PSLE: ST's Sandra Davie tells you how to choose the best secondary school

This story was first published on Nov 22, 2013.

This is the one question I get on secondary school postings every year - what if my son were to miss out on a place in his first choice school. Will he still be able to get into his second choice school despite meeting the entry score, as he had listed it as his second choice?

The short answer is yes - if he meets the entry score then he is likely to gain a place in his second-choice school.

Students get to go to the secondary school of their choice based on their aggregate score in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). First, students are ranked according to their detailed aggregate scores that extend to decimal points.

The No 1 student will be posted to the school on top of his list of six choices. Likewise, the second student and so on, until there are no more vacancies in the school. The student who fails to get his top choice will be sent to the school next on his list. If the school is also full, he will be sent to his third-choice school, and so on.

In situations where there are two or more students with the same rounded aggregate score (yes, scores are actually rounded to the nearest whole number) vying for the last place in a school, they will be posted based on their citizenship status with Singapore citizens getting first dibs followed by permanent residents and then international students.

If there is still a tie, between two Singapore citizens for example, the one with the higher unrounded aggregate score will be posted into the school first. If there two have the same unrounded aggregate score, then posting into the school will be determined by a computerised ballot.

Students who fail to get a place in any of their choice of schools will be posted to a school near their home which still has vacancies. However, they must have met the school's lowest PSLE aggregate. Those still without a school will be posted to schools in other postal districts that still have vacancies.

What other considerations should parents have?

Distance is still important, as students should not spend hours travelling to and from school. For a student, time spent travelling can be better used to take up sports or co-curricular activities.

Parents are often torn between a more competitive and less competitive school.

They should take note of the research done on the "Big Fish, Little Pond Effect", which shows that students may actually do better in a less popular - or what researchers term a "less selective" - school.

Research into that effect suggests parents should focus on getting their child into a school that will boost his confidence in his academic ability. They are likely to accomplish more, be more persistent and have higher aspirations if they feel competent in what they do, are confident and feel positively about themselves.

A student's confidence depends not only on his own accomplishments, but also on the relative accomplishments of his classmates and schoolmates.

This means students who view themselves as of low or average ability will get a confidence booster if they attend an average-performance school. The reverse is likely to be the case in a high-achieving school.

The bottom line: The top secondary school may not be the right school for your son or daughter.

Parents should consider carefully their child's strengths and weaknesses. Does he thrive in competition, or wilt under stress? Will his self-esteem be dashed if he goes from being first in class to being 30th?

It is also important to consider the sports and co-curricular activities that a school offers as they are crucial to the development of character and soft skills such as communication and teamwork in children.

In the end, instead of aiming for a top school, parents should pick a school that will help bring out the potential in a child, be it in the academics, sports or arts.

If you have more questions about choosing a secondary school for your child, e-mail Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davie at