Choosing Secondary Schools
A Personal Perspective

This article deals with choosing secondary schools under the first option (to choose six schools) exercised in August each year before the PSLE exams. It does not deal with the second option nor appeals for direct admission after the release of the PSLE results.

Note: From 2003, all pupils sitting for the PSLE will choose their secondary schools after the release of the PSLE results. This will replace the current process where PSLE students choose their secondary schools in August, before the start of the PSLE.     » More

I welcome your comments and advice to help parents who are choosing secondary schools for their children.

Posting to Secondary Schools

Secondary school posting is based on the student’s PSLE aggregate score of all four subjects. All pupils will be ranked by merit according to their aggregate scores. A pupil with a higher score will be posted according to his preferences first before the next pupil is considered for posting.

Implication: Your child who achieved high aggregate score might not be posted to his first choice school if the number of students, who out-performed your child and who also chose the same school exceeds the number of vacancies available in that school.

Three factors are at play:

  1. student’s relative performance,

  2. school’s popularity and

  3. number of vacancies available in that school.

PSLE Aggregate Score

  1. The aggregate score is simply the total of the T-Scores (Transformed Scores) for each subject.

  2. A student’s T-Score in a subject is a relative score as compared to the performance of all the other students in that subject.

This means that a student who achieved a raw score of 80% in both Math and English Language will have a lower T-Score in Math compared to English if the average raw score for all other students in Math is 80% and English is 70%.

Note that you or your child has no control over the performance of the other students in the cohort.

Choosing Secondary Schools

Warning: What follows is a personal perspective and has no endorsement whatsoever from the Ministry of Education, Singapore.

  1. Choose schools (whose historical cut-off aggregate scores) are comparable to your child’s academic ability

    The historical cut-off aggregate scores are only an indication of the probable cut-off for the current year. The cut-off score is just like COE (Certificate of Entitlement) for cars ... if the demand for a school goes up (i.e., the number of students who chose that school increases) then it is likely that the current cut-off score would be higher than the historical cut-off scores.

  2. Choose the six schools such that there is a spread of cut-off scores

    Based solely on academic standards, I suggest that you choose a school with a historical cut-off that is ...

    • First choice - marginally higher than your child’s normal performance

    • Second choice - within your child’s normal performance but at the high end

    • Third choice - within your child’s normal performance but the historical cut-off is lower than that for your second choice

    • Fourth choice - within your child’s normal performance but at the low end

    • Fifth and Sixth choices - marginally lower than your child’s normal performance


    • First choice - Realistic hope for better than normal performance

      Most parents hope that our children will perform beyond expectation but we have to be realistic ... do not choose a school whose historical cut-off is more than 20% higher than your child’s normal performance.

      Should my child perform exceptionally well then I simply hope the results are within the top 10% then he would be given a second option to choose independent schools or SAP schools. If not, then at least he stands a good chance of getting his first choice school.

      Note that special preference (i.e., a lower cut-off score) for admission to an affiliated secondary school is given only if that school is named as the first choice school. But do not let this preference cloud your judgment. The overriding consideration is whether your child's normal performance is comparable to the affiliated school's historical cut-off scores.

    • Second to fourth choices - Realistic expectation

      Make sure that there is a spread of cut-off scores even within the second to fourth choices. It is a mistake to choose schools with the same cut-off score or with a narrow spread of scores … if your child does not meet the cut-off score(s) then there is a possibility that he would not even get his fourth choice school!

    • Fifth to sixth choices - Prepare for the unexpected

      There are a number of factors that determine the scores obtained. Sickness or panic can cause your child not to do well. The unexpected can happen therefore be prepared. You probably do not want your child to be posted to a school which is not your choice. Choose wisely.

  1. Go through your six choices (based on academic performance) and make changes based on other factors such as ...

    • Value-added schools

      Take a good look at value-added schools. These are schools which have helped their pupils perform better than expected based on their PSLE scores. The high value-added secondary schools for special/express and normal courses can be found in the MOE links below.

    • Distance from home to school

      Choose schools that are near your home for convenience. Moreover, co-curricular activities may require your child to travel to and from school outside of the regular hours. Your child is likely to be tired at the end of the day and may doze off in the bus, miss his stop and end up in a bus terminal when he awakes. This had happened several times to one of my boys.

    • Strengths in co-curricular activities

      What are your memories of your school days like? Probably of friends and activities and not school work. Therefore consider matching your child’s interests to the schools’ strengths in certain co-curricular activities. Your child will learn valuable lessons (like leadership, organization skills, etc) through his involvement in CCA … lessons that he would not learn in the classroom.

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Choosing Secondary Schools
- A Personal Perspective

Copyright © May 2001 by Alan S.L. Wong
Updated November 2002