How to develop students’ interest in mathematics

For interest in Math, it is totally understandable that many students may find math boring. One way to overcome it is to try to think of each Math question like a puzzle or game (like a Sudoku or Crossword Puzzle). Solving a Math question correctly should bring joy and a sense of achievement just like completing a stage of a game or a puzzle. And the more questions one solves, the better one gets at it.
“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”
― Bertrand Russell
In the Singapore context, basically, Math is quite compulsory in SG education system (up till JC, even arts subject combinations requires math), but once JC is over one can skip Math entirely in university. So a secondary student just have to work hard for math for the upcoming few years, and “get it over with”, if he/she really does not like math. Similarly for Chinese, students need to work hard up till Secondary 4, score well and be exempted in JC. Math can be considered the “easiest” subject to get A, as long as one gets the answer correct he/she will get the full marks, many students complain that getting A for English or other humanities subjects like Literature is much harder due to strict or subjective marking.
The important thing is not to give up. Currently, in the Singapore education system it is quite common for students to “fail” exams (fail as in score below 50), especially in secondary school and JC internal exams. It is very possible to improve upon working hard after the failure.
“Trust me, its normal, I never passed a single A math test/exam during my sec 3/4 school years, got A2 for O levels in the end. (Mugged really hard after prelims) What matters is understanding the content I feel.”
– This student never passed a single A math test/exam up till prelims but eventually got A2 for O levels after “mugging” really hard after prelims.
Source: Reddit
trust me youre not alone. from mid sec 3 to prelims in sec 4 i got F9 all the way. but then in the end i got an A2 in olevels. one thing u need to know is to NEVER stop believing in yourself. keep on pushing urself all the way till the finishing point. aft seeing my score for prelims, i alm gave up but i told myself to atleast PASS amaths and i’d be satisfied with it. i started spamming my TYS, practice as much as i could. never give up and whenever in doubt just ask ur cher. it rly helps! atb and ik u can do it:))
Source: Reddit
dude chill. i got 8% for mye in sec 3 for A Math. form teacher told me drop the subject, but i didnt. ended up o level got A2. just do work given and practice more.
– This guy even more “power”, he got just 8/100 for Mid-year exams, but improved to A2 in O Levels.
Source: Reddit

“In my daughter’s school, no one scored A1 for Higher Chinese for the recent GCE O Levels”

O Level Higher Chinese Distinction Rate

Quite surprising to see news on Kiasuparents that the distinction rate for ‘O’ Levels HCL is so low.

Case study 1)

In the below case study, zero students scored A1 for Higher Chinese in the recent O Levels. This is very surprising since even in neighborhood schools, we would expect there to be at least a few students strong in Chinese. For example for Mathematics, even in neighborhood schools there is guaranteed to be at least a few students scoring A1.

In my DD’s (dear daughter) school, no one scored A1 for Higher Chinese for the recent GCE O Levels.

This is very surprising becos there are students who are very academically inclined and some have shown consistent strength in the subject over the 4 years in secondary school.

I wonder how other secondary schools perform in this subject. Or did MOE raised the standard or the school is just unlucky where their students exam papers were marked by an unusually strict examiner/marker?


Case Study 2)

The below case study is also very surprising since SAP schools are known to have a heavy emphasis on Chinese language and culture, usually leading to excellence in the Chinese subject. Examples of top SAP schools include Dunman High, Catholic High, Chung Cheng High School (Main), etc.

The distinction (rate) for HCL in my DS school is 29.6%. Considering that he is from a SAP school with strong Chinese culture.. this is quite low.. but to be fair.. with 8-9 subjects to manage and knowing that C6 will get you the 2 bonus points.. how many kids will aim for A1? My DS got C6 and he is happy that he got his 2 bonus points..


Do check out our blog post on O Level Bell Curve.

What to do if fail O level Singapore

Recently, there is positive news that polytechnic students no longer need to “depend” on their O level results to enter university.

Most students will aim for JC (Junior College) or Poly (Polytechnic) admission after their O levels. Outright failure (F9) is quite rare for O levels, but students need to be careful as too many borderline passes like D7/C6 can lead to a score that is technically a pass, but not enough to enter JC or Poly. (See: Academic grading in Singapore: How many marks to get A in Maths for PSLE, O Levels, A Levels)

What to do if do badly for O level Singapore for key subjects

Method 1: Write Appeal Letters

Certain subjects (especially Mathematics) are more important to pass than others. According to this post on Quora, failing Mathematics can mean “auto rejection from all poly courses”.

Failing English is also quite serious as Poly seems to require D7 and above for English. This may be a problem for foreign students. There are indeed students who ace all subjects except English, they qualify for JC but not polytechnic! (See this post on Kiasuparents.)

The solution is: write appeal letters. Polytechnics do have some room for discretionary admission for borderline cases. So do try this option and do not give up.

“So off I went to most of the polytechnics to talk to their lecturers and submit my appeal. SP I did not go because I felt they were too good for me. Ngee Ann Poly I did not submit my appeal out of silly pride because the lecturer I talked to mocked & laughed at me. But for the rest, the lecturers I talked to were pretty kind even though they honestly tell me my chances are low. So I wrote my appeal letters talking about myself, my journey, what I did wrong, what I could have done & why I am suitable for the course I am applying.

RP was the first to accept me for their IT course and made me go through some programme first. Temasek come later wanting to interview me but I declined as I accepted RP offer already. NYP rejected me without an interview.”


Method 2: Alternative Route of ITE -> Poly -> Degree

This alternative route is also possible. The journey is not easy though, as this Quora post mentions:

“So I took my Higher Nitec in Information Technology in 2004. The only reason why I took Information Technology was because I was good with computers. I did HTML coding in secondary school and I was good at Photoshop. That was a great advantage. For me, Higher Nitec was much easier than O Levels. I easily scored a high GPA in 2006 and managed to get a place in Nanyang Polytechnic where I continued studying Information Technology.

To be honest, polytechnic was far more challenging but I was determined to prove my parents wrong. I continued my full-time studies while working part-time as a barista so that I can pay my school fees and daily expenses. It wasn’t easy and some days I did skip classes because I was burnt out from work and school. I did fairly good, scored a 2.6 GPA in 2009 and went on to serve my 2-year mandatory national service in the military.

In 2011, after finishing my national service, I was employed in an institution as an IT support. In 2012, I had plans to take up part-time degree. So I moved on in 2013, got a better paying job, took my part-time BSc in Cyber Forensics and Information Security Management and graduated. Working full-time and taking a part-time degree has got to be the most taxing feeling I have ever had. I had to juggle work with studies. There were school projects and essays. It was challenging but I made it.”


Method 3: O Level Private Candidate

Another possible route is retaking O levels as a private candidate. This route is also not easy as it involves discipline in studying by oneself. Possibly a better option is to enroll in private schools, or hire private tutors for those weaker subjects.

Method 4: Go Overseas

This method is unfortunately only for those who are well off (a.k.a. rich). The Singaporean O Level is the hardest version of the O Levels (compared to the UK or the Hongkong papers). Hence, chances are high that even a relatively academically weak Singaporean student can do quite well in overseas education systems like Australia, UK, US, etc.


Do read our blog on: Inspirational story: From EM3 and Normal (Technical) to PhD. Also very motivational is: From PSLE 124 to PhD A*Star Researcher. Nowadays, having a failure in the early section of education is not the end. There are different pathways to success, though some are longer than others. As Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Also, read our highly popular posts on:

Education News: Princeton University abolishes “Bell Curve” (O Level Bell Curve)

O Level Bell Curve Discussion

With the O Levels and A Levels coming up, a recent topic of talk is what the “Bell Curve” will be like. Some subjects, especially O Level E Maths, are notorious for having a extremely high bell curve. Students allegedly need more than 90 marks to secure an A1 for E Maths (Elementary Maths) at the O Levels.

Will the O Level abolish the “Bell Curve” system one day? Virtually nobody likes the “Bell Curve” system, other than those at the top of the curve. Some bad points about the “Bell Curve” system is that students can become quite competitve, as they know that the number of As is limited. Ideally, cooperation and discussion among students are needed to improve their knowledge. Students who help one another create a friendly and conducive environment for learning.

What do you think? Post your comments below!


Princeton University's Blair Tower photographed from above (Alan Tu/WHYY)

Rest easy, Tigers. Princeton University is reversing its longstanding policy on “A” grades.

For the last 10 years, the school’s official grading policy has recommended that professors don’t award A’s to more than 35 percent of students in undergraduate classes.

It was meant to remedy the rampant grade inflation that had taken place on campus in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Since the policy took effect, the number of A’s awarded dropped and grade deflation began to set in.

But the policy had unintended side effects.

“Many students commented that the atmosphere on campus had become overly competitive,” said engineering professor Dr. Clancy Rowley. “They were intentionally not helping each other for fear that the other student would get the A grade at their expense.”

Read more at:

Featured book:

Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth