PSLE or “SOAP”: Five ways to beat it this year.

Hey J

It’s finally here. PSLE. Oops, I mean 2021!

This is the year you enter an important phase in your education journey.

This is the year every Singapore parent with a 12 year old sits up and pays the closest of attention to our country’s most infamous national exam: the Primary School Leaving Examination, or PSLE for short.

It is the bedrock of our much-vaunted education system, and it’s been the constant companion here of every stressed-out 12 year old (and their even-more-stressed-out parents) since forever!

And this year, thanks to the latest revisions in its grading system, you and your peers will be the proverbial guinea pigs. Which of course makes this an even more closely-watched year by parents and educators alike.

More SOAP than PSLE

four men sitting on platform
Photo by kat wilcox on

But J, Daddy wants to tell you something.

I want you to know that I will not be that parent. No sir-ree.

Having gone through the system ourselves, your mommy and I know all too well the ridiculous stress and toll it takes on kids and parents. How it lets grades, elite schools, achievements and “keeping up with the Jones-es” take centre-stage.

Of course, there will always be those who rely on such ‘compasses’ to navigate the world and its transient benchmarks for success. Such thin veneers of superficiality can certainly translate to lucrative achievements materially for a narrow spell; doubtful though that it’ll prepare a person to be a decent human being in the wider scheme of things.

We your parents have resolved to keep you and your brother from all that PSLE circus. Even if it means going against this pushy, prevailing narrative society imposes. A narrative that insists one’s worth is based on scholarly/worldly/quantifiable achievements.

For us, there’s another “school exam” we’re far more interested to see you, your brother, mommy and me ace. It’s an exam we must all take, from what I call the “School Of Adolescence & Puberty”, or SOAP for short.

For I’m already seeing signs of rebelliousness in you, starting with more talk-back from you to your mom and me! Granted, it’s usually over mundane stuff. Like arguing with mommy what outfit you wanna wear today. Or disputing with me why you must search Google for ideas what to sketch, when we’ve lots of picture books lining our shelves.

But the debates are increasing daily, and we’re diving into more contentious issues like how much screen time during the holidays is too much. Or how you cut corners in designing sketches, even though you are capable of more elaborate creations and there’s no rush to meet a deadline.

Now let me be clear: this isn’t an indictment against you ok? Every human being on God’s green earth has gone through this phase, this ‘SOAP’. It is what it is at the end of the day, so there’s no blame game here my son. Besides, your mom and I know that it’s just as much about us and how we parent, as it is about you and your raging hormones.

However, it doesn’t mean that collectively, we have to “score poorly”. There are ways we can “graduate” from SOAP stronger together.

Here’s five I can think of, and you’ll be glad to know none involves a test paper!

Acing the SOAP

crop ethnic pupil doing homework in schoolyard
Photo by Mary Taylor on
  1. Listen more.
    For starters, we should keep in mind that God gave each of us two ears but only one mouth, meaning we should be listening twice as often as we speak. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slower still to get angry and upset. So, let’s always choose first to listen to each other more (yes son, true listening is active, not passive).


  2. Offer grace
    Next, when we feel like we’re about to spew some snide remark (either provoked or spontaneous), let’s take a deep breath and count to ten slowly. Then, choose our next words carefully, speaking measuredly and gently. No more impulsive and super-loud retorts please.

    Instead, let’s offer grace to each other. We might just get through the day in one piece!

  3. Let’s acknowledge
    Thirdly, don’t let our first response to any question or suggestion be negative or adversarial ok? Even if it’s really something we disdain, like going for a morning jog (me) or shaving ten minutes off screen time to finish tidying up our messy study room (you).

    Let’s just resolve not to disagree merely to be disagreeable. Sometimes, an immediate answer isn’t even needed; only a simple acknowledgement that you’ve heard the request or favour.

    Now that’s not too hard a sacrifice to make for your loved ones, right?

  4. Try first
    Fourthly, let’s not be skeptical nor cynical when it comes to trying new things.

    As you know, your mom’s the most adventurous of us. She’s always looking out for new places to go or things to do. That takes time to search, and it takes a parent’s sacrificial desire to enrich our lives for the better. The least we could do then, is not be a wet blanket; give every new thing she suggests a try first.

    It really doesn’t take much to please her and to honour her efforts.

  5. Finish well
    Finally, whatever you start, finish it well ok?

    I don’t mean that it must reach award-winning standards. Awards are mostly rigged and nearly always over-rated anyway. Plus, awards are worth nothing in the long run, when compared to the relationships we have with each other.

    What I do mean is that you need to see something you started to its finishing point in the best possible way that you can. Give it your all, even if the journey is long and boring. Not because it’s worth it, but because it can build in a young man like you perseverance and patience. These are virtues far more valuable than trophies of silver or gold.

No final say from no four-letter word!

close up photo of book pages
Photo by Ravi Kant on

Well, it should be clear from the above that our focus as your parents has never been, and will never be, just your academic journey (though of course we won’t ignore it either). And most certainly not the PSLE!

We are firm believers that “water will always find its own level”. You will become what you were meant to become, even in spite of us!

But to be a decent human being? That’s priceless, and worthy of all our concerted efforts and combined energies.

Son, your life is only just beginning. There’s so much more to it than achievements, awards and accolades. Remember: No PSLE or SOAP or other four-letter-word is going to have its final say or hold its final sway over your final destiny.

Of that I’m very certain.

So here’s looking at 2021 as just another year, like all the rest. Filled with all the opportunities to uncover along the way what a truly decent human being you were meant to be.

What a decent human being you are.

Let’s do this, shall we?

With lots of luv,
Daddy Doofus

2 thoughts on “PSLE or “SOAP”: Five ways to beat it this year.

  1. Well said Mr Seah! Agreed, these material things really do not matter in the wider scheme of things and in helping us become a better person. I believe that if more parents thought like you, they’ll really be lesser stress/academia related suicides. But alas, as you have cleverly said, it is the bedrock of our education system. Reading your posts most faithfully like the morning paper, I know you doubt your fatherly capabilities sometimes, but I beg to differ, you are a good father with your sons best interests at heart so do take it easy on yourself as well. As always, I’ve enjoyed your posts and I find this most riveting!

    1. So great to hear from you again! Thank you so so much!! Your unwavering support means a lot and motivates me to keep writing. Deeply appreciate. Wishing you a blessed 2021!

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