News flash: from 2027, there will no longer by any more O-Levels or N-Levels.

Reader: Why was I born so early… why did I have to take O-Level when I was in secondary school…

I wish I was born later too.

Removal of O- and N-Level and June MTL Exam

Currently, students are streamed into the Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical) streams, based on their overall academic results for their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

For those who have taken their O- and N-Level exams in recent years, you’ll be familiar with the current system whereby secondary students sit for their Mother Tongue Langue (MTL) exam in June.

After receiving their MTL results later in the year, usually in August, students will be given the option to retake the MTL exam with the rest of their written papers later in the year – in September (N-Level) or October (O-Level).. This gives students who failed the exam a chance to try to pass it again.

Others who are unsatisfied with their results may also sit for the retake exam in hopes of getting a better grade.

From 2027, this system will change. This means that this year’s Secondary 1 students will be the first to sit their national exams under one common timetable in 2027.

If you’ve subscribed to our YouTube channel, you’d know about this through this video:

From 2027, all secondary school students will sit for the new Singapore-Cambridge Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) exams instead of the current O- and N-Level exams.

This change comes after the removal of streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools in 2024, which has been replaced by Full Subject-Based Banding (SBB).

Under Full SBB, students take subjects at varying levels according to their strengths and interests. This is similar to the H1, H2, and H3 system A-Level students are familiar with.

The subjects will be mapped in this manner:

  • Normal (Technical) level: General (1) or G1
  • Normal (Academic) level: General (2) or G2
  • Express level: General (3) or G3

For example, a student strong in languages but weak in Math and Science may take English and his MTL at the G3 level, and Math and Science at the G1 or G2 levels.

This system takes some stress off the shoulders of many students as they will not have to take all their subjects at the G3 level, and can instead learn at a pace that is comfortable for them.

With the change, students will have one written exam sitting for their MTL subject and will not be able to retake the exam.

Some have lamented that this change means they have one less chance to improve their MTL grades, “But we need to strike a careful balance between striving for excellence, chasing the last mark, and allowing our students to learn at a better pace,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on 1 March in Parliament.

When the mid-year O-level MTL exam sitting was first introduced in 1980, less than 40% of students passed both their first and second languages. Hence, students were allowed to retake the MTL exam later in the year to meet the second language requirement for pre-university.

The chance to retake is a golden opportunity for ACS boys, iykyk.

Today, nearly all O-Level MTL students meet the language requirement with their first sitting, and the second sitting changes the post-secondary posting outcomes for less than 2% of those taking the MTL exam.

I guess we can attribute today’s better academic performance to tuition culture here in Singapore.

As students will now be sitting for their MTL exam with the rest of the O-level written papers, and not in June, teachers will be able to better pace the MTL curriculum, giving students four additional months to grasp concepts, vocabulary, and answering techniques.

The curriculum will no longer need to be rushed, and teachers can take their time to ensure students fully understand what they’re learning.

The English and MTL written exams will be held in the second week of September, a month ahead of other subjects to spread out the exam load.

The written papers of other subjects will share one common exam period, staring in October.

Under the current system, Normal (Academic) students who perform well in the N-Level exam can go on to Sec 5, where they will then sit for the O-Level exam.

The new Full SBB system will have all students going through a four year curriculum, but MOE will continue exploring other alternatives to a fifth year in secondary schools so that students can enter post-secondary institutions.

One such alternative is having a programme similar to the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP), which allows the top 15 per cent of the Sec 4 Normal (Academic) cohort to do a foundational year in the polytechnics before pursuing their diploma courses.

SEC Results and Post-Secondary Pathways

Currently, N-level results are released in mid-December and O-level results are released in mid-January the following year.

The results of the SEC exams will be released in January the following year, so the first batch of SEC exam results will be out in January 2028, following the 2027 SEC exams.

The SEC will continue to be jointly awarded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Cambridge, said Mr Chan.

The results slip will reflect the grade attained by the student as well as the level of the subject taken, whether that be G1, G2, or G3.

This new exam framework will affect admissions into post-secondary institutions such as the junior colleges (JCs), polytechnics, and the Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs).

In a previous parliament sitting, former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on 5 March 2019 that the ministry will review the post-secondary admission process so that students taking a combination of G1, G2 and G3 subjects can be fairly considered for JCs, polytechnics and ITEs.

“Our review will recognise students’ particular strengths that make them suitable for specific post-secondary courses,” he added.

More information on entry into post-secondary institutions is expected to be released as MOE discusses this.

There will also be some changes to Edusave Awards.

Previously, secondary students’ eligibility for the Edusave Scholarship (ES), Edusave Merit Bursary (EMB) and Good Progress Award (GPA) was determined by students’ ranks within their level and stream.

With the removal of streams under Full SBB, the eligibility of students from the 2024 Secondary 1 cohort for the aforementioned awards will be determined based on their overall performance across different subjects, taking into account their performance in individual subjects relative to their peers taking the subject at the same subject level.

MOE will also expand Edusave awards to recognise non-academic attributes, said Mr Chan.

From 2024, the Edusave Award for Achievement, Good Leadership and Service (EAGLES), will be expanded to Primary 1 to 3 pupils, who were previously not eligible.

The EAGLES award will recognise students’ 21st-century competencies, or skills identified as essential for the future.

These include critical, adaptive and inventive thinking, communication, as well as civic, global and cross-cultural literacy, across both curricular and co-curricular activities.

Up to 5 per cent of Primary 1 to 3 pupils can qualify and receive an award of $200 each. The award for Primary 4 to 6 students is $250.

The Edusave Skills Award – which recognises excellent professional and soft skills, along with good conduct – will be expanded from 10 per cent to 15 per cent of students in the graduating cohort.

It will also be given to 5 per cent of students in their second last year in the school.

The award is available for Crest Secondary School, Spectra Secondary School, specialised schools, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

About 3,400 more students are expected to benefit from the enhancement.

These changes will bring the balance of academic and non-academic awards given out to about 60:40, compared with the current 70:30 ratio, Mr Chan added.

“This signals our commitment to reducing the overemphasis on academic results, and balancing that with better preparation of our students more holistically for the future.”

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