The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is a national examination system for all graduating primary school students in Singapore and determines their entries into a secondary school. Announced by then Minister for Education Yong Nyuk Lin on 31 March 1960, the government-administered PSLE is the first national examination system to be established in Singapore. At the time, the examinations were conducted in four language medium – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Today, all leaving primary school students are still required to take the examination.
Prior to the nation-wide PSLE, English-medium schools conducted their own entrance examination (implemented in 1952) known as the Secondary School Entrance Examination. Chinese-medium schools had implemented entrance examinations in 1935 but dropped them in 1951, while Malay schools started theirs in 1959. Tamil schools did not conduct any entrance examinations. The PSLE examination system was an attempt by the government to standardise the various education systems and, through common syllabus and content, unite the different ethnic groups and encourage loyalty to Singapore.
Each language stream was managed by a consultative committee and coordinating committee comprising Ministry of Education (MOE) officials as well as principals and teachers of the four language streams. The two committees advised on the dates of examination as well as the scope and weighting for each subject. Examination papers were set by the MOE and marking conducted by appointed school teachers using a common standard.
The first PSLE was held from 2nd to 4th November 1960, with a total of 30,615 candidates. Results were released on 23 December 1960. In all, a total of 13,736 candidates across all four language streams passed and were posted to secondary schools, while the rest were categorised under four groups based on their performance and age: Secondary Remove I Classes, Primary 6 (repeat) Classes, Post Primary Classes, and those who were disqualified from all categories. Secondary Remove I Classes were for the candidates who were close to passing and they underwent two years of intensive studies before taking the same final Secondary II examination as the PSLE candidates who had passed. Primary 6 (repeat) classes were for students who had failed but were under the age of 13, and hence allowed to repeat Primary 6 and retake the PSLE the following year. Post Primary Classes were for candidates who failed but were too old to remain in primary school. The last group of candidates were those who failed badly in the examinations and were over the age of 16.
Today, students who take the PSLE can seek entry into a secondary school through the Secondary One (S1) posting exercise or Direct School Admission-Secondary (DSA-Sec) exercise. Based on their results, students are eligible for various streams: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical). During the S1 posting exercise, students submit a list of six schools in order of preference and gain acceptance based on their PSLE scores and available vacancies in the school. Students who go through the DSA-Sec route, apply directly to schools based on other criteria, for instance sports excellence, besides their PSLE results.
1. Leaving exams in 4 languages. (1960, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The Straits Times, 31 Mar 1960, p. 4; Doraisamy, T. R. (Ed.). (1969). 150 years of education in Singapore (p.61) Singapore: TTC Publications Board, Techers Training College. Call no.: RSING 370.95957 TEA
3. The Straits Times, 31 Mar 1960, p. 4; Ministry of Education. (2015, November 16). Secondary One (S1) Posting Exercise. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from MOE website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/secondary-one-posting/
4. Mason, F. (1954). The schools of Malaya (pp. 8, 10, 13). Singapore: D. Moore. Call no.: RCLOS 370.9595 MAS; Tan, Y. K., Chow, H. K., & Goh, C. (2008). Examinations in Singapore: Change and continuity, (1891–2007) (pp. 62–63). Singapore: World Scientific. Call no.: RSING 371.26095957 TAN
5. Yong: Education aim is to foster unity. (1960, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, Chow, & Goh, 2008, pp. 74–75.
7. Primary School Exams for 4 streams. (1960, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. School exam results. (1960, November 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Only 13,736 pass S’pore primary leaving test. (1960, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
9. Only 13,736 pass S’pore primary leaving test. (1960, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ministry of Education. (2015, September). Choosing your secondary schools: For admission to secondary one in 2016 [e-booklet]. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from MOE website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/secondary-one-posting/files/secondary-one-posting-english.pdf
The information in this article is valid as at Nov 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.