My Child Did Badly For The O-Levels: What Can I Do?

O level results

Is your teen happy with his or her O-Level results? It was reported that 85.2% of Singapore’s O-Level candidates in 2019 attained five or more passes — a new pass record for the country.

Of course, success in the O-Levels is relative, and boils down to the options that are now open to your teen, and whether or not these options appeal to him or her.

Will one’s O-Level results matter much in the long run? Employers are said to be moving towards using other means of assessing their candidates, but some agencies, especially within the civil service, may still require their applicants to submit their O-Level grades. 

As for applying to tertiary institutions, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced last year that from 2020, polytechnic graduates applying to Singapore’s local universities will not need to include their O-Level results. However, universities may have subject-specific requirements, such as a good English O-Level grade for law courses, or a good Math O-Level grade for accountancy and economics programmes. 

Where Does Your Score Get You?

Based on 2019 entry scores, students with an L1R5 score of up to 20 managed to gain admission into a junior college — this was the cut-off score for Yishun Innova JC’s arts stream. (Entry into junior colleges is based on L1R5, where L1 refers to the first language, English, or Higher Mother Tongue, and R refers to relevant subjects. Read more here.) 

Students with an L1R4 score of 20 can consider applying to Millennia Institute, which has a three-year course leading to GCE A-Level certification. (Read about the admission criteria here.)

For polytechnic entry in 2019, students with ELR2B2-C scores of up to 28 were able to gain entry to nursing courses in Nanyang Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. For the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), students with ELR2B2-C scores of 39 were able to gain entry into the Electrical Engineering course at ITE College West.

(Entry into polytechnics and the ITE is based on an aggregate of English Language or EL, two relevant subjects or R2, and two other best subjects or B2; in short, ELR2B2. Read more here.)

For details on the previous year’s cut-off scores, please refer to the MOE’s Joint Admissions Exercise Information Booklet.

To Retake Or Not?

Perhaps, you and your teen are considering the option of retaking the O-Levels, either in his or her secondary school or at a private institution. As recommended by the MOE, here are some questions to ask your teen:

  • What will you do differently to achieve a better outcome?
  • Can you cope with the academic rigour?
  • How will we fund your studies, if you want to enrol in a private institution?
  • Have you considered the 3Rs?
    • Reasons: Why are you retaking your O-Levels?
    • Readiness: How ready are you to retake your O-Levels?
    • Risks: What are the possible drawbacks to retaking your O-Levels as a private candidate?

As one KSP member advises:

“At this point, you have to evaluate if it is worthwhile to push your kid towards a ‘standard’ path, or a path that is more suited for his temperament. What your child wants to do may not be aligned with you; we may be able to bring a horse to water but we cannot make him drink. It’s hard, but if you can find out what he wants to do and help him accomplish his dreams, I think it is best for him.”

For Singaporean boys, there is an additional option to consider: if your son is not academically inclined, or needs more time to think about his future, he can join the Voluntary Early Enlistment Scheme, which is for local boys who wish to begin full-time National Service before they turn 18.

However, if your teen wishes to proceed with retaking the O-Levels, you should first consult with his or her secondary school.

“From my experience, secondary schools generally — but not always — are not in favour of students retaking their O-Levels as a school candidate,” says a local secondary school teacher. “They would most likely encourage students to consider the pathways that they are eligible for, and take a longer route to their intended destination if necessary.” 

If you are unable to convince your teen’s secondary school to let him or her have a second shot at the O-Levels, you can enquire with registered private institutions in Singapore that offer O-Level courses. Some considerations would include:

  • How much are the course fees?
  • How often will classes be held?
  • What is the teacher-to-student ratio?
  • Is the school fully equipped to prepare a student for the O-Levels? For example, do they have all the resources required for science practicals?
  • What is the school’s track record?
  • Is this an environment that my child will thrive in? 

To narrow your search, look for schools with an EduTrust certification, which is a quality assurance scheme administered by Singapore’s Committee for Private Education (CPE). Use the CPE’s search engine and click on “EduTrust” to view a list of qualifying institutions.

An example of an EduTrust-certified institution that offers an O-Level preparatory course is the YMCA Education Centre (however, its award was only valid till December 2019). It has an 11-month and a 22-month programme, both costing over SGD10,000, not including miscellaneous fees. 

As for how well private O-Level candidates in Singapore have fared, a 2015 news report stated that the proportion of private candidates who attained at least one subject pass rose from 76% in 2003 to 90.3% in 2013. It also cited an education centre claiming that about 30 to 40% of its students passed five subjects, while 70 to 80% obtained passes in three subjects.

Let Your Teen Decide

O level results

What will be the most suitable path ahead? Ultimately, it should be up to your teen to decide on his or her next move, and unfortunately, it is no easy decision.

“In general, people are more accepting of the idea that there are different pathways, and not just one best way,” writes education therapist June Yong. “If I could talk to my 16-year-old self, I’d tell her to set the external expectations and pressures aside and to look within — your decision might become clearer this way.”

The best way to support your teen under these stressful circumstances? Reassure him or her that there are no closed doors in life, as long as the spirit is willing. Then let go, and trust that no matter what your teen chooses, there will always be a way forward.

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