Top 3 Mistakes Parents & Tutors Make with Singapore Math



Here we will share the top three most significant mistakes we observe both in online parent discussions, the mistakes tutors make, and from the conversations we have with parents when it comes to Singapore Math.


Mistake #3: Not Learning the Bar Model Method for Word Problems

Singapore Math students get introduced to word problems early in the curriculum. From level 2 onwards they are used to seeing all the arithmetic concepts they learn (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.,) within word problem contexts.

In level 3, the students get introduced to multi-step word problems and this is the level when they should be learning and mastering the bar models methods.

Many parents, students, and tutors are not consistent on the bar model:

  1. Because it seems time-consuming and tedious;

  2. Because many students can initially solve the easy problems without the bar models;

  3. Because they don’t know how to teach it;

  4. Because this is not a method they’ve seen in other curriculums.


However, if the bar model method is not learned by level 4 and 5 (especially if you’re using the Dimensions curriculum or doing the Intensive Practice or Challenging Word Problems from the Primary collection) it becomes increasingly difficult to complete the word problems.

Why? By level 4 and 5 the word problems are pre-Algebraic if not out-right Algebraic. If not using the bar model method the only way to solve the problems becomes use of equations (2x +10 = 100).

You can appreciate bar models more if you consider the steps of how Singapore Math teaches math concepts to students: 1) tangible; 2) pictorial; 3) abstract. The bar models are the pictorial phase of teaching Algebraic thinking.

So, I know the bar models may seem unnecessary and a hassle to begin with, but don’t skip this step and master it. It will be so much easier for your student to succeed with the multi-step reasoning-based word problems beyond level 4 and later in Algebra.


Mistake #2: Fixating on which version of Singapore Math to Choose

If not quite a mistake, this is more of a fixation that drains parents’ energy, causes undue stress, and frankly misunderstands the purpose and benefits of Singapore Math.

Probably the most popular (and seemingly contentious) question among parents is whether to choose Primary Mathematics (and its various versions) or Dimensions or some other version. There is a long list of pros for either of these curriculums.

However, parents fear that they will choose the “wrong” curriculum for their child and agonize that this will result in their child “missing out” or not being able to later switch to the other “better" Singapore Math curriculum.

Here are the myths with this type of thinking.

First, there’s no “wrong” Singapore Math curriculum. Primary Mathematics and Dimensions are distributed and sold by the same folks. They are highly similar. Now of course there are some differences in design, sequencing, additional tools (there are lots of reviews, comments, and analysis on the differences available on the internet online but we won’t go into it here). What's most important is that these Singapore Math curriculums are the leading, time-tested and comprehensive math curriculums available on the market for elementary students.

Second, the only “missing out” that happens is not from choosing one or the other version. The real missing out is the lost time debating the different curriculum versions rather than the time spent learning the curriculum. Then it's second-guessing once you’ve started either Primary or Dimensions that some other workbook would be a better fit. Go ahead, get started! Be committed. Start learning.

Third, if your child is truly learning the content and skills of either version of Singapore Math curriculum, they should have no problems switching to the other version of Singapore Math or frankly any other math curriculum. Singapore Math is designed to develop problem solving and reasoning to enable children to transfer their math skills to other contexts, to real-world math problems, and to excel in middle school math (algebra) and higher mathematics taught in high school, and including in various admission and IQ tests.

The purpose of Singapore Math is not to teach the "Primary Mathematics way” or the “Dimensions way" so your child could walk around with either of these workbooks in hand for the rest of their math career. At Monster Education we generally use Dimensions but also different versions of Primary and recommend the Intensive Practice books from that series. They all work if you’re consistent and are mastering the content.

So stop the needless agonizing and make the most of this great curriculum!


Mistake #3: Not Taking the Placement Test


This leading mistake prevents students from fully benefiting from the Singapore Math curriculum, it creates gaps in the student's knowledge and skill foundation, it wastes precious learning time, and it weakens the motivation and commitment from students.

The Singapore Math website has excellent assessments for primary and dimension for each level - ex. for 4A and 4B, for 1A and 1B. While they are very long (a separate assessment for the A and the B segments) on the positive side the assessments are FREE! At Monster Education we do one-on-one teacher-led assessment on your child's level.

So many parents assign the kiddos their level simply based on their grade level. For instance: "it's my first year homeschooling my child or I'm switching from another curriculum and since my child is in 2nd grade I'll start my kiddo with Singapore Math 2A". Singapore Math is advanced, it focusses on developing a deep foundation, and kids jumping into a level without parents or tutors knowing their gaps will have a much more difficult time succeeding.

Just a case in point. One mom reached out to us recently. Let's call her Lucy. Lucy's daughter did Saxon math last year as a 4th grader and this year she switched to Dimensions 5A. Lucy looked at the assessment but did not give the assessment to her daughter. Lucy decided that the assessment looked easy enough and that the daughter should be able to do level 5A. [Now keep in mind just because something looks easy on first glance it does not mean that a someone who is not a teacher can determine the specific skill the problem is testing]. When the daughter struggled to make any headway, Lucy decided that either the daughter was not naturally good at math or that Singapore Math was not a good fit. After speaking to us, and despite our urging to do an assessment, she decided that instead now she'll start Dimensions 4A. That's potentially a year lost and confidence questioned without actually improving the chances of success.

So, just take the assessment! Rushing into something will just waste more time down the road.

Good luck and enjoy learning!