A Complete Guide to Secondary School in Singapore

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The Complete Guide to Secondary School in Singapore

The leap from Primary to Secondary School education in Singapore is a huge one, as students transition from being kids to becoming young teens with their own set of opinions and interests. Similarly, the academic load is heavier to account for the students’ maturity and increased ability to stay disciplined in their studies. Secondary School is also where most children forge lifelong friendships through classroom or Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) interactions, and develop crucial social skills needed to navigate the world beyond.

1. An Overview of Secondary Schools in Singapore

Choosing a Secondary School is a crucial decision for every Singaporean parent who wish to set their child on the right path towards academic and professional success. With 136 Secondary Schools to choose from, the decision-making process may turn out to be daunting and overwhelming. Here at MindFlex, we have compiled various information and factors to consider when choosing a Secondary School to help you navigate the seemingly complicated choices.

2. Secondary 1 Posting Process

Parents may submit their child’s 6 preferred school choices online within the next 7 calendar days from the release of the PSLE results. Parents may do so through the S1 Internet System (S1-IS). It is a 24-hour portal that will be opened for online submission from 11.30 am on the day of the PSLE results release. The posting results will be released online, through SMS and through the student’s Primary school.

Alternatively, the student may have already undergone the Direct School Admission for secondary schools (DSA-Sec) which allows students to apply to Secondary schools before taking their PSLE. Students apply based on their talents in CCAs, and specific academic areas.
If your child is admitted to a Secondary school through DSA-Sec, they are not allowed to:

  • Submit school choices during the Secondary 1 (S1) posting process
  • Transfer to another school. They must commit to their chosen school for the duration of the program

Primary 6 students can apply for DSA-Sec based on a wide variety of talents, including:

  • Sports and games
  • Visual, literary and performing arts
  • Debate and public speaking
  • Science, mathematics and engineering
  • Languages and humanities
  • Uniformed groups
  • Leadership (for example, prefects)


3. How to Choose a Secondary School

Academic Qualifications

The first consideration students should have when applying to Secondary schools is their academic qualifications. Choosing a school that has a similar cut-off point to their PSLE score will ensure that the student will be given sufficient academic support and be able to follow the pace of the school’s teachings. 

The respective cut-off points for each Secondary school can be found here.

In the event that the student does not qualify for the school they wish to enroll in, they may still choose to appeal to the school. The school may request for the student to attend an interview where he or she will be assessed on their ability to keep up with the school’s curriculum.  It is worth noting that schools may not be able to accept appeals due to limited vacancies. Parents can find out more about the appeal process from the respective school websites. 


It can be advantageous for the student to enroll in schools near his/her home. Time is definitely of the essence for Secondary students who will be facing increasing academic rigour and heavier school commitments. Less time spent traveling can provide students with more time for other productive and leisure activities.

Tertiary Affiliation

Students may also narrow down their choices by identifying schools with affiliation to Junior Colleges in Singapore. After going through their Secondary school journey, students may choose to further their studies at JC. Selecting a Secondary school with affiliations to a JC makes the affiliated JC’s O Level cut-off point easier to meet. Students will typically be able to deduct an additional 2 points from their L1R5 score. This is only applicable if the student chooses the affiliated JC as their first choice in the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE). 

The list of Secondary school affiliations to JCs can be found here.

Student’s interests

Students who have special talents and inclinations may choose to enter Specialized Independent Schools. These schools do not have a PSLE cut-off point and are hence, not included in the Secondary School rankings. The following is a list of such schools:

  1. National University of Singapore High School of Math and Science (NUS High) – Specializes in Engineering, Mathematics, Science & Technology
  2. School of Science and Technology, Singapore (SST) – Specializes in Applied Aesthetics, Applied Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Applied Science & Applied Technology
  3. Singapore Sports School (SSS) – Specializes in Athletics & Sports
  4. School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA) – Specializes in Visual, Literary & Performing Arts

Certain CCAs are also only offered in selective schools. Taking the Equestrian (Horse-Riding) Club as an example, this CCA is only offered in 2 Secondary Schools: Regent Secondary School and Queenstown Secondary School (CCA Enrichment Program). A more detailed list of uncommon CCAs may be found here. It would be wise for parents and students to look through the individual school websites to ensure that students are able to further their interests through their co-curricular activities.  

Students’ interests may include inclinations toward certain subjects. Hence, it is important to also consider the different subjects that secondary schools offer. There are various subjects, such as Drama, Computing, Exercise & Sports Science, Economics and Business Studies, that are only offered in select Secondary Schools. You should choose a school that would cater to your child’s strengths and interests.


Students may have to travel out to external venues for language lessons for certain schools.  For example, Tamil students in certain schools will have to take Tamil lessons at the nearest Tamil Language Centre after school. If this is thought to be inconvenient, the student may choose a school that offers the Mother Tongue Language that they would like to learn.


4. The Different Secondary School Streams

Secondary school education in Singapore is split into four academic streams: Integrated Programme (IP), Express, Normal Academic (NA) or Normal Technical (NT). Streaming allows students to learn at different paces using different curricula designed to match the student’s learning abilities.

4.1 Integrated Programme (IP)

The IP program is a 6-year course leading to the GCE A- Level examination or International Baccalaureate Diploma or NUS High School Diploma. Students in the IP program do not need to take the GCE O Level examination in Secondary 4. The PSLE range of cut-off points for IP is typically 6 to 9. You can read more about the IP stream here.

4.2 Express

The Express stream is a four-year program leading straight to the GCE O-Level examinations. After completing the O Levels, students are given an option to continue their studies in a Polytechnic or Junior College. The PSLE cut-off points for the express stream range from 8 to 22.

4.3 Normal Academic (NA)

The NA stream is also a four-year program. However, while Express students take the O Levels at the end of the 4 years, NA students take the GCE N Level examinations instead. A fifth year is also available for NA students who performed well for their N Levels and would like to take the O Levels. The PSLE cut-off points for the NA stream ranges from 21 to 25.

4.4 Normal Technical (NT)

The NT stream, a four-year program, where students are lead to take the N(T) Levels at the end of the 4 years. As its name suggests, NT students take subjects that are more technical in nature, such as Design and Technology (D&T). The PSLE cut-off points for the NT stream ranges from 25 to 29.


5. Choosing Subjects in Secondary School

The Secondary 2 streaming exercise is conducted in all secondary schools in Singapore and determines the subjects that students take for the O Levels. This is undoubtedly an important decision as your subject combination affects what you will be eligible for in Junior College (JC) and Polytechnics, as most of them have subject prerequisites. For example, if you would like to take H2 Chemistry in JC, you will have to take Chemistry at the O Levels (and eventually do well) to be permitted to take H2 Chemistry.

If you have no idea what you would like to pursue in the future, it is advisable to pick a more generic and common combination that would allow you admission to most courses.

The subjects you can choose from depends on your stream.

5.1 Express

Language Mathematics Science Humanities Others
English Elementary Mathematics Pure Biology/Physics/Chemistry Pure Literature in English/Geography/History Design and Technology
Mother Tongue Advanced Mathematics Combined Science (Chem/Bio) Combined Humanities (SS/Lit) Food and Nutrition
Higher Mother Tongue Principle of Accounts Combined Science (Chem/Phy) Combined Humanities (SS/His) Art
Mother Tongue B   Combined Science (Bio/Phy) Combined Humanities (SS/Lit in MT) Music
Third Language       Higher Music/Art

The most common subject combination for the Express stream is English, Mother Tongue, E Math, A Math, Pure Chemistry, Pure Physics and Combined Humanities (Social Studies/History OR Geography). Pure Physics is more commonly taken than Biology so as to keep all doors open, as courses such as Engineering and Computer Science require students to take O Level Physics. Biology is currently not a prerequisite for any courses, and students looking to pursue Medicine do not necessarily need to take Biology as a good Physics and Chemistry grade would suffice.

5.2 Normal Academic

NA students will be exposed to a wide range of subjects that will help them cope and make informed choices on their subjects at the upper secondary level. The subjects offered include:

  • English Language 
  • Mother Tongue Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Character and Citizenship Education
  • Humanities (Geography, History and Literature in English)
  • Design and Technology 
  • Food and Consumer Education
  • Physical Education
  • Art
  • Music
  • Project Work

Compulsory subjects at the upper secondary level include the English Language, Mother Tongue Language, Mathematics, Science and Humanities with Social Studies.

Students who have obtained AL5 or better in a Standard level subject at the PSLE will have the option to take the subject at the Express level through Subject-Based Banding (SBB). SBB will be fully implemented in 2024 but as of now, NA students who do well can be offered by their schools to take subjects at the Express level. The criteria would depend on the individual schools.

5.3 Normal Technical

Students in the NT stream study a set of compulsory subjects and are allowed to take optional subjects, known as electives, at the upper secondary level. Compulsory subjects include English, Mother Tongue, Math, Computer Application, and Social Studies. 

Students may also take Design and Technology, Food & Consumer Education, Physical Education, Art, and Music.

5.4 Tips on Choosing Subject Combination

There are several factors to consider when choosing your subject combination. 

  • How are your academic results?

Taking your results into consideration allows you to distinguish which subjects you are more academically inclined towards, as well as see what you are eligible to take. Taking subjects that you naturally do better in will help you score better for the N or O Levels, which is a key consideration taken into account by almost every educational institution.

  • Where do you plan to go after Secondary School?

If you already know where you would like to go after Secondary School, it is important to check the subject requirements to ensure that you are able to apply into your desired course. For example, if you would like to take H2 Math in Junior College, it is highly recommended to take A Math. If you are looking into a specific course in Polytechnic, do search up which subjects you have to take in order to be eligible for the course.

  • What do you enjoy learning?

Besides choosing the subjects that you can excel in, it is also important to factor in your personal interests. Taking subjects that you like will also encourages you to put in more effort to do well. Ultimately, we attend school to learn and broaden our perspectives. Choosing what you enjoy learning may direct you on the path toward a career that you will enjoy most.


6. Secondary School Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs)

Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) are a key component of students’ holistic education. Through CCAs, students will be able to explore their interests and talents. CCAs are also a platform where students can develop their social-emotional competencies and obtain other relevant skills to prepare them for future challenges.

During CCA sessions, students from diverse backgrounds are brought together to interact and develop friendships. Through this, students can also develop a sense of belonging to their CCA community and form bonds with more schoolmates outside their classes.

CCAs, where all students participate in at least one core activity, are compulsory in all secondary schools. Participation and achievements are graded together in a scoring system known as LEAPS (Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation, Service). This allows for a deduction of up to 2 points for O Level students.

There is a variety of CCAs to choose from in most secondary schools. They generally fall under these categories:

  • Sports
  • Performing Arts
  • Uniform Groups (UG)
  • Clubs and Societies


7. Secondary School Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Is Secondary School compulsory?

Yes, Secondary School education is compulsory for all Singaporeans aged 12 to 16.

2. How much are the Secondary School fees?

School fees differ based on the type of schools that the student is attending

For Government/Government aided Schools (including autonomous schools):

Singapore citizens: $5-$25 / month

Permanent Residents: $440-$520 / month

ASEAN International students:$840-$920 / month
Non-ASEAN International students: $1600-$1770 / month

For Independent/Specialized-Independent Schools:

Singapore citizens: $300-600 / month

Permanent Residents: $600-1000 / month

International students: $1000-2500 / month

3. How many subjects do I have to take?

The number of subjects taken would vary depending on the stream you are in. Most of the GCE O Level Express students take 7-8 subjects. Students in the NA stream take around 5-8 subjects and students in the NT stream take around 5-7 subjects.

4. What is the difference between NA and Express?

The NA and Express streams mainly differ in the national exams students sit for and the number of years they spend in Secondary school. Express students will sit for the GCE O Level Examinations at the end of 4 years. On the other hand, the NA students will sit for either the GCE O Levels or GCE N Levels Examination at the end of 4 or 5 years. 

5. Where can I go after Secondary School?

Most students pursue post-secondary education at tertiary institutions after Secondary School. Post-secondary education institutions include: Junior Colleges, Millennia Institute, Singapore Sports School (SSP), School of the Arts (SOTA), NUS High, Polytechnics, Institute of Technical Education (ITE), LASALLE, NAFA and the University of the Arts Singapore.

6. Are CCAs compulsory?

CCAs are compulsory for all secondary school students. You may refer to 6. Secondary School Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) for more information.

7. At what age do I enroll my child in Secondary School?

Secondary education in Singapore is for students aged 11 to 16.

8. How many exams are there?

In Secondary School, students have class tests, common tests, Mid-Year Examinations and End of Year Examinations. Schools will be removing mid-year examinations for all primary school students by 2023, in an ongoing move to shift the focus from academic grades and tests. The most important exam for Secondary School is the N Level or O Level examination, depending on your stream.

9. What if I did not get my choice of Secondary School?

Some schools may allow appeals from students. The appeal process may involve interviews and selection processes. The school’s Principal and Vice Principal will review the appeal and will decide if students can be accepted. Students may be required to report and continue with classes in their posted school while waiting for their appeal results.

10. How is the posting of students to Secondary Schools done?

The Secondary school posting process is based on the student’s PSLE score, order of the school choices and the vacancies left at the selected schools. Student’s PSLE score will be considered first for vacancies in their chosen schools. 

In the event that there is a tiebreaker between 2 students, schools will consider each student’s citizenship status, order of school choice and computerized balloting in this sequence. 

11. Will my child have priority to the affiliated Secondary School?

The student will be granted priority if the student places the affiliated Secondary School as their first choice. However, this does not guarantee a spot in the school as it will ultimately rely on vacancies available.


8. Conclusion

Secondary school years are crucial for students as students are entering a new phase in their education journey with new subjects, new friends and new commitments to take on. Students will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the respective subjects they will be taking and further explore their interests. Secondary School education will also provide students with an important academic foundation before they move on to further their education. 

Here at MindFlex, we have a wide selection of Secondary Tutors available to impart knowledge to help your child through his or her Secondary School years. If your child has difficulties in doing well in any Secondary subjects, our tutors can help with this! Our tutors all teach according to the latest MOE syllabus and will adjust the content load of each lesson to the student’s comprehension capacity. They also deliver engaging lessons to capture students’ attention, which in turn ensures that students gain a deeper level of understanding on the subject matter. Submit a free tutor request now, and we will see to it that you can find a tutor that is committed to seeing your child excel through Secondary School!

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