PSLE changes: Parents worry that weaker pupils may not push themselves

Calvin Yang
The Straits Times
July 17, 2016

The introduction of eight scoring bands for the PSLE from 2021 has left some parents worried.

They fear that children who struggle academically or face learning difficulties like dyslexia could be less motivated to push themselves.

The problem, they say, is how the bands, called Achievement Levels (ALs), are set up.

Those who score 90 marks or above for a subject will earn an AL1, 85 to 89 will be an AL2, and 80 to 84 is AL3, and so on. But the bands are broader at the bottom. AL5 is a score of 65 to 74, while 45 to 64 is AL6.

While five marks at the higher ALs is enough to fall into a better band in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a 10-mark gain at the lower range may still see a pupil end up within the same AL band.

Some parents wonder if this will also discourage teachers from putting in the extra effort for these pupils.

However, schools assure such parents that this will not happen. Under the current system, every mark a child gains means a higher T-score.

Housewife Ho Peiling, 35, who has a four-year-old son, says weaker pupils will have to put in more effort to jump to the next higher band under the new scoring system.

"Even if they work as hard to get, say, 10 more marks, they are most probably going to end up in the same band," she says. "For better pupils, they can move up two bands if they get 10 more marks."

Administrative manager Jenny Subramaniam, 41, who has a five-year-old daughter, says: "Some pupils may think they might as well not try."

Financial adviser Joyce Lim, 46, whose son is in Primary 1 this year, says the new bands appear to be unfair to those who struggle with their academic work.

"It can be demoralising for these children, and their parents," says Madam Lim, who has two other sons aged 13 and 18.

The O-level examinations also use scoring bands but these are mostly divided into bands of five marks, except for the highest grade of A1, which is from 75 to 100 marks, and the lowest grade of F9, which is from zero to 39.

Education experts and psychologists have mixed views when asked if pupils who score within the middle to lower ALs would be less motivated to work harder. Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) psychology department, says there is a risk that "some children will see the wider grade bands as a hurdle". And this could affect their motivation, he adds.

EduGrove Mandarin Enrichment Centre managing director Jerry Theseira says "the incentive for higher-ability students to do better is much greater than for others".

Key exam changes

FROM 2021

  • Each subject will be graded according to Achievement Levels 1 to 8. The PSLE score will be the sum of ALs for English, maths, science and mother tongue. The best score will be 4, and the lowest 32.
  • The bands: AL1 - 90 and up AL2 - 85 to 89 AL3 - 80 to 84 AL4 - 75 to 79 AL5 - 65 to 74 AL6 - 45 to 64 AL7 - 20 to 44 AL8 - below 20
  • How well a pupil does will not be judged in comparison with peers. A pupil's raw performance will be reflected regardless of how his peers have done.
  • Places will be allocated according to PSLE score first, but a pupil who puts a school higher in his list of choices will get priority over another with the same score who ranks the school lower.


  • Pupils get an aggregate score for the PSLE. It is the sum of the T-scores in all four subjects. The T-score, short for "transformed score", is an adjusted score that shows how well a pupil does relative to his peers.
  • Pupils also receive grades of A*, A, B, C, D, E and U.
  • A pupil with a better aggregate score will be given priority in his selected school.
  • Between two Singapore citizens, the one with the higher unrounded aggregate score - which extends to decimal points - will be admitted first.
  • If there is still a tie, then posting will be determined by a computerised ballot.

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