Brief Overview of the education system in Singapore.

Dear Arthur,

Thanks for reading my blog on a regular basis. You mentioned that you were a little confused as to our education system in Singapore. Well let me explain and give a brief overview of the education system in Singapore.

The education system in Singapore has change quite drastically in the last decade or so. Back then when i was little, the path of progression seemed relatively simple and systematic. But now in the everchanging world and the different needs of students here, students now have a more varied path to progress in their education, based on their needs. But i will just go briefly.

Everyone would more or less start in the kindergarten stage. Its about 2 years before we go to primary school. In singapore we rarely use terms such as high school, or junior high. So the first 6 years would be spent in a primary school, learning basics such as English, Maths and a second language based on you race. Since Singapore is a multicultural society, we learn another language such as Malay, Chinese, or Tamil. And at Primary 4, you learn a new subject, Science. You start primary school at around the age of 7.

By the time your reached Primary 6, everyone have to go through the Primary School Leaving Examination or PSLE. Its a rather stressful period for students because its highly competitive. Its a national examination and your performance would directly impact which Secondary School you go to based on the choice you have chosen. Some secondary schools are better than the rest, and naturally if you are smart you go to a better school with better facilities, wide range of curricular activities etc. The maximum score one can accumulate in the exams is 300.

Given your performance of your PSLE, you will be streamed into different classes while you are in Secondary school. The first stream is the Normal Stream, a 5 year education, where students would take their N-Level Examination first, in the 4th year before taking the O-level Examination in the 5th Year. The second stream is the Express Stream, a 4 year course where students take the O-Level Examination directly. The main difference between the two is that the normal stream is catered to students who did not perform well in thier PSLE and as a result needed more time to learn and prepare them for the O-Level examination.

There is a third stream and that is the Normal Technical Stream. These are for students who are not academically inclined and would usually be admitted to Institute of Technical Eduction after they finish. I will not explain this part of the stream.

Some of the subjects that students can take would include:

English, Second language (Chinese, Malay, Tamil)

Maths (Elementary Maths, Additional Mathematics)

Science, such as Biology, Physics or Chemistry

Principles of Accounting

Humanities subjects such as Social Studies, Geography, History, Literature etc)

Others such as Design and Technology, Food and Nutrition, Arts, Music.

Students in secondary school would have to take a minimum of 6 subjects including the mandatory subjects of English, Maths and Science, to qualify for higher education. Students have not restrictions on how many they can take be it 8 or 10 subjects even. This gives students some flexibility in choosing the subjects that they enjoy learning or their paths to higher eduction. Again, the students performance would determine where they would go from there on. There are a few choices and the how the grades are calculated are as follows:

The grades obtained from each subject are such that A1 is the highest while F9 is the lowest, constituing a Fail. So its:

A1, A2 : Distinction

B3, B4: Merit

C5, C6: Pass

D7, E8. F9: Fail

So for example if you ace all your minimum 6 subjects you took for the examination, you would effectively have 6 points, since A1 constitute 1 point and all 6 subjects, having A1s would earn you 6 points. In essence the lower the points the better your performance in your exams.

In higher education, students can go to a Junior College, a Polytechnic or an Institute of Technical Education.

Junior Colleges are for students who performed really well in their O level Examination. The criteria for admittance to a Junior college is that you must not exceed 20 points in total any 6 subjects you took, with English as a main criteria. Therefore if you ace all 6 subjects you have 6 points, and you will be able to go to the best junior college the country has to offer.Similarly, if a student too 10 subjects and ace them all, they are able to pick any 6 required for admittance and still get minimum of 6 subjects. You are basically the cream of the crop.

A Junior college is a 2 year course, taking a wide range of subjects that are both deep and profound. It is a very stressful environment, as it drills you to prepare for the University life, after taking the A-Level Examination. Again similar to the secondary school level, you will take the national examination, and your performance would dictate which university and the desired degree course you can enter. The choice of subjects are also essential in which degree courses youll be able to enter.

An alternative and increasingly more popular route would be the Polytechnic Route. It is a 3 year course and by the end of the 3 years, you would earn a diploma of the course you have chosen. The criteria for admittance is that you must not exceed 28 points in 5 subjects with English and Maths as the main criteria. The diplomas offered varies widely between the different polytechnics in Singapore. There are many diplomas offered in different areas such as health sciences, engineering, chemical and life sciences, digital media and design, business and management, and Information technology.

Certain more popular courses would obviously have a lower cut off points for admittance. Certain courses like Biotechnology would need students to score lower than 13 points to enter, while courses like nursing and engineering would require around 24 or 26 points to enter. The cutoff points changes every year to reflect the demand and supply of the number of slots available for students to enter and the industry’s demands and trends.

After the 3 year course, a small percentage of students would have done well enough to enter a local university, while the majority will study overseas or immediately enter the workforce with their skills obtained and diploma certificate.

Polytechnics uses a different type of grading system, the Grade Point Average. Exams and performances are based from A+ to F.

A+, A : 4.0



C+ 2.5



D: 1.0


The more As you have the higher the GPA. GPA are averaged out after your 3 years. To enter a local university via the Polytechnic route requires the student to be really talented. Students would need at least 3.5 in GPA and above to enter, which means that they need to perform consistently well throughout the 3 years as the grades are averaged out. Even then, its no guarantee that you would be able to enter the course in university that matches the course you took in Polytechnic. For example, if you were to take a biotechnology course in Polytechnic, its not a guarantee that you would be able to enter a science faculty and take a degree in biomedical sciences in the university. Majority of students are from Junior colleges and its leaves very little placings for polytechnic students. It is during this period where competition for placings are at their feverish levels.


So which path did i take?

I went to an average primary school, took the PSLE. Scored a 212 out of a possible 300, which is just above average and to an Express stream, a 4 year course in an average Secondary School. I took English, Elementary Maths, Malay, Principles of Accounts, Combined Sciences(Physics and Chemistry) Combined Humanities (Social Studies and Geography). I took the bare minimum of 6 subjects.

I was able to enter the Junior college, because i got 19 points for L1R5 criteria (1 Language which is English and other 5 relevant subjects. Since i had 19 points, i thought that i would suck if i were to go to a lousy Junior College. I also didnt want to stress myself too much either. So i went to the polytechnic route. Criteria was L1R4 (1 Language which is English and 4 Relevant subjects). I left out Malay, my second language since i performed the worst in that (C6). Therefore if i got a total of 19 points for all my 6 subjects, and left out Malay, C6 grade , i am able to deduct 6 points off, 19-6 = 13.

For 13 points i was lucky to be able to be admitted to the School of Chemical And Life Sciences, Diploma in Molecular Biotechnology in Nanyang Polytechnic.

After 3 years, i got a GPA in 3.5 and I was fortunately admitted to Nanyang Technological University, College of Science, Degree in Biological Sciences.

Im entering University in June 2009 and already have a placing there.

So, i hope that enlightens you! If you need any clarifications please dont hesitate to ask.


4 thoughts on “Brief Overview of the education system in Singapore.”

  1. Thank you, jasrie, for this brief yet complete post on Singapore education system. I found it to be very similiar to the japanese system. Both are totally different systems from the one adopted here in Brazil, and I think they’re way more complete than the Brazilian one.

    There you have more options about what and where you want to study, with real chances of getting a decent job. Here it’s very simple: finish high school, choose the universities you want to attend, try to pass the examination, graduate and get a job =)

  2. hey there!
    i really2 love your rather comprehensive post pertaining to sinapore’s education system. First off, i would like to say a big CONGRATULATIONS of your secured placing in the local U. Thats my current dream im fighting hard for by the way 🙂

    FYI im currently pursuing an IT related diploma our a local Poly. My GPA is only a mere 3.089 to be exact. So im in my final year now and am striving madly to increase my GPA before i graduate, of course, to enter our COMPETITIVE local U.

    once again, GREAT post. Wish me luck. Assalamualaikum.

  3. Well thank you so much for your compliments. As for you, i hope you do give you very best in the final push in improving your grades in your final year in Poly.

    And yes, it is very competitive down here and i hope the very best in securing a place in the local U.


  4. Congrzt, all ur best in uni, u will love it!
    Hmmm. For Poly is there a weighted GPA system or just a constant averaging value? Meaning year one As are less significant then year 3 As?

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