digestive system is empty. So are you really full? or feeling full? is your “full” psychological or physical? you didn’t specify…..UNSATISFACTORY

      It simply goes to show……that just because you have the ability to string words together, doesn’t mean those words make logical, scientifically provable sense.

      Your posting also shows that you choose to ignore the universally understood concept of such things as Armour, the Sun, and instead justify your superiority of the subject with the concepts of “protection of injury” and “blocking light” as being the verified CORRECT answer.

      do you know how dumb you made yourself look, just because you tried to use this to look more intelligent than everyone?

  14. Writer, did you even bother speaking to a science teacher before writing your lengthy complaint online? Granted the implementation is not perfect, I can see the rationale and intent behind them for imparting sound scientific thinking and communications. Instead of spending time to understand the intent and limitations of written test and marking schemes and explaining to your kid how he/she can improve, you spend time crafting vitriol for public consumption. Does this feed your ego? Everything also complain indeed.

    • Unfortunately, some of the ‘complaints’ are complaints. If only teachers would be more objective to see such “complaints” or complaints as avenues to help them improve the pedagogy, assessment and learning design, rather than go defensive and righteous to pin point public opinions as “complaints”.

      • You seem to see teachers differently from yourself. Aren’t teachers also humans? Do they leave on a different planet?

  15. It’s science. If you argue about right and wrong you end up with theories and experimental evidence. Ok, back to Primary School. Understand the argument, but lessons need structure. What is missing is the ability argue. If the student believes the answer is right, they should be given the opportunity to argue…and if they argue for all the right reasons, a mark should be considered. This will help in later life. But parents should not get involved but just remain supportive. It’s between a student and a teacher. But remember I also assuming teachers are not overworked, made to work on subjects they are expert about and have a school management system and seniors who encourage such interactions.

    • Would our students even dare to challenge what, as one commenter has said, has gone thru rounds of vetting by hods n principals n edu experts?

      • just proves that the hods, principles, edu experts we have are rubbish educators, whose only goal is to earns loads of money while working very little.

        I know of certain meetings, where the MOE spouts a new cirriculum, for example: social responsibility, but sends people like 19-20 year old fresh graduate MOE representatives, and order schools to brainstorm ideas for the cirriculum while these reps just copy down and bring back to MOE.

    • What is lacking here is the balance of flexibility. Teachers are allowed to make mistakes but students are not. If the teacher cannot come up with proper questions, they should be flexible and acknowledge their mistakes by being less strict with the answer scheme. It also the kind of mistakes that cascade to affect lots of lives. Its one thing for the lost grades in the respective exams. The other is what are kids going to think in the future? “I have all the right answers, but only one of them is correct. Does it make everything else wrong?”. The school system has to be open to the fact that Yes, questions can be worded wrongly too. The school system is not infallible, everybody needs to know that.

  16. There are so many possible answers lah and in the real world many more beyond the answer sheet holds merit.

    BUT, the key thing here is to not only equip students with the understanding of how the world works, but also an ability to satisfy the marker.

    Make no mistake about it because ultimately, the psle is simply graded by people you do not know and you do not have the ability to check if they marked it right or wrong.

    The teacher may not be doing his students a favour by marking them correct despite them not providing keywords that another marker is looking for. Ultimately, internal exams have no lasting bearing as only the psle is looked at for secondary school entry. So i would rather i get my normal test and exams wrong to train and guide me towards giving the marker what he wants when the real thing hits me.

    Consider this:
    There is only one try. Are you sure you want to risk your child’s future on what you think the marker MAY accept? Or would you want them to provide the “safe keywords” and secure their future.

  17. Teachers should be tested on how they will grade answers given by their student. Got fellow teachers to mark each other’s paper and then return to them.

  18. Only slightly relevant, but am I the only one to notice that neither the bull nor the lion gives birth? 😛

    Other than that, interesting discussion!

    • Actually, both the bull and the lion give birth, they don’t lay eggs.

      • I have yet to witness or hear of a bull giving birth. I understand that cows do so.

        The lion has a noticeable mane so by inference i conclude it is a male lion (not that it being called lion instead of lioness wasn’t already an indication). As of now I am unaware of any reports that indicate that male lions can give birth.

        Apolo.getic for spoiling the joke

      • Good catch. I spose u cld say it’s a ‘trick question’

      • I understand tat literally speaking, lioness gives birth but not lion, just like bitch gives birth but not dog. However, will it be too difficult for pupils if we were to be too specific in our English? After all, e key idea is to test pupils if they know tat mammals give birth. “Bitch” is probably too difficult for some pupils to know tat it is a ‘female dog’. When I say tat I give birth to my child, it doesn’t mean tat I am involved in e process of “labouring”, but rather, I am her father. Interesting point 😃

  19. hmmmm…this reminds me of smthing. when i was in primary school, science was my favourite subject. we lean abt plants, astronomy etc. it was fun. my passion for science in secondary school was killed when there is an overempasis on chemical equations n calculations. i guess bad habits die hard and our education system is still more interested in producing conformist bankers and scientists than anything else.

  20. Even though I took my PSLE a decade ago, things have been like that since my time. But I was fortunate to have a great teacher to teach us what examiners are looking for when we encounter questions like the lion/ bull ones, and reminded us to complete our answers to the best of our abilities. Adding one more phrase “and she is blocking the path of the light” will NOT make the kids lose too much time during the exam. If anything, in primary school we always had plenty of time to check and recheck our scripts.

  21. I would like to just say a few words, just citing a few examples to air my opinion, take for example, the picture on the lion and the bull,
    the answers:
    1) Both the bull and the lion give birth to their young
    2) Both the bull and lion poop and pee
    3) Both the bull and lion can kill you
    4) Both the bull and lion are mammals
    are all wrong because in the question, it is said “Study the animals below”, which means that the answers must be based on what you can see from the picture. Can all the 4 options listed on top be observed from studying the picture?
    Take for example,
    What is the difference between a bird and a lion?
    If you were to accept
    ‘The bird can fly but the lion can’t’, ‘birds evolved from flying dinosaurs but not lions’, or even ‘birds poop on cars but lions poop on the ground’… What difference can we see between a Science student and my amah, which does not study Science? Even my amah can tell that the bird can fly but not a lion. In Science, students are taught to classify animals based on whether they are birds, mammals, amphibians, etc, and that each of these groups have characteristics unique to them. Students should answer questions based on scientific reasoning or otherwise, the teaching and learning of Science is hardly possible.

    However, I do agree that the ‘bird has feathers but the lion does not’ means the same as ‘The bird has feathers but the lion does NOT HAVE FEATHERS’ and that the former answer should not be marked as wrong (if the latter is correct). But the error posed by one teacher in marking Science does not represent the whole fraternity of Science teachers. Having said that, I would prefer the answer to be
    even more specific: a bird has feathers but a lion has fur (as you have mentioned), because it shows more understanding from the students, and is thus a better answer (more complete).

    • the problem is how the question is asked.

      When they show pictures of animals, are we supposed to assume we have no idea what they are, and just describe what the picture shows?

      Or are we supposed to identify the 2 animals and answer based on our knowledge? or WHAT?

      Either one or all answers could be right. But no one would know….until the paper has been marked, and those who have answered one way could end up feeling crucified.

      Just like asking :”How does a car move?” Do we answer by saying we first start the engine, then engage the gear, press the throttle, and use the steering wheel to change direction?

      OR do we explain the science of internal combustion engines, mechanics of automobiles?

      • True, but pupils are taught in school tat if a picture is given, then the answer is based on the given picture. So it is by convention tat pupils know what to write for their answers. Just like how come we know tat if we see red light, we must stop and green light means can go? It is bcoz by convention, we are taught this since young and agreed, almost internationally, tat we shud follow this rule.

  22. Allow students to ask questions?! I once asked, “Is it that only metal containing iron will rust? since rust is Iron3 oxide.” to a chemistry teacher at SECONDARY 4! SECONDARY 4! And she told me I don’t have know?! What?! Why is she denying me of knowledge?!

  23. A lot of the critique, including that of the author’s, is on not accepting the ‘implied meaning’ in the responses provided.

    That’s missing the point. Being precise in understanding what’s required and providing an exact response is a skill. You don’t quite make the same point by replacing what should be a factual response with one that carries assumed implications. i.e. you should leave as little as possible for audience to interpret according to their prejudices.

    That’s a fundamental skill in getting an education.

  24. I would just like to say that the lion and the bull cannot give birth to their young. It is the Lioness and the cow. (tongue in cheek)

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  26. […] exams coming up for your child, it will be interesting to see if students are expected to provide “model” answers in their […]

  27. […] Primary school science questions having ‘model’ answers … – Primary school science questions having ‘model’ answers. … instead of tricking students into believing they … Primary school science questions having ‘model … […]

  28. This is so sucking stupid.

  29. Most of our teachers of science are after authers of books than science itself.I am a teacher of science and when it comes to marking in team I don’t really mark as per what I think is right because majority of the pannel thinks your idea isn’t most appropriate. For instance take this question;
    Which mosquito spreads malaria?
    A female anopheles mosquito is rejected.
    They will argue, An infected female anopheles mosquito is the correct as answer.
    Fail to accept that there is no type of mosquito called infected female anopheles mosquito.
    I’m really loosing my patients in teaching in this kind error to please author who even influence examination boards as well.

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