PSLE 2024: 4 Parent Mistakes to Avoid

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As parents who have been through the Primary School Leaving Examination or PSLE, we understand the frustration, anxiety, and sense of helplessness that parents may feel, leading up to the exams. We would like to reassure you that no matter what grades your child receives, there will be a path forward. 

First of all, please know that it’s quite difficult to ‘fail’ the PSLE to the point where one is unable to progress to a secondary school. (Those of us who have tutored struggling children with little family support and spotty school attendance can vouch for this.) In fact, Singapore’s Ministry of Education has said that the PSLE is a school placement exam, and there is no official passing or failing mark for each PSLE subject, or the PSLE as a whole. To be more specific, a student can score 30 points for the PSLE and still progress to a secondary school, to take subjects at the less-demanding G1 level. Only one condition applies — the student needs to have scored an AL 7 or better in both English and Maths, or an AL B at the Foundation level for these subjects. (For details on the PSLE scoring system, refer to the official guide.)

For PSLE scores beyond 30, students may be offered the option to repeat the PSLE, or they can progress to NorthLight School or Assumption Pathway School with their principal’s endorsement. For reference, in 2023, about 600 children out of a cohort of 40,000 students would have considered these options.

We’re also aware that for most of our readers, the concern is more likely to be whether or not their children can enter a ‘good’ secondary school. In our community, we do have parents whose children have scored quite differently in the PSLE, despite having access to similar resources. One parent with an older child who qualified for the Integrated Programme (IP) and a younger child in a neighbourhood school shares this: 

“If you’re used to a certain level of achievement and aspirations in your social network, it is disorienting to suddenly face a different reality. But by being open and visiting a few secondary schools that were previously not on our radar, we met many impressive teens who were articulate, attentive, and did their best to attend to our queries. We felt lucky and relieved when my younger child qualified for his first-choice neighbourhood school last year, and after half a year, we can see that he’s happy in his new environment — he has supportive new friends, speaks up more in school, and even seems physically healthier.”

With an optimistic mindset, things are likely to turn out fine eventually, or at the very least, better than you expect. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things that experienced PSLE parents wish they had known beforehand, and we’d like to share these thoughts with you below.

Mistake #1: Being Close-Minded about Secondary Schools

As parents in Singapore, many of us can easily name a few ‘top’ secondary schools. Most likely, these are the Integrated Programme or IP schools, where students will ‘skip’ the O-Level exams that secondary school students typically take after four years of studies. Instead, IP students will only need to prepare for either the A-Level or International Baccalaureate exams in their sixth and final year of the programme.

However, in a typical cohort of about 40,000 Primary 6 students, only about 10% (or almost 4,000 students) will qualify for an IP secondary school. Most students will enter secondary school via the G3 (formerly Express) pathway, while around 30% of students will take subjects at either the G2 (formerly Normal Academic) or G1 (formerly Normal Technical) levels.

There are no official statistics for what an ‘average’ PSLE score is. However, those who have previously scored AL17 to 18 for the PSLE might have noticed that they were able to meet the entry requirements for about half the secondary schools in Singapore. This not only suggests that it’s a score range that many students achieve, but it’s also reassuring that there are still many schools to choose from.

Although schools that accept students with double-digit scores may not be on your mind now, it’s useful to find out about them, especially while there’s still time to do the research. Talk to those in your social network, look at what these schools are doing on their social media pages, and check discussion forums for insights. Not sure where to begin? Our guide to hidden-gem secondary schools is a great starting point!

Mistake #2: Believing There is a Foolproof Method to PSLE Success

Around this time of the year, you will be seeing many sponsored social media posts, urging you and your child to sign up for classes that will teach students the right keywords, frameworks, and other tricks to ace the exams. 

If you have the financial resources, it’s tempting to think that you can assemble an ‘all-star’ set of PSLE classes or tutors to get desired results. However, we’ve seen enough bright children from supportive, well-to-do families, who are extensively tutored in multiple subjects and still receive scores like AL17 and up. 

For some of us, if we had known the outcome, we would have devoted far less time and money to these PSLE preparatory efforts, in order to give our children more time for pure enjoyment, bonding with loved ones, as well as meaningful learning.

Mistake #3: Relying on Wishful Thinking

We do hear of children who defy the odds and wildly surpass expectations during the PSLE, and we may hope the same for our child. This explains why many parents try to ramp up the tutoring or increase the time spent on practice questions leading up to the exams. 

But to be realistic, you should also be aware that many children simply match their school exam scores for the PSLE, and some may even do worse. To guard against wishful thinking, remember that the best estimate of your child’s performance in the PSLE will be their current school performance, especially their grades in the P6 preliminary exams, which are typically held in August. 

Mistake #4: Viewing PSLE Results Through a Short-Term Lens

Although it may seem like students who do well enough at the PSLE to enter the Integrated Programme or IP in secondary school are set for life, the truth is that today’s fluid environment offers little assurance to anyone. 

To spell it out: in a world marked by deep divides, rapid tech advancements, and an unpredictable international climate, we all need to recognise that the path ahead is uncertain, and be ready to face it with adaptability and resilience. 

In other words, knowing how to score high marks for the PSLE English composition or the best way to frame an answer for the PSLE Science exam probably won’t be too meaningful in the long run. Once we can acknowledge this, it will be easier to shift our focus away from teaching kids to be exam savvy — or judging them based on their results — and place a greater emphasis on helping them develop skills for the future.

Want to talk to other PSLE 2024 parents? Join the conversation on the KiasuParents forum!