What is GCE O-Level Examination in Singapore?

The GCE O-level examinations, one of the major examinations held in Singapore and one that helps some students decide their next journey after completing their secondary school education. Is it going to be the junior college/centralised institute or the polytechnic? Students take this examination at the end of their four-year secondary school education and apply for admission to these institutions using their results. The O-levels can also be taken as a private candidate.

The GCE O-Level examination or commonly called “The O-Levels” in Singapore, is conducted annually. The joint examining authorities are The University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE) and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB).

The O-Levels are based on the Singapore curriculum and syllabus designed by the MOE. While the CIE is engaged to set and mark the examination papers, the curriculum standards, learning objectives and assessment standards of the subjects are determined by MOE and SEAB. The grades awarded are determined by MOE and SEAB, in consultation with CIE. In addition, Mother Tongue language subjects are set, marked and graded locally by MOE and SEAB.

Subjects examined under GCE O-Level

Various subjects are examined under the O-Levels. Typical subjects include English, Mother Tongue (e.g. Malay, Chinese, Tamil), Mathematics and the Sciences. There are also Electives and Applied Subjects that are subject to availability in various schools. The table below indicates some of the subjects that are examinable under the O-Level examination. The list is non-exhaustive.

Subject Title
English Language
Literature in English
Humanities (Social Studies, Geography)
Humanities (Social Studies, History)
Humanities (Social Studies, Literature in English)
Humanities (Social Studies, Literature in Chinese)
Humanities (Social Studies, Literature in Malay)
Humanities (Social Studies, Literature in Tamil)
Additional Mathematics
Science (Physics, Chemistry)
Science (Physics, Biology)
Science (Chemistry, Biology)
Higher Music
Food and Nutrition
Design and Technology
Principles of Accounts

O-Level School Initiated Elective (OSIE) Cambridge Subjects

Subject Title
Drama *
Physical Education
Business Studies

* Last year of exam in 2018.

OSIE is introduced in 2005 by MOE to give schools greater flexibility in the curriculum to build up their niche areas. OSIE subjects are taken in addition to, or as replacement of, current curriculum offerings by the MOE. They are examinable and the grades can be used in the computation of O-Level aggregate score for admission to the junior colleges/centralised institute and polytechnics.

Applied Subjects

Subject Title
Design Studies

Applied Subjects are developed by the polytechnics in partnership with the secondary schools. Started in 2008, this is to better cater to the interests and aspirations of students who are keen to progress along an applied and practice-oriented path of education. They are examinable by the polytechnics and the grades can be used in the computation of O-Level aggregate score for admission to the junior colleges/centralised institute and polytechnics.

Local Subjects

Subject Title
Higher Chinese
Chinese B
Chinese (Special Programme)
Literature in Chinese
Higher Malay
Malay (Special Programme)
Malay B
Literature in Malay
Higher Tamil
Tamil B
Literature in Tamil

While Mother Tongue B is not an O-Level subject, candidates who pass the subject will be deemed to have met the Mother Tongue requirement for admission to the junior colleges. Performance in Chinese B/Malay B/Tamil B is indicated as Merit, Pass or Ungraded. The grade will not be included in the computation of O-Level aggregate score.

Relevance of O-Levels in today’s world

There have always been discussions on how examination-focused the Singapore education system is and that national examinations such as the O-Levels should not be used as a main gauge of how students will do well in life. Whichever way the discussions go, there is still the demand for extra help for students, especially when the examinations are round the corner. This can be seen in the number of tuition centres being set up and the continued demand for private tuition. Choosing the right tuition centre or tutor becomes quite important as learning should be made fun for students instead of becoming another added pressure for them. There are instances where students dropped out of tuition classes simply because they could not follow the syllabus offered by the tuition centres, but were able to work better with one-to-one tuition. If you are in need of a tutor, we might be able to help, contact us if you need assistance.