Stressed out by what the new system means for your primary school child? We answer all your burning questions.

In 2016, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the PSLE scoring system would be getting an overhaul in 2021. Fast forward five years, and the new system has officially been rolled out. In April 2021, entry scores for 139 secondary schools were released by MOE as well. These indicative score ranges were simulated using the 2020 P6 cohort’s PSLE results and school choices. 

If you’ve got a primary school kid, you may still be very confused about all the changes. How exactly does the scoring system work now? Did the PSLE get harder? 

Here are our answers to your commonly-asked questions. 

How is the new PSLE score calculated?

Each standard-level PSLE subject is scored using eight bands, also known as Achievement Levels (AL).  Instead of grades like A* to E, each student is awarded an AL score from 1 to 8 for each subject.  Students who perform similarly are placed in the same AL for each subject.

As such, a pupil’s PSLE score will be the sum of the four subject scores (English Language, Mother Tongue Language, Science and Mathematics). This score can range from 4 to 32, with 4 being the best possible total score. 

Example of a student’s PSLE score calculation:

Source: MOE (Under Achievement Levels) 

Comparison between the old and new grading systems:

Source of new PSLE scoring system: MOE (Under Achievement Levels)

Source of old PSLE scoring system:

Why is the PSLE scoring system being changed? 

According to MOE, the change in the scoring system marks a shift from an over-emphasis on academic results. It reduces fine differentiation of students’ examination results at a young age, and recognises their level of achievement − regardless of their peers’ performance. 

In the old T-score system, grades reflect how well students perform relative to their peers. This is seen as there are over 200 possible T-scores. Consequently, students' examination scores are more finely differentiated, with fewer students having the same T-score. Fewer schools would also have the same cut-off point. 

In contrast, the new system reflects how well students have done relative to the curriculum’s learning objectives. With only 29 possible PSLE scores (ranging from 4 to 32), examination scores are less finely differentiated.  More students will be awarded the same PSLE score, with more schools having the same cut-off point.

As such, students can choose from a wider range of schools, depending on their strengths and interests, as well as each school’s programmes and CCAs. 

What score qualifies my child for the Express stream?

Another big question on parents’ mind is the qualifying mark for getting into the Express stream. You might already know that MOE will be replacing streaming with subject-based banding in 2024. But until 2023, students will continue to be placed in either the Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) courses based on their PSLE score. 

Here’s how placements are decided:

Source: MOE (Under ‘Can students still qualify for the Express or N(A) course if they take one or more Foundation level subjects’)

MOE has also assured parents that the new system doesn’t make it harder to qualify for the Express stream. The proportion of students qualifying for different courses will remain largely similar to the T-score system.

The new changes also do not affect the curriculum, assessment standards and rigour of the PSLE.

How will posting be decided in the case of a tie?

Posting to secondary school is still determined by academic merit. If two students have the exact same score and are vying for the last available place in a school, a tie-breaker will be used. 

The order for the tie-breaker is as follows: 

1. Citizenship (Singapore Citizens have first priority, followed by PRs and then international students)

2. Choice order of schools ( A student who ranked the school higher on their list of choices get priority) 

3. Computerised balloting

Computerised balloting is only carried out when those vying for the last place in a school have the same PSLE Score, citizenship and choice order of schools.

How do I know which is the better school, since more schools have the same entry range score? 

Whether a school is “better” isn’t just determined by their entry score requirements. Parents should look beyond score ranges, and choose a secondary schools that fits their child’s holistic learning needs.

Other factors to consider include the schools’ programmes, co-curricular activities, culture and values. For example, if your child is strong in a sport like badminton, pick a school where he or she can excel in it. The ideal school would have a solid training programme that’s able to nurture your child’s sporting talent. 

Can we do away with the PSLE altogether?  

Major exams can put a lot of stress and anxiety on students. So why can’t we do away with PSLE altogether? 

As MOE explains, the PSLE’s goal is to gauge a student’s understanding of key concepts learnt during their primary school years. It helps determine where their academic strengths lie, in turn guiding them to a suitable academic programme in secondary school. This way, students can learn and progress at a comfortable pace.

The ministry also notes how PSLE results are a fair and transparent mechanism to determine secondary school posting.

However, MOE has also acknowledge that the PSLE’s focus is largely academic, and is unable to assess other attributes that are important for work and life. As such, the new scoring system was created to reduce an excessive focus on grades.


For more info on the new PSLE scoring system, visit MOE’s website here

Photo: iStock

6 tactics to help your child enjoy learning

Help your kids enjoy maths

6 points about getting into the DSA-Sec programme