Which is the Best Option After O Levels – JC, Poly, or Retake?

As many of us are sure to understand, taking the O Levels examinations are no easy task. The stress that it puts on secondary school students is something that should not be undermined. However, once the examinations have elapsed, there is more that the students must consider. 

I remember often asking myself after I had gotten my ‘O’ Level results back: What do I do after this? What path should I take? Did I score well enough for my liking? More often than not, these are questions that many of you reading this article might echo. 

Firstly, understand that this is no doubt a difficult thing to consider, and you should not feel pressured into making any harsh decisions. The transition from secondary school to tertiary education is a rather steep one, so take the necessary time when it comes to deciding what to do!

Oftentimes, the results scored is a large factor in this consideration. For those who have unfortunately scored below expectations, that’s alright! There is always another opportunity for you to do better, be it in tertiary education, or retaking the ‘O’ Levels.

This article serves to break down the details of the different options that one can take: Entering Junior College, Polytechnic or choosing to retake in school or privately.

Know that there is no ‘better’ option, it just depends on what suits you better and what you need most at the time!

Junior College

For those of you who might be considering entering junior college, here’s some information on what life in JC will be like…

Let’s first touch on the academic style! JC subjects tend to focus more on building student’s theoretical knowledge on subjects. Students are separated into ‘Science’ or ‘Arts’ streams, similarly to that of upper secondary school students.

Subjects taught include: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, General Paper, History, Literature, etc, and are separated into Higher 1, Higher 2 and sometimes Higher 3. The higher the level, the more content the student is expected to learn about the subject.

On the note of being more similar to secondary schools, there are also teachers present that would micromanage students to ensure that they are performing up to par. So, for those of you who worry about losing motivation, or getting distracted often, this might be a good option!

Lectures and tutorials are held- Lectures being held in masses, while tutorials are similar to classroom settings. There will also be project work in Year 1, where students are grouped together randomly.

The typical duration that students remain in JC is about 2 years, so it is rather face paced! JC students thus have to learn to manage their time properly.

Local universities also often tend to prioritize entry of JC students, so those keen on entering a local university, JC might be the better option in this sense. This is, of course, also subjected to good grades and conduct!

In terms of career prospects, given that what students learn is heavy on the theoretical side, most seeking specialised jobs right out of JC might not be very successful in securing it. Thus, most JC students do opt to enter university afterwards to gain specialised skills.

However, it is also important to note that this is not always the case, as there are students who have graduated JC and lack a university degree that still obtain the jobs they enjoy!

Co-curricular activities (CCAs) are also highly recommended for students to take up. It grants JC students ample opportunities to develop skills outside of their academic ones. 

As for student independence, as mentioned, teachers will still be there to manage student welfare. Students are also required to wear uniforms to school and have to abide by a strict dress code.

The independence that students experience will mostly be in regards to their studies. Since there is not as much focus on project work compared to that of Polytechnic students, most subjects would require independent handling. 


On to Polys and what school life would be like!

Students are taught more hands on and applicable knowledge that prepares them for their future careers in specialised industries! The courses offered are no longer as broad compared to that of JC or secondary school.

Because of this, Poly students should ideally already have an idea of what career path they choose to embark on. 

Examples of courses taught in Poly are: Biomedical Science, Real Estate Business, Accountancy, Mechanical Engineering and much more! 

The academic style of Polys deviates greatly from that of secondary schools. Lectures are often held, and there is a great emphasis on project work! Thus, students must learn how to work well with others in order to score good grades in Poly (or at least, make it easier to do so).

Unlike in secondary school, there will no longer be teachers there to manage students 24/7! So students must learn to be more independent in their studies and take things into their own hands. This can be great in preparation for university or work life!

Most Poly students tend to spend around 3 years in school, but some courses can tape 4 years to complete. They will also graduate with a Diploma.

In terms of future university prospects, Poly students also stand a good chance in entering local universities! According to the Straits Times, 1 out of 3 local university students admitted in 2015 come from Polytechnics. 

Of course, like any other student applying to a local university, good grades and conduct are also imperative. 

As mentioned before, Poly students graduate with a Diploma and in depth knowledge on specialised skills that prepare them for careers in specific industries. As such, Poly students have much better luck securing specialised jobs compared to A Level students right after graduation.

Hence, for those of you who are keen on working as soon as possible, or are already set on a specific career path, Poly might be the best option for you!

Holistic development is also another focus in Poly life. The CCAs that students can select exist in a much wider range compared to that of most JCs. Thus, it is more than likely that students will definitely find a CCA that suits them and meet many like-minded individuals with shared interests!

Project work is also a heavy focal point in Poly, as students will have to learn important social and communication skills in order for smooth sailing work between group members. This is especially important as it primes students for work life in the future that academic skills cannot prepare them for.

Students also no longer have to don a school uniform to go to school any longer, which is, undoubtedly, a big factor of interest for many students as well. It is completely understandable, of course, after years of wearing school uniforms, it must feel liberating to wear what we wish!

However, that does not mean that students are free to wear just about anything. There are also dress codes to abide by, such as no revealing clothing or vulgar graphics! 

Retaking in Secondary School

For those of you who would like another try at the ‘O’ Levels, retaking it in school might be the first thing that pops into your mind! 

This is definitely a viable option, but do understand that it is also dependent on the school if you are allowed to retake it there or not. Oftentimes, this banks on the student’s conduct and grades. 

If this is something that you wish to pursue, perhaps it would be good if you first find a teacher to speak to regarding this, to see if you qualify to retake in school!

There are, of course, benefits to retaking it in your school as compared to retaking it as a private candidate. For one, you will be under supervision of teachers who understand your needs and can help you closely along the way.

You will also be surrounded by classmates who are taking ‘O’ Levels that year, which can help you establish a community of friends who can help you out!

This is, of course, not to say that you can be solely dependent on others for help. The onus is still on you to do well for yourself! Retaking the ‘O’ Levels just ensures that you have a strong support system to help you out.

The duration of study is typically 1 year, as you will join the next batch in line to take the exams. 

Should the student do well enough on their next try, the fact that they retook their ‘O’ Level examinations will not be an issue. Understand that your results do not always define your potential! Many students who retook their ‘O’ Levels end up doing very well in JC or Poly!

Retaking as a Private Candidate 

If you elect not to retake the ‘O’ Levels in school, retaking it as a private candidate is always an option! 

However, it is important to take note that you will no longer be under the care of teachers in school, and your learning is now more or less in your hands. Thus, this option requires students to have good discipline and motivation to see it through to the end of the next year on their own with little help.

The duration for study is also typically around a year, which gives the student around the same time for preparations as those that are retaking the exams in school.

The chances of entering tertiary education is the same as well, as it all depends on your actual grades and your conduct and involvement in your secondary school!

Because of the very independent nature of this option, there is greater emphasis on the student’s willpower. This is not to say that there would not be any help for you whatsoever! In fact, you may always feel free to reach out to teachers or friends from your secondary school for help if they are amenable.

Private tuition is also another way to create a support system for yourself if you feel like you need it. 

Perhaps a good idea for students that chose to retake the ‘O’ Levels as a private candidate would be to create a study plan or keep a planner. Planning is key when it comes to any form of self study.

Sit down with your parents and revisit the chapters that need to be studied and plan your time out accordingly to a style or pace that suits you.

In conclusion, understand that no matter the results of your ‘O’ Level examinations, it is not a defining factor of your potential for success! Continual learning is a trait that everyone should adopt and is something that cannot be rushed. All the best for your future endeavours!