One of the most common questions asked by parents is whether their child should attempt DSA or rely on PSLE results for entry to a SIS (Specialised Independent Schools) or IP (Integrated Programme) school. In my view, DSA is not for everyone. Applying to an IP or SIS school is exciting but it can also be a very demanding process. The premise behind DSA is to select students who can contribute something ‘extra’ to the school but may not be able to achieve the high cut-off point. Something ‘extra’ can range from the field of academics all the way to sports and special talents. Unless your child has the ability to give the schools what they want, it is better that he/she focuses on preparing for PSLE and aims for the cut-off points required by the schools.
So who should apply for entry via DSA?
GEP Students (Gifted Education Programme)
GEP students are groomed for IP schools. They have been coached to perform and excel in a challenging and competitive environment. From Primary 4 they are taught to think critically and creatively. They are involved in many projects and encouraged to share their views and opinions. The IP schools are just a continuation of what they have been doing for the last three years in primary school. The DSA process is also less demanding for this group. Most schools only require students to attend an interview. Some will require students to do a free response test (essay) or a presentation in addition to the interview. GEP students usually do not need to do the GAT test if they maintain an 80% average academically. It is best to attempt schools that only require an interview which is less demanding for your child. GEP students can consider all schools but may want to narrow it down to schools which offer a quicker DSA process.
Students with Gold or better in Math and Science Olympiad/International Competitions
Students who excel in math and science are highly sought after by IP and SIS schools. RI and HCI run their own Math Olympiad competitions so they are keen to recruit students who have excelled in these competitions. Singaporean students regularly bring glory to their schools and country by winning many international science and math competitions. They are regarded highly in the eyes of these schools. Some of these students who may be weaker in languages, and whose T-score may fall below the cut-off point of IP schools, can also opt for DSA. As for NUS High and SST, 90% to 100% of their students are recruited through DSA so there isn’t much choice in the matter. Students can consider all schools but may want to narrow it down to schools which offer a Math or Science domain for DSA.
Students who have achieve top ranking in various sports
Students in this group have the option to try all schools via DSA, whether it is IP, SIS (Sports School) or Express schools. As long as the school you are applying to offers that particular sport, your child can give it a try. If the school does not offer the sport, then do not waste your time applying and just move on to the next school offering it. However do bear in mind that for your child to be given a position for a particular sport, he/she needs to be ranked in the top 12 for the under 12 category in that sport. As for team sports, your child needs to be in a school team that has achieved top 5 position in inter-zonal competitions. Your child must also be good academically to be accepted into an IP school. Be prepared to become a sports mum or dad as your child will have to train 3 times a week during the competition period as well as travel internationally for sport competitions. Some students who receive invitations such as ‘tea with the principal’ or a sports clinic will have a greater chance of getting an offer via DSA.
Music, Performing Arts and Visual Arts
Students who are strong in these areas can apply to some IP schools, SIS (SOTA) and Express schools that offer these domains via DSA. However be aware that the IP schools (not including SOTA and Express Schools) select the fewest number of students from these domains. This means that your child must be especially talented and have won some form of recognition or international/national competitions to be offered a place. The number of students selected each year can be counted in one hand. The DSA process for these groups are also very demanding so unless your child is looking for a career in music, visual or the performing arts, it may be better to try through PSLE.
Students with Distinctive Talents
Unfortunately, students in this category can only qualify for Express and Normal Academic Schools via DSA. None of the IP or SIS schools offer this domain. You can check out the list of Schools with Distinctive Programmes who are participating in DSA-Sec exercise here: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/dsa-sec/participating-schools/
Students from SAP primary schools who are in BICEP
Students from SAP schools who are in the Bi-Cultural Elective Programme (BICEP) and show a strong ability in the Chinese Language can apply to some of the IP schools via DSA. Again the number of students accepted in this domain is small. The IP schools that offer this option are:
- Hwa Chong Institution
- Dunman High School
- Nanyang Girls’ High School
- River Valley High School
The DSA process for IP and SIS schools is definitely more competitive as the demand for these schools are high but they do take in many students through DSA which is a consolation. If your child does not fall into any of the above categories and you are keen to attempt the DSA process, you can try the following approaches:
- Select the Academic domain. Ensure that your child averages 80% for all subjects.
- Select IP schools affiliated to your child’s primary school. If this is not an option, try for IP schools with fewer GEP students appplying.
- Apply to three schools and select a broad range to increase your chances of being accepted by one school.
- Excel in the GAT and subject tests in order to make it to the interview round.
- Achieve a good T-score and apply to the express stream of a school that also offers IP. Do very well in secondary 2 and apply to transfer into IP from secondary 3.
Whether through DSA or PSLE, the best advice I can give you when selecting a secondary school for your child is to choose a school in which your child will be in the top one-third of the class. Instead of looking at the ranking of a school, look at the experience the school can offer to your child. Will your child fit into the culture of the school? Will he/she have a memorable 4 or 6 years? Don’t just look for prestige, look for a school which will help your child succeed.