For parents of newly minted Secondary 3 students, your child has probably just attended the first few lessons of Additional Mathematics, more commonly known as A Math. As for parents of Secondary 4 students, you probably know by now it’s pretty hard to score well for A Math. So what is it that holds your child back from doing well? Why is it that your child often does very well in lower secondary math yet struggle at upper secondary? As an educator for the past three years, I believe I’ve the answers. Let’s look at them now.
Let’s look at the top 3 reasons now.

A Math is harder than E Math
Now you may be rolling your eyes at this statement, wondering if you just clicked on a click bait. I just had to list this as my first reason because many parents do not understand the full impact of this statement. I mean many of you actually underestimate how much harder A Math is than E Math!
Make no mistake if your child managed to take A Math, he/she is definitely competent enough to do well for A Math. Yet too many students struggle for A Math. This is because of how much harder the concepts are. For example, in lower secondary math, students learn about graphs, but only straight line graphs. Now think of how easy those questions were many of them simply involved drawing a table, plotting the points and using a ruler to draw through the points. Even for a “tougher” topic like algebra, what students had to do were mostly factorisation or simplifying the terms. But guess what? For A Math, whatever skills your child learnt for lower secondary math are absolutely basic. By that, I mean your child is assumed to be very very competent at those topics. Your child is expected to do factorisation and simplification by heart, or at least very quickly. The bulk of the time, your child will learn seemingly obscure math concepts like differentiation and indices.
Such mathematical concepts do not come naturally to us because quite frankly, as teenagers we were not expected to “differentiate” in our daily lives. Is it any surprise that your child gets a “culture shock” and begins to think that he/she is not quite cut out to study A Math?

Big jump from textbook practices to exam level questions
It is no secret that textbook questions are generally easier than exam questions. For convenience sake, many teachers usually just use the textbook as the main source of teaching. They then only introduce the occasional prelim paper as practice when O Levels approach. A common complaint I heard while I was teaching at tuition centres was that the student was doing well for practice questions in class, but went totally blank when they saw the questions during examinations.
Is it any surprise that without exposure to the “real thing” (the examinations in this case), many students do not do well at all for examinations? If you were learning to drive a car, how ridiculous is it for you to just work on the circuit and never practice driving on the main roads? Then, on the very day of the driving test, you’re expected to drive on the main roads. This may sound ridiculous but this is exactly the problem that many secondary school students face. By the time they start working on prelim papers, it is already close to O Levels and their confidence have been largely diminished by then.
It is no fault of school teachers. They are often doing their best but there is too much content and too little time. Hence, they’ve to focus on imparting the conceptual knowledge as opposed to exam skills. But it is your child’s exam skills that will determine his/her future. By now, it is clear that just relying on school may not be enough.
Increased overall workload 
Increased workload for most subjects
This is another point that parents often overlook. As “outsiders”, we understand that the content is harder and there may not be adequate practice. We also understand that our children have a lot more on their plate, but we often see the increase in workload for all subjects in isolation with A Math. It is not surprising that when we are stressed out and have no idea how to manage a certain area of our life, we usually don’t just fare poorly for one specific area. We crash and burn in all aspects of our lives.
Now let’s put ourselves in our children’s shoes. They are adapting to the “culture shock” with regards to the difficulty of the content itself. Then they are discouraged with poor performances at exams because they were not adequately prepared for those exam questions. Soon after they fare badly in other subjects while being expected to perform in the CCAs and so on… and everything just compounds and leads to a downward spiral.
There are several key skills that your child should be taught. They include studying effectively, planning the workload and utilising our natural learning habits.
In conclusion, neither you nor your child is alone in this highly competitive Singapore education system. Your child is not “hopeless”. Neither is he/she stupid. What your child need is the proper advice and materials to score well.
Next week, I will be talking about what you can do to help your child overcome the problems mentioned in this article. There are small details that I have not seen being explained well elsewhere. I believe both you and your child will definitely benefit from reading the coming article!
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