English Usage Tips: Grammar



  • fish OR fishes?

Incorrect: Some customers like to smell the fishes to make sure that they are fresh.

Correct: Some customers like to smell the fish to make sure that they are fresh.

The plural of fish is usually fish: ‘a fish’, ‘three fish’. Fishes occur mostly in children’s literature. 




  • it’s OR its?

Incorrect: The dog lost it’s bone.

Correct: The dog lost its bone.

Incorrect: Its under the chair.

Correct: It’s (it is) under the chair.

The confusion between it’s and its occurs because ‘s indicates possession, so English speakers naturally want to use it’s to mean ‘something belonging to it’. But it’s is only used when it’s a contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Otherwise, it’s always its.


Writing Tips: Discursive Writing



Tip #1

  • Use a formal, impersonal style
  • Use topic sentences to introduce the subject of each paragraph
  • Write well-developed paragraphs, giving reasons/examples for each point
  • Use linking words/phrases:
    • Sequencing words (e.g. first/ly; second/ly)
    • Same line of thought (e.g. furthermore; likewise; in addition; similarly; moreover)
    • Contrasting idea (e.g. yet; on the other hand; nevertheless; however; although; otherwise; conversely; on the contrary)
    • Conclusion or summary (e.g. thus; therefore; consequently; hence; in conclusion)
  • Use quotations, either word-for-word or in paraphrase, being careful to identify the source (e.g. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said, ”…)
  • Review all aspects and viewpoints of a particular topic and present these views objectively


Tip #2

  • Don’t use contractions (e.g. can’t; shouldn’t)
  • Don’t use abbreviations (e.g. MOE; SPCA) unless you have previously introduced the term [“According to the Ministry of Education (MOE)…”]
  • Don’t use informal / colloquial language (e.g. some guys; stuff; lots)
  • Don’t use very emotional language (e.g. I absolutely detest people who…)
  • Don’t express personal opinions too strongly (e.g. I know…); instead, use milder expressions (e.g. It seems to me that…)
  • Don’t make sweeping statements (e.g. Everyone believes that…)
  • Don’t quote blindly or refer to statistics without accurate reference to their source [e.g. “A Minister of Parliament said… / A recent study showed…”  (which minister / study?)]
  • Don’t use clichés (e.g. Time heals all wounds.)


Tip #3

What are some differences between a discursive essay and an argumentative essay? Here are some tips to tell them apart:


  • Discursive essay: To present a balanced and objective discussion; usually discusses both advantages and disadvantages of the topic
  • Argumentative essay: To convince the reader to agree with the writer’s view

Writer’s Perspective

  • Discursive essay: 2 or more points of view
  • Argumentative essay: Takes a strong stance on the topic or issue; only 1 point of view

Body of Essay

  • Discursive essay: 2 supporting reasons, 2 opposing reasons
  • Argumentative essay: 3 supporting reasons, 1 counter-argument


  • Discursive essay: Allows readers to draw their own conclusion, or expresses a low-key opinion
  • Argumentative essay: Repeats thesis statement and summarises supporting reasons

Writing Tips: Narrative Writing (Primary)



Tip #1

Plan your story

Never leave writing to chance. Spend 5-10 mins plotting your story’s key events before you begin to write.

Tip #2

Create believable characters

  • A character doesn’t have to be perfect to be a strong character. Faults and weaknesses are important ingredients in making a character believable.
  • The traits you choose for your main character determine how your character must act, talk and think.




Tip #3

Make dialogue purposeful

  • Good dialogue:
    • reveals information about characters’ personalities.
    • helps to advance the plot.
    • is never boring or mundane.
  • Use short concise sentences that get straight to the point. (No more than 2-3 sentences.)
  • Don’t use Singlish. (Most schools do not accept non-standard English in dialogue.)




Tip #4

Show, don’t tell

Give the reader actions, thoughts, senses and feelings rather than simple description.

Telling Sentence:

Going to the dentist makes me really nervous.

Showing Sentences:

I had to go to the dentist to get a cavity filled. My stomach was in knots. I felt like I was going to throw up. My palms were sweating and my hands were shaking. Just the thought of the high-pitched whir of the dentist’s drill made my heart race.



Tip #5

End with a satisfying conclusion

  • The ending of your story forms the readers’ final impression of what they have read, so make it memorable.
  • A story ending can be happy or sad, something unexpected, or a lesson learnt. Make sure it ties up all the loose ends.
  • A great ending makes readers feel something. If you bring your characters and conflict to life, your readers will care how everything works out and will feel for your characters when they succeed or fail.



Find out how LiteracyPlus can guide your child in overcoming the challenges of composition writing. Call 6777 2468 or enquire here.



For more writing tips on the various types of compositions students will have to write in either primary or secondary school, click on the following links below:


Primary School


Secondary School


Changes to the PSLE Maths Paper



1. Duration of paper

Paper 1

  • Increased from 50 mins to 1 h
  • Attainable score increased from 40 marks to 45 marks

Paper 2

  • Decreased from 1h 40 min to 1 h 30 min

Pupils are not allowed to use calculators for Paper 1 so speed and strong mental computation skills are important. As a time management guide, pupils should spend roughly 90 seconds on every mark that a question is worth. For example, for a 1-mark MCQ, pupils will need to read the question, formulate a solution, work out the answer, and shade the Optical Answer Sheet all within 90 seconds!


2. Focus on logical reasoning

Let’s look at the following question.

The average of 3 different 2-digit numbers is 21. Of the 3 numbers, find the largest possible number.

Step 1: Total of the numbers → 21 x 3  =  63

What to do next? The logical reasoning must come in here.

  • Think:

If I want one of the numbers to be the largest possible number, the other 2 numbers must be as small as possible.

  • Consideration:

They are all different 2-digit numbers.

  • Conclusion:

The other 2 numbers will have to be 10 and 11.

Step 2: 63 – 10 – 11  =  42 (Ans)


3. Focus on applied learning

There is greater emphasis on application of mathematics in the real world. The following is the 2017 PSLE maths question which generated a lot of buzz last year:

Jess needs 200 pieces of ribbons, each of length 110 cm, to decorate a room for a party.

Ribbon is sold in rolls of 25 m each.

What is the least number of rolls of ribbon that Jess needs to buy?


Solution 1:

Total length of ribbon needed → 200 x 110  =  22 000 cm

1 roll → 25 m  =  2500 cm

Number of rolls → 22 000 ÷ 2500  =  8.8

8 + 1  =  9 (Ans)


Solution 2:

Number of pieces of ribbon she can cut from each roll

→ 2500 ÷ 110  =  22 (remainder 80 cm)

Number of rolls → 200 ÷ 22  =  9 (remainder 2)

9 + 1  =  10 (Ans)


Which solution is correct? Solution 2 is correct. The logic is that each roll of ribbon cut will result in a remainder of 80 cm. Jess will not be able to use these remaining pieces.


Oral Tips: SBC



Tip #1

Be confident

Imagine you are friends with the examiner and that you and the examiner are having a friendly conversation. Keep eye contact with the examiner throughout the session.


Tip #2

Speak fluently and with grammatical accuracy

Do not lapse into Singlish, or non-standard English, during the conversation! Aim to speak as though you were writing. Sentences that are not grammatically correct are not acceptable in the oral examination.


Oral Tips: Reading Aloud



Tip #1

Tape yourself reading aloud

Take note of all punctuation and make sure that you pause where there are commas and full stops. Avoid speaking too softly or too quickly, or speaking in a flat or monotone voice. Read with expression and be sure to articulate words clearly; don’t forget to pronounce the ending sounds of words!


Tip #2

Avoid these commonly mispronounced words:

  • three (three, not tree)
  • mother (mo-ther, not mud-der)
  • children (chil-dren, not chew-ren or cho-dren)
  • women (wim-in, not woo-men)
  • calendar (kal-en-der, not ka-lan-der)
  • photography (fuh-taw-gruh-fee, not foh-toh-grah-fee)
  • flour (flou-er, not flahr)
  • salmon (sam-uhn, not sal-mon)


Oral Tips: Show and Tell



Tip #1

Pick an object with a story to tell

Select an object which brings back special memories, and think of descriptive words and accurate vocabulary to describe this object. It could be a family photograph, a favourite book or toy, a seashell from a trip to the beach, or even a spatula used to bake cookies!


Tip #2

Practise in front of a mirror

  • Stand firmly with both feet on the ground and your shoulders back. Do not shift your weight from foot to foot and fiddle with your clothes.
  • Use appropriate hand gestures so that you look and sound natural.
  • Speak clearly, audibly and with expression.


2018 March Holiday Maths Camp

Using the conceptual approach, this 2-day camp will focus on helping pupils improve their word problem solving skills.

  • P3: variety of Whole Number word problems
  • P4: Whole Number and Fraction word problems
  • P5: variety of topical word problems
  • P6: past PSLE questions, Speed and Percentage word problems


P3-6 Maths Holiday Camp


Spaces are limited, so call 6777 2468 or SIGN UP ONLINE today!

English Usage Tips: Vocabulary



  • cope OR cope up?

Incorrect: Some children find it difficult to cope up with all the homework they are given. 

Correct: Some children find it difficult to cope with all the homework they are given. 

You can catch up on homework but you cope with something (without up).




  • costly OR expensive?

Incorrect: Taxis are often unavailable during peak hours and are too costly.

Correct: Taxis are often unavailable during peak hours and are too expensive.

Fares, tickets, clothes, food items and all the things that people regularly buy or pay for my be described as expensive but not costly. Costly is normally used for something which has a very serious effect on your resources or well-being:

‘Failure to insure one’s property can prove very costly, especially in the event of a fire.’

‘Their decision to ignore the report’s recommendation was a most costly error of judgement.’




  • enter OR join?

Incorrect: All children under 12 are invited to join the singing contest.

Correct: All children under 12 are invited to enter the singing contest. 

You enter (or take part in) a contest or competition (not join). 


Tackling the PSLE Maths Paper Workshop

Do you know there are changes in the 2018 Maths PSLE paper? Does your child struggle with word problems?

Find out how the format and content of the PSLE has changed and come understand how our concept-based approach can make solving word problems easy for your child.

A workshop conducted by two of our Centre teachers, glean knowledge from the experts and get your questions answered.


Click on the flyer below for more workshop details and for the profiles of our speakers.


Spaces are limited and prior registration is required. Call 6777 2468 or SIGN UP ONLINE today!

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