Ensure quality of exam grades

Mr Sum Siew Kee has made a valid observation about the increasing proliferation of better grades at the O levels over the years ("The case of the ever-improving exam results"; Jan 26).

This phenomenon extends to the A levels as well.

When I was in junior college, probably less than 10 per cent of the cohort scored at least three distinctions in their A-level subjects.

Fast forward to my daughter's time in the same junior college two years ago - about 50 per cent of students achieved at least three distinctions in their subjects at the H2 level, the equivalent of the A-level paper under the old format.

Back in my time, I knew of schoolmates who gained admission to the medical school at the National University of Singapore, even with a sprinkling of Cs and Ds.

Today, the vast majority of prospective medical students need four As to even qualify for the interview.

I wonder whether this improvement stems from our students becoming more exam-smart or whether the examination bodies are lowering their standards.

Like Mr Sum, I worry that we may be inexorably heading towards the situation in Britain, where the prestige of the A grade is undermined.

There seems to be little concordance between students' performance in their schools' preliminary exams and the actual A-level results.

In fact, in my daughter's JC, teachers assure those with Cs and above in the school's exams that they will likely score As at the A levels.

This begs the question of whether the school preliminary exams or the A levels is more indicative of the students' standards.

We should have better alignment of students' standing in the exams.

Top students who want to differentiate themselves from the rest now have to resort to taking subjects at the higher H3 level - the equivalent of the S paper in the old format.

Granted, some are genuinely interested in and will excel in such subjects, but many others may be taking these extra subjects to give themselves an edge in their scholarship applications.

This may lead to more stress for those who are motivated solely by the need to outshine the competition.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)