How to Avoid Costly, Careless Mistakes for P2 English Comprehension

comprehension test

English Comprehension is the nightmare of all students – whether they are in Primary, Secondary or Junior College. 

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is a low reading rate amongst the general population (including students). Most people these days prefer online pursuits to reading books. 

According to a National Arts Council (NAC) survey released in 2016, 56 per cent of the general population had not read a literary book over the past one year between March 2014 to March 2015 (sample size: 1,015 Singaporeans and permanent residents).

From our experience, almost all (9 out of 10) students have a hard time trying to understand what they have read and how to go about answering comprehension questions.

That’s why it is not uncommon to hear of students struggling to pass Comprehension, and it gets worse as they move up the levels because the proportion of Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Questions increases correspondingly. 

HOT Questions are much more demanding as they require students to read within and between the lines to unpack the hidden meanings of the writer. In other words, students need to infer and not just merely copy and paste their answer from the passage. 

For Primary School students, Comprehension is an important component of Paper 2.

The Total marks for Paper 2 is 95 marks – of which: Visual Text Comprehension is 8 marks and Comprehension OE is 20 marks. 

This means that Comprehension makes up 28 out of 95 marks or close to 30% (one-third) of the entire paper.

Any student who is gunning for their Distinction (AL1-3) must therefore do well in the Comprehension component.

Having worked with thousands of students over the last 8 years, my Team and I have developed deep insights into the careless and costly mistakes which are often committed by students.

So if you are a concerned parent who wants to help your child do much better in Reading Comprehension, you must advise your child to avoid these careless and costly mistakes.

Careless Mistake 1: Jumping The Gun When Answering The Questions

One of the common mistakes which students make when answering Comprehension Questions is that they jump to their own conclusions without any basis for their conclusions.

What this means is they are not answering the question at all even when they think they are.

Let’s take a look at the following example:

Sam did not dare to face his parents. He had let them down once more. Maybe he should not have played computer games the night before. Maybe he should have paid more attention to what his teacher was teaching in class
Question: Why do you think Sam did not dare to face his parents?
Answer (Wild Guess): He was playing computer games the night before when he should be doing his homework.

Teacher’s Comments: 

This answer (“he should be doing his homework”) is not accepted because there are no CLUES in the text which supports this idea. 

In other words, it is a WILD GUESS (“anyhow” guess) – the student gives an answer based on his own knowledge or perhaps personal experience (maybe the student often plays games when he should doing his homework) instead of an answer which is based on the CLUES given by the Writer in the text.

Given CLUES are: 

  • “did not dare to face” →  fear 
  • “let them down” → disappoint
  • “once more” → not the first time
  • “the night before” → perhaps the eve of a test or exam?
  • “should have paid more attention… in class” → distracted / unfocused when he should be learning 

Therefore, a LOGICAL ANSWER which is accepted will be:

  • His exam grades had fallen short of his parents’ expectation again. OR
  • He had probably failed his exams again.

Note: A Logical Answer is an answer which is supported by clues from the passage.


So now that you know this, how can you help your child?

When answering comprehension answers, your child needs to give an answer that is based on the clues given in the text and not based on their own knowledge, experiences or thinking.

Remind your child not to be too quick in giving an answer until he/she has read the text closely for all the given clues.

Careless Mistake 2: Giving Vague Answers

The second careless mistake which many students often commit is a ‘spin-off’ from the first mistake.

Let’s take a look at the following answer for the same question:

Sam did not dare to face his parents. He had let them down once more. Maybe he should not have played computer games the night before. Maybe he should have paid more attention to what his teacher was teaching in class.
Question: Why do you think Sam did not dare to face his parents?
Answer (Vague): He had done something wrong

Teacher’s Comments: 

In this instance, the word “something” is vague and imprecise.

The “something” could mean different scenarios here to different people:

  • Maybe he broke his parents’ favourite vase?
  • Maybe he stole his parents’ money?
  • Perhaps he snuck out late at night when he was supposed to be asleep?

As you can see, there are a whole lot of possibilities here and that’s why such answers will not be accepted by the PSLE markers.

If your child is making such mistakes in his comprehension, advise him/her to:

  1. Eliminate the use of imprecise words from their answers (e.g. “someone”, “something”, “somewhere” and even the word “how”.)
  2. Be super specific when giving an answer – and that means to give an answer which is clear to the PSLE markers and gives no room for doubt or misinterpretations.

Careless Mistake 3: Not Knowing The Difference Between Literal v.s. Inference Questions

Comprehension Questions are not made equal.

Questions may be broadly categorised into Literal and Inferential levels.

  • Literal Level Questions: answers may be found directly from a careful reading of the text (passage) itself – such answers are often obvious because of the surface meanings.
  • Inferential Level Questions: clues may be found in the passage but not the answer itself – answer has to be inferred from the given clues because of hidden meanings. In other words, the answer will come from our mind (via logical guesses) but not directly from the passage

The problem we’ve noticed is that many students have not been taught to differentiate questions between the Literal and Inference levels. 

Many students do not know how to recognise different question types, and as a result, they simply answer comprehension questions as if they were all literal in nature.

As you can imagine, this “copy & paste” strategy, without any thinking strategy, will result in precious marks being lost for your child!

Let’s take another close look at the same question so that we know why this may be an area of concern:

Sam did not dare to face his parents. He had let them down once more. Maybe he should not have played computer games the night before. Maybe he should have paid more attention to what his teacher was teaching in class.
Question: Why do you think Sam did not dare to face his parents?

Answer (Obvious): He had played computer games the night before. OR

Answer (Obvious): He did not pay attention to what his teacher was teaching in class.

Teacher’s Comments: 

The phrase “Why do you think…” already suggests to us that this question is Inference in nature and not Literal – not to be confused with the Literal “WHY” Question – the word “THINK” is a hint that students must give an answer from their MIND / THINKING.

Another phrasing which is commonly used for Inferential Level Question is “How do you know” – again, the word “know” suggests that the answer must come from our mind and not from the passage.

Therefore, both answers above will be marked as wrong because students have just ‘copied’ and ‘pasted’ an answer from the passage, when they are actually expected to come up with an answer from their mind.


Likewise, students should not make the question more difficult than it is when they are tackling a Literal Question where a direct answer is expected of them; they should not up the difficulty of the question to an Inference level by putting themselves through the whole thinking process of making a logical guess.

Parents, as you can see, it is highly important for your child to be able to identify the Question Level so that they can answer to the requirements/demands of the question.

All these mistakes are extremely costly and students will lose a lot of marks in the process!

So parents, if your child ever tells you that they were just being careless, you need to rationalise with them that there’s no such thing as a careless mistake – only a right answer or a wrong answer. A careless mistake results in a wrong answer. 

As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me”.

The next time your child receives his Comprehension test or exam paper from school, go through the questions carefully with them so that they can LEARN and GROW from their mistakes.

When your child starts cultivating a habit of avoiding these mistakes in his comprehension, it will save them precious marks – and these marks could mean the difference between a B from a C or an A from a B.

At EduEdge, all our students taught how to identify the different comprehension questions and how to answer them effectively

On top of that, all our students are equipped with a Comprehension ‘Cheat’ Sheet which helps them easily recognise the different Comprehension Levels! 

Eduedge offers English tuition for all levels. If you are searching for English tutors, look no further, we specialise in PSLE, O-level english tuition and A level english tuition. Our tuition teachers are a blend of MOE-certified and full-time tutors prepared to equip students with the confidence to understand English. 

For the betterment of our students, we provide comprehensive teaching materials in all components such as reading, speaking, vocab, writing, listening and grammar, core components of the examinations. More importantly, we offer customised diagnostics and personalised feedback, as we value understanding through the lens of the student and the English tuition Singapore environment. 
(​​Book a free diagnostic consult assessment for your child worth $158 for free!)

Start your English learning journey today by contacting us. Help will be available beyond class hours through Whatsapp or face to face consultations.


comprehension test
About the Author

Teacher Edwin

During his time as a student, Edwin struggled with the English Language, and was often told by his teachers that he had to “feel the language” or “practise more”… even though he was already ploughing through tons of English Assessment books!

Which is why, more than anybody else, he understands the uphill challenges and frustrations your child feels when trying to master English!

This is what motivated him to develop the <Formula-Style> method of learning English to help students learn English in an easier and more effective way, just like solving Math or Science questions!

Together with the EduEdge Team of Language Specialists, this unique and proven method has successfully transformed the grades of more than 2,500+ students from over 150 schools across Singapore to date, with a 94.5% improvement rate and 72.1% achieving Bs and As for the Primary, Secondary and Junior College Levels!