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Template:Refimprove The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) Examination (also known as the O-level) is an annual examination conducted in Singapore. The examinations are mainly set by the UCLES(CAIE) , while Mother Tongue subjects such as Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are set by Singapore's 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 United Kingdom's GCSE examinations, which is also given to 16-year-olds. The United Kingdom used O-level (O' Grades in Scotland) exams until 1988, until they were replaced by the GCSE. Whether the GCSE is an improvement over its predecessor is a topic of debate.[2]


The test questions are created by the examiners at the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, with the exception of the Mother Tongue subjects and Social Studies component of Combined Humanities. After the examination, papers are sent to Cambridge for marking. The exceptions are papers set in Singapore as mentioned above, which would be marked by local teachers. 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.


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 Ordinary-level pass. Obtaining a pass in one or more subjects will lead to a Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level). Candidates whose subject(s) are denoted as 'Absent' - should they be absent from any component(s) for the subject - will not have the subject listed on the certificate; this is likewise for those who obtain a Grade 9, though it will appear on the result slip.[3]

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 5 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. e.g. A candidate who scores A1 for 6 subjects will have an L1R5 score of 6.

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 B3 or better for English is required for the 'Diploma in Mass Communications' course offered by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, addition to meeting the required aggregate computation score.[4]


Special and Express students[]

Template:See also All Special and Express students are required to take a minimum of six subjects, and 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)(Syllabus 1128)
  • Mathematics
  • Mother Tongue (includes listening comprehension and an oral examination)
  • A Second language or literature for foreign students in lieu of mother tongue.
  • Combined Humanities, which comprises a compulsory Social Studies component and also a Geography, History or Literature elective.
  • Science (i.e. Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
    • Pure Science (includes the School-Based Science Practical Assessment for school candidates); and/or
    • Combined Science (Combination of any 2 Science subject listed, considered as one subject)


  • Additional Mathematics
  • Principles of Accounting
  • Coursework (i.e. Design and Technology, Food and Nutrition, Art)
  • A Humanities subject (i.e. Geography, History, Literature)

Normal (Academic) Students[]

Normal (Academic) students take four to seven subjects including:

  • English language
  • Mathematics
  • Combined Science (i.e. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Combination of any 2)
  • Mother Tongue or a second language
  • Combined Humanities, which comprises a compulsory Social Studies component and also a Geography, History or Literature elective.


  • Principles of Accounts
  • Coursework (i.e. Design and Technology, Food and Nutrition, Art)
  • A Humanities subject (i.e. Literature, Geography, History)
  • Additional Mathematics

Mother Tongue[]

The 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 holiday. 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 Jananary 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.[5]

Social Studies[]

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

School-based Science Practical Assessment[]

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.[6]

See also[]

  • Integrated Programme
  • General Certificate of Secondary Education
  • General Certificate of Education
  • International General Certificate of Secondary Education
  • Singapore-Cambridge GCE Advanced Level


External links[]

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