Selecting A Secondary School

Unlike my time, students nowadays have two clear advantages – they know their PSLE grades and secondary schools also publish their historical cut-off mark. At least students know if they have a chance of getting accepted.

I remember when I had to choose my secondary school more than 20 years ago. I did not know the cut-off point of the schools I selected before I submitted the form. In fact, I believe I did not even know my score. In addition, my school teachers were also not very helpful in guiding me. All I remember was that since I studied in a primary school that was affiliated with a secondary school, I put it as the first choice. I had absolutely no idea if I was able to get in. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was successful.

Nevertheless, the fact is that there are so many secondary schools, each offering different types of programmes. It is confusing for parents and students. Which secondary school should a student choose? At RG, we believe that the criteria for selecting schools should be based on the child. A child that enrols into a school based on his personality, strengths and interest will do much better than entrance based solely on parental decision. Please take note that we do not mean that the child makes the decision, but it should be made based on his own qualities.

Selecting Secondary Schools: a Student’s Personality and its Impact on Academic Performance

Secondary schools in Singapore can be clearly distinguished by their academic performance. The top schools generally only accept the top 10% of the cohort, while there are schools that almost anyone can walk in.  Generally we advise parents to select schools based on their child’s performance in PSLE. If your child is one of the top scorers, your child should enrol in one of the better schools in Singapore. However when your child just barely meets the cut-off point, should he go to a school with lower cut-off point or just enrol in the better school? This depends on your child – his confidence level, his ability to persist and be resilient, and his own work attitude.

We have seen many cases of students who barely make the cut-off point, and ended up spending their four years at the bottom 10% of the school cohort simply because the other students were naturally more academically talented. A student with low confidence will end up feeling like a loser. I have seen students who made it to the Integrated Programme (in other words, the top 10-15%) , but spend all their time being ranked last. Eventually they lose all their self-confidence and end up leaving the programme.

On the other hand, I have seen students who chose a school which has a much lower cut-off point compared to their PSLE score. As his PSLE score is higher then the rest of the cohort, he ends up becoming one of the top students. As a result, teachers give him more opportunites and training. In the end, this becomes a virtuous cycle and this student ends up excelling beyond his potential.

Selecting Secondary Schools: a Student’s Strengths, Interests and Needs

Parents, please also consider your child’s strengths, interests and needs when helping them choose their schools. For example, is your child talented at music or art? There are schools that offer Music Elective Programmes or Art Elective Programmes. These programmes will allow your child to shine.There are also even more specialised schools like School of the Arts or the NUS High School for Mathematics and Science. So, if your child is great at these areas, do encourage them to select these schools.

Or maybe your child has a passion for learning about their own language or culture? A Chinese student might select one of the SAP schools. Or a Malay student might select one of the schools offering Elective Programme in Malay Language.

Selecting a secondary school should also be based on the needs of your child. This is especially if your child has mild special needs such as Dyslexia or Autism Spectrum Disorder. You should look out for schools that have such facilities or personnel trained to deal with special needs.

Selecting Secondary Schools: Other Factors

Even though we emphasise very much on focusing the need of the child, there are still other criteria that needs to be factored in. One of it is of course the distance to the school. With schools being equal, we will always suggest choosing the nearer school. However, the child should still choose the most suitable school that is within a reasonable distance. Singapore is not that big and with the current public transport infrastructure, many schools are quite accessible.

Another factor is affiliation – if your child is in a primary school that has an affiliated secondary school and his PSLE score allows him to transition to the secondary school, we think that this would be a great choice. The fact is that the school culture and ethos is already known to the child, and many of his classmates or schoolmates are also moving to the secondary school. It really helps to build him to settle in faster and mould his character.

Finally, we are going to discuss about the Integrated Programme (IP). The reason we left it so late is because not everyone qualifies for it. This programme allows students to skip their ‘O’ levels and proceed directly to their ‘A’ levels (or an International Baccalaureate or a Diploma from NUS). If your child qualifies for it, please do not think twice and go for it. The fact that ‘O’ levels is skipped is really a big advantage. The drilling and revision work to prepare for the ‘O’ levels allows for less learning and more stress. Then they enter junior college and within one year, find themselves preparing again for another major examination.

Selecting Secondary Schools: 2019 Update

From 2020 onwards, MOE will be introducing Full Subject-Based Banding in some schools. You can read more about this in this blogpost. It might be worth trying out this as it allows students to take subjects at levels more suitable to his own standard.


Perhaps we can view selecting a secondary school like how we select a job. We always match our jobs with our qualifications – just like how our children select a secondary school based on their PSLE score. We select it based on our own personal interests and strengths. Sometimes we are willing to travel just so that we work in the best company we deserve to be in. If we take our children’s welfare and interests in consideration, we can help our children select the most suitable secondary school.

Choosing a secondary school
Choosing a secondary school. Credits: Ministry of Education, Singapore

For more information, please view MOE’s website on Secondary School selection.