What happens if you fail PSLE?

The PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) is a momentous event in the Singapore education system, where all Primary 6 (12 year old students) sit for the national exam that will determine their future secondary school (or even beyond, in the case of Integrated Programme).

PSLE is not everything

Despite the overall importance of PSLE, it has to be noted that PSLE is not everything. There are countless stories of late developers who later pursued successful careers, despite a bad PSLE Score.

Read about the miracle story of a student who scored 181 for PSLE (technically still a pass grade, but considered not so good), but later entered NUS Medicine, the most prestigious course in Singapore.

PSLE fail go where?

This seems to be a frequently asked question. There are still many options, one of them is NorthLight School, which was featured in the Straits Times. NorthLight School is a specialized school that takes in students who fail their PSLE. Each year, the intake of NorthLight School is around 200 students.

In 2009, Assumption Pathway School was also set up to take in students who fail PSLE, ensuring that students have a place to go to further their education.

After graduating from NorthLight School or Assumption Pathway School, around 45% of students go on to enter Institutes of Technical Education (ITE). After that, they can move on to Polytechnics.

What happens if you fail one subject in PSLE?

Unlike O levels, where there are quite severe consequences for failing critical subjects like ‘O’ level English or Maths, there is no penalty specifically for failing a certain PSLE subject.

According to experienced parents at Kiasuparents, the only problem of failing one subject in PSLE is that it will drag down the overall PSLE T-score. It has been estimated that failing one subject in PSLE would most likely cause the overall score to be below 200 (which can still enter many neighborhood secondary schools).

PSLE takes into account all 4 subjects. So even if you failed English or Chinese or any subject, it doesn’t matter. what matters is your combined score that determine whether you go express or normal academic.

Source: Kiasuparents

Hence, if the student does well for other subjects, it is not a big problem for failing one subject in PSLE, be it failing PSLE English, failing PSLE Chinese, or failing PSLE Math.

Bad PSLE results

It is actually quite rare to fail PSLE outright (around 98.4% of students pass and make it to secondary school). However, it is quite common to get a ‘bad’ PSLE results or a lower score than one expects.

When one gets a bad PSLE result, or fail PSLE (one or all subjects), the important thing for the student is not to get overly disheartened. It could well be the case that the student is a late developer, or that certain negative events out of the student’s control have impacted the student’s family, which resulted in the bad PSLE results.

Do check out this other inspirational story, of a student who scored 105 for PSLE, but later graduated from NUS with a Master of Architecture degree. The important thing is not PSLE grades (PSLE is not everything), but rather the character traits of a student such as being determined and hardworking.

Related posts:

Entering Good IP Schools is now Virtually Impossible for Students scoring below 65 for Chinese (MT)

Score less than 65 marks for Chinese (Mother Tongue), and it is Impossible to Enter Good IP Schools under the new system

This is a totally new era, where all previous PSLE strategies are outdated. Do share this article with your relatives/friends, where we show (using official evidence), that students scoring below 65 for Chinese (Mother Tongue) have virtually zero chance of entering good IP schools.

Since language (especially Mother Tongue) is the hardest subject to improve within a short period of time, students starting from as early as Primary 1 have to take note and adjust to the new PSLE scoring system. The Achilles heel for many students is actually Chinese language (or Mother Tongue), since it is very common for the entire family to be speaking English at home, at work, and with friends.

Our source of official evidence is the Straits Times, where it is indicated that the Official MOE Indicative AL COP range for 2019 PSLE for Express [Integrated Programme (IP)] is 6-9 points. For independent schools (which form the bulk of the best IP schools), the cut off point is 6-8. The same information can be found on Today Online, and Channel News Asia.

Indicative AL COP range for 2019 PSLE
Course Government and Government-aided schools Autonomous schools Independent schools
Express Integrated Programme (IP) 7–9 7–9 6–8
Achievement level (AL) Marks
1 90 and above
2 85-89
3 80-84
4 75-79
5 65-74
6 45-64
7 20-44
8 Below 20

Score under New PSLE System (for child weak in Mother Tongue)

Let us suppose the child scores:

  • >90 for English (AL 1)
  • >90 for Mathematics (AL 1)
  • >90 for Science (AL 1)
  • <65 for Chinese/ Mother Tongue (AL 6)

His/her total PSLE Score will be 1+1+1+6=9, which is not good enough to enter Independent IP Schools (requirement of 6-8 points). Independent IP Schools include schools like Raffles Institution, Nanyang Girls’ High School, RGS, HCI, and more. From common sense, the top IP schools’ COP is in fact likely to be on the lower end closer to 6 (or even lower?) rather than 8.

Score under Old PSLE System (for child weak in Mother Tongue)

Under the old PSLE system, the child’s score is likely good enough to enter even the best of IP schools:

  • >90 for English (e.g. 91)
  • >90 for Mathematics (e.g. 98)
  • >90 for Science (e.g. 95)
  • <65 for Chinese/ Mother Tongue (e.g. 64)

Estimated PSLE Score = (91+98+95+64)/4 x 3 = 261

The actual old PSLE T-score formula is slightly different (depends on bell curve and relative performance), but nevertheless, the estimated PSLE score of 261 is good enough to enter the best of IP schools like Raffles Girls’ School (RGS), RI, HCI. In fact, it is common knowledge that in the past, many students relatively weak in Chinese managed to enter RI and RGS due to their excellent scores in other subjects. Students in NYGH and HCI tend to have better grasp and mastery of the Chinese language.

A similar effect for students weak only in Math

The above effect is not unique to Chinese/ Mother Tongue. There are many students who excel in languages (English, Chinese), and Science, but are weak in Math for some reason or another.

The exact analysis also applies in this scenario, unfortunately. Basically, in order to enter top IP schools, no subject can be below 65 marks no matter how excellent the other subjects are.

See also:

Chinese Oral O Level 华文口试

Chinese Oral O Level Mark Weightage (O水准华文口试题目分数比重)

The weightage for Chinese Oral for O Level (classified under Paper 3) is quite high, at 25%. The duration of the Chinese Oral exam is only 15-25 minutes in total, hence this short period of time determines quite a lot of marks!

Chinese Oral O Level Topics 华文口试题目

There is a wide variety of topics that can be tested for the Chinese O Level Oral in the “Daily Conversation” section. The old format used to be based on a picture or photograph, but nowadays students view a video clip and answer or discuss questions based on the video clip.

For an extensive discussion of Topics for Chinese Oral (口试话题), check out this page on Chinesetuition88.com. Popular topics are those that are important to Singapore, such as saving water, fake news, inclusive society, and 个人代步工具 PMD (personal mobility device).

Chinese/ Higher Chinese Oral O Level Tips (O水准高级华文口试提示)

Firstly, one common problem for some students is talking too little. Clearly, the content marks is proportional to the amount of relevant content the student says. Hence, ideally, the student should keep talking until the time is up or the teacher says stop. If only a few words are spoken, the content marks cannot be high. This is the same concept as in Chinese composition, basically if the student only writes one page, his/her composition marks will be low.

Secondly, another problem is peppering of the speech with English words like “then”, “but”, or acronyms like MOE. Even names like “Joseph Schooling” should ideally be translated into Chinese (约瑟林). A few of these English words are not fatal, but too many English words would indicate a lack of mastery of Chinese vocabulary. Hence, students are advised to memorize a key list of Chinese terms that have high chance of appearing in Chinese O level exams.

List of Ministries in Singapore (Chinese)

  • 新加坡国防部(Ministry of Defence (MINDEF))
  • 新加坡环境及水源部(Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR))
  • 新加坡教育部(Ministry of Education (MOE))
  • 新加坡律政部(Ministry of Law (MINLAW))
  • 新加坡贸易和工业部(Ministry of Trade and Industry ( MTI))
  • 新加坡人力部(Ministry of Manpower (MOM))
  • 新加坡社会及家庭发展部(Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSFD))
  • 新加坡通讯及新闻部(Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI))
  • 新加坡卫生部(Ministry of Health (MOH))
  • 新加坡总理公署(Prime Minister’s Office)
  • 建屋发展局(Housing and Development Board、简称:HDB)
  • 国家传染病中心(National Centre for Infectious Diseases,简称NCID)
  • 新加坡文化、社区及青年部(Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY))

Lastly, one tip would be to memorize a list of “powerful Chinese idioms and proverbs” (口试好词好句), for instance sayings of Confucius or Tang poetry. If any one of them are used appropriately, it is an instant boost to your vocabulary score and place you in the top 5% of the student cohort. Imagine if a student uses the phrase below correctly, the examiner will be impressed beyond words:

天将降大任于斯人也,必先苦其心志,劳其筋骨,饿其体肤,空乏其身,行拂乱其所为,所以动心忍性,增益其所不能.  In English, Mencius is saying that, “whenever heaven invests a person with great responsibilities, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his muscles and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. In this way his patience and endurance are developed and his weakness is overcome.”

A list of 500 proverbs (including many by Confucius) can be found in the book below, in Chinese, Hanyu Pinyin and English translation. The author, Qin Xue Herzberg, is a native speaker of Chinese and a graduate of Beijing Normal University in Chinese Language and Literature.

Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings: With Observations on Culture and Language

O level Chinese Oral Marking Scheme, Grading and Format (口试评分标准)

The official information on the O Level Chinese Oral Marking Scheme and Format is found on the SEAB website:

试卷三:口试 10 -15 分钟 50 分/25%

这份试卷包括朗读短文和会话。在考试前,考生有 10 分钟的时间默 读短文和观看录像短片。考生在限定的时间内,可以多次默读短文和 观看录像短片。

第一部分 (Reading):朗读短文 考生必须朗读一个短文。

第二部分 (Conversation):会话 考生针对所提供的录像短片,以及主考员的提问,跟主考员进行一段 对话。

Basically, the Reading portion is 10 marks (5%), while the Conversation portion is 40 marks (20%).

Within the Conversation portion, the official marking scheme does not mention how the marks is broken down, but traditionally it is common that 20 marks (10%) is for Content while another 20 marks (10%) is for Vocabulary/Proper usage of Chinese Language. Alternatively, the 20% could be allocated evenly among the 3 or 4 questions asked (but note the Vocabulary is still important as it contributes to Impression Marks 印象分 that is subconsciously applied by the examiner).

How to Improve Chinese Oral O Level

As mentioned above, the key aspects to improve Chinese Oral (O Level) are in the aspects of Content and Vocabulary.

For Content, students are advised to watch more Chinese television, especially news broadcasts on current affairs. Also, students can read more Chinese newspapers to improve their general knowledge. For example, Dengue Fever is a common O Level Chinese Oral topic, at minimum students should know that Dengue is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes (some students thought that it is transmitted by houseflies).


For Vocabulary, students should aim and target for speaking in Chinese 100% without usage of English words. To achieve that, a list of common Chinese terminologies should be memorized, especially words that are unique to Singapore (see the list of Singapore ministries listed above). To achieve the highest distinction, students should in addition memorize a list of “powerful” Chinese idioms and proverbs to further improve their vocabulary score.

This book below has over 500 powerful Chinese proverbs in Chinese, Hanyu Pinyin, as well as English translation, including proverbs by Confucius. Proper usage of such proverbs have a high chance of impressing the examiner in Chinese Oral and even Chinese composition.

Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings: With Observations on Culture and Language

Do read more on O Level Chinese Oral Tips at:

Physics Exam Papers

Free Exam Papers (Physics)

Do check out our main page on Free Exam Papers as well!

‘O’ Level / Prelim Physics Exam Papers

  1. Maths Physics Hub
    Quite a large collection of recent (2017) Physics Exam Papers, ranging from top schools (ACS, Nan Chiau, etc.) as well as neighborhood schools (Fuhua, Zhonghua, Xinmin, etc.).
  2. Test Papers Free
    A large collection of Pure Physics as well as Combined Science (Physics) exam papers. No login is required, however the interface is a bit messy. But you should be able to find quite a few Physics Test Papers.
  3. https://testpapers.com.sg/
    A treasure trove of school papers (including Physics Pure and Combined, Express and Normal Academic (NA)). Needs login to download.

‘A’ Level / Prelim Physics Exam Papers

  1. http://tinyurl.com/holygrailrepo2
    This weirdly titled Google Drive (“Electric Boogaloo”) contains a mega-database of JC Prelim papers for Physics. Exam papers ranges from H1 to H3, and from the years 2008 to 2019.

Note: The Free Physics Test Papers listed above are hosted on external sites independently. Sometimes, the site may be down or the link may be broken.


O Level Results 2019

Congratulations to all who did well in the ‘O’ Levels!

Do check out our post on Latest JC Cut-off points COP, to see the trend of JC cut-off points to help you choose your desired school. (Remark: I am curious to see how Nanyang JC Cut-off point is like, it seems that NYJC is now one of the bona fide top JCs in Singapore.)

For those who did not do well, check out our post on What to do if fail O level Singapore, there are still available routes, do not give up!

For this year, again there is a loss of 32 A-Math scripts in the UK. See also:

Sincere condolences to those affected.

No Exams Singapore

The latest policy update is that there will be reduced or no exams for certain levels such as lower primary and lower secondary.

Do check out our Poll writeup for more details: Poll: Opinion on Fewer exams for Primary and Lower Secondary Students?

It seems that it is quite a dilemma; parents find exams stressful, yet exams are viewed as necessary by most parents to measure how their child is learning. According to Today Online, tuition centres have great success offering their own “in-house exams” to fill in the gap. At the end of the day, the “big exams” like PSLE, O-Levels, A-Levels are still present, and that is the major feature in the education landscape.

It is quite like “lump sum payment” (single exam at end of the year) versus “payment by installments” (multiple exams throughout the year). In the end, the full sum still has to be paid (students still have to study the material to pass the final exam).