Can Teens From Neighbourhood Schools Get Good National Exam Results?

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Wondering if your teen, who is attending a neighbourhood school, can do well at the national exams? 

Yes, we do hear of single-digit O-Level scorers from secondary schools where the average incoming G3 student’s PSLE score is 19 and above. But this may not reflect the general performance of the school’s cohort.

Also, if your teen has entered Secondary 1 this year, you should be aware that in 2027, your teen will not be sitting for the O-Level exams. Instead, they will take the new Singapore-Cambridge Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) exams at the end of Secondary 4, which may consist of papers at different difficulty levels. This is similar to the current A-Level examination, where students take subjects at H1, H2, and H3 levels, as well as the PSLE, where students take subjects at Standard or Foundation levels. 

As it’s still early days, few details about the new exams are available, but you can rest assured that your teen’s school will keep you updated. In the meantime, please read our guide to the biggest schooling changes in 2024, so that you’re aware of what your teen is experiencing.

Note: Graduating cohorts before 2027 will continue to take the O- and N-Level examinations.

If you are concerned about your teen’s exam performance, do make good use of the time that you have now, to help your teen set the stage for school success. To avoid stress, focus on what’s within your control — use our suggestions below!

Get to Know Your Teen’s Educators

Having more information about a school’s educators can help to set your mind at ease. From an outsider’s perspective, the Ministry of Education does seem to spread their teachers around fairly. For instance, some school leaders have both ‘elite’ and neighbourhood school experience, and a number of teachers in neighbourhood schools are teaching scholars, or have attended prestigious schools. Whether this translates to effective teaching skills is another matter altogether, but do know that a school’s teaching staff typically possesses a wide range of recognised qualifications. From an educational standpoint, they are fully equipped to provide a comprehensive and enriching learning experience for your teen.

To learn more about the educators in your teen’s school, you can read the principal’s newsletters, or see if your teen’s teachers have LinkedIn profiles. If not, you can make contact with your teen’s teachers over email or during school events — this is the best way to get to know them. Volunteering for school activities will also help you to better understand the school culture and its support networks.

Be Specific About Areas of Improvement

Studies have shown that the following factors can influence academic success:

  • Intelligence
  • Conscientiousness
  • Emotional intelligence

Although intelligence has a genetic link, a teen’s environment can also affect intellectual outcomes. This can include parenting methods, access to learning resources, and even healthcare and nutrition. 

As for emotional intelligence, this refers to the way your teen handles their own feelings and reacts to the sentiments of others around them. Students who have higher emotional intelligence may be less affected by test anxiety; often, they’re also better equipped to overcome boredom and frustration when dealing with schoolwork. In addition, those with higher emotional intelligence tend to have better social relationships, which allows them to easily access support when needed.

If your teen’s grades have been disappointing, you can reflect on the following questions to identify areas for improvement, and seek help from your child’s teachers or tutors:

 

Category

Reflection Question

Factors to Consider

Intelligence

“What subjects or topics has my teen found challenging, and have I noticed any changes in their attitude towards these subjects?”

Note down specific subjects/topics, any observed changes in attitude or interest, and the onset and frequency of these changes.

Emotional Intelligence

“In the past six months, how often has my teen expressed or shown signs of stress or anxiety about schoolwork or exams?”

Record instances of stress-related behaviours or expressions, their frequency, and triggers if identifiable.

Emotional Intelligence

“Are there any external factors (such as social relationships, family dynamics, health issues, or extracurricular activities) that might be impacting my teen’s academic performance?”

List external factors that might affect their academics and describe how these factors might influence their performance or attitude.

Conscientiousness

“What study habits does my teen have, and how often do they appear genuinely focused versus distracted during study time?”

Observe and jot down details about a typical study session for your teen, including study duration, breaks, and distractions.

Conscientiousness

“On a scale from 1 to 10, how conducive is the learning environment at home, considering factors like noise level, availability of resources, and support?”

Assess and rate each factor of the learning environment and identify areas for improvement.

Weigh the Time Spent on MTL 

Did your teen spend a significant amount of time on MTL (Mother Tongue Language) tutoring in primary school? Should they do the same in secondary school?

Although there are advantages to being fluent in more than one language, many teens will continue to struggle with the complexities of a second language. With a heavier academic workload and later dismissal times, it may not be wise to allocate too many hours to MTL tutoring. As a gauge, if you would merely like your teen to have basic MTL proficiency, a weekly tutoring session of 1.5 hours should suffice.

Concerning school-based requirements, your teen won’t have to use the MTL grade for polytechnic admission. If your teen wishes to enter a junior college, they will minimally need to score a D7 for the MTL, even if they are not using the grade to compute their O-Level score. There are some exceptions to this, but regardless, teens who don’t get the minimum grade will have to retake the O-Level MTL exam in JC Year 1. In a worst-case scenario, they may have to switch schools or leave the A-Level programme if they continue to fall below the MTL minimum grade.

If your teen is strong in their other subjects (i.e. scoring an A1 or A2), it’s advisable to look at the International Baccalaureate programme instead, where the second-language demands are gentler. Or if your teen has very specific subject interests, they may be more suited to a polytechnic education — an added advantage is that they will no longer have to worry about the MTL.

Create a Healthy Home Environment

In order for your teen to lead a healthy life, which can have a positive impact on their grades, here’s what the experts recommend:

  • 8 hours of sleep a day
  • 1 hour of physical activity a day 
  • No more than 2 hours of daily screen time

However, don’t feel discouraged if your family finds it difficult to follow these guidelines. You can simply take note of your teen’s existing sleep, exercise, and screen habits, and try to introduce small improvements. For instance, if your teen is currently sleeping at 11PM and waking up at 6AM, you can encourage your teen to go to bed half an hour earlier for a start. If your teen prefers sedentary activities, you can suggest a new routine, where the family takes a walk after dinner at a nearby park. 

For many families, the hardest habit to address will be screen time. If your teen enjoys reading, encourage them to read a physical book instead of using a device. You can also introduce shared screen activities for the family, such as selecting a TV series and watching an episode together every night. Screen time usage tends to be heavier during weekends and school holidays — you can counter this by scheduling social activities, or enrolling your teen in courses that they are interested in. You can also encourage your teen to use screens in a variety of ways, such as listening to a podcast instead of playing video games.

Every small step towards a healthier lifestyle counts, and by making gradual changes together, you can foster a supportive and positive environment that helps your teen to thrive, both at home and in school.

Want to share stories and tips with other parents, or seek their advice? Join the conversation on the KiasuParents forum!