As a maths tutor, part of my job is to source for suitable assessment books and learning material from book stores and websites for my students. The quality of these materials need to be good and they should not be too pricey.
As parents with primary school children, faced with so many choices for assessment books, buying the right ones for our kids can be a hit-or-miss thing. Even if we don’t mind spending more, we also understand that our kids have limited time and energy. It is important to know which books to buy and to use.
In this article, I am going to share what I know about primary level books, so that parents like me can be less confused when shopping for suitable assessment books for our kids.
What do I look out for?
There are a few better known publishers in Singapore when it comes to maths assessment books. Shinglee is one which I grew up with. Other ones I’ll also consider are Marshall Cavendish, EPH, GLM and Casco.
Sticking with established publishers has an advantage because their writers and editors are more experienced. The quality of questions and solutions is usually reliable. The last thing we want is to get a book with so many errors that it confuses our kids.
WHO IS THE AUTHOR?
There are a few maths assessment book authors who wrote very excellent books. Their books have since become classics, which go through many revisions. Their expertise in the syllabus and in how to communicate clearly to kids are what makes them best-selling authors, and I really like that.
Examples of such “Hall of Fame” authors are Andrew Er, Dr Yeap Ban Har, Loh Cheng Yee, Li Fanglan, Bernice Lau Pui Wah. These authors are like stamps of quality to me, so if I see their books, I will very likely buy it if it’s suitable.
WHAT IS THE FOCUS?
Without going into too much technical details, assessment books in Popular bookstores and Times bookstores can be classified into four categories:
Maths Olympiad books: These focus on topics from Maths Olympiad syllabus, which is one of the challenging maths competitions in the world. This category of books is great if your kids are already cruising through most maths assessment books, otherwise they may be overkills for your kids.
Topical books: These focus on teaching the topics as they are taught in schools. Examples are “Addition”, “Subtraction”, “Time”, “Money”, “Angles” etc. These are great to get the basic concepts right.
Heuristics books: These focus on various word problems and techniques to solve them. You will see technical sounding chapters like “Remainder Concept”, “Unchanged Difference”, “Equal Concept”, etc. Each type of problem solving technique might involve a few topics. These are typically considered more advanced maths skills. More students are known to struggle in this aspect than with individual topics.
Practice papers (Topical/Yearly/Past Year): These focus on exam style papers and typically do not offer much guidance. The solutions provided are very detailed though. For example, “Ready For Exams” series by Bernice Lau Pui Wah from Marshall Cavendish have even the marking scheme in the solution, so readers can know how many marks is each step of working worth. These books are essential for getting prepared for exams.
HOW IS THE USABILITY?
An attractive book cover, with vibrant colors and cute cartoon characters, is a strong motivation for children to start using a book.
A highly usable book should have plenty of space in its layout. A cluttered book is a big turn off to many kids, even though to some parents it is “value for money”.
It’s great to have some illustrations in the book to break the monotony. Kids being kids, they need to be entertained to be engaged.
Flip to the back and see the quality of the solutions too. Well-written assessment books usually have detailed, step-by-step solutions provided, not just answers. It is quite pointless to have only answers to the questions because it does not help children to learn HOW to get the answers.
Nowadays some publishers print books with perforations (those little punched dotted line) at the side, so the user can tear off the pages nicely after they finished them. If you can find such books, I do think it’s a good idea to get them, so that your kids don’t have to always lug along a thick and heavy assessment book, but can tear out those to be completed and just work on them. Just make sure they staple the loose sheets after they completed them, and file them properly for revision.
IS THE PRICE REASONABLE?
The price range of a maths assessment is around SGD 10-20. Anything beyond that is considered quite pricey. It is not to say that they are not good, but SGD 10-20 is a guideline. You should still look at the content, and go ahead to buy it if the book is really good for your kids.
Other than buying physical books at the bookstores, there are some excellent online resources for parents of primary students.
This is a website of curated educational books which are found in Singapore bookstores. They are very helpful because the founder took the effort to select higher quality books to be listed on the website. You can use filter to search for suitable books easily, and see a few sample pages of each book to get a feel of the books. The best part is, you can also order the books online and get them delivered to your doorstep. An incredible time saver for busy parents!
These websites have rather up to date CA1, SA1 and SA2 exam papers from many primary schools in Singapore. The quality of the suggested solutions, and even the questions in some cases, are not professional grade, so it’s better to consult professionals if you are in doubt. However, if your purpose is to get free past year exam papers for your kids to try, these websites are really good.
With this simply guide, hopefully concerned parents of primary level children will have an easier time picking the right learning material. It is definitely more important to spend time playing with our children and learning with them, rather than spending time browsing for the right books.