The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (O-level) examination is held annually in Singapore. The examinations are mainly set by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), while Mother Tongue subjects such as Chinese, Malay and Tamil and Combined Humanities (Social Studies) are set by the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE).[1]

The examination is taken by students at the end of their fourth (for Express Stream) or fifth (for Normal Academic Stream) year in secondary school, mostly at age 16. The system is equivalent to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examination taken by students in the United Kingdom. O-level (O' Grades in Scotland) examinations were conducted in the United Kingdom until 1988, when they were replaced by the GCSE examinations. Whether or not the GCSE is an improvement over its predecessor is a topic of debate.[2]


The test questions are created by the examiners from the University of Cambridge International Examinations (UCIE), with the exception of the Mother Tongue subjects and Social Studies component of Combined Humanities, which are set in Singapore. After the examination, papers are sent to Cambridge for marking, excluding the exceptions as mentioned above, which are marked by Singaporean examiners instead. In this case, the personal details of the student are omitted with the use of the Integrated Examination System where barcode labels are used. Local teachers would not be able to recognise scripts from students of his or her own school as the candidates' names are neither written on the papers nor printed on the labels, preventing malpractice of teachers.


Candidates are graded based on their performance relative to the cohort. A grade in one GCE exam subject is a number with an accompanying letter. In descending order, the grades are: A (1,2), B (3,4), C (5,6), D7, E8, and F9. A grade of C6 or better is considered an O-level pass. Candidates who have grades above E8 will issue certificates, although those who have F9, absent or withdrawn are not reflected as these might be in "unhealthy" range.

The grades of six or five subjects (depending on the scoring system used) taken are added to give an aggregate score known as L1R5 (one language subject and five relevant subjects), or EL1R2B2, which is a separate aggregate scoring system used for polytechnic admission. The score is calculated by adding up the numeral of each grade. For example, a candidate who scores a grade of A1 in six subjects will have an L1R5 score of six.

Junior colleges accept students by their L1R5 grades, while polytechnics may impose specific requirements—certain subjects must be taken, and certain minimum grades must be obtained to demonstrate basic competency for some courses. This varies from polytechnic to polytechnic. For example, a grade of B3 or better in English is required for the "Diploma in Mass Communications" course offered by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, in addition to meeting the required aggregate computation score.[3]


Special and Express studentsEdit

Template:See also All Special and Express stream students are required to take a minimum of six subjects, but are allowed to take up to a maximum of nine. Students who wish to take ten subjects must obtain permission from the Ministry of Education. All Special and Express students must take the following subjects:

  • English Language (includes an oral examination)
  • Mathematics (Elementary Mathematics)
  • Mother Tongue (includes listening comprehension and an oral examination)
(Second Language or Literature may be taken by foreign students in lieu of Mother Tongue.)
  • Combined Humanities (Compulsory Social Studies with Elective Geography, History or Literature in English, Chinese, Malay or Tamil).
  • Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
    • Pure Science (includes the School-Based Science Practical Assessment (SPA) for school candidates); and/or
    • Combined Science (combinations of any two science subjects listed above, considered as one subject)

Elective SubjectsEdit

  • Additional Mathematics
  • Principles of Accounting
  • Applied Subjects(Design and Technology, Food and Nutrition, Art, Music)
  • Humanities (Geography, History, Literature, Higher Music, Higher Art)
  • Religious Knowledge (Bible Knowledge, Buddhist Studies, Islamic Law)
  • Foreign Languages (French, German, Japanese, Arabic, Burmese, Thai, Indonesian)

Normal (Academic) studentsEdit

Students in the Normal (Academic) stream take four to seven subjects including:

  • English Language
  • Mathematics
  • Combined Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Combination of any two)
  • Mother Tongue or a Second Language
  • Combined Humanities, which comprises a compulsory Social Studies component and a Geography, History or Literature elective.

Mother TongueEdit

The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) is the examining authority for Mother Tongue subjects. The Mother Tongue paper is different from the other papers, in that it includes a "Mid-Year Examination" for written papers (i.e. Papers 1 and 2), taken on the first Monday of the June school holidays. The Oral and Listening Comprehension papers are usually taken in July, and the results for Mother Tongue are subsequently released in August. However, the candidate may opt to re-take the paper in October/November along with the other papers that the candidate has registered for, though an additional fee is payable. The November re-assessment only covers the written examinations; no re-assessment is available for the Oral and Listening Comprehension component of the examination.

The best result of the two assessments is reflected in the result slip which will be released in January the following year. In addition to the grade, it will also show the candidate's performance in the Oral/Aural Examination as Distinction (highest), Merit, Pass or Ungraded.

With effect from 2007, the use of approved electronic handheld dictionaries in O-level Chinese language composition examinations (Paper 1) has been allowed.[4]

Social StudiesEdit

Social Studies, the compulsory of the two components in Combined Humanities, is used as an implicit study of National Education.

School-based Science Practical AssessmentEdit

Pure Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) include the School-based Science Practical Assessment (SPA) for school candidates. It assesses candidates' competence in science practical skills over an appropriate period of time that the candidates are offering the subject, and forms 20% of the overall mark for the subject. While the questions are set by the Ministry of Education, the assessment is scheduled, carried out and marked by the school before submitting the scripts to the MOE. The scores for the assessment are kept confidential and are never disclosed to the candidates. The assessment is grouped into three skill sets:

Skill set 1 – Performing and Observing
Skill set 2 – Analysing
Skill set 3 – Planning

Each candidate is to be assessed only twice for each of skill sets 1 and 2 and only once for skill set 3.[5]

List of subjects examinedEdit

Template:See also

Subject Language medium Notes
English Language English
Literature in English English
History English
Geography English
Combined Humanities English
French French
German German
Japanese Japanese
Non-Tamil Indian Languages Hindi / Urdu / Gujarati / Panjabi / Bengali
Burmese Burmese
Thai Thai
Arabic as a 3rd Language Arabic
Bahasa Indonesia as a 3rd Language Bahasa Indonesia
Mathematics English
Additional Mathematics English
Science (Physics, Chemistry) English
Science (Chemistry, Biology) English
Science (Physics, Biology) English
Art English
Higher Art English
Design and Technology English
Food and Nutrition English
Principles of Accounts English
Music English
Higher Music English
Economics English
Drama English
Physical Education English
Computer Studies English
Business Studies English
Fundamentals of Electronics English
Media Studies (Chinese) Chinese
Biotechnology English
Introduction to Enterprise Development English
Creative 3D Animation English
Higher Chinese Chinese
Chinese Chinese
Chinese (Special Programme) Chinese
Literature in Chinese Chinese
Higher Malay Malay
Malay Malay
Malay (Special Programme) Malay
Literature in Malay Malay
Higher Tamil Tamil
Tamil Tamil
Literature in Tamil Tamil

See alsoEdit


  1. Script error
  2. Script error
  5. SPA Information, Page 4

External linksEdit

Template:Education in Singapore Template:Admission tests

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