Singapore Students Show Well-Developed Thinking and Reasoning Skills: OECD PISA 2018 Study

Published Date: 03 December 2019 12:00 AM

News Press Releases

1. Singapore's 15-year-olds have demonstrated competencies that would enable them to navigate the challenges of the future, according to the 2018 results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international benchmarking study co-ordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

2. PISA 2018 shows that our students are able to integrate content and generate inferences, compare and contrast viewpoints, reason with insight, communicate arguments, and identify evidence to support claims.

3. Reflecting on the PISA 2018 findings, Deputy Director-General of Education (Curriculum), Mr Sng Chern Wei said: "PISA 2018 shows that our students are well-equipped with critical skills and the resilience that would serve them well in a rapidly changing and complex world. We thank supportive parents and committed teachers for continually nurturing our students. The PISA results remain a useful international reference for MOE as we develop our education policies and programmes, as it provides us with rich insights about the progress we are making in building critical skills in our students, and the school and home contexts within which they do so. We will continue to look into the areas for improvement and work with schools, parents and community stakeholders to help our students develop holistically and reach their fullest potential, regardless of their starting points in life."

Key Findings

Singapore students continue to excel in Reading, Mathematics and Science

4. As in past PISA cycles, Singapore students have performed well in assessments of Reading, Mathematics and Science. In particular, our students have shown a marked improvement1 in Reading literacy from 2015. Overall, the students have demonstrated strong performance in the higher-order cognitive processes of 'Evaluating and Reflecting', and proficiency in applying reading strategies on both single-source and multiple-source texts. Such literacy skills are increasingly important in helping students discern what is credible in a digital era that is characterised by an influx of information from multiple information sources.

5. The improvement in Reading is partly contributed by the increase in the proportion of 15-year-old students from English-speaking homes (from 49% in 2015 to 57% in 2018). At the same time, our education system provides a strong literacy foundation in primary schools. The secondary English Language (EL) curriculum builds on that foundation and emphasises the development of critical reading skills and ability to respond to a diverse range of multimodal and dynamic texts.

6. While our students enjoy reading more than their OECD peers, they are enjoying reading less when compared to 20092. This decline in enjoyment of reading is similarly observed across OECD countries. We will continue to partner parents and schools to encourage our students to read more widely and for leisure.

Singapore continues to have high proportions of top performers and low proportions of low performers

7. We have one of the highest proportions – highest for Reading (26%); 2nd highest for Mathematics (37%); 2nd highest for Science (21%) – of top performers achieving proficiency level3 5 or 6, across participating education systems, who can apply well-developed thinking and reasoning skills to complex problems. We also have the 2nd highest proportion (15%) of students who are all-round top performers in all three domains. We will continue to encourage excellence and help students to achieve to as high a level as they are capable of.

8. We also have one of the lowest proportions – 4th lowest for Reading (11%) and Science (9%); 3rd lowest for Mathematics (7%) – of low performers achieving below proficiency level 2. We have in place various programmes4 to provide additional support targeted at specific learning needs of students who require more help. We will continue to provide the necessary support to help lower-performing students level up.

Singapore students from lower-SES homes continue to perform well

9. Students from homes in the bottom quarter socio-economic status (SES) continue to do well. They performed better than the overall OECD average for all three domains5. Additionally, 47% of this group of students are "core-skills resilient" (up from 43% in 2015). This means they have attained at least proficiency level 3 in all the three domains of Reading, Mathematics and Science, and thus have the necessary core competencies to participate fully in society. As in PISA 2015, Singapore has the 3rd highest proportion of "core-skills resilient" students. This proportion is twice that of OECD's 23%.

10. We will continue to provide more support for students from lower-SES homes through efforts such as UPLIFT6. PISA 2018 also indicates that Singapore schools are well resourced by international standards. MOE will continue to direct more resources to schools with greater needs, including schools with more low-progress learners or financially needy students, to ensure that access to education is not a barrier to students' learning.

Compared to their OECD peers, Singapore students reported higher self-efficacy, but slightly fewer of them have a growth mindset

11. Our students have confidence in their ability to complete tasks, even when facing difficult situations (self-efficacy). About 86% of Singapore students said that they can usually resolve a difficult situation (OECD average: 84%).

12. About 60% of Singapore students possess a growth mindset and believe that their intelligence is something that they can enhance (OECD average: 63%). Students with a growth mindset tend to expend greater effort and show more perseverance when learning something new, putting them in better stead for learning throughout life.

13. At the same time, Singapore students expressed greater fear of failure. About 72% of Singapore students said they worry about what others think of them when they are failing (OECD average: 56%). While a rational and moderate sense of fear may motivate students to work hard and strive for better performance, excessive fear can be disabling.

14. With the new PSLE scoring system which will reduce the fine differentiation of grades coming into effect from 2021, we hope to encourage students to move away from an overemphasis on academic results, and reduce their fear of failure. The rollout of Full Subject-Based Banding and the removal of academic streams in secondary schools by 2024 will also help to encourage our students to adopt a growth mindset and take greater ownership of their learning. We will continue to build on these efforts, by helping students develop the resilience to bounce back from failure, and to view setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. We will also continue to work with parents and community partners to nurture our students to learn for life, and provide multiple pathways for them to pursue their passions and interests.

Singapore students reported higher levels of co-operation and competition among their peers

15. Compared to OECD countries, our students perceive higher levels of co-operation and competition among their peers in school7. Both are positively associated with Reading performance. PISA 2018 notes that when co-operative and competitive behaviours are brought together, the performance and enjoyment of participants in learning could be higher than in a purely co-operative environment. However, we are cognisant that excessive competition could affect student well-being or promote undesirable behaviours. We will thus continue to encourage co-operation and healthy competition, while helping our students guard against being overly competitive.

Our students find their teachers supportive

16. We are heartened that our students find their teachers supportive. About 80% of Singapore students said that their teachers show an interest in every student's learning (OECD average: 71%), and 84% said that their teachers give extra help when students need it (OECD average: 75%), in most or all EL lessons8.

Background of PISA 2018 Study

17. PISA is a triennial OECD study that examines and compares how well education systems are helping their students acquire the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in modern societies. It assesses the capacity of 15-year-old students to apply knowledge and skills in Reading, Mathematics and Science, and to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they solve problems in a variety of real-life situations. Each cycle provides information on all three domains but focuses on one major domain. For PISA 2018, there were 79 participating education systems (see Annex), and Reading was the major domain.

18. This is the fourth time that Singapore has participated in PISA. 6,300 students from all 153 public secondary schools and 376 students from 13 private schools9 were randomly selected to take part in PISA 2018. They are representative of the population of 15-year-old students in Singapore.

19. For more information about OECD's PISA, please see

  1. The Reading mean score improved by 14 points from 2015 to 2018.
  2. We have compared against data from PISA 2009 as that was the last cycle where Reading was the major domain and specific questions on attitudes towards reading were asked.
  3. In the PISA assessment, Level 1 is the lowest proficiency level and Level 6 is the highest.
  4. MOE has a special reading programme, Focused Language Assistance in Reading (FLAiR), for K2 children with difficulties learning English, and the Learning Support Programme in English and Mathematics for P1 and P2 students. At the higher-grade levels, there are corresponding programmes that provide remediation or help students improve their language and numeracy skills.
  5. For PISA 2018, our students from the bottom-quarter SES homes score 495 (OECD average: 487) in Reading, 520 (OECD average: 489) in Mathematics, and 501 (OECD average: 489) in Science.
  6. The Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT) aims to deep dive into problems and issues faced by underperforming students from disadvantaged families, understand the barriers they face, and devise practical solutions.
  7. For example, 76% of Singapore students said it is true that "it seems that students are competing with each other" (OECD average: 50%), while 68% agreed, "it seems that students are co-operating with each other" (OECD average: 62%).
  8. The finding is specific to EL lessons because the PISA test is conducted in EL in Singapore.
  9. Private schools include international schools, religious schools and foreign system schools.
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