Difficult PSLE exam questions

Nothing is certain except death and taxes. However, if you’re a 12-year-old in Singapore, then you can throw PSLE into the mix as well. Not only is it the first major exam of our lives, it has evolved to test our IQ and creative thinking over the years – these six difficult PSLE questions will not only test your knowledge, but also challenge your creativity and critical thinking.

Even if it’s been a decade since you’ve completed primary school and think that your childhood nightmare can’t possibly hurt you anymore, think again – these difficult PSLE exam questions might just give you those pre-exam jitters once more.

Psst – if these questions are proving a little too tough, scroll to the bottom of this article to access Geniebook’s free strengths analysis to help your children understand how to learn better.

– Math PSLE questions –

1. 2019

Jamie and Oliver used $61.20 each to buy some egg tarts. Jamie had a 15% discount coupon and bought six more egg tarts than Oliver.

a) How many egg tarts did Jamie buy?
b) What is the cost of an egg tart without the discount?


a) 40 egg tarts
b) $1.80


From grocery shopping to maxing out our savings when checking out our online haul, adults regularly juggle percentages – so this question might seem trivial on the surface. Most would see immediately that Jamie’s 15% savings has enabled her to purchase six additional egg tarts.

15% of Jamie’s money = 6 egg tarts

100% of Jamie’s money = 6/15 x 100 egg tarts = 40 egg tarts (a)

Oliver on the other hand, could only purchase 40 – 6 = 34 full-priced egg tarts

As such, each full-priced egg tart costs $61.20 / 34 egg tarts = $1.80 (b)

This question requires mastery of the concept of percentages and keeping track of the different intermediate values before arriving at the final answers. In fact – all the colleagues we posed this question to had gotten at least one part of the question wrong due to slip-ups. Just imagine the poor primary school kid staring at this question in a frigid exam hall as time ticks away. 

2. 2020

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Image credit: Geniebook


a) 3.769 metres


With a plain diagram and a single figure to work with, this question might look like a straightforward geometry problem – but most students would get stuck right from the get-go.

To solve this problem, they would have to work backwards from the circles, instead of starting with the figure given for the perimeter. 

Looking at the top and bottom benches, it’s easy to see that the lengths of each bench are four times the radius of each table, or 4r

Looking at the benches on the sides, we can deduce that the breadth of each bench is r. This lets us find the perimeter ABCD in terms of r:

6 metres = 20r

From here, we can see that the diameter of a table, 2r is 0.6 metres. This, multiplied by 𝝿 gives a circumference of 1.884 for a single table, or 3.769 metres for both round tables.

– English PSLE questions –

3. 2017

1. Mother suggests that Mark _______ part-time on Saturdays.

(1) work
(2) worked
(3) works
(4) were working

2. Wayne said it was essential that Jacob _______ the treasure.

(1) guard
(2) are guarding
(3) guards
(4) were guarding

3. It is imperative that the trial _______ at once.

(1) begin
(2) began
(3) begins
(4) begun

Answer: Option (1) for all three questions


While we might intuitively choose (3) for all three questions, these questions actually test your understanding of the subjunctive mood. This refers to hypothetical statements like suggestions and proposals, e.g. Mother suggests that Mark work part-time on Saturdays, as compared to the more matter-of-fact statement in the indicative moodMark works part-time on Saturdays

An easy way to grasp this concept is to rephrase each statement so they’re simpler:

  1. Mother wants Mark to work part-time on Saturdays.
  2. Wayne wants Jacob to guard the treasure.
  3. The trial must begin at once.

4. 2019

Choose the option that matches the underlined word most closely:

Mrs Li stared at the gift from her grandson. She could not figure out what it was. It was the size of her thumb, black and rectangular. Handling it gingerly, Mrs Li tried to no avail to open it. She placed the device back on the table, sceptical that it was of any use.

(1) wary
(2) doubtful
(3) suspicious
(4) incredulous

Answer: Option (2), doubtful


In this case, both options (2) and (3) may seem possible at first glance. The careful reader, however, would infer from the first sentence that a gift from one’s grandson would hardly raise any red flags for anyone to feel suspicious. Therefore, (2) should be the correct answer.

– Science PSLE questions –

5. 2020

Malaria is a disease spread by mosquito A. Children infected with malaria are found to be bitten more often by mosquito A.

Joel wanted to find out if children infected with malaria are more attractive to mosquito A due to a certain smell that they produce. He used the set-up shown with 20 of mosquito A in box P.

geniebook - psle science

Joel counted the number of times mosquitoes landed on the shirt for three minutes. He repeated the experiment using another shirt worn by an uninfected child in box Q.

(i) Joel used white shirts instead of black shirts for the experiment. Suggest why using white shirts allows him to obtain more accurate results.


Since mosquitos are black in colour, black shirts would have made the mosquitos harder to spot and count. On the other hand, white shirts provide better contrast, making the mosquitos more visible and easy to count.


Unlike typical Science questions that test our memory of facts and figures, this problem puts students in the shoes of a scientist and tests students’ creative thinking, logical reasoning and visualisation skills.

6. 2019

Study the set-up. The volume of the container is 50CM³.

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Using the pump, 5CM³ of water and 10CM³ of air are added into the container.

What is the final amount of air in the container?

(1) 20CM³
(2) 30CM³
(3) 35CM³
(4) 45CM³

Answer: 30CM³


Air can be compressed, whereas water – and all liquids – cannot be compressed. When 5CM³ of water was added to the container, the amount of space left for the air was reduced by 5CM³. 

While not a particularly hard question, students would need to be familiar with the properties of gases to tackle this question. Students need to carefully read the question to see that it essentially asks for the remaining space left for air to occupy.

Preparing your child for the future with Geniebook

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Challenging PSLE questions like these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Singapore’s evolving educational syllabus. With the pressure of performing well in school, Geniebook helps to make revision and learning as efficient and fun as possible, while equipping students to tackle difficult questions from increasingly complicated topics. 

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Instead of trudging through countless worksheets and drills late into the night to prepare for examinations, Geniebook uses AI to create personalised assessments while providing real-time feedback so students can zoom in on the main areas for improvement. 

To get started, students complete a diagnostic worksheet for the system to generate a profile of their strengths and weaknesses. This way, worksheets and assignments are more targeted at these areas. Tutors, parents and students can also better understand the learning progress as exams draw close. 

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For a quick way to tackle these weak areas, Geniebook also compiles mistakes made over the past two weeks into a revision worksheet, to help build extra confidence as students correct and overcome them. 

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Leeann, a mother of a primary school student, found Geniebook’s teachers extremely approachable and energetic, which helped her son to stay focused during lessons. 

During the online classes, I noticed that the Geniebook teachers took the time to address all the students, and were always ready to offer encouragement when they observe good behaviour. To help break up the monotony, the English teachers actively scribes, allowing us to focus on the key learning points.” 

But apart from the proactive and positive team of teachers, Leeann also liked how it was convenient to access Geniebook on the move on a tablet or laptop. 

The app also allows me to monitor my son’s progress, and each time he completes an assignment, I instantly receive guided answer sheets that help me guide his revision,” Leeann shares. Geniebook also keeps him excited to attend classes, submit worksheets and answer quizzes because he can win Nerf guns and other prizes when he collects Bubble Points.”

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An easy-to-use chart helps both child and parent to track progress for different topics and subjects

To further motivate learning, there is a rewards system where students can earn BubblePoints and redeem special prizes on Geniebook’s Bubble Store. Points can be earned by completing worksheets, answering Bubble Questions during a live online lesson, or completing fun quizzes on the Geniebook Telegram channel.

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For extra motivation, the Bubble Store features trendy and attractive prizes in partnership with Lazada and Shopee.

Singapore’s national exams have come a long way from simply testing our memorisation – now, our logic and creativity are also put to the test. For an efficient and effective way to get up to speed with the syllabus, Geniebook’s innovative AI and a team of dedicated teachers is a surefire way to build confidence – perhaps to tackle some of these most difficult PSLE questions.

Register for a complimentary Strengths Analysis on Geniebook here 

This post was brought to you by Geniebook.
Photography by Clement Sim.

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