Upper Primary, Secondary & JC Level – Bukit Panjang

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Top 10 Factors For Academic Regression

Most parents just think about their child’s progression. Few think about regression. Regression means that the child’s performance, instead of improving, is getting from bad to worse. Here are a few factors that I have noticed from my own teaching experience.

  1. Complacency.

The child was worried about his results because he had been failing his tests and exams. Therefore, he was showing a sense of urgency. However, when his results skyrocketed, he started to grow complacent and relax. Then there are those who started out doing well. They started to think that they know it all. So they started giving short nonchalant answers. They thought that they had already understood the comprehension passage and that their answers were good enough. This type of behaviour is usually the first sign of trouble. Such students will not take their practices seriously. After some time, they develop the habit of giving patronizing answers. When exam time comes, guess what happens? That’s right! They suddenly found that they couldn’t express their answers accurately!

2. Inconsistency.

Time after time, consistency has always proven to work. If your child wants to excel in his or her studies, you can always rely on consistency. I have worked with students who put in consistent effort week after week. Improvements may not be apparent during the first three months of tuition, but I know, for a fact, that it’s only a matter of time before the improvements show through tangible results. For such students, I usually just have to make minor tweaks here and there to keep them on track and before long, they surprise themselves by exceeding their own expectations in the exams. For those who put in effort sporadically, they can only expect their results to go up and down. I call this the “yo-yo” effect. This is a dangerous strategy to adopt as one can do badly for an important exam such as PSLE or the O Levels.

Often times, students have the tendency to react to their test or exam results. If they score well, they slacken. If they score poorly, they work harder. This is reactive and I would like to point out that the level of effort is inconsistent. Unless you are prepared to receive “yo-yo” results, do not be reactive. Stay the course and continue to work harder regardless of poor or good results. Your child’s chances of doing well in an important exam is much higher that way.

3. Irregular attendance.

Irregular lessons are often caused by various reasons. The child may be suffering from poor health. There are too many family events that clash with tuition lessons. The parent wants to give the child breaks. Irregularity breaks momentum. While the child misses lessons, his or her peers are busy attending lessons. For my lessons, they are conducted once a week. So missing a lesson means that I only get to see the child three times in that month. Fortunately, this is not a big issue with most of my students. They do make an effort to attend most of the lessons. Family vacations and social events are important and I do accept those as valid reasons for skipping reasons. However, I draw the line at trivial excuses such as needing more sleep due to overexercising.

4. Giving in to distractions.

From my observations, this is a major struggle for many parents. Parents have to constantly compete with smart devices for their children’s attention. Younger children do not dare to oppose when they have their devices taken away from them. But older children go flare up when they are interrupted when playing their favourite games. For most children, they do not have the self-discipline to stop playing with the devices. Sometimes, even adults can’t stop! That’s how addictive the games are. Game developers are very good at what they do. These games are designed to hook the players and keep them playing as long as possible. If we are not careful, we may very well lose the battle to the game producers.

I recommend parents to set some form of control on the devices. For example, use the kids mode or set a password so that your children have to ask permission if they wish to use the devices. Be mindful when giving children the privilege to play with these devices if they have finished their homework. Lured by temptation, they are likely to just rush through their work so that they can get to their games quicker. It is better to allow them to play with their phones only when you have checked that all their homework is done to your satisfaction.

5. Unrealistic self assessment.

I notice that many students have unrealistic assessments of their own performance. For instance, they may think that they have “done their best”, but when I check their work, I know that they haven’t. Don’t leave your child to do their own assessment! When they tell you that they have “done their best” or they “know all the words” in their exercises, check their work to see if they are telling you the truth. Quite likely, you will find that they only tell you what you want to hear so that they don’t get a scolding.

6. Over-emphasis on certain components.

This happens when the child discovers that he is weak in a particular component – e.g. writing. So he spends almost all his time on improving his writing. When I have students doing that, I notice the inevitable – other components are done poorly during exams. They have become rusty in those neglected components. While it is good to spend more time on a specific component, it is unwise to completely neglect other components. As mentioned, consistency is key. Students are better off cutting back slightly on the workload for the components that they are already good at rather than staying off them completely.

7. Disciplinary issues.

Behavioural issues are major obstacles to learning. These children are just out of control. They don’t listen to anybody. This stems from poor disciplinary practices. It creates the situation where the child is unaware of good and bad behaviour. To these students, they can do anything they want whenever they want without having to face any consequences. These children will continue to regress until they can get some degree of self control. While their standard stay constant, the level of difficulty for their exercises increases as time goes by. Soon, instead of getting a borderline pass, they will wake up one day to discover that their current approach and knowledge is no longer enough to attain a passing mark.

The antidote? Someone must step in to make them learn the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Rules must be established and there should not be empty threats. These students must learn that there are consequences for behaving badly in the real world.

8. Relying on shortcuts.

I once worked with a parent who hinted at teaching her child the commonly set questions in exams. That is like question-spotting – an approach that I disagree with. Needless to say, the assignment was stopped shortly after. Simply put – I don’t teach children to take shortcuts. Instead, I teach them to have the correct work ethic. Shortcuts may work but success is often short-lived. The only way to get good results consistently is to put in consistent hard work, and that cannot be established with a poor work ethic. By teaching shortcuts, I am robbing the child of the opportunity to experience great personal satisfaction by doing well in his exams due to his own hard work. I have no wish to participate in such acts.

9. Motivational issues.

Many students do not yet understand the consequences of getting poor results. If they fail a test, so what? They can always retake the test again. With such a lacklustre attitude, it is very hard to find the motivation to do well academically. Most of my students come from middle class families, which means that these children have nothing to worry about. “Let the parents worry about how to bring the bacon home. That has got nothing to do with me.” That’s the mindset that students possess. Usually, the smarter ones will listen and learn when I talk to them nicely. The more stubborn ones will require more drastic measures – I have to wait for them to do badly in their exams before they become more receptive.

10. Dump that ego!

Humility is a cornerstone of learning. Students who have strong egos become very defensive. They believe so staunchly in their own methods that they refuse to listen to their teachers – or anybody for that matter. What happens is that they usually attain similar results year in and out. This is because they are not open to learning new methods, new approaches, etc. By repeating the same approaches, they are stunting their own progress. Students who develop a very strong ego and hold on to that ego too firmly will soon discover that there is no way forward. They only way forward is to let go of that ego so that they become more receptive to new ideas.

I always encourage students to think less about they want during exams. Think about it. Students who focus on what they want will write answers that they hope the examiners will accept. They want the examiners to accept their point of view. In contrast, students who spend time thinking about what the examiners want will produce more accurate answers. They are therefore more likely to score higher in exams.

To conclude

The above are the top 10 factors that are responsible for regression. These are issues that all parents and teachers have to deal with. Regression is like taking one step forward and two steps back. The net result is a negative one. Coincidentally, I’m also making regression sound like doing some kind of dance like “cha-cha” or “tango”. It’s time to stop the “tango” and get solid progressive results.

Hope this post helps 🙂