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Life After N-Levels: Poly Vs. O-Levels, ITE Options, And Other Key Decisions To Consider

The 2020 N-Level results for students in the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams will be released on 17 December 2020.

While you and your child are awaiting the results, it’s a good time to read up about pathways that might be open to your child, so that you will have a clearer idea of what lies ahead.

Some of the terms and acronyms may be new to you, and you may feel confused about the different options. We hope that the preliminary information and links provided below will be helpful to you.

What Can My Child Study After The N-Levels?

For Secondary 4 students in the N(A) stream, they can:

  1. Enrol in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) for a National ITE Certificate (Nitec).
  2. Enrol in the ITE for a Higher Nitec course that will eventually lead to a diploma, through the Direct-Entry-Scheme to Polytechnic Programme (DPP).
  3. Continue to Secondary 5, and sit for the O-Level examination. Based on their O-Level results, they can then progress to a junior college, the Millennia Institute, a polytechnic, or the ITE.
  4. Eligible students can apply for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP)

For Secondary 4 students in the N(T) stream, they can:

  1. Enrol in the ITE for a two- to three-year Nitec course, potentially going on to a polytechnic afterwards.
  2. Transfer to the N(A) stream and take the N-Level examination for N(A) subjects in the following year if eligible. Please check with your child’s school if you are curious about the eligibility criteria.

Unfortunately, interested parents are unlikely to find publicly available data about students from the N(A) or N(T) streams who eventually progressed to the university. However there are success stories in the media — for instance, you may have read about the N(A) student who went to medical school, or the N(T) student who was accepted to NUS’s Bachelor of Computing Science programme. These are exceptional stories, but such individuals provide a glimpse of what is possible, if one has determination and a long-term gameplan.

What Is NITEC?

For students who prefer hands-on and experiential learning, enrolling in a National ITE Certificate (Nitec) course is a viable alternative to tertiary education, and you can read about entry requirements on the ITE website.

According to a 2019 Straits Times report, about 30 percent of ITE students who graduate with Nitec certification do not seek further qualifications beyond this point. This is something that our Ministry of Education hopes to change, by providing more places for Nitec holders in Higher Nitec and diploma programmes. Although some students may not qualify to enter Higher Nitec or diploma programmes after completing their Nitec certification, they can acquire work experience to have a better chance of meeting admission requirements in the future. 

To find out more about progressing from Nitec to Higher Nitec, refer to the list of frequently asked questions on the ITE website. 

What’s The DPP About?

The Direct-Entry-Scheme to Polytechnic Programme, or DPP, allows N-Level students from the N(A) stream to be admitted directly into a two-year Higher Nitec programme at the ITE — without having to sit for the O-Level examinations or undergo a Nitec programme. 

To qualify for the DPP, students must have an ELMAB3 (English, Mathematics, Best 3 Subjects) score of 19 points or better, and this excludes CCA bonus points. You can read more about admission requirements here. For details, refer to the list of frequently asked questions on the ITE website.

Those accepted into the DPP will need to take a 10-week preparatory course before joining their Higher Nitec course.

DPP students who complete their Higher Nitec course and attain the minimum qualifying Grade Point Average (GPA) will be given a place in a related polytechnic diploma course. Depending on qualifying requirements, they will be admitted to the first or second year of the diploma course.

What’s The PFP About?

The Polytechnic Foundation Programme, or PFP, is a one-year foundational programme conducted at polytechnics, and eligible students from the N(A) stream can choose this as an alternative to entering Secondary 5.

To qualify for the PFP, students must get an ELMAB3 (English, Mathematics, Best 3 Subjects) score of 12 points or better, and this excludes CCA bonus points. They must also meet subject-specific requirements, which you can read about here.

Students who pass all their PFP modules will be admitted to a polytechnic diploma programme. Students who discontinue or fail the PFP may apply for admission to the ITE’s Nitec programmes. Those who wish to pursue their GCE O-Level examinations instead may approach their secondary schools for re-admission, subject to availability of vacancies. They can also register as private candidates to take the O-Levels. 

Students are not allowed to repeat the PFP. For details, read the list of frequently asked questions here.

DPP Or PFP Vs. Secondary 5: Which To Choose?

To qualify for Secondary 5, students must get an ELMAB3 (English, Mathematics, Best 3 Subjects) score of 19 points or better, and at least a Grade 5 for all subjects used in the computation of the ELMAB3.

Last year, over 76% of the N(A) students who took the N-Levels were eligible to proceed to Secondary 5. Is this the option that most students choose? 

According to a 2015 Straits Times report, the number of eligible N(A) students moving on to Secondary 5 has been trending downwards since polytechnic admission programmes targeted at N-Level students were introduced in 2012. The better N-Level performers may be more drawn to the DPP and PFP for the end goal — the chance to secure a diploma as opposed to an A-Level certificate.

The above report also stated that almost all students who completed the PFP, and about 60 per cent of those who finished the DPP, made it to the polytechnics. 

A more recent news article said the PFP programme has seen encouraging outcomes, such as GPA scores that were higher than the cohort average, and dropout rates that were lower than the cohort average. Currently, 30 percent of polytechnic graduates go on to pursue a degree. 

What about the O-Levels route? Anecdotally, N-Level students are usually warned that the O-Levels will be challenging, and some are even told to mentally prepare for a dip of up to two grades, e.g. a student who scores a Grade 1 for the N-Levels may see a drop to B3 in the O-Levels. Despite this, N-Level students who are keen to enter a junior college will have to choose the Secondary 5 option. 

Here are some community discussions that you can refer to for more insights:

To seek advice from other KSP members, do join the conversation on our N(A) and N(T) threads! 

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