A smaller cohort in this year's Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), along with lower T-scores overall, could be the reason that most schools offering the Integrated Programme (IP) reported lower cut-off points yesterday.
Hwa Chong Institution's (HCI) cut-off, for instance, came down from 261 last year to 256, while Raffles Institution's dropped from 263 to 259 - confirming expectations from many parents that their children stood a better chance of getting into popular IP schools this time round.
Weeks before the Secondary 1 postings were released yesterday, there were already discussions about how this year's cohort size and lower T-scores overall would affect their children.
Most parents speculated that the smaller cohort size of 43,047, compared to 48,333 last year, meant less competition for the IP schools, which take in the top 10 per cent of performers.
This year's top T-score, which indicates how well pupils do compared to their peers, was not released by the Education Ministry. But many online believed it to be 275. It was 285 last year.
That was another reason why parents believed getting a place in the six-year IP, in which students proceed to the junior college level without taking the O levels, might be easier for the current batch.
Madam Susan Ng, who works in a bank, said: "With an easier paper this year, the top T-scores and cut-off points for top schools will go down, and more people will qualify for IP schools."
Her daughter was posted to Raffles Girls' School with a score of 262.
A parent who wanted to be known only as Mrs C. Chong, 42, said that too many factors were at play to say for certain it was indeed easier to get into IP schools.
"To me, the T-score is just a number. It depends on your position in the cohort and how easy the papers were," said the housewife, whose daughter got into Cedar Girls' Secondary's IP with a score of 253.
New IP schools like Singapore Chinese Girls' School, however, could have helped to ease the demand among students, she added.
Meanwhile, the cut-offs went up among several top non-IP schools, which offer the more conventional four-year route leading to the O-level exams.
It took 242 points to get into Nan Chiau High School, for instance, two more points than last year. CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh)'s cut-off also inched one point up to 244.
This could be because there were more pupils scoring in the "mid-tier" 240-250 range, leading to more competition for schools whose cut-off were in that range, parents said.
Some IP schools also bucked the trend. For instance, there was no change for CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School and Dunman High School, which kept their respective cut-off scores of 255 and 256 from last year. Temasek Junior College's cut-off even climbed by one point to 252.
When contacted, an Education Ministry spokesman said that schools' cut-off points have "remained generally stable over the years". She added: "The cut-off point is not predetermined and depends on the students' choices for that course in a school."
An HCI spokesman told The Straits Times that the school's cut-off falling by five points to 256 was "within expectations", given that the average over the last five years had been 258.
She also encouraged parents and pupils to look beyond cut-off points and consider schools which "best fit" a child's interests.
This was a point which former Raffles Girls' School principal Carmee Lim, 73, also stressed.
"Not everyone must go to the top schools. Parents must recognise their kids' strengths and talents, and pick schools where they can flourish."
Students are to report at 8.30am next Monday to the secondary schools they have been posted to.