Changes to Britain's GCSE and A-level exams won't affect Singapore students

Si Ling Secondary School students receiving their GCE O-level examination results at the school hall, on Jan 13, 2014.
Si Ling Secondary School students receiving their GCE O-level examination results at the school hall, on Jan 13, 2014.PHOTO: ST FILE

UK universities will retain existing entry criteria for Singapore qualifications

Singapore students will not be affected by the upcoming changes to Britain's GCSE and A-level exams.

The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) gave the assurance in response to reports of controversial changes to Britain's GCSE and A-level exams taken by 16- and 18-year-olds respectively.

Under the British reforms, grades for subjects will be progressively switched - from A* to G currently - to a new system which uses grades nine to one by 2020.

There are nine grades under the new system, compared with eight under the old one.

Exams for some subjects have also been made more rigorous, such as by including more maths content in science subjects.

Observers in Britain say that introducing more grades is a bid to increase differentiation between students, and reduce grade inflation.

But some students fear the tougher exams and differentiated grades will pull down their overall grades and affect their chances of getting into universities.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) in Britain gave the assurance that Singaporeans applying to study in British universities will not be affected by the reforms.

She said that while universities will have reviewed the entry criteria for the reformed A levels and GCSEs in Britain, they will retain the existing entry criteria for qualifications which have not been reformed.

"They are keen to encourage applicants, including overseas applicants, and are aware of all the variations in A-level qualifications... Singaporean applicants will not be affected and will still be very welcome," said the Ucas spokesman.

The number of Singaporean undergraduates accepting places in British universities has been on the rise over the years. About 1,600 Singaporean students took up places in British universities last year, compared with 730 in 2007.

SEAB said that Singapore's GCE A-level and O-level examinations had been delinked from the UK ones since 2002 and 2006 respectively, when the Ministry of Education (MOE) took over the management of the national examinations.

"As the Singapore-Cambridge GCE examinations are based on a different curriculum compared to the UK/international GCE examinations, it would not be meaningful to make comparisons between the grading systems of the two examinations," said an SEAB spokesman.

She said there are no plans to align the Singapore-Cambridge GCE examinations grading system with that of the UK system.

While the SEAB engages the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) to set and mark the papers, the standards and award of grades for the subjects are determined by SEAB and MOE in consultation with CIE.

Subjects such as mother tongue languages are set, marked and graded locally.

SEAB said it will continue to work with MOE and CIE to ensure that its Singapore-Cambridge GCE qualifications continue to be recognised by institutions of higher learning both at home and abroad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'British exam reforms won't affect S'pore students'. Print Edition | Subscribe