Rationale and Intent of Changes

Why not just do away with the PSLE?


It gauges a student’s understanding of key concepts and academic strengths, and guides their future learning in secondary school.

  • Primary school is a time when students develop foundation skills in literacy and numeracy, and acquire habits and skills that will help them learn in the future.
  • At the end of primary school, students take the PSLE, which helps to determine where each child’s academic strengths lie. This in turn guides the child to a suitable academic programme in secondary school - one that best suits their learning needs. In this way, students can learn and progress at a comfortable pace.
  • The PSLE result also serves as a fair and transparent mechanism to determine secondary school posting.
  • We acknowledge that the PSLE is unable to assess many other attributes that are also important for work and life. This is why the new scoring system aims to reduce excessive focus on academic results.

Scoring Changes

Why are there 8 Achievement Levels to grade each subject?


  • The standard curriculum in primary schools caters to the majority of students. Examinations such as the PSLE are used to assess the levels of understanding of students across a wide spectrum.
  • Under the new Achievement Level (AL) system, the 8 ALs are designed to represent these levels in a broader manner. While we do not want to differentiate too finely between students, we do want to get an idea of their progress after 6 years of primary school, so that they can be matched to suitable academic programmes in secondary school.
  • For example, while there may not be any difference between a student who scores 65 and another who scores 66 marks in a subject, there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75. We want to be able to recognise this difference.
  • If there are too few ALs, there would be more students with the same PSLE Score, which would lead to more balloting in S1 posting. This would cause more anxiety among parents and students.
  • 8 ALs, therefore, offer a good balance.
Why are the reference raw mark ranges not evenly distributed?


  • This is due to the way the curriculum and examinations are designed - where the grades and levels of understanding are not linear.
  • When we learn something new, after some initial practice, we often find ourselves improving significantly. But as we get better, the improvements become small steps, and finally, as we reach a high level, we inch just a little further, even after much learning and practice. The ALs and mark ranges reflect this reality of learning.
  • The PSLE is also designed such that students are able to show what they can do. As around half of the students today score in the range of 75 and above, the upper AL bands have comparatively narrower ranges even after grouping students into wider bands. Further widening these bands would lead to too many students with the same PSLE score, which would require more tie-breaking to determine secondary school postings.
AL Raw Mark Ranges
1 ≥ 90
2 85 - 89
3 80 - 84
4 75 - 79
5 65 - 74
6 45 - 64
7 20 - 44
8 < 20
With the wide mark ranges for AL 6 and AL 7, will it be difficult for students to reach the next band?
  • The PSLE is a checkpoint for a student’s learning. The AL scoring bands reflect the way the curriculum and examinations are designed, where levels of understanding are not linear. The ALs reflect this reality of learning, where each band reflects a level of understanding of a subject. The ALs also provide an indication of the students’ readiness level for the next course of study.


  • You may push a child towards the next scoring band, but they may find it challenging to cope with the subject in secondary school. This can affect their morale in the longer run.
  • It is better for the child to do their best, and move ahead, at a pace that is comfortable for them, rather than struggle to cope.

This way, the child is more likely to remain a lifelong learner.

How do I pass the PSLE under the new system? Is 65 the passing mark for each subject?
  • 65 is not the passing mark for each subject. At the individual subject level, an AL 8 is considered "Ungraded".
  • The PSLE is a placement exam to determine the most appropriate course for a child, based on the child's educational needs at the point of entry to secondary school.
  • There are no pass or fail grades for individual subjects. A student who obtains a PSLE Score of 26 to 30, and scores an AL 7 or better in both English Language and Mathematics can progress to the N(T) course. Similar to today, students who are not eligible for Express, N(A) or N(T) would have to repeat the PSLE, or progress to NorthLight School or Assumption Pathway School.
  • Regardless of the placement outcome of the child, there is flexibility within our system. Schools continually monitor the progress of our students to develop them to their fullest potential. As early as the middle of Secondary 1, student who are placed in N(A) or N(T) and do well may be allowed to do selected subjects at the Express or N(A) level respectively. They could also transfer to a more demanding course, if they demonstrate that they are able to cope with the curriculum.
Is it harder to qualify for Express under the new system?
  • No, it is not harder to qualify for Express under the new system, as the PSLE scoring changes will not affect the curriculum, the subjects tested, the assessment standards or the PSLE's demand on students.
  • Under the new standards-referenced scoring system, if more students demonstrate the requisite level of achievement to cope with and benefit from a more demanding course, more of them will be eligible for that course.
  • It is expected that the proportion of students qualifying for different courses under the new system remain largely similar to today even as we transit to the new AL system.
Can students still qualify for the Express or N(A) course if they take one or more Foundation level subjects?


  • Foundation level subjects support the learning needs of students to focus on building up strong fundamentals in these subjects and better prepare them for progression to secondary school.
  • Students will qualify for the respective courses as long as their PSLE Score meet the placement criteria (See corresponding table).
  • It is possible for students to qualify for Express or N(A) course even if they take one or more subjects at the Foundation level.
  • Students should thus decide whether to take a subject at Standard or Foundation level based on their aptitude and ability to cope with the demands of that particular subject.
Placement Outcome PSLE Score
Express 4 - 20
21 - 22
N(A) 23 - 24
N(A) / N(T) OPTION 25
N(T) 26 - 30, with AL7 or better in both English Language and Mathematics
How are the raw mark ranges for Foundation level subjects' AL scores derived? Why are they not evenly distributed?


  • The AL scoring bands for Foundation subjects reflect their curriculum and assessment load, relative to Standard subjects. Thus, AL A, B and C for Foundation subjects are pegged to AL 6, 7 and 8 for Standard subjects respectively. With just three AL bands for Foundation subjects, the mark range for each AL will naturally be wide. Because of the nature of the foundational level of these subjects, it is not meaningful to further differentiate students via more ALs. Moreover, this would run counter to the overall objective of reducing fine differentiation.
  • The ALs also provide an indication of the students’ readiness level for the next course of study. For example, students who scores AL A for a Foundation subject would have demonstrated the ability to cope with the subject’s N(A) curriculum in secondary school.
Grades for Foundation Foundation Raw Mark Range Equivalent Standard Level AL
A 75 - 100 6
B 30 -74 7
C < 30 8
Will the PSLE syllabus change?


  • The curriculum
  • The subjects tested at the PSLE
  • The demand of the PSLE on students

However, MOE does review the curriculum regularly to ensure that our curriculum is relevant and up-to-date. This will continue as per current practice.

How is the PSLE scored under the T-score system?


  • When a student sits for a PSLE paper, their raw score in each subject is transformed into a subject T-score using a formula.
  • The subject T-score shows how well the student performed relative to their peers in a particular subject.
  • It is better for the child to do their best, and move ahead, at a pace that is comfortable for them, rather than struggle to cope.

x is the student’s mark for the subject
µ is the average mark (mean) scored by all the students
ϭ is the spread of the marks around the average mark (standard deviation)

To qualify for N(T), a student must achieve a PSLE Score between 26 and 30, as well as get a grade of AL 7 or better in English and Mathematics. Why must there be a minimum grade in English and Mathematics, but not other subjects such as Science or MTL?

English Language and Mathematics are critical for building strong foundations in literacy and numeracy, in order for the child to access future education options. A grade of AL 7 or better in these subjects indicates that the student possesses the foundational knowledge and skills to cope with the demands of the secondary school curriculum.

SBB (Secondary) Eligibility Criteria

How did MOE come up with the Subject-Based Banding (Secondary) eligibility criteria?

The Subject-Based Banding (Secondary) eligibility criteria are aimed at identifying students who are stronger in specific subjects, and who are likely to benefit from taking these subjects at a more demanding level so that they can further build on their strengths.

The AL 5 or better eligibility criterion for students to take a subject at the Express level is consistent with the course placement criteria under the new scoring system. This indicates that a student is likely to be able to cope with the subject at a more demanding level. A student who achieves a PSLE Score of 20 (i.e. an average of AL 5 for each subject) would qualify for the Express course, where the student would take all subjects at the Express-level by default. Therefore, AL 5 is used as the qualifying grade to assess if students from other courses are ready to take the subject at the Express level.

The same principle applies to the AL 6 eligibility criterion for a student placed in the Normal (Technical) course to take subjects at the Normal (Academic) level.

My child missed the eligibility criteria for SBB (Sec) subjects but has a strong passion for the subject. May I appeal for my child to take the subject at a more demanding level?

Students are eligible for Subject-Based Banding (Secondary) [SBB (Sec)] subjects at multiple points throughout their secondary school education. The first point they may be eligible is at the start of Sec 1 based on their individual subject scores at the PSLE. Subsequently, they have opportunities to be identified for SBB (Sec) subjects in the middle of Sec 1, start of Sec 2, and so on, based on their performance in school.

The school will work with them to ensure that they take the subject at the appropriate level.

Will there be additional school-based support for a child who takes a subject at a more demanding level under SBB (Sec)?

Schools employ a variety of approaches to help students taking subjects at a more demanding level under Subject-Based Banding (Secondary) [SBB(Sec)] adjust both academically and emotionally. Support measures may include:

  • Bridging and remedial lessons where necessary;
  • Regular dialogue sessions with students to motivate them as well as to allow them to surface their learning concerns; and
  • Monitoring of student well-being and academic progress, both for the subject(s) at the more demanding level as well as the remaining subjects.
When will students be offered to take subjects at a more demanding level? How will the schools inform parents of eligible students to take up subjects at a more demanding level?

Eligible students will be offered to take subjects at a more demanding level at four different junctures:

  1. Start of Secondary 1
  2. Mid-point of Secondary 1
  3. End of Secondary 1
  4. End of Secondary 2

Similar to current practice, upon meeting the eligibility criteria, schools will issue a letter of offer for the respective subjects to parents of eligible students. Parents can then decide whether to accept the offer for the child to take up subjects at a more demanding level.

Parents are encouraged to contact their child’s school should they have any queries regarding the child’s eligibility, and to also consult the school before deciding if they would accept the offer.

© 2020 Government of Singapore.
Last updated: 12 Mar 2021