Having taught several cohorts of primary school graduating classes, I have amassed quite a few tips and strategies that can be used for revision right before your PSLE English papers (or any upper primary English exams for that matter).

This may be construed as ‘spotting’ questions, but these questions are repeated in almost every English exam for a reason. Kids keep getting them wrong!

Let’s start with the basics.

Popular Grammar Questions:

1.The ‘as well as’ and ‘together with’ Puzzle

Bala, as well as his friends, LOVES to roller-blade every weekend.

The girls, together with their friends, LOVE to go shopping every weekend.

Basically, IGNORE what goes on between the commas. No matter how many friends Bala has, it is ONLY BALA who loves to rollerblade. BUT if the subject is PLURAL (girls), then the GIRLS love to go shopping

2. Who? Whom? Whose????

Not sure when to use ‘who’, ‘whom’ or ‘whose’? Follow this simple flowchart!

3. Nobody’s PERFECT

The Perfect tenses stump even adults. Here’s a simple way to remember them.

This tense indicates either that an action was completed (finished or “perfected”) at some point in the past or that the action extends to the present:

Present perfect (since)

– Has (singular)

– Have (plural)

– Has / have + Verb in past participle (swim, swam, SWUM)

e.g. He has not eaten his lunch since yesterday.

e.g. They have watched the movie.

Past Perfect

– Had

When 2 events occur in the past, the first action must be in Past Perfect (had + past participle)

When there are TWO past tense verbs in the sentence

e.g. When the police arrived at the scene, the robbers had fled

4. Sensory / Causative Verbs

Now this one’s a doozy. Comes out EVERY year, in EVERY school English test and STILL kids get it wrong. And some adults too.

Here are a couple of exercises for you to try your hand on!

  1. I helped my mother (bake / bakes / baked / baking) a cake yesterday.
  2. My friend let me (kick / kicks / kicked / kicking) his football last week.
  3. Jia Jun made Xie Feng (cried / cries / cry / crying) today.

What answers did you get?

5, Simon says, “Put your right foot in.” – Reported Speech / Indirect Speech

One of the most popular Synthesis/Transformation type of questions. Doesn’t appear EVERY year, but teachers still make it a point to drill, drill and DRILL!

The FOUR things you need to change for REPORTED SPEECH.

i) CHANGE VERBS – TENSES (I make my students repeat this as a mantra: present to past, past to past perfect – past perfect MUST HAVE ‘HAD’)

ii) CHANGE TIME – (tomorrow to the next day)

iii) CHANGE PLACE (here, there, this, that, these, those)

iv) CHANGE PRONOUNS (I, you, they, we etc)

If the direct speech is in a Question form – use IF not WHETHER (most kids misspell ‘whether’ to ‘weather’ or ‘wheather’ or some other unreadable form. SAVE TIME WITH JUST TWO LETTERS!

e.g. Mr. Lam asked Maria, “Did you have a good time at the zoo yesterday?”

What would be your answer in INDIRECT speech?



If your questions contain these key words:

  1. Did + have = had had
  • g. Mr. Lam asked Maria, “Did you have a good time at the zoo yesterday?”
  • Lam asked Maria if she had had a good time at the zoo the previous day.

Had = had had

e.g. Jaydem told Maria, “I had chicken rice for dinner last night.”

e.g. Jaydem told Maria that he had had chicken rice for dinner the night before.

6. Transformers! ROLL OUT!

Transformation questions are extremely, extremely popular nowadays for Synthesis/Transformation. Students with weaker vocabulary have a particularly hard time with this, as they have no idea how to contort the given question into a form stipulated by the provided hint.

This questions include expressions like ‘Much to…’, ‘Due to…’, ‘Because of…’, ‘Despite…’ and more. They usually involve a transformation of an ADJECTIVE into a NOUN. Here are some common transformation words.

Because (cause and effect)

This is a short cut I used to teach my weaker students:

When faced with Cause and Effect type of questions, i.e. Due to, Because of, As a result of, Despite, In spite of etc…


e.g. The man was fired from his job. He was lazy.

Ans: The man was fired from his job due to the fact that he was lazy.

Due to the fact that the man was lazy, he was fired from his job.

This works in most cases, unless a pronoun is inserted in the answer line.

Due to his/her/my …………..(cannot use ‘the fact that’)

7. In the Mood for…

Subjunctive mood

In English, the subjunctive mood is used to explore conditional or imaginary situations. It can be tricky to use, which partially explains why many speakers and writers forgo it. But it’s quite useful (and aesthetically pleasing, at least to us), and careful users of English should do their part to preserve it.

It is most often found in a clause beginning with the word if. It is also found in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.

These are verbs typically followed by clauses that take the subjunctive:

ask, demand, determine, insist, move, order, pray, prefer, recommend, regret, request, require, suggest, and wish.

In English there is no difference between the subjunctive and normal, or indicative, form of the verb except for the present tense third person singular and for the verb to be.

The subjunctive for the present tense third person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else.

The subjunctive mood of the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is.

Uses of the subjunctive mood

Incorrect: If I was you, I would run.

Correct: If I were you, I would run.
(The verb follows if and expresses a non-factual condition.)

Incorrect: I wish he was able to type faster.

Correct: I wish he were able to type faster.
(The second verb is in a clause following a verb expressing a wish. It also suggests a non-factual or doubtful condition.)

Incorrect: His requirement is that everyone is computer literate.

Correct: His requirement is that everyone be computer literate.
(Subordinate clause follows main clause with a demand.)

Incorrect: He recommended that each driver reports his tips.

Correct: He recommended that each driver report his tips.

Incorrect: I suggest that he implements a budget cut in March.

Correct: I suggest that he implement a budget cut in March.


  1. Check the sentence to see if it is in the PAST or PRESENT tense.

e.g. The boy kicked the ball into the goal yesterday. (past)

e.g. The boy goes to school every day. (present)

2. Check for agreement (singular noun/verb or plural noun/verb)

e.g. The boy (singular) goes to school every day.

e.g. The boys (plural) go to school every day.

9. Tricky Synthesis / Transformation Questions

No sooner had…than…

  • This is essentially a sequencing sentence. All it means is no sooner had (incident happened) THAN (another incident happens)
  • Note that ‘THAN’ is used rather than ‘THEN’ as it compares 2 incidents.
  • Note that Past Perfect is used, so HAD + Verb (past participle)
  • g. No sooner had the referee blown his whistle than the match commenced.


  • Lest is used in place of IN CASE, or TO AVOID, usually something undesirable happening if something is not done.
  • Lest is ALWAYS followed by the verb in the subjunctive (infinite form – no ‘s’ no ‘ed’ no ‘ing’)
  • Close the windows lest the floor GET wet.
  • Do not provoke Kevin, lest he TAKE offense.

Having / Not having / Had

  • These 3 are all about Perfect tenses (Present – having/not having and Past – Had) so they are ALL followed by the Verb in the Past Participle e.g. Having done / Not having done, Had he done…
  • Having / Not Having is tricky with some students because it’s not a commonly used structure in daily speech.
  • (Having / Not having) are Present Perfect and are followed by the verb in the past participle
  • Having done his homework, Eli had time to watch a movie
  • Not having done his homework, Eli did not have time to watch a movie.
  • (Had) is Past Perfect but it is also followed by a past participle verb.
  • Had Eli done his homework, he would have time to watch a movie.

Much to, It was with, Out of…

  • These are ALL transformation questions.
  • That usually means ONE of the adjectives or adverbs in the sentence NEEDS to be transformed into a NOUN.
  • One easy way to test is to insert a WHAT into the sentence. The word WHAT tells you there is a noun!
  • Much to (whose – subject) WHAT
  • It was with WHAT
  • Out of WHAT
  • g. John was curious. He investigated the weird sound.
  • Answer: Much to John’s curiosity, he investigated the weird sound.
  • Answer: It was with curiosity that John investigated the weird sound.
  • Answer: Out of curiosity, John investigated the weird sound.


Share this Post