Worried about helping your Secondary 2 child choose the best subject combination for the upper secondary years?
First, we would advise you to communicate with your child’s school for the best answers. Different secondary schools serve different student profiles, and offer a different platter of subjects based on student capability and demand.
In general, the following combination has been recommended by some Express-stream secondary schools as being the most flexible for post-secondary pathways:
2 Languages + 2 Mathematics + 2 Sciences + 2 Humanities
Depending on your child’s school, such a combination may be the norm, or it may be offered only to the better-performing students. It’s also not uncommon for schools to recommend that their Express students only take six or seven subjects, in order to better cope with the workload.
For a guide to the full range of subjects and electives that students can take in the Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical) streams, please refer to the Ministry of Education website. But note that even if a subject is listed in the MOE website, your child’s school may not offer it.
The primary considerations for schools in deciding which subject combinations to offer are:
- Performance: this includes a student’s general performance across subjects (either in the final year exams or throughout the year), as well as performance in individual subjects.
- Preference: this would be the subject combination choices stipulated by your child in the selection form that your school will provide.
- Demand: schools will have to assess if there are enough students to meet the demand for a subject and/or subject combination, and they will set a minimum enrolment requirement (e.g. 15 students). If, in reality, there are only a handful of students who make the grade, the school will be unlikely to make special arrangements for them. In this instance, some parents will consider switching their children to a school where they can pursue their preferred subject combination. (Read our article on school transfers.)
If you are unduly concerned about your child making the “wrong” subject combination choice, do take a pause to reflect on your mindset. After all, there are no dead ends if the spirit is willing. To quote a KSP member:
“Ask your child if [the interest] is there in the heart… If there is something our children want to do, let no one and no system stop them. Our role as parents is to learn [about the available options] and offer advice. Our children need to learn to make their own decisions, as well as to form their own dreams and realise them. If your children are up to it, then as a parent, do everything that you can to support their dreams — tuition, books, courses, everything!”
Do Your Own Research
If your child already has his or her heart set on a career path or course, congratulations! You can focus on looking up the entry prerequisites for the relevant courses, and here are some tips to help you get started:
- Visit the MOE website for the basic admission criteria for junior colleges, polytechnics, institutes of education (ITEs), and the Millennia Institute (MI). For more comprehensive coverage, download the latest copy of the Joint Admissions Exercise information booklet for reference.
- If your child prefers to enter a junior college, you should know that A-Level subjects can now be taken at H1, H2, and H3 levels, with H3 courses being the most in-depth and rigorous. A simple Google search will turn up useful resources to explain the difference between H1, H2, and H3 subjects; for instance, Catholic Junior College has a detailed information page on the differences between H1, H2, and H3 mathematics. Naturally, there is an eligibility criteria involved — e.g. whether you need a Pure Biology or Combined Science Biology O-Level Pass to pursue Biology at the H2 Level for the A-Levels — and this information will be available on each junior college’s website. For a general guide, you can visit St. Andrew’s Junior College’s FAQ page, which addresses questions such as “I did Combined Sciences for my O-Levels. Can I take pure science subjects at the H2 level?” But bear in mind that queries are best addressed with your schools of interest.
- To take it a step further, you could also look at university admissions and subject prerequisites and work backwards to the O-Level subject combination that will get you there. For example, you could refer to the National University of Singapore’s subject prerequisites page as reference.
- Similarly, if your child is interested in the polytechnic, ITE, or MI paths, you can shortlist some courses that might interest your child, and look at the eligibility criteria.
What if your child doesn’t have a clear interest at this point? Here’s what you can do:
- Have your child take a free personality or aptitude test, such as the VIA survey, which is also used by professional organisations to help their employees gain greater awareness about their strengths. Or look for a fun career quiz with questions that even younger children can answer.
- Consult the school’s education and career guidance counsellor. All secondary schools now have such counsellors assigned to them; typically, they are not based in a school, but attached to several schools on a roving arrangement. They would be the best people to seek help and advice from, and you should contact your child’s school to make full use of this service.
- Tap into your network to ask how others — especially younger professionals — have made their academic choices, and whether they would have done anything differently.
- Together with your child, look at what the local polytechnics have to offer, because there are many more options available now, compared to when we parents were growing up. Also, if your child is motivated, going to a polytechnic will not limit one’s future options — several years ago, an information security graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University upon graduation, and was accepted by both schools. In fact, he was accepted by four out of seven American universities that he applied to. (He received guidance from an education consultancy, and this is something that you may wish to consider as well, if you have the financial means.)
Secondary 2 Streaming Briefing: Questions To Ask The School
Has your child’s school already held its Secondary 2 streaming briefing? Below are some commonly asked questions by parents at these briefings. You would want to make sure that the school has sufficiently addressed these questions. If not, please contact the school for clarifications:
- What are all the subjects and combinations available for my child’s stream?
- Will the subject combinations be based on my child’s exam results? What is the minimum score that my child needs to get overall, and for each subject?
- Is Additional Maths compulsory?
- Can my child in the Normal (Academic) stream take Additional Maths?
- What is the difference between Pure Science and Combined Science? (This question can apply to other subjects too, if there is a “Pure” and “Elective” version of the subject.)
- Will doing Combined Sciences affect my child’s entry to courses — especially junior college courses — and limit his or her career options?
- Will my child be disadvantaged by taking six or seven subjects, instead of eight (or more) subjects?
- Has my child been briefed about what each subject or elective is about?
- What if a subject my child is keen on is not offered by the school?
- Will any considerations be made for the 2020 cohort, as they have been disadvantaged by Covid-19 disruptions, which may affect their scores this year?
During the briefing, there may be information that is new to you — for instance, some parents are surprised that not taking Biology will not affect entry into Medicine degree courses, and in fact, it is Chemistry that is a prerequisite. This applies locally (e.g. NUS requires an A-Level pass in Chemistry and either Biology or Physics), as well as for overseas universities such as the University of Oxford.
Your school’s teachers may also advise that if your child is interested in entering the International Baccalaureate programme after the O-Levels, you should check with the schools that offer this for their latest entry prerequisites.
Don’t have time to do your own research or feel a bit lost? Do ask your child’s school for help! Schools can prepare a resource guide for parents to summarise the combinations for each stream and highlight pathways available for each combination.
Hoping to chat with other parents about your concerns? Join the conversation on our Secondary 2 Streaming discussion thread!