How Does School in Singapore Compare With the US?

Two cousins, one Singaporean and the other a United States citizen, compare their early education experiences.

Going to School in Singapore

An article by guest writer Kalina Lam who currently lives in Singapore and studies at a local secondary school.

Hello, I am Kalina Lam (蓝立婷) and this year 2018 I will be 13 years old. I am in Secondary 1, studying in NYGH (Nanyang Girls High School). Last year in November I had just graduated from NYPS (Nanyang Primary School). About two months ago in September, I sat for the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination). For the months that led up to this huge examination, I completed a lot of assessment books and test papers from other schools and past year PSLE papers. My family and teachers supported me through this tough time and coached me along the way. NYPS is one of the top schools in Singapore so being in that school, it was very stressful as the school has high expectations of you.

There was a lot of pressure especially that year because the Primary Six students were going to sit for the PSLE, one of the major examinations in Singapore. I enjoy school very much as my friends are very supportive and my teachers never stopped believing in me. There was a lot of revision that had to be done but most importantly I never gave up. A quote from my teacher, Mdm Kok: “PSLE is like a marathon. At times where you feel like you are about to give up and fall to the ground, pick yourself back up and continue running the race.” I strongly believe that statement is what we should look up to.

After the last paper of PSLE, the HCL (Higher Chinese Language) paper, it was a time for relaxation for everyone. Of course, we would wait in anticipation for the results but we would also play hard and enjoy the fruits of our labour.  On the 24th of November 2017, I received my PSLE results. Surprisingly, I achieved the grades that I had longed to achieve for a very long time. I couldn’t have done it without all the support that everyone had given me and because of this I could get into my dream school.

To me, it doesn’t matter how many tuition classes you attend, how many assessment books or test papers you have done or how many hours of studying you do every day, what matters is how much effort you put in, how many times you don’t give up, and how much support you are given. As long as you have tried your best in the examination, you have already succeeded.

Most children will be given a testimonial by their Form Teacher or Co-Form Teacher. This testimonial is a list of how many Values in Action (VIA) Activities you have participated in. Besides this, it also includes your behaviour from Primary 3 to Primary 6. This is a form of a recommendation from your teachers. However, unlike the American schools, parents are not allowed to recommend their children. As my teacher always says, no matter how academically smart you are, people always look for the other side of you. This is called being street smart, being able to negotiate with others and getting along. Attitude matters in the world we live in today.

My Primary Six Chinese teacher, 费老师, has made a huge impact on my life. He has helped me overcome a huge obstacle, my dislike of Chinese. Now Chinese is my favourite subject and I realised that I am better able to focus in class and do better in my Chinese exams.

In conclusion, education is the key to success and I hope for our future Singapore to be a better one and that parents do not pressure their children too much so that they can understand that their well being is far more important than a mere score. At the end of the day, PSLE isn’t your life. Neither does it define who you are. Even if you didn’t get into your dream school or achieve your dream score, it’s perfectly normal and fine. You may not be able to change your past, but you can certainly change your future by not giving up.

I hope that you have enjoyed my presentation and the main message that I would like to bring across, to not only parents and teachers, but also to students is:

  • You are not going to walk through PSLE alone
  • We face obstacles together

I know how it feels but you cannot stop trying because when you look back in your life, no matter how well you did, you will never regret your decisions



One of the highlights of my primary school years

Going to School in the US

An article by guest writer Lam Shuya. Born to Singaporean parents, she lives in California, USA, and is currently attending middle school.

Hello, I am Lam Shuya (蓝曙雅) and this year, in 2018 I turned 12 years old. American private schools are not all about tests to determine if you will go to a private school, or a public school (this choice is optional, but many students pursue attending private schools), although you still need to prepare a lot for it.

For most private schools in the USA, your parents would write a recommendation about you, your current teacher (if you have multiple, you may choose one instead of several) would have to write a recommendation for you, your previous teacher and your principal would have to write a recommendation for you, a teacher that is not in your school district would have to write a recommendation for you. You also have to spend a day as a “shadow” in the school you are applying to, meaning that you would follow a student in that particular school. You have to take a test, you may have to get an interview, and sometimes, you’d have to write an essay, but some schools are exceptional and you wouldn’t have to. Clearly, there are many steps to qualify for getting into a private school in the United States.

My friend that currently goes to the same school that I do, (The Girls Middle School) got full marks on her test, (The ISEE) but she still didn’t get into the school that she really wanted to. Why? Because most American private schools do not care about your scores or the amount of questions you get right in a test, they care about what type of person you are, not only test scores unlike the choosing in Singapore. (I am not implying the Singaporean technique is incorrect, I am merely pointing out the differences.)

Several American private schools will make you take separate tests aside from the ISEE test, such as IQ tests. Others will make you write an essay about why the school would want to accept you. Many private schools in America would have an interview with you to see your personality and many other qualities, but I can definitely say that none of the private schools here in America wouldn’t accept a student with only knowing your test scores. This is one of many reasons that American schools are very different when compared to Singaporean Schools.

In my current school, the acceptance rate is extremely low, and will only accept 66-68 students per year. Seeing that last year, there were 300 applicants, only about a fourth would be chosen. For the teachers and staff, it may have been easier to just take the student’s test scores and pick the top 68, but most private American schools want your mind to grow, instead of you already knowing everything.

The message that I would like to bring across to people not only of my age but to everyone reading this page, is that sometimes no matter how academically smart someone is, it will never determine the type of person you truly are. Academics have never, and will never define you. Academics and several other qualities define who you are. That is something that I have learned after getting accepted into The Girls Middle School, along with having the mindset to not only learn to get into good schools, but to learn for your own good.

Speaking at my elementary school promotion ceremony

3 thoughts on “How Does School in Singapore Compare With the US?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s