DSA is a way into Integrated Programme (IP) schools, where children can go directly to junior college without having to take the O levels.
Given that IP schools in practice admit almost half their students through the DSA scheme , the preparation to excel in the competitive DSA papers is now starting earlier than ever.
Last year, 126 secondary schools admitted 2,700 students through the DSA scheme. In a previous report by The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education declined to give the percentage of students who entered schools under the academic category.
Housewife Angie Leong, 39, pays $500 a month for her daughter - who is in Primary 4 at a top primary school - to get four hours of private tuition a week. The girl is starting on advanced topics in mathematics and science that will be taught in school only one or two years later.
She thinks the tuition will give her daughter an edge if she chooses to apply for a school through an academic DSA channel when she enters Primary 6.
Her older daughter, she believes, did not clear the DSA selection tests because she had not taken any tuition.
She says she is not giving her younger child, who is "already doing very well for her level in school", unnecessary pressure. "The rigour from her tuition keeps her challenged. I don't think intellectual stimulation should be stifled."
Although tutors such as Future Academy's Ms Chen agree that some advanced coaching may be necessary for students attempting DSA examinations or mathematics and science competitions, she admits that a child needs to have the aptitude to cope and overly pressuring a weak child can end up being detrimental to his overall development.
"Each child is different and parents who stress their child or compare them with their siblings at such a young age may kill their joy for learning," she says.
SmileTutor's Mr Tan, who has also dealt with his fair share of pushy parents - particularly those with children in top schools - says that in most cases, it is the parents who demand advanced tuition, not the children.
"The MOE syllabus is already very challenging and only a select group of bright children can cope with the extra stress of advanced tuition," he says. "In most cases, students are not as gifted as their parents assume, so the additional stress ends up stifling them and affecting their self-esteem."
Ms Katherine Law, 44, chief trainer at Guru Kids Pro, says the onus is on tutors to be honest with parents and manage expectations.
"At the end of the day, the student needs to be willing to learn and not feel overly pressured by additional tuition.
"More importantly, the workload shouldn't be imposed by the parents," she says. "If the child struggles too much, this can adversely affect their day-to-day work and self-esteem, which can be detrimental in the long run."
A housewife in her 40s, who wishes to be known only as Mrs Au Yong, sends her Secondary 1 son for tuition in Secondary 2 mathematics. At his request, he is having extra mathematics tuition to help him prepare for competitions.
She says of his workload: "The only reason I allowed him to take extra mathematics tuition is because he enjoys the subject and requested it himself. I don't want to put additional pressure on him. It is time and money well spent only if the child is being intellectually stimulated."
Correction note: This story has been updated for clarity.