The Singapore education system is abuzz with news about the new grading system for PSLE. Being one of the most important exams in a student’s educational phase, the Primary School Leaving Examination has students, teachers, and parents on tenterhooks. Moreover, ever since the Ministry of Education (MoE) implemented the new Achievement Level (AL) scoring system in 2021, there’s been a lot of hype, uncertainty, excitement, and questions.
What is the PSLE New Grading System?
In 2016, the MoE first announced the PSLE new grading system as a replacement for the T-scoring system that had been the norm for years. One of the major changes brought about by the new system was the eight Achievement Level bands from termed AL 1 to AL8.
Under the new system, each Standard PSLE subject is scored using the eight bands. Therefore, each student will have AL scores from 1 to 8, corresponding to the range of marks achieved. The sum of all four subject scores is the total PSLE score. This will extend from 4 to 32, with 4 being the best possible score and 32 being the worst score.
Here’s the mark range for the eight ALs:
|AL||Reference Raw Mark Range|
|1||90 and above|
|2||85 to 89|
|3||80 to 84|
|4||75 to 79|
|5||65 to 74|
|6||45 to 64|
|7||20 to 44|
|8||20 and below|
Your next question will probably be: Why is the MoE changing the existing scoring system? On its official website, the Ministry puts forth two rationales for adopting the PSLE new system:
To reduce fine differentiation at a young age (evident with the old scoring system).
To recognise students’ academic prowess, regardless of their peers’ achievements (which was also a pain point in the old system).
To understand the changes and how they will impact your child, we have uncovered and explained the prime aspects of the AL scoring system. Let’s take a look.
Key Aspects to Note & Understand about PSLE New Scoring System
1. The prime objective of the AL system is to reduce fine differentiation in the PSLE results.
The old T-scoring system has been criticised for putting immense pressure on students by comparing their performance with their peers. The new AL system focuses on the students’ individual academic abilities, regardless of how their peers have done.
2. The eight AL bands will reflect a students’ understanding capabilities and mastery over the subject.
The objective of grading each Standard subject under any one of the eight AL bands is to reflect the students’ mastery of that subject. It will also highlight the students’ preparedness to move forward in secondary school.
3. Students exempted from Mother Tongue Language (MTL) and Foreign and Asian languages are assigned an automatic score by the MoE.
Students who are exempt from MLT will be assigned a score automatically, so their PSLE score will still be determined by four subjects. Their score will be between AL 6 and 8.
4. According to the MoE website, there is no pass or fail for the PSLE subjects or PSLE as a whole.
PSLE serves as a gateway for Primary 6 students to progress to secondary school and build a strong foundation for higher studies and future careers. Keeping this objective in mind, there is no pass or fail in any PSLE subject or PSLE as a whole.
5. Top tier AL bands have a low margin for success.
The AL system has made it easier for students to pass, and the margin of success (achieving an overall score of 4) is also lower. However, the banding is designed to narrow drastically at the top, making it tougher for students to obtain high-level ALs. Another challenge with PSLE is the exam questions. They are drafted with a certain difficulty level that allows students to demonstrate their conceptual mastery of the subject.
6. Bottom tiers have more leniency for error in bottom tiers.
One of the advantages of the AL grading system is that there is a greater margin error in the lower tiers because the banding broadens and expands in the final bands. Here’s an example explaining the concept:
A student scoring 34 in Maths would have previously been assigned an E grade. But under the AL system, they would have received an AL 7, similar to a student scoring 42 and previously getting a D.
With more prospects in the bottom tiers, students have the freedom to focus on weaker subjects while allowing the stronger subjects to boost their scores.
7. In 2023, we can expect new placement rules for those opting for secondary schools.
Until 2023, the MoE plans to continue placing students in any one of the below secondary school streams:
- Normal (Technical)
- Normal (Academic)
In 2024, students can choose to take a combination of General 1, 2, and 3 subjects in Secondary 1 based on their PSLE scores and according to their learning pace. Beyond that, their subjects are based on their academic interests and abilities.
8. The schools’ cut-off points (COPs) should not determine a student’s choice of secondary school.
The MoE encourages students and parents to shift their focus from the school’s cut-off points to other factors like:
- Co-Curricular activities
- Student’s learning needs and abilities
- Study programmes
- School culture and environment
- School location
- Distance from home to school
9. Under the new AL system, computerised balloting will not be used for the majority of the students.
Under the new system, posting to secondary school will be based purely on merit. However, if more than one student has the same PSLE scores, three tiebreakers will be used to determine the deserving student. The tiebreakers are:
- Singapore citizenship where top priority is given to Singapore citizens, followed by Permanent Residents and international students.
- School choice order where the student who ranked the school higher on their list are given priority.
- Computerised balloting if both tiebreakers do not achieve the desired results.
Advantages of the New AL Grading System
Although there is a lot of uncertainty about the AL system, there’s no denying that students will benefit from it in several ways. The new PSLE scoring system:
- Does not affect the PSLE curriculum, its importance, or the assessment standards.
- Will continue to be rigorous to instil discipline and a sense of responsibility in students from a tender age.
- Has only 29 possible PSLE scores instead of the 200 possible aggregates in the old system.
- Has broader cut-off points enabling students to have a wider range of secondary schools to select from.
- Has higher chances for students to qualify for a new school or fail to qualify in a clear-cut manner.
The MoE expects fewer students to undergo computerised balloting according to its simulations. The grading system is designed so that there is no way of telling if a student has been disadvantaged.
The Bottom Line
With the announcement of the new AL system, the MoE has stirred up many discussions and debates. Despite all that, the class of 2021 witnessed 98.4 per cent of the students progressing to secondary school.
No matter the changes, your child should remain focused on their PSLE preparations. Invest in StudySmart – the best app for PSLE preparation and give them a smart opportunity to optimise their exam preparation strategies. Contact us for more details.