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. »
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:
- student’s relative performance,
- school’s popularity and
- number of vacancies available in that school.
PSLE Aggregate Score
- The aggregate score is simply the total of the T-Scores
(Transformed Scores) for each subject.
- A student’s T-Score in a subject is a relative score as
compared to the performance of all the other students in that
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.
- 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
- Choose the six schools such that there is a spread of cut-off
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
- 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
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
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
- 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.
- 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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