Singapore High Resolution School Concept

PSLE: A Focus on Learning

In recent weeks there has been a huge debate about the testing of primary school aged pupils, but there has been little comparison across international boundaries. In Singapore for example pupils leaving primary school have to sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Causing more stress than SATS, the Exam has a strong focus on learning. There are some significant differences between the PSLE and SATs, such as the volume of examinations and the knowledge that is tested:

PSLE Stress

The PSLE is notorious in Asia for causing high levels of stress among 12 year-olds. This stress not only affects pupils, but has an effect on parents too. As the PSLE plays a large part in the children’s further schooling, parents tend to worry about it a lot. The exams are currently being changed – not to make them easier, but in an attempt to reduce the stress levels. However, when you look at the current elements of the PSLE and compare them to SATs, you will see why so many Singaporean pupils feel the pressure.


Testing languages is broken up into English and the child’s mother tongue. For the English element there are usually three or four tests. One covers the child’s writing ability in different scenarios, such as letters or narrative. Comprehension and language use is tested separately. There is also a verbal comprehension test as well as an oral examination. These vary slightly in the mother tongue section but tend to reflect these four areas.


The science examination is designed to test knowledge of concepts rather than simply memorised information. 50% of the test is multiple choice but the other half is open answers. The topics included in science would challenge some British GCSE students. Entrants for PSLE are expected to know about pollution, global warming, forces, energy, electromagnetism, life cycles, human anatomy and chemical testing. However these are only a few of the many topics that could be included.


There are three maths papers, and pupils are given two and a half hours in which to complete them. A calculator is only allowed for one of the papers, so students often have to form a new theorem, concept or algorithm in order to solve some of the questions. Only loosely based on knowledge gained in the classroom, the mathematics papers often receive the most criticism because there are often questions that are not covered by the syllabus.

Do you think the PSLE sounds too tough? How would your children cope? Share your thoughts on our social media pages and in the comments.

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