Transitioning into Secondary Chinese

PSLE is drawing to a close and your child will enter Secondary One in just a few months' time.


Many parents are looking to give their children (and themselves) a break after a year long of PSLE preparation.


However, those parents who have children already in secondary school know very well that this is not the time to let loose.


How can (insert child's name) fail his Chinese? He got an A for PSLE!


Every year, first time parents of Secondary One students often get a bad shock when their children come home feeling demoralised after getting their first D7 or E8 for Chinese. The parents had earlier thought that their children, who had passed Chinese at P6/PSLE level (between C to A), would score decently in Secondary One. To their great horror, that has usually not been the case. After two and a half months of post PSLE fun and games, their children could only read P3-4 words. Some not even P3 words. Adding on to the severity of the issue, are the major changes in syllabus from Primary School Chinese to Secondary School Chinese.


Let's take a look at the difference between Primary School Chinese and Secondary School Chinese.


Paper 1 Composition: Recommended word count

Comparison of Primary and Secondary Chinese compo word count
Comparison of Primary and Secondary Chinese compo word count

Comparison between Primary and Secondary Chinese compo
Comparison between Primary and Secondary Chinese compo

Paper 2 components (picture below)

Comparison between Primary and Secondary Chinese Paper 2 components
Comparison between Primary and Secondary Chinese Paper 2 components

In Primary School Chinese, a greater emphasis is placed on word recognition and students can score a pass or a decent grade just by doing well in Paper 2 Booklet A (MCQ questions). Usually, this means that they are able to recognise standard word matches (词语搭配) within the limited textbook syllabus.


However, as sentence construction (造句) is not an emphasis in most parts of the Primary School Chinese syllabus, most students have not mastered the use of the vocabulary. Many think that Chinese vocabulary can be used in the way as English sentences. This is a fundamentally wrong concept. Try translating the following examples (from past year's Secondary One students) to understand why.


How do you say "My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when people started shouting" in Chinese?

How do you say "Leave no man behind" in Chinese?

How do you say "I must stand up for yourself?" in Chinese?

Forms of expression cannot be directly translated from English to Chinese all the time, in fact most of the time. Students need to be constantly guided to "think and write in the Chinese way".


Secondly, one of the most common ways to do adequately well for PSLE oral and composition is to memorise good words and phrases, opening paragraphs and closing paragraphs by heart. However, if most students are asked to express their opinions about their daily lives, current affairs and after thoughts about an article, I am confident that more than 90% of them will be lost for words.


In Secondary School Chinese syllabus, this is exactly what is being tested.


Paper 1: Email Writing 电邮


In term 1, Secondary One students will commence on Chinese email writing. Themes being tested are in accordance with the new Chinese textbook syllabus (华文伴我行) that was launched in 2020. They are namely:

  • School Life 新同学 新鲜事

  • Chinese Culture and Heritage 团圆

  • Singapore Culture and Development 相约狮城

  • Values 习惯的力量

  • Innovation and Change 创新与改变

  • Unsung Heroes 小人物 大贡献

In order to score top marks, your child will be expected to express his or her thoughts and suggestions.


For example:


勇敢踏出舒适区,与他人进行沟通

Courageously step of our comfort zone to communicate with others



促进对各民族文化的认识,让我们迈向一个更和谐的社会

Foster an understanding about the cultures of different races, so that we can march towards a more harmonious society


正所谓:千里之行,积于跬步

As the saying goes, "A thousand mile's journey, accumulating with every step"


Paper 2: Comprehension


For comprehension, Secondary One Chinese passages will not only test students' understanding of the passage content. It will also be testing students' understanding of advanced writing techniques (写作技巧) and literary devices (修辞手法).


In Primary School, typical questions are:


谁偷了小明的书包?为什么?

Who stole Xiao Ming's school bag? Why?


Now, in Secondary School, new "technique questions" arise:


第一段使用了什么描写方式?作用是什么?

What descriptive technique is being used in Paragraph One? What is the effect?


Students are not only required to identify the sentence of the descriptive technique. They are also required to summarise the gist of the context and explain in their own words the effect of the technique being used. This requires students to have a strong ability in expressing their thoughts and ideas in Chinese.


More than 90% of Secondary Chinese assessment books are not in accordance with the latest Chinese syllabus. Why?


  1. If you browse the comprehension books at our local bookstores, you will hardly be able to find comprehension practices with "technique questions". This question type is now a dominant one appearing in Secondary One to Three school Weighted Assessment (WA) and Semestral Assessment (SA) papers. The lack in such question types simply means that students will not get enough exposure and practice to perfect their answering of such questions. (Example as given above) 第一段使用了什么描写方式?作用是什么?What descriptive technique is being used in Paragraph One? What is the effect? Students are not only required to identify the sentence of the descriptive technique. They are also required to summarise the gist of the context and explain in their own words the effect of the technique being used. This requires students to have a strong ability in expressing their thoughts and ideas in Chinese.

  2. 99% of comprehension answers in assessment books are not in accordance with the school's marking scheme. Having taught in schools ourselves, we understand how school teachers set exam papers. There is also a difference between answering techniques taught by teachers who have taught in schools versus those who haven’t. We follow the school standard of answering in a “more comprehensive way”

  3. Answer keys from 90% of books sold at bookstores are inaccurate and written in a manner that intuitive only to a native Chinese speaker. Local students tend to have limited vocabulary and exposure to the Chinese language, hence SLC’s answering techniques are taught in a more manageable way without having students to memorise too many sophisticated idioms and higher order vocabulary.


Paper 1: Composition and the marking scheme


For composition, Secondary One Chinese will no longer feature Picture Composition. All Secondary School Chinese composition questions will be in written form.


For example:


你一直认为自己很脆弱,吃不了苦。经历过一件事后,你发现自己也可以成为一个强者。请写出这件事情的经过以及你的感受。

You always thought that you were weak and could not take hardship. After experiencing an incident, you realised that you are capable of being a strong person. Narrate a story including your thoughts.


Students who have been too reliant on picture composition will find themselves at a loss. All of a sudden, there is not visual stimulus and they are required to use their imagination and complete a story.


To make things more complex, the Secondary Chinese composition marking scheme requires the use of at least two of the following techniques:


  1. 详略得当 The ability to strike a balance in writing, knowing what to express in detail (for example emotions) and what to express in brief (unimportant transitionary actions, for example taking a bus to school)

  2. 描写方式 Descriptive techniques

  3. 修辞手法 Literary techniques

  4. 感想 Thoughts and feelings (moral of the story)


Current Affairs


Living in an endemic Covid-19 world 与病毒共存

Transitioning physically and emotionally into a digital economy 迈向智慧国

Sustainable living 永续生活方式

These are hot topics tested in the Secondary Chinese syllabus and your child is expected to voice his or her opinions about them, quoting real life current affairs examples in their Paper 3 oral conversations and Paper 1 compositions. There are specific keyword and more technical vocabulary they need to learn in order to express themselves adequately.


For example,


正所谓:”天下大事,匹夫有责”,政府吁请大家齐心协力,戴好口罩,做好卫生措施,对抗眼下的疫情。

As the saying goes, "Great events in the world, even the commoners have a responsibility towards." The government calls upon everyone to unite as one, to wear their masks properly, take proper hygiene measures and battle this ongoing epidemic.


250 Secondary Chinese idioms (中学250个成语) and Chinese historical anecdotes (中国历史论据)


While Chinese history and culture are non-examinable in Primary School Chinese, Secondary Chinese comprehension and compositions will feature historical anecdotes and 250 selected Chinese idioms.


Secondary School Chinese teachers will expect students to learn the first 125 idioms in Secondary 1 and the last 125 idioms by the end of Secondary 2. These 250 Secondary Chinese idioms are part of the examination syllabus and will be tested in Paper 2 during school Weighted Assessment (WA) and Semestral Assessment (SA) papers. They are tested on application in the forms of:

  1. Fill in the blanks 成语考查

  2. Cloze passage 选词填空 / 选词填充