Students who are in P3 in 2018 will be the first batch of students sitting for the revamped PSLE scoring system. Under this new PSLE 2021 scoring system, the current PLSE T-score will be replaced by 8 Achievement Levels (AL) as shown below.
|Achievement Levels (AL)|| |
Raw mark range
|Difference between the lowest mark of the preceding AL and the highest mark of next AL|
|1||90 and above|
|2||85 – 89||5|
|3||80 – 84||5|
|4||75 – 79||5|
|5||65 – 74||10|
|6||45 – 64||20|
|7||20 – 44||25|
A student’s total score will be the sum of the AL of each of the 4 subjects (English, Mathematics, Science and Chinese). This means the maximum score a student can obtain is AL4 while the lowest is AL32. The cohort of 2021 will be then be streamed as shown below:
|Stream/s||PSLE AL Score|
|Express||4 – 20|
|Express/ Normal (Academic)*||21 – 22|
|Normal (Academic)||23 – 24|
|Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical)*||25|
|Normal (Technical)*||26 – 30|
1. On the surface, less competition
The main difference between the current and the new 2021 PSLE scoring system is that from 2021 onwards, a student’s PSLE score will be determined by his/her own raw score. This raw AL score will be used for admission into secondary school. This means that a child’s PSLE score will not reflect his/her performance relative to the cohort of that year.
2. All-rounders will benefit more
‘All-rounder’ students will benefit more than students who are ‘subject specialists’ e.g. Student A who is very strong in 2 subjects (Maths & Science) but not so strong in the other 2 languages will end up with a score that is lower than Students B and C who are equally strong in all 4 subjects. Consider the scenario below:
Student A (Subject Specialist) – Maths: 99% (AL 1), Science: 97% (AL 1), English: 83% (AL 3), Chinese: 80% (AL 3) = AL8
Student B (All-rounder) – Maths: 92 % (AL 1), Science: 91% (AL 1), English: 86% (AL 2), Chinese: 87% (AL 2) = AL6
Student C (All-rounder) – Maths: 92 % (AL 1), Science: 91% (AL 1), English: 90% (AL 1), Chinese: 90 % (AL 1) = AL4
3. Greater pressure and uncertainty for top performing students
It may become more critical to score higher marks because top students will be vying for AL4. In effect, 90% will become the new 100% but it also means that it’s more critical to hit the benchmarks of 85% and 90%. If a student scores 84% instead of 85%, that 1% will have a marked effect on his/her score as it drops from a AL2 to AL3.
Step 1: Sorting out the Higher Mother Tongue results
For students who opt to do e.g. Higher Chinese, acceptance into a SAP school will depend on how they score for their paper. Students with better grades will be given priority. Once this is done, then the other 3 tie-breakers would come into play.
Step 2 : The tie-breakers
Admissions into ‘top’ secondary schools may become more competitive. It would not be hard to imagine that a substantial number of students will be able to score AL4. Since they have already achieved the best PSLE score possible, most will probably put top schools such as RI, NYGH and RGS as the first choice. After all, there will still be 5 other choices that will have to be filled up. There is nothing to lose. When an overwhelming number of AL4 students apply for these ‘top’ schools, how will the schools decide on whom they should accept?
Under the new rules, the student’s (1) citizenship and (2) choice order of schools will influence the final outcome. This means that Singaporeans who achieve AL4 will be competing with each other but in a less obvious way since the secondary schools would not be able to gauge the quality of the AL4s. Assuming that the most popular ‘top’ schools have limited spaces, which is expected, the third tie-breaker – computerised balloting, will take place.
If a student scores the maximum PLSE score and still has to be subjected to computerised balloting, won’t this ‘leaving to chance’ scenario only create more uncertainty and anxiety?
This also implies that if the four PSLE papers are difficult, the total number of AL4 scores will drop. Less AL4 applicants vying for spots at elite schools means that the probability of getting confirmed places will be higher. On the other hand, if the four PSLE papers are ‘easy’, it may be harder for ‘stronger’ students to get the choice of their dream school when more AL4 scores undergo computerised balloting.
4. Greater struggle for lowest performing students
Compared to the rest of the cohort, the weakest students will struggle the most to improve their PSLE score e.g. Student D who is in the 45% (AL6) range will have to jump 20 points to obtain an AL5. Compare this to a stronger student, Student E who is in the 80% range (AL3). Student E has to improve by only 5 points to obtain her AL2.
5. Our conclusion
(i) Focus on all 4 subjects
Children who are relatively strong in all 4 subjects will be better off under this new 2021 system. Instead of strategizing to maximise the marks for the student’s favourite subject, focus on improving his/her weaker subjects. Since subjects such as Chinese tend to be the weakest for many children, try to focus on this subject early on as languages take time to improve.
(ii) Sit for the Higher Mother Tongue subject
If the Mother Tongue (MT) subject such as Normal Chinese is relatively strong e.g. in the 80% range, go for Higher Chinese as this will open up more options.
(iii) Difficult PSLE papers benefit the stronger students
(iv) Post 2021, will PSLE papers become more challenging?
If the PSLE papers become more challenging, it would have more to do with global trends than the new 2021 scoring system.
Firstly, the current trend in education is to focus on critical thinking*. If this trend continues, then we should not expect for the PSLE to become ‘easier’.
Secondly, as the world rapidly evolves into an information-based society, students learn more content earlier and at a faster pace. Thirty years ago, the main source of information and knowledge came from books, encyclopedias and teachers. Today, a child can learn endlessly just by typing in a word on the keyboard. As students acquire knowledge at a never-seen-before breakneck pace, exams all over the world may have to evolve to match the greater ability of these students.
Lastly, Singapore is the epitome of a global city. The global trend is for increasing numbers of children to attend pre-school and many are doing so at a younger age. When education starts earlier, it makes sense that assessment standards should match the increasing ability of the younger generations.
- To read more about the the role of critical thinking skills in Singapore, please refer to our blog post, Why are Singapore students No.1 in the world?
Written by The Schooling Society (TSS)