There is a whole thriving assessment book industry in Singapore. Like many Singaporean/SingaPRean mothers living abroad, I too lugged workbooks with me when I left Singapore for Frankfurt in 2004. For the first year or so, I even bought photocopied school testpapers but they quickly became recycled paper, so I stopped buying them.
We used one main book, this series from Andrew Er, the first few years. It has plenty of practice sums which I sometimes skip, homing in on the problem sums instead.
We added this Challenging Math early this year when Adeline recommended it. Both are good, Andrew Er's has more practice sums which can get tedious but it also has challenging questions. Challenging Math has mostly word problems, which I like, but it does try really hard to trip kids, and we found quite a number of errors in the solutions given (for P5 & P6).
We don't use textbooks; my approach to Math is Nike-style Just do it! If you know it, you know it, if you don't, we'll work on it, and then you'll know it. If you still don't know it after we've worked on it, you're not ready then, we'll leave it for another time.
Sean completed both P1 books earlier in the year, of course peppered with mistakes here and there. The jump in difficulty level from P1 to P2 is pretty steep so he's only done a few units of Andrew Er P2 and none of Challenging Math P2. I don't think he's quite ready. Andrew Er's P2 workbook has many additions and subtractions involving large numbers and I am reluctant to expose Sean to the carrying and borrowing method just yet. I still prefer him to do his sums the horizontal way instead of vertical (which we grew up learning). And that gets pretty hard when the sum is 459+276+398; plenty of such sums in Andrew Er's.
For Andrew Er's P2, I just told him to do what he can and skip any that he finds hard. We'll just revisit the work that he doesn't know in a few months. I spare myself a case of hoarse voice and bulging veins this way, cos in a few months, he may suddenly see it. Well, that's been my experience so far.
The boys don't do regular work on the books. Usually, they do it when we're on term break in Malacca, cos that's when I have no internet access and have nothing else better to do. For example, Sean started on the P1 books during our December 2007 holidays in Malacca. He managed to complete them over a few months, doing a unit or two each time he ponteng-ed school.
In Brian's case, he only worked on Challenging Math P5 right before we returned to Singapore for summer hols. He was joining his GEP classmates for a month in ACS, so I said he should go through the workbook just to be sure he's not lost in class. We had one week of holiday before leaving for Singapore so I got him started on the book, previously untouched. This was his schedule. 1 hour for each unit followed by 1 hour of break. About 3-4 units a day. He completed the whole book in slightly more than 4 days, yup, on the first page the dates are shown as 21 June (Sat) start, 25th June (Wed) completed.
Was it easy-peasy? No way! Obviously, there are gaps in his knowledge as he's not been instructed in these topics the conventional way; he learns the concepts from Murderous Math and from doing past assessment books. And as I've always told him, when your brain doesn't work, it turns to mush. So this is what happened. After half a year of not doing any real math (just school work), he did Unit 1, and to my dismay, got 24/50. Goodness, in a week, he was joining his GEP classmates and he can't even pass a unit on whole numbers? I emphasised FAIL!
I went on my rant about how his Moscow school's dumbed-down approach to math was making him lose his edge in math. When he continued making unwarranted mistakes in the next few units, I thought my head would explode. So this is what I did, can you feel the anger in my marking...haha, a huge cross so hard that it tore the page, and to emphasise I wrote EASY after I marked them.
Brian has always had fine motor skills issues. He tries really hard to write better but to no avail. It's like something doesn't quite connect from the brain to his hands when it comes to writing. So many times, his handwriting has let him down. In the question above, for example, he had divided 33168 by 3 to get 11056. When he had to subtract this from 28528, he wrote 11056 but the 6 looked like a zero, and while doing the subtraction, he saw it as zero. Mistakes like this you can't afford to make in Singapore exams. That's what upsets me.
I wrote P2 on this next marking telling him this was P2 work! Well, the concept for this problem sum was definitely introduced in P2.
I've given up getting him to do any proper working. As long as he gets the answer, I'll accept it. I figured if he really needs to do his PSLE, I'll just get intensive tutoring to teach him exam techniques.
It's not that I expect much from him, but I really felt he had been slacking off too much at that point and needed a wake-up call. He got worried, rightly so. That was Day 1. Subsequent days after Day 1 went better.
And would you believe it, by the last exercise, ie Semestral Assessment 2, he scored 95/100. Just goes to show, use it or you lose it.
I hope he learnt his lesson well from this experience. I learnt from this too, that assessment books from Singapore are indispensable if the boys are to be adept in Math, if I were to only rely on overseas schools' math instruction, we're done for.