Recently, the Ministry of Education announced new changes to the PSLE marking scheme which will be implemented in 2021. With the introduction of Achievement Levels (ALs), it will be easier for children to achieve the required score to enter into the school of their choice.
The drawback to the new scheme is that more students will eventually achieve the required AL score for entry into the popular schools which can result in a case of demand exceeding supply. This fear may push more parents to embark on the Direct School Admissions route thus increasing competition in this area.
Starting from 2017, there will be drastic changes in the domains offered for DSA. General Academic domain will be taken away with more emphasis on talent, sports and niche areas. This year, we have seen some changes taking place with various IP schools.
Moving forward, these are some steps parents must be prepared to take in order to help their children get a confirm offer from 2017 onwards:
Enrollment in Communication courses.
This is a life skill that will come in handy in many ways. The final stage of DSA is the interview. Being able to express oneself succinctly is crucial when it comes to impressing the interviewers. Students must not only answer interview questions but also be able to hold their own during discussions on current affairs topics and even debate on issues if needed. (When enrolling for a communication course, make sure that the certificate received is recognized internationally and by MOE. Trinity College Communication Skills Graded Examination is highly recommended).
Practise expository writing
More schools requires students to write a piece of essay responding to a question given as part of the selection process. Most primary schools teach narrative writing but never expository essays. The purpose of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical and straightforward manner. Some past questions given by some of the IP schools are as follows:
- What do you think of PSLE? What changes would you recommend?
- Write an essay about the importance of values.
- What is your idea of an ideal secondary school?
- “Academic achievements guarantee success. Do you agree?”
Practise comprehension reasoning
If your child has time to focus on only one segment of the English paper, it has to be reading comprehension. As for the types of questions they must learn to answer, it is definitely inference questions. More schools require students to take an English test and it is always a comprehension test.
Attend Maths Olympiad courses or practise math reasoning worksheets
For some of the IP schools, a strong foundation in Maths reasoning is crucial. Maths reasoning test is a requirement for some of the IP schools.
- Practise non-verbal reasoning worksheets. You can find these on the internet or purchase some IQ books that has such questions. GAT test is compulsory for many IP schools. This year some of the schools even insisted that GEP students take the test.
- Take up a sport CCA, performing arts CCA or develop a talent (dance, music, visual arts, public speaking, debate, etc)
- Participate in as many academic or non-academic competitions – International, National, Zonal and school-base.
- Take up a leadership position in school. (class monitor, Head-prefect, Vice-head prefect, prefect, school counselor and CCA chair or vice-chair) Such leadership positions always gets you to the front of the queue when it comes to DSA.
- Value in Action hours. Volunteering and helping out in school will go a long way in helping your child beef up his/her portfolio.
- Awards, Awards and more Awards. Every opportunity your child has to acquire an award through school or outside of school will go a long way to attracting the IP school’s attention. At the end of the day, the more you can contribute to the success of the school, the more they want you.
One final word of advice, don’t wait till you child is in Primary 6 to check out IP schools. Start doing your research when your child is in Primary 3 or 4 as that will give you 2 to 3 years to get them ready for DSA.
If all of this seems too tedious and time consuming, there is always the PSLE option which means your child can just focus on academics and there is really nothing wrong with that.
by Jackeline Carter
Since DSA was first introduced by the Ministry of Education eleven years ago, the DSA selection process has gone through many changes. The interviewers of the original IP schools which started in 2004 have interviewed thousands of students over the years and have heard every possible answer each student could have sprouted in relation to the questions asked. To say that the interviewers are jaded is an understatement. Some have even stated that they were tired of listening to answers that were memorised and regurgitated but spoken with a lack of passion and sincerity.
So the question is: “How should you prepare your child for this important interview?” The best advice I can give you is to ensure that the answers are based on what your child thinks and truly their opinion. Your role as parents will be to guide your child so that he/she does not speak in Singlish or come across as judgemental or critical. Try not to come up with answers that you think the interviewers want to hear but instead work on personal views and opinions in order to sound more spontaneous when answering interview questions.
Examples of Interview Questions
There are many possible types of questions an interviewer can ask and each type can be phrased in different ways. Thus it is important that your child listens carefully to the questions and answers accordingly. Answering a question does not mean allocating three to four sentences to an answer instead it is saying what is necessary in order to help the interviewer understand your views. This means that there isn’t a standard number of sentences in replying to a question. Just remember not to restrict it to one word or one sentence. It is also advisable to answer the questions in a succinct manner.
Here are some common questions schools may ask and ways students can think about answering them.
“Tell me about Yourself.”
Most adults have difficulty answering this question let alone a twelve year old who is just beginning to understand himself/herself. As this is a broad question, it is a great opportunity for students to share positive facts about themselves.
Choose to talk about personal values, strengths, interest, achievements or things you enjoy doing. You can select a combination of strengths and achievements. It is not necessary to mention all of the above suggestions or it may come across as rambling off a list.
“Tell us what you enjoy doing when you are NOT attending school.”
This question is asked to determine if students have other interest beyond academics as most schools are looking for well-rounded students.
This is a very easy question to answer, just be prepared to talk excitedly about your areas of interest whether it is music, sports, drama, public speaking, art or another area. You may also want to explain how you will continue in this pursuit.
RELATED: Is DSA right for my child?
“Who is the greatest influence in your life or who do you admire the most?”
Most students will answer this question stating that a parent is the greatest influence in their life. Although there is nothing wrong with this answer, it shows that the student lives a very sheltered life and is solely influenced by parents. Eight out of ten students will answer this way which does not make it exciting for the interviewers.
Instead think about what interest you and the people who have become well-known perusing a similar interest. For example, you may have an interest in art, talk about a famous artist whom you admire and how he has influenced your work. Alternately, if you choose a family member, make sure that the reason you admire this person is due to the challenges he/she have faced in life and how the experiences have influenced important life lessons.
“Tell us about an event that is significant in your life?”
This is an easy question for students who have faced some form of challenge in their life such as coming from a disadvantaged background, going through a traumatic incident, suffering from a health problem (dealing with a sick member of the family) or having a disability. On the other hand, for most of students who have a normal childhood, this is generally a tough question to tackle.
This is where you will need to dig deeper and be more creative. Think of any simple personal experience that teaches an important lesson or creates some form of awareness.
For example, many students are required to do CIP hours involving a visit to an Old Age Home. Most of these students have never visited such a place or are afraid to talk to elderly people who are not related to them. They can use this experience to talk about the importance of interacting with the older generation or the need to practise filial piety.
RELATED: The DSA Interview – Group vs Individual
“What are your Strengths?”
This questions is most often asked during the interview or given as a Free Response Test. It is not asking about academic subjects. The strengths students should be talking about can be one of the following areas:
- Knowledge-based skills – computer skills, robotic skills, language skills (not including English/ Mother tongue), music skills, or any skills that you may have attained.
- Transferable skills – communication skills, problem-solving skills, leadership skills, organisation skills, and so forth.
- Personality traits – punctual, confident, sociable, etc. You can go to this website that list 638 personality traits to identify the ones you have http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html
When talking about your strengths, provide realistic examples to illustrate what you mean. Be truthful about your strengths or examples.
“What are your Weaknesses?”
Do not provide a weakness that is a strength in disguise. Interviewers are not easily fooled. For example: “I am a perfectionist and I spend too much time checking my work’.
All of us have weaknesses as it is part of being human. The interviewers just want to know you better and to find out if you are working on overcoming weaknesses and are constantly working on personal improvement.
The way to answer this question is to acknowledge your weakness and how it has affected your work performance and what you have been doing to overcome this weakness (make sure your methods are practical and realistic).
You may visit this website and look under ‘Negative Traits” to help you identify your weaknesses http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html
“Why do you want to come to our school or how many schools have you applied to and which school is your first choice?”
Interviewers ask these questions to determine how motivated students are about attending the school. The best way to tackle this question is to talk about the academic programs or CCA that the school offers. Visiting the open house and speaking to students, coaches and teachers will help students acquire valuable information. Looking through the school website will also provide more information about the school. Try to avoid common reasons such as ‘Your school is the best school in Singapore” or “My parents want me to attend your school because it can help me get into a top university in the future”. These answers are just too cliché.
As to which school is the first choice, the answer should be the school which the student is interviewing with at the moment. In most cases, schools who ask this question do it as a formality. Answering it with an “I don’t know or I have not decided” will give the impression the student is not serious about attending the school and the interviewers will feel like they have just wasted their time.
“Do you have any question about our school?”
The interviewer may end the interview by asking you if you have any question. In general, the majority of students will say, “NO”. There is nothing wrong with that answer. However, if students want to leave a lasting impression, this will be a great opportunity to show the interviewer that they have done their research about the school or that they are keen to contribute to the school in some way. Students can also ask questions to find out how the school can contribute to their personal growth. For example: “I have a strong interest in debate but I have never participated in any debating competition. Will I have an opportunity to try for the debating club?”
Do not ask questions with answers that can be found on the school website or at the open-house as this will backfire terribly.
The interview is an opportunity for the school to find out if a student will be a good fit for the school. Do not push your children to interview with a school which they are not keen to attend – they will lack confidence and sub-consciously sabotage their chances. Focus instead on sending your children to schools that will bring out the best in them and provide the most enriching experiences.
by Jackeline Carter
Your child has successfully made it to the final stage of the DSA selection process – The Interview. This is the moment where your child needs to do especially well in order to be offered a place in the school. All students who reach this stage of the DSA selection process have proven that they are academically inclined and talented in a certain area. Now the schools want to know if your child is able to communicate his/her views and opinions clearly, effectively and even creatively. Can your child handle the pressure of a face to face interaction without breaking down? Is your child prepared to answer questions with confidence? Depending on the school, your child must be ready to undertake a group interview or an individual interview.
So preparation is the key and practice makes perfect.
In a group interview, three to five students will face one to three interviewers – this varies from school to school. The interviewers are usually vice-principals, head of department, senior teachers, coaches and even student leaders. Group interviews are tougher as your child will have to answer questions put forth by one or more interviewers. Your child must also outshine the other students and not be afraid to maximize his/her speaking opportunity.
During a group interview, the interviewers will take note of the following:
- Can your child display a positive impression and stand out in the group?
- Does your child have good communication skills (verbal and non-verbal)?
- Does your child have abilities such as leadership, creative thinking, problem-solving, and knowledge of current affairs?
- Is your child able to display a sense of empathy towards those less fortunate than themselves?
- Can your child interact socially and work in a team?
RELATED: Is DSA Right for my Child?
For this form of interview, your child will be alone in a room with one, two or three interviewers (varies with different schools). The interviewers can be the principle, vice-principal or head of department and even senior teachers. The interview is an opportunity for the interviewers to get to know your child better and to assess if he/she will fit into the school culture and environment. This form of interview is usually done in a conversational style. In some cases, it can begin in a relax manner and becomes a little more challenging as the interview progresses.
During the interview, your child needs to share the following:
- His/her personal qualities and strengths.
- Be able to express his/her views with confidence.
- Display enthusiasm and interest in the school.
- To assure the interviewer that he/she will accept an offer from the school.
RELATED: 5 Reasons why You should Consider an Integrated Programme (IP) School
Techniques for a Successful Interview
Follow these tips to ensure a successful interview:
- On entering the interview room, smile, make eye contact and greet every interviewer.
- When answering a question, focus on all the interviewers. Try to engage every one and not just the one who asks the question.
- Never say anything negative about yourself, family, teachers, primary school or the school you are interviewing with. No one likes a negative or ungrateful person.
- Never behave in a defensive manner if your views are challenged by the interviewers. Acknowledge their point of view and thank them for offering it.
- Anticipate as many questions as you can and practise answering them.
- When answering a question, always provide a reason or an example to accompany your answer.
- Try to control the interaction by introducing views and ideas into the discussions.
- Project your voice, speak with clarity and vary your tone when speaking.
- Smile, use facial expressions and hand gestures when necessary.
- Do not cross your arms or legs.
- Lean back in the chair with feet firmly on the ground. Do not rock or fidget.
- Always thank the interviewers before leaving the room.
No matter how much preparation your child undergoes for the interview segment, success will not be achieved unless your child has a positive mindset. Children need to believe in themselves. They need to be confident that they deserve a place in the school of their choice. As parents, you can help by showing more optimism. Never tell your children that they are not good enough or compare them to your friends’ children in front of them. This is the quickest way to lower children’s self-esteem. No matter how smart or talented your children are, they will never be able to convince others to regard them highly if they have a low self-esteem. I cannot stress enough the importance of positive thinking and its role in contributing to a successful interview.
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.
RELATED: 5 Reasons Why You Should Consider an Integrated Programme (IP) School
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.
In 2013, the principal from Jurong West Secondary School asked a daring question during a discussion at an education forum on the topic of making every school a good one.
“How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it),” she was quoted as saying in The Straits Times. Her question went viral on social media and she was even hailed a ‘hero’.
Since that incident, there has been a divide between IP schools and non-IP schools where IP schools are considered ‘Elitist’. Many parents wonder why they should send their child to an IP school. If every school is a good school and the teachers in non-IP schools are just as qualified, is it really worth the hassle of going through the Direct School Admissions (DSA) process and spending huge amount of money on tuition lessons to ensure a high T-score in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE)?
Here are 5 reasons why you should consider sending your child to an IP school.
Low Student-Teacher Ratio in the classroom
IP schools have an average of 25 students per class. Why are small classes important? Small classes ensure that your child will not be lost in the crowd or fall through the crack. Non-IP schools have an average of 40 students per class. No matter how committed a teacher is to her students, the heavier workload will make it difficult for her to reach out to students who need more help. The students in IP schools come from the top 10% of the cohort each year and the learning structure in these schools is self-directed learning. This means that should a student have any difficulty, the form teacher will have time to help the student in need.
Using Temasek Junior College as an example, the school practices the following to ensure that their students will succeed in their programme:
“TJC prides itself for a warm environment and a caring culture. In Year 3, we dedicate 2 form teachers to each class of a small class size of not more than 25 students to engage them at a more in depth and personal level to better understand their development needs. Our student welfare team consisting of full time counsellors and a strong team of teacher counsellors work together closely to ensure that students are provided with effective support to handle the rigour and demand of the programme.
RELATED: Is DSA right for my Child?
Professional Development for Teachers
NIE has been doing a good job training and preparing teachers. The problem is teachers in non-IP schools do not have a choice as to which schools they are placed. The stress level of these teachers are high and the high turnover rate reflects that too. Many teachers become disillusioned after a while and some good teachers leave for the private sector to set up tuition centres or provide tuition services. IP schools on the other hand are allowed to recruit their own teachers. As such you can find highly qualified teachers from Singapore and other foreign countries teaching at these schools. Teachers are hired based on qualification, experience, competence and passion for the subjects they will teach. Some of these schools also provide and encourage professional development through foreign universities for their teachers as with the case of Hwa Chong Institution. HCI runs a Graduate School of Education for their teachers offering Masters of Education and Doctorates of Education in collaboration with The University of Western Australia. (http://www.hci.edu.sg/about/careers/3)
Although the Singapore Government spends a lot of money on education by upgrading all the schools, the money allocated to each school is not always the same amount. No one can deny that IP schools have the best facilities. The money to build these facilities do not come just from the government but also from donations. Their libraries house the widest range of books and research materials that rival any public libraries. They use the latest technologies in the classroom to enhance learning. They have first class sporting facilities with some of the best coaches to manage the sporting programmes. CCA is also a major part of IP schools and they offer the widest array of activities for the students to participate in. Raffles Institution, for example, boasts the following facilities:
“At Raffles Institution, our students are provided with state-of-the-art facilities – both for academic and non-academic pursuits. Our facilities include:
- 6 Lecture Theatres (LTs)
- Computer laboratory with 40 workstations
- Fully-equipped gymnasium
- 2 Libraries with over 105000 items
- Media Studio
- Olympic-sized swimming pool
- Performing Arts Centre
- Running track with field
- Students’ Lounge
- Wireless campus
RELATED: The DSA Interview – Group vs Individual
A Holistic Education
Not having to take the O’levels frees students from mugging for a national exam thus having more time to learn life skills. This can take the form of elective studies such as philosophy, psychology, social etiquette, public speaking, leadership, character development, problem solving just to name a few. More time can also be spent on participating in competitions from sports to academic. Students are also given opportunities to plan events for schools and their communities which teaches them responsibility and empathy. I am sure non-IP schools do offer some of these as well, unfortunately a lot more time is spent preparing for O’levels so the experience is not as extensive.
Entry to Top JC followed by a place in University
Being in an IP school means that your place in a top JC is more or less guaranteed. Although there have been cases of students who did not succeed in an IP programme, the numbers are relatively small. 95% of students from top JCs receive a place in a local or foreign university. Many receive scholarships to study in Ivy-league universities overseas. Some students from RJC and HCI were given a place in these universities even before they received their A’level results. This is because IP school diplomas are highly recognised by universities locally and overseas.
Beyond the 5 reasons I have shared with you, there are more I have not mentioned. For me personally, a holistic education that does not follow the standard Singapore education system allows our children to compete better in a competitive society like Singapore.
Having said that, one should still choose the school that best fits the learning ability of one’s child thereby ensuring a successful outcome in the future.