Chinese Comprehension Deep-Dive (Upper Primary)

阅读理解 or Chinese comprehension is the minefield where many exam marks are lost. We previously did a case-study of a lower primary comprehension; today we will be analysing an upper primary Chinese comprehension passage and examine common mistakes students make.

REFRESHER ON COMPREHENSION GRADING

Students can get a maximum score of 200 for PSLE Chinese, and there are a total of three comprehension passages with a total score of 42 marks.

The first comprehension passage is 10 marks and consists of five multiple choice questions. The second passage is a short announcement, advertisement or letter (通告、广告、便条) worth 10 marks, and consists of three multiple choice questions and a short writing task.

In this post, we focus on the third (and most scary) passage, or 阅读理解二B组 worth a whopping 22 marks and consists of all open-ended questions involving writing.

PaperSectionMarks (%)
Paper 1Composition40 (20%)
Paper 2Language Use 30 (15%)
Cloze Passage10 (5%)
Comprehension 1 (Multiple Choice)10 (5%)
Sentence Completion8 (4%)
Comprehension 2 – Module A10 (5%)
Comprehension 2 – Module B22 (11%)
Paper 3Oral50 (25%)
Listening20 (10%)
PSLE Chinese marks allocation

THE THREE FACTORS FOR COMPREHENSION SUCCESS

In our Chinese enrichment classes, we emphasise three key factors to ace the comprehension passage – vocabulary, exam techniques, and checking. It’s not rocket science, but not something easily learned overnight.

The best but longer-term solution to acing comprehension is to simply read more. Reading is one of the best ways to change students’ attitudes towards Chinese and improve vocabulary but we understand exams are just around the corner, so here are some fast tips to improve.

Factor One: Vocabulary

Reading is the core bedrock of comprehension, especially for upper primary. In lower primary, it is possible to rely on exam techniques to do well even without full understanding the passage. However, as we explain later, this is much harder to pull off when passages get more difficult.

So as a parent, what should we do?

If you have very limited time, the biggest bang for your buck is to revise the textbooks and make sure your child can recognise and understand all the keywords covered this year. Don’t focus only on Textbook B (下册), and make sure to revise Textbook A (上册) too.

Revise the keywords in your textbook

Another good way to revise is to skim through some of the recent comprehension passages done in school or at enrichment centres – circle words that you can’t remember, look it up, and commit to memory if they are important.

Pro Tip: Get your child to read the textbook aloud – many studies show reading and speaking text aloud is a much more effective way of remembering information vs silent reading.

Lastly, if you have more time or if your child’s standard is weaker, be sure to revise previous levels as well (e.g. revising P3 words if you are P4). While previous level words aren’t tested directly, they will appear in both language-use questions and comprehension passages.

Factor Two: Exam Techniques

As we previously discussed in our lower comprehension post, the general approach we advocate is as follows:

Step 1: Skim through passage to get an overall understanding of the passage and to identify its broad theme, topic or storyline.

Step 2: Identify and underline the question words in the questions (i.e. the 5W+1H questions).

Step 3: Do a detailed read of passage while using question words and context from Step 2 to find the sentences where answers are found.

However, there are minefields for upper primary. There are tricky questions that “punish” students that just copy and paste. Some questions require retrieving information from different paragraphs to get full marks, while other questions require students to omit certain irrelevant information to avoid getting penalised. We cover more examples in the case study below.

Factor Three: Checking

It’s hard to overstate the importance of checking, especially as passages become harder. It’s one thing losing marks to a question you don’t know, it’s another losing marks on something you know but was careless.

The three things to check:

  1. Check that you haven’t made mistakes when writing the characters – depending on level and grader, you could lose up to two marks for wrong characters (or 10% of the comprehension score!!). Whenever a student copies wrong (照抄都能抄错), it makes a teacher sad so please be careful!
  2. Check that what you wrote fully answers the question; if it’s a two part question, have we answered both parts? If it is a two mark question, does our answer have two points?
  3. Check if there is irrelevant information in our answer that might be penalised

P5 CASE STUDY – 阅读理解

学校举行庆祝活动,老师让同学们表演音乐剧,她安排每个同学扮演一个角色。

玛丽回到家后,就一直站在窗前看着外面的大雨。妈妈看到她闷闷不乐的样子,便问道:“你看起来很不开心,发生了什么事?”玛丽答道:“老师让我演狐狸,可我不会演狐狸,我想放弃演出。”

 妈妈指了指窗外的雨,问玛丽:“雨声好听吗?”玛丽点点头。妈妈说:“雨点原本是没有声音的。雨点想要落到地面,有时却没办法直接到达地面,会遇到石头、屋顶等障碍物。但是,雨点仍然勇敢地落下来,与障碍物碰撞,发出声音。我们因此才能听到好听的雨声。”妈妈拍拍玛丽的肩膀,又说:“我们要像雨点一样,勇敢地克服困难。虽然你不会演狐狸,但是你只要肯付出努力,就一定能够演好这个角色,最终赢得喝彩。”玛丽眼前一亮,说:“妈妈,我知道该怎么做了。”

玛丽抓紧时间练习。她查找有关狐狸的视频,学习狐狸说话的语气、神态和动作,不断地模仿练习,改进自己的表演。

演出当天,玛丽扮演的狐狸受到同学们的称赞。从此,玛丽遇到困难时,也会勇敢接受挑战,努力克服困难

The first two questions are worth two marks each, and requires us to look for a synonym in the passage based on the keywords in the question.

The general approach for the first two vocabulary questions is the following:

  1. Underline keywords in the questions
  2. Based on the keywords and our initial skim of the passage, try to think about what are potential answers
  3. When doing a detailed read of the passage, look for the correct answer

Q1. 文中形容“用坚强的意志和力量战胜或消除”的词语是:

Answer: 克服

We underline the keywords 坚强 and 战胜, which hints to us that the answer is probably related to being resilient and overcoming something (e.g. difficulty). We pick up on the phrases 努力克服困难 and 勇敢地克服困难, and arrive at the answer 克服. 

Q2. 文中形容“大声叫好”的词语是:

Answer: 喝彩

We underline the keywords 大声叫好, so we know we are looking for a situation where people are cheering, which bring us to the phrase 最终赢得喝彩

This question is harder as the term 喝 has multiple meanings and pronunciation (多音字). Most students will automatically think of “to drink – hē” but it has another meaning “to shout – hè”.

Q3. 玛丽闷闷不乐原因是什么? (2 marks)

Answer: 因为老师安排玛丽在音乐剧表演中扮演狐狸,玛丽不会演狐狸,想要放弃演出。

Reading the question, we know we are looking for a reason for why Mary is unhappy, and look for 闷闷不乐 or a similar phrase in the passage.

Just like the question we previously encountered in our lower-primary comprehension case-study, we need to convert what Mary said to reported speech.

However, since this is a two mark question, we expect to furnish two points, while Mary’s speech about wanting to give up as she doesn’t want to perform the fox role is just one point.

We notice there is more relevant information from paragraph 1 about Mary’s teacher organising a musical that is not reflected in Mary’s speech. If we leave that out, we won’t get full marks.

Pro Tip: Upper Primary questions tend to require students to piece together information from different paragraphs, so students need to read and answer carefully!

Q4. 玛丽认为雨声好听吗?妈妈告诉玛丽雨声是怎样产生的?

Answer: 玛丽认为雨声好听。妈妈告诉玛丽,雨点想要落到地面,有时却没办法直接到达地面,会遇到了石头、屋顶等障碍物。但是雨点仍然勇敢地落下来,与障碍物碰撞,发出声音。

There are always questions with “free marks” for students – this is one of them.

Potential areas where students might lose marks on this question are a) only answering one of the two questions, b) not converting from directed speech to reported speech, and c) writing characters wrongly.

Q5. 玛丽为什么眼前一亮

Answer: 因为玛丽从妈妈鼓励的话语中,明白了自己要像遇到石头、屋顶等障碍物的雨点一样,勇敢地克服困难,为演出付出努力,最终也能赢得喝彩,所以她眼前一亮。

The question asks us why Mary’s eyes shone. We look for the keyword 眼前一亮 in the passage, and notice it precedes Mary saying she knows what to do. So what does she know to do?

The same paragraph involves a dialogue between Mary and her mom, where her mom tells her a story about raindrops and overcoming difficulty. This is where it gets slightly tricky – most of the conversation is in reported speech, and some of the information in the paragraph is not directly relevant to the question.

If your child “copies and pastes” the entire paragraph without omitting irrelevant information and without converting to reported speech, he or she might be penalised.

Q6. 玛丽之后是怎么做的?她的表演结果怎么样?

Answer: 玛丽抓紧时间练习,她查找有关狐狸的视频,学习狐狸说话的语气、神态和动作,不断地模仿练习,改进自己的表演。最终,她的表演受到同学们的称赞。

This question is quite simple but note that it has two parts, and students need to make sure they fully answer both parts to get full credit.

In particular, as most of the answer comes from paragraph 4, a common mistake is for students to copy and paste from paragraph 4 and neglect to include the information from paragraph five that she received compliments from her classmates.

Q7. 如果你是玛丽,听了妈妈的鼓励,你会像玛丽那样做吗为什么

Potential Answer: 如果我是玛丽,听了妈妈的鼓励后,我会像玛丽那样做。因为遇到困难时,我们不能逃避,要勇敢地接受挑战,最终克服困难。如果我们克服了所有困难,我们的人生就会越来越精彩。(答案合理即可)

The final question is usually the hardest as it requires students to understand the passage and then reflect on it. In this question, we are asked what we would do if we were Mary and why.

Rule of thumb: if the subject of the question is doing something morally correct (like Mary), you are highly highly encouraged to say you will do the same thing, while if the subject is doing something wrong, say you will not do the same thing because doing so will lead to negative consequences. Moral relativism does not exist for primary school comprehension!!

Generally speaking, most students are comfortable with describing or summarising what happened in the passage, but lose marks when it comes to reflecting.

Usually in class, we ask students to first recall when they were in a similar situation, and reflect about the experience. However, more often than not, students will say they have never been in a similar situation, and find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist.

This doesn’t only apply to comprehension – one of the PSLE oral topics this year was about cleaning your room, and if a child has never had to clean his room before, would she be able to reflect on it? Unfortunately there isn’t a silver bullet for such questions besides practice as they require not only language skills, but the ability to reflect or 举一反三.

Typically, there are two ways to get better at such questions: the first is to practice a lot of comprehension questions as there are common patterns (at KidStartNow’s enrichment classes, we practise 1-2 comprehension passages a week).

The second way is for parents to read fables or stories with our children and then ask them for their thoughts afterwards. Or to have regular discussion sessions with our children in Chinese. Many of these reflection questions tend to have a moral message, and the more our children practise, the better they get at answering such questions. 

SUMMARY

Chinese Comprehension can appear to be extremely complex, but given the proper techniques and vocabulary foundation, any child can tackle it.

Lastly, if you are looking for help with Chinese, KidStartNow runs weekly Chinese enrichment classes that combine time-tested teaching methods with proprietary AI technology to make learning Chinese effective and engaging. 

We are recommended by 20+ parent bloggers and 95% of our parents continue with us every term because they see their children improve week after week, month after month. We provide physical N2-P6 classes at Bedok and online P3-P6 classes, and please leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

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