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7 Common mistakes made by Singapore students in the English Oral Exams

An English oral exam is an important part of assessing one’s knowledge of English language.

For non-native speakers this part of the exam can be very intimidating, and students in Singapore are not immune to this when they face it first time in the PSLE English Oral examination.

The problem with some Singaporean students is further exacerbated by the fact that many speak the so-called Singlish, which is quite different from the correct English required to ace your oral exams.

The best way to learn is from someone else's mistakes.

This article will demonstrate some of the most common mistakes Singapore students make in the English oral exams, as well as shed light on what needs to be done to avoid making these mistakes in your exam.


1. The issues with accent and pronunciation.

The native languages of Singapore are undoubtedly different from English.

Schools in Singapore tend to put emphasis on accuracy in the written English, and, as a result of this, many Singaporean students speak with strong accents and frequently mispronounce

Evolution is inevitable in any language that gets adopted by a foreign community, and English language is certainly a good example of that.

However, in order to successfully pass the oral exam, students should be able to speak in a way that is agreeable with the native speaker’s ear.

One of the most difficult things for Singaporean students to master is how to pronounce words that contain ‘th’ sounds.

All non-native learners tend to substitute unfamiliar sounds with the ones that exist in their native language. When confronted with the ‘th’ Singapore students can
pronounce it as either /s/, /z/, or /d/ all of which would count as a mistake.


2. Which syllable should be stressed?

There are words in English language that can change meaning depending on the position of the stress (i.e. content, suspect, perfect).

It is important to learn various meanings of such words and make sure you are emphasizing the correct syllable.


3. Not pronouncing the full word.

Another problem with pronunciation is that Singapore students tend to shorten certain words such as ‘cast’, ‘hold’ and ‘act’ and pronounce them ‘ac’, ‘cas’ and ‘hol’. Needless to say, this is a mistake.

In order to overcome all of the aforementioned problems it is recommended to listen to the way native speakers pronounce words and repeat after them.

Today this is easier than it has ever been. You have the power of the internet at your fingertips which grants you access to a large number of video and audio files that can help you with your pronunciation.


4. Shortening sentences.

Chinese is the language that is characterized by efficient sentence structures, and since it has had a heavy influence on Singlish it is not uncommon for Singapore students to omit some of the words in a sentence.

For example instead of saying ‘How can I buy it?’ a Singapore student may say ‘How to buy?’

Although the meaning conveyed in the second sentence is understandable it is not grammatically correct and this way of speaking will definitely not do during your oral examinations.

Another way Singapore students cut corners with the sentences is by using shorter forms of some words.

For instance, a student may say ‘You walk slow’ instead of ‘You walk slowly’ or ‘He shop there’ instead of ‘He shopped there’. Our brains always try to find the most efficient way to perform a task.

And while shortening words and sentences in this manner may do the trick in day-to-day conversations it will definitely make you lose a few points during your oral exam. So, make sure to pay attention to the word forms, as well as to the tenses.


5. Pay attention to the plurals.

Another very common mistake Singapore students make in their English oral exams is pluralising the uncountable nouns.

Some words such as ‘information’ or ‘furniture’ do not have plural forms however some Singapore students tend to stick an ‘s’ at the end of these words when they are speaking fast.

It is important to know which words cannot be pluralized otherwise the examiner will not give you the full marks. It is equally important to know the plural forms of the irregular nouns (e.g. man-men, foot-feet etc.).

In order to make sure you remember these words properly, write out the sentences that contain them and then read them out loudly several times.


6. Articles are not there just for decoration.

To speakers of those languages that forgo articles they may seem like an unnecessary and somewhat decorative feature.

However, in English they may cause the change in meaning and omitting them on purpose is the sign that you do not take studying English seriously.

Your examiner will definitely pick up on the lack of articles in your speech and give you a lower score, so make sure to learn how to use them properly.


7. “Is it?” No, it is not…

We don't know when, we don't know how, but at some point in the history of Singlish the question

‘Is that true?’ got shortened to ‘Is it?’

Today's some students use it as a ubiquitous question tag in many different types of questions.

For example ‘Your friend will be coming here, is it?’, or ‘You are a teacher, is it?’

This types of sentences are unfamiliar to the native speakers so before you enter the room to take your English oral exam make sure to leave ‘Is it?’ at the door.



Although these are the most common mistakes made by Singapore students in English oral exams in PSLE or O levels, this is not a full list of mistakes a student can make.

The nature of mistakes student makes and their number differ from student to student. It depends on their educational background, and on their own personal dedication to studying the language.

Self-motivation is an important part of learning any given language, but in case of speech it is often difficult to objectively tell what mistakes you are making.

Sometimes even your favourite soap operas and films cannot give you the correct answer, so if you are serious about learning how to speak English the right way it would be a good idea to seek the assistance of a professional English language tutor.

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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

We want our readers to expand their horizons by learning more and find meaning to what they learn.

Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.