Instead of simply staking their all to ensure good results in the PSLE, some primary 6 students could secure a place in their choice school even before they take the exams. That is, if they demonstrate talents or achievements ranging from academic results to CCAs, fulfilling criteria determined by individual schools.
There are obvious benefits to this method of gaining admission. Firstly, you can opt for a school with academic programmes that appeal to you. For example, the Integrated Programme (IP) offered by selected schools is a 6-year course leading to the A Levels. Popular not only because it allows students to “skip” the O Levels (and its accompanying stress), the curriculum is broader and gives students opportunities to learn beyond a prescribed exam syllabus.
Or, you might decide to choose a school with a niche CCA that your child excels in so he can contribute to the school and pursue his passion simultaneously. More importantly, if he secures a place through DSA, he will feel more relaxed and happier as he prepares for PSLE.
Before you put your child through the DSA Exercise, have a good talk with him and think carefully about your choices. Remember, once you are allocated a school through DSA, you cannot request for a change nor will you be able to participate in the centralised posting exercise after the release of the PSLE results, regardless of performance.
Before you put your child through the DSA Exercise, have a good talk with him and think carefully about your choices.
The Fast Track
We consulted 2 experienced mothers who have gone through the DSA process. Alice’s* son secured a place in Victoria School’s (VS) Integrated Programme while Sandra’s* son was admitted to The School of Science and Technology** (SST).
Cultivate Different Interests
Many schools offer DSA through their sports or the performing arts CCAs. An ideal candidate would need to have inter-school representation to be favourably regarded. Schools could also assess a candidate’s strengths in CCA together with his academic achievements. In Sandra’s experience, schools like SST have no specific criteria in the area of CCAs when selecting students. But applicants are put through situational tests, so those with strong leadership and collaborative abilities do much better.
In the same way, students with unique talents or hobbies other than academic results will stand out from the crowd. Prepare your child early (from Primary 2 or 3) by enrolling him in a CCA of his interest and encourage him to contribute actively so he can develop useful life skills.
Start a Daily Study Routine
Your child’s exam results (especially those from primary 5 onwards) forms part of his DSA application documents. Consistent good results (80% or above in all 4 subjects) will go a long way in getting him shortlisted for an interview. It is never too early to set up a daily routine of homework and revision that supports your child’s learning.
The amount of time allocated should be reasonable (30 – 45 minutes a day may be sufficient for a Primary 1 child), with enough time left for leisure and rest. For less motivated (or younger) children, you may want to start by giving hands-on guidance and moral support during the allocated time, as Alice did, even at the end of a long work day. If you lovingly but firmly emphasise the values of diligence and perseverance, children will, over time, become more independent and take ownership for their studies.
Understand the Curriculum
If you’re planning to enrol your child in an IP school, note that teaching approaches and expectations are quite different from schools running the ‘O’ level course. The Integrated Programme is essentially a broad, inquiry-based curriculum. The ideal student is inquisitive and self-motivated, someone who wants to learn not just for exams but because he is truly interested in many subjects.
He will be expected to play a part in sourcing for knowledge by doing independent research or working in groups. This also means that there could be fewer teacher-prepared notes or model answers and little, if any, focus on exam preparation through drills. Questions will require application and in-depth thinking rather than recall or speed. If your child has good study habits and intellectual perseverance, he will likely enjoy and benefit from the IP. However, if he cannot do well without close supervision, reconsider if he can thrive in this system.
More importantly, if he secures a place through DSA, he will feel more relaxed and happier as he prepares for PSLE.
Attend Open Houses
Make time to bring your child to the Open Houses of all your choice schools. Other than obtaining essential information on programmes or CCAs, this is also an informal way to understand school culture by observing the seniors and student leaders. When Sandra attended SST’s Open House, she was impressed by the articulate and confident students who played host. Happily, her son is one such young man at the end of his 4 years with the school.
Hone your Interview Skills
Students applying for DSA using academic results must take a General Ability Test. Questions typically assess reasoning skills. Some schools may also include language or mathematical components. For DSA through sports or the performing arts, trials or auditions are conducted.
Those who do well in the first round will be shortlisted for interviews. Some schools conduct individual interviews while others put students in a group. Alice says the latter is more challenging for a 12 year-old because “it requires a certain level of maturity to know when to speak up and yet not be off-putting” so others also have a chance to present themselves. Students can boost their confidence by preparing for the individual interview.
Likely topics include personal qualities, achievements and reasons for application. Alice’s son was also asked questions like whether he had tuition, which famous person he would like to meet and to talk about an interesting piece of news he had recently read. Besides anticipating questions, do some practice rounds with family members or relatives to calm your nerves.
If you have decided to try DSA, approach it with a positive mindset. Even if you are unsuccessful eventually, treat it as a learning experience and continue to support your child in the upcoming Secondary One Posting Exercise.
* Names changed to protect interviewees’ privacy.
** SST selects most of its students via DSA, reserving only limited places for those with good PSLE results. It runs a 4 year express curriculum leading to the O Level Exams.