• Learning Point

How Does The New PSLE Scheme Impact Me?

It is old news by now, to parents of PSLE 2021 students, that there will be a new PSLE scoring scheme.

Chiefly, each PSLE subject will be scored using 8 ALs. Students who perform similarly will be placed in the same AL for each subject. In addition, the PSLE T-Score will be replaced with wider scoring bands, known as Achievement Levels (ALs).

According to MOE on its website, the aims of the PSLE scoring changes are two-fold:

  • To reduce the fine differentiation (evident in the old scoring system) at a young age (Figure1 below)

  • To recognise children’s level of achievement, regardless of how their peers have done

MOE has also announced that the PSLE scoring changes will not affect the curriculum, the subjects tested, the assessment standards or the PSLE's demand on students.

Figure 1: Reducing fine differentiation in scores of students

Differences between the new and old scoring systems at a glance

Curiously, I tabled the old and the new scoring systems side-by-side (Table 1 below), just to view the differences between the 2 systems at a glance. Below are some observations and thoughts I gathered and actionable steps I would suggest to us parent-educators to support our PSLE-bound children at home.

Table 1: The new and old PSLE scoring systems

1) Gone are days of ‘As’…


Though there seem to be corresponding ALs and PSLE grades on both ends of the spectrum, the similarity ends there.

Generating the most buzz among teachers and parents is how an A-grade in the old system will become more ‘transparent’ from 2021 onwards. That is, an AL2 will merit a student who obtains a range of 85 to 89 marks, while an AL4 goes to one who scores between 75 and 79 marks for a subject at the PSLE.

With the prestige of an A grade in the old system that will soon give way to a more differentiated but less impressive AL band, chief on the minds of parents must be: doesn’t this new AL scoring system mean that a good grade, like an AL1 or AL2, is even more beyond my child’s reach from now on?

Suggested Actionable Steps:

For parents, it is advisable that we help our PSLE-bound child to set realistic goals and pace him/ her in their revision and exam preparation progress from term to term for (each component, topic or chapter of) each subject from now till the preliminary examinations in August 2021.

Plotting a simple progress chart can be a great start for our child to visualise and act on the target standard/ score that they aim to achieve in the next coming test or term.

Reviewing each goal by crossing out reached milestones can help boost his/ her morale and make concrete action plans for the next target to aim for and work on. This nurtures the spirit of excellence and focussed discipline in a child. Celebrating little victories are as crucial as reflecting on blind-spots or working on persistent errors and weaknesses.

2) ‘Bs’-ness, no longer as usual…


Also, a B grade of the old system will now be banded between AL5 (65-74 marks) and partly AL 6 (45-64 marks), which in itself spans a broad 20-mark range.

So a 60 mark used to award a student with a B (the third highest grade in the old system) but come 2021, he/ she will obtain an AL6 (the third lowest band in the new system).

A couple of AL5 and AL6 banded subjects could potentially push down the combined AL band of the 4 subjects to the range of mid-tens thereby, limiting the choice of programmes and school types that the child could select for admission.

Suggested Actionable Steps:

Parents whose children have been hovering around this score or AL Band are advised to be realistic, first, with the potential of their child and second, with the choice and type of schools or stream that their child could work towards.

Traditionally, a child scoring a bag of As and Bs tend to score along the range of a lower 200s up till 2020. If the child is in an affiliated school, then the choice is clear: stay the course and be in the affiliated school. If the child is not in an affiliated school, there are still hopes of striving for being in a better subject combination come end of secondary 2.

MOE has started a new scheme in secondary schools called Subject-Based Banding (SBB). This scheme aims to offer a more dynamic range of subject and rigour for students gifted in some subjects than others. Hence, for students who score a grade B or C, an equivalent of AL 5 or 6 at the PSLE and are assigned to do a subject at N(A) level, they can strive to take the subject at Express level when he/ she performs well.

3) ‘Cs’ to exist, no more…


In place of the aggregate T-score that PSLE students up to the 2020 cohort have been banded by, the 2021 batch and beyond will be banded by a combined score of the awarded AL bands for the 4 subjects they sit for the PSLE. This could range from 4 (being the best) to 32. (See Table 2 below)

This system resembles the GCE ‘O’ level points system, sans the alphabetic grades.

Table 2: Indicative AL COP Range for different school types (for 2019 PSLE)

Big on the minds of parents is the question: is it harder to qualify for the Express course under the new system? According to the MOE website, under the new standards-referenced scoring system, if more students demonstrate the requisite level of achievement to cope with and benefit from a more demanding course, more of them will be eligible for that course.

Understandably, MOE aims to fulfil the objective of ensuring that the PSLE will help every child focus on their learning instead of how they compare to others.

Suggested Actionable Steps:

In light of this shift towards a more absolute rather than a relative assessment of PSLE students with the new scoring system, parents should start talking to your child about their learning styles, strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to choosing the school for your child, remember that it will be the child and not the parent who is attending the school. Hence, it is critical that the child has a major say in the discussion of the selection of schools post-release of the PSLE results. To find a school that would help the child learn and thrive best, do consider the following:

  • Values: What is the school’s culture and ethos? One that resonates with your values is important for the teenage years.

  • Learning environment: Is the school’s learning environment right for the child? Consider visiting the school during Open House season and talk to the seniors and teachers.

  • Distinctive programmes and CCAs: Can the school support and develop the child’s interests and talents? A happy learner is one who enjoys a holistic environment in his/ her growing years.

  • Location: Is it too far from home? How will the child get to school? Daily commute should be a key consideration for a child when a full school and CCA day packs his/ her schedule to the fullest several days in a week for the season.

Furthermore, the choice of schools will matter more now as the new AL scoring scheme will mean that students will be posted to a secondary school based on academic merit, ie., overall PSLE score. If two or more students with the same PSLE score vie for the last remaining place in a school, tie-breakers will be used in the following order:

1. Citizenship

2. Choice order of schools (new for 2021 PSLE cohort onwards)

3. Computerised balloting

On that note, let’s work towards being the pillar of support, the guide and the source of love that our children can come to during this milestone year of their lives.


Why is there an uneven distribution of mark range from AL band to AL band?

  • The PSLE is designed such that students are able to show what they can do. As around half of the students today score in the range of 75 and above, the upper AL bands have comparatively narrower ranges even after grouping students into wider bands. Further widening these bands would lead to too many students with the same PSLE score, which would require more tie-breaking to determine secondary school postings.

  • When we learn something new, after some initial practice, we often find ourselves improving significantly. But as we get better, the improvements become small steps, and finally, as we reach a high level, we inch just a little further, even after much learning and practice. The ALs and mark ranges reflect this reality of learning.