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Comprehensive Guide to GCE O Levels

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Taking O Levels soon? 

Don’t know what to expect for your GCE O Levels?

Don’t worry, this Comprehensive Guide to GCE O Levels (3,000+ words) covers everything that you need to know:

1. Entering Secondary School
2. School Terms and Holidays
3. Secondary 1/2 Subjects
4. Secondary 2 Streaming
5. GCE O Level Subjects
6. O Level Subject Combination
7. Preparing for O Levels
8. Examination Tips
9. Post O Levels (JC or Poly)

This O Level guide covers every single thing for Secondary School Education (O Level) in Singapore. Sit tight!

1. Entering Secondary School

After getting your PSLE results, you would have selected your 6 choices of secondary schools and obtained your Secondary School Posting results in December.

The next day, you’ll have to report to your new school at 8.30am.

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School starts on the first weekday of the year (excluding New Year’s Day). 

This is where you begin term 1 of your new School Year, in your next phase of Education: Secondary School

2. School Terms and Holidays

Each school year has 4 school terms, Term 1 – 4. 

Of which, semester 1 includes both terms 1 and 2, while semester 2 consists of terms 3 and 4:

– Term 1 (Semester 1): 1st school day – 2nd week of March
– Term 2 (Semester 1): 4th week of March – 4th week of May
– Term 3 (Semester 2): 1st week of July – 1st week of September
– Term 4 (Semester 2): 3rd week of September – 2nd week of November

There are Exams at the end of each term. CA1 for Term 1, SA2 (EOY) for Term 4.

Each school year has 4 blocks of holidays:

– March: 3rd Week
– June: Whole Month
– September: 2nd Week
– End Year: Last School Day onwards till new school year starts

3. Secondary 1/2 Subject Combination

This differs from school to school. However, I will be covering the most common Subject Combination for Secondary 1 and 2.

English, Math, Mother Tongue, Science
Social Studies, Geography, History, Literature

Science

Most schools offer General Science. Other schools offer specialized Sciences to their students (i.e. Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Life Science, Physical Science).

Humanities (History, Geography, Social Studies, Literature)

Social Studies is a compulsory subject to be taken. For Secondary 1 or 2, you usually don’t get a choice for which Humanities as the School will make you try out everything. For example:

– 1st year: Geography + Social Studies, 2nd Year: History + Social Studies, OR;
– Y1S1: Geog + SS, Y1S2: Hist + SS; Y2S1: Geog + SS, Y2S2: Hist + SS

Art, Music, PE, Design & Technology, Home Economics

Some optional subjects that your school might offer. Of course, some of it are usually compulsory (i.e. PE, Art, Music).

Grades for all these subjects count to your Overall Grade at the end of Sec 2, where you will undergo Streaming

4. Secondary 2 Streaming

While some schools do not require streaming (IP Schools), most Schools have Streaming at the end of Secondary 2

Students are split into different classes based on your subject combination, for Secondary 3 and 4 and ultimately for GCE O Levels.

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For streaming, this is based mainly on your Secondary 2 EOY (overall) results, but the school may also consider other areas, such as:

– Compatibility of student and subjects;
– Other results;
– CCA performance, etc.

You can choose which subjects you prefer to take up, but if you do not do well you may not be assigned your choice (e.g Pure Science, Pure Humanities).

5. GCE O Level Subjects

Students are required to pass a minimum of 5 subjects, to “pass” O Levels. Note that this is the bare minimum.

Express students usually take 7 subjects, with the smarter ones taking up to 9 subjects for O Levels.

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Usually each class will have their own unique subject combination. The common subjects available are as listed below:

1. English

English is one of the most important subjects to score well in, but always neglected by students.

Paraphrasing skills and inferential skills are important, as well as generating ideas for Essay Writing and Comprehension.

2. Mother Tongue

For Mother Tongue, it is either you excel in it or you hate it. To go to JC, you will need a minimum of C6.

3. Higher Mother Tongue (HMT)

(Non-compulsory) If you take up HMT, you will sit for your O Level MT in Secondary 3, before sitting for your Higher Mother Tongue paper in Secondary 4.

Bonus points of 2 points are deducted from your L1R4/L1R5 if you pass (C6 and above) for HMT.

4. Elementary Mathematics (E Maths)

Students learn fundamental mathematical knowledge and skills from a range of topics: Number & Algebra, Geometry & Measurement and Statistics & Probability.

5. Additional Mathematics (A Maths)

Building of a strong foundation in algebraic manipulation skills and mathematical reasoning skills, preparing students for math in JC. 

AMath is significantly harder than EMath, but important – it is a subject prerequisite for many courses in Poly and JC.

6. Pure Science

3 papers involves Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ), Structured & Free-Response Questions, as well as Lab Practical Exam.

(a) Pure Biology

Students will learn about Cells, Plants and Human Body, as well as Molecular Genetics.

(b) Pure Chemistry

Students will learn about Atomic Structures, Chemical Reactions, as well as Organic Chemistry.

(c) Pure Physics

Students will learn about Newtonian Mechanics, Thermal Physics, Waves, as well as Electricity and Magnetism. 

Lots of calculations and formulas to be expected.

7. Combined Science 

The syllabus requires to learn the same exact content as the Pure Sciences, just less in depth. 

– (Not recommended to take Combined Science if you plan to go to JC, see why)

Sci(Phy/Chem), Sci(Bio/Chem), Sci(Phy/Bio)

You will take both Combined Science papers separately – i.e. Physics 1 day, Chemistry another day, but grades will combine to form 1 subject. 

8. Pure Geography

Syllabus involves Physical Geography (Tectonic Plates, Disasters), Human Geography (Tourism), as well as Geographical Skills and Investigation (Map Reading, Data Interpretation).

Pure Geography is very memory-intensive – alot of memorisation required.

9. Pure History

The syllabus covers the making of the contemporary world which involves European expansion and dominance, World War I/II, Cold War, decolonization and emergence of Nation-States.

Students have to answer 5 Source-based Questions, and section B, to answer 1 of 2 Structured Essay Questions. (Memorisation intensive as well)

10. Combined Humanities

The syllabus requires to learn the same exact content as the pure humanities, just less in depth.

Combined (SS/Geog), (SS/Hist)

Social Studies is a compulsory subject all students must take. 

To score well in it, you must master the technique of answering the question, and supporting it with evidence and elaboration.

11. Literature

Students have to answer 1 question on a Prose, 1 question on an Unseen Prose and Poetry, 1 question on a text from a Drama Read.

 – Literature requires a lot of reading and interpreting texts – it itself is a skill to master.

12. Principle of Accounts

Recording and processing of business transactions, information is used to evaluate business performances and facilitate decision making. 

Lots of calculation, great for accounting profession in the future.

13. Design and Technology

Coursework which involves in a project submission. Subject content involves Design, Technological Areas, Materials and Practical Processes.

14. Art

Coursework involving a 60% weightage submission. Papers 2 (Drawing and Painting) and 3 (Study of Visual Arts) are optional.

6. O Level Subject Combination

The following O Level Subject Combinations are usually taken:

English, MT, EMath, AMath, 2/3 Pure Science, Combined Humanities, Pure Humanities

If you find yourself unable to cope with a subject, i.e Pure Physics, you can choose to either drop the subject entirely (if you have 3 Pure Sciences), or switch to Combined Science.

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Tip: If you’re looking to enter JC after O Levels, having AMath and Pure Sciences is a definite advantage for choosing your Subject Combination in JC! (See: JC or Poly)

If you’re looking to enter Polytechnic after O Levels, please check out the subject prerequisites of the course you intend to apply for beforehand! Different polytechnic courses require different subjects for GCE O Levels. You can find out more about this in the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) Booklet.

7. Preparing for O Levels

Before the major exam arrives, there are many ways you can prepare yourself for it. After all, who doesn’t want to do well for it?

(a) Ten-Year Series (Topical/Yearly)

Every subject has an assessment book known to all O Level students as the Ten-Year Series (TYS).

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This book compiles all Cambridge GCE O Level papers for the past 10 years (i.e. 2008 – 2018) for practice.

Ten-year Series allows for content mastery (topical TYS, sorted by topics), but also shows an example of O Level questions you might be getting.

Treat it like a bible, and you will definitely score a Distinction.

(b) Timetable

One of the most useful tools to any student who wants to excel – creating a personal timetable helps to keep you organised and ensures you don’t leave out any subjects or topics.

There are 2 main ways you can design your own timetable:

– 1 subject a day
– 1 topic per subject a day

The first option allows you to focus fully on one subject a day – content mastery and practice questions. (See: 12 Study Tips from Perfect Scorer)

The second helps students like me who find it harder to focus for long periods of time. When you switch between 2-3 subjects a day, you can help to keep your mind fresh.

Tip: Include some rest time in between your study sessions! Each study session should be about 1.5-2h long. Each break should be between 20 to 30 minutes. This helps to train your focus and studying stamina for the actual exam which is usually 1.5-2.5h long.

(c) Other School Papers

Usually this will be given to you by your teachers once they finish teaching the syllabus in Secondary 4.

However, your main focus should still be the Ten-Year Series as actual Cambridge papers which are a more accurate representation of questions coming out for O Levels. 

Some schools (Raffles, Hwa Chong) test concepts that are out of syllabus that they have taught their students before, so don’t be disheartened if you encounter difficult questions from these Schools.

(d) Have a Quick Stress Relief Approach

Exams can be really taxing and stressful. To avoid burning out, it is important to have a quick way to relieve stress.

Such methods can involve running, power nap (20 to 30 minutes), listening to music, watching quick animations.

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Avoid activities that can unknowingly stress you further such as gaming, watching TV or shows, long naps (1 hour+), surfing the net.

(e) Have Good Studying Practices

If you can’t study in a noisy environment, avoid going to public places (i.e. fast food restaurants). 

Instead, stay at home or in school to study. One of the more common places to study would be at Libraries. This helps you eliminate distractions and focus better.

Avoid studying in environments that are too hot or too cold. The optimum temperature where your brain functions best at is 24 degrees celsius.

Maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Try to consume more brain food such as walnuts, and avoid oily and unhealthy food as they are not only bad for your brain, but they weaken your immune system as well. You don’t want to be falling sick during the exams!

8. Examination Tips

This is the time to focus on your exams and nothing else! Erase every other burden you have from your minds!

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  • Timetable

    • Have a different timetable for your exams. You need to design your timetable such it suits the exams. Study the subject and only that subject today if the exam is tomorrow.
    • If the subject is in a few days, study the subject about 2-3 days before the exam (if your schedule permits) and then study it again the day before.
    • Be sure to cover every topic, every exam component and every concept.
  • Practices

    • At this point in time, just grind your ten-year series. Finish every ten-year series at least 2 times before your O Level starts.
    • Usually, MCQ papers for your sciences are the last. They would be around 1 week after all your other papers end. Spend this time completing as many MCQ papers as possible. You can leave the celebrations till O Levels are officially over for you!
  • Lifestyle

    • This should remain relatively unchanged from the aforementioned.
    • Adhere to strict sleep cycles. Sleep early every night, latest by 11pm. If you have a morning paper the next day, be sure to be in bed by 10pm! 
    • Even if you have no morning paper, avoid waking up after 9am as you need your mind and body to be awake by this time for future morning papers!

9. Post O Levels

This 2-3 month break after O Levels is a great time to rest, relax, as well to find your passion/interest. 

Spend this time to think wisely of what you want to pursue in the future (JC or Poly, etc)

Within this short period, you can also work part-time jobs; waiter, tutor, flyer distributors, packers, etc.

Wait for results

O Level Results are released in January.

This is when you’ll receive a JAE booklet with all the JCs and Polys available with their course subject prerequisites and any other information that you need.

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You’ll be given 12 choices to choose the school/course you want be it JC or Polytechnic.

You’ll also receive 4 sets of results that have already been computed by SEAB along with your grades.

  • The first being L1R5 for Junior College. This includes L1 (English), R1 (Humanities), R2 to R5 (4 other best subjects). To qualify for JC, you first need an L1R5 of <20.
  • The second is L1R4 which will come with 4 different types of L1R4 (ER2B2-A to ER2B2-D). This helps you compile your English, 2 relevant subjects depending on course type A to type D, and 2 best subjects. The JAE booklet has categorized courses to which L1R2B2 is required and you can match it to your results from there.
  • The 3rd and 4th scores are for Millenia Institute (MI) and Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Our other guides: 

Junior College Subject Combination
IB Survival Guide

Attend the different open houses, enquire about your options with relatives and friends before making your decision.

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Miriam

Miriam is part of the team that operates CocoTutors, a Home Tuition agency in Singapore. CocoTutors provides only well qualified and competent tutors for Home Tuition. You can try out our services at (www.cocotutors.com/) or by calling +65 9177 9055 directly.

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