Is Direct School Admission (DSA) Beneficial?

I am pretty impressed with the writing of this 11 year-old, if it was entirely written by her without an adult editing it. She expressed her view clearly, and listed out the disadvantages of Direct School Admission (DSA) concisely, in her shoes as a student. The tone of her article was quite balanced, but when it was published in the social media, bias-ness stepped in.

Is DSA bad? Should be it scrapped?
Or, do you think DSA provides an opportunity for students to select the secondary schools that they desire to get into, without having too much of a cold sweat over PSLE results.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) introduced DSA-Sec in 2004, with a fundamental objective: to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate a more diverse range of achievements and talents, other than solely academic performance, in seeking admission to a secondary school. Students with diverse academic and non-academic achievements and talents can apply for this, before they sit for Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE). The application starts as early as May when the child is at Primary 6. Offers from respective schools will come in around August.

For your information, Independent Schools can admit up to 100% of their Secondary 1 cohort via DSA, although most of the time, they admit about 50% or so. However, Specialised Independent Schools (SIS) such as SOTA, NUS High, School of Science and Technology (SST) and Singapore Sports School (SSC) only admit students via DSA.

Basing on this fact, should you consider giving DSA a miss? I don't suggest so, especially if your children are keen to get into the SIS.

We cannot deny the fact that the PSLE is a high-stakes exam. And I am also pretty concerned whether these 11-12 year olds children are mentally prepared for such a high-stakes exam. I can't help but to pity these children (and their parents) because a lot of time and energy have been channelled to prepare for this exam. And I know, my turn will soon come. 

In most schools, they prepare the children for the PSLE as early as term 3 in Primary 5. You only have to imagine this:

While so much time and energy have been channelled to prepare for PSLE, what if -

- the child falls very sick during the exam period?
- something serious happens at home, like the divorce of parents or a loved one at home contracting a terminal illness? Certainly such serious event would affect the child and his/her studies.
- the child suffers from nervous breakdown and his/her mind goes blank on the day of exam? 

You may argue that these scenarios do not happen often and to everyone. But, but, scenario #3 is often, wouldn't you agree? If PSLE is a high-stakes exam, and entry to a secondary school of choice is only through the PSLE T-scores, then we will see many of scenario #3 happening! 

Do we want that to happen? Of course not! We love our children, thus we want DSA to be scrapped! Right? On the contrary, I forsee more of scenario #3 happening if we were to scrap DSA.

Scrapping DSA will not help to make the playing field a fairer one. However, scrapping PSLE may be. I agree with what MP Denise Phua has said in this article.

"To level the playing field, Ms Phua suggested developing a software which teachers, students and parents can share and access the best learning materials and practices. Those who share good material and pedagogies should be rewarded, she said."

 I have also asked some parents in my Facebook group for their views.  Here is what they said:

I think children, especially boys, mature later, and also different rates. One of my boys entered secondary school via DSA with low 200s under CCA . He did respectably well for O levels - not to top JC standard, but nowhere near that of those 10 premier school boys . He has classmates that were among the top 10% of PSLE cohort but did around the same or a little poorer at O levels . So, well, no child is the same . Remember even without DSA, many kids will be spending many hours in their CCA, at least 2-3 times a week, leaving school only after 6.30 pm on those days. And even if you did not admit via DSA, do not think you can easily change the CCA you joined in Sec 1 . That's the life of secondary school students.  – Sammi, mother to 4, blogs at

I have 3 children and 2 went through DSA, which I am totally grateful about. However, I also felt that the DSA application standard expected from most of these Sec schools were too high, mostly requiring the child to have represented his Pri School or at National level. Many niches such as performing arts and specialised sports training are not provided for by the primary schools. A lot of children who got into DSA could do so because they benefitted from their parents' investment in their learning. It actually defeats the ministry's original intention of DSA, allowing naturally talented children to have a chance to good schools even if they can't do well academically. The truth is that children from poor families may be naturally talented but without proper training from primary schools or private enrichment schools, they will not be able to have the skill standard expected by these DSA schools to be admitted. - Isabelle Loo, mother to 3, founder of (an educational portal)

DSA is a good initiative but with poor implementation. It's good in the sense students could enter their choice secondary schools based on their other strengths apart from academics.  That being said, more often than not, the students generally come from family who could afford financially to help them excel in their strengths (sports, music, arts). The schools that receive them must have some support system for them as they went in with lower aggregate scores. It is difficult to catch up with their peers if the support is not there.   – Mrs Quek, mother to 2, ex-teacher

My take is that DSA serves students well when their PSLE T-score is not too far away from the schools cut-off-point (COP). This will mean that the students applied into the schools can cope with the demands and rigour. However, if a student's T-score is a far cry from the COP, the parents and the student will have to be mentally prepared for an uphill task to match up with the abilities of the students in the same cohort. I would think that parents should help their children to make wise choices.

There are some students who are admitted into schools which take in students from mid range cut-off points of 230 onwards. Most whom I know are very happy studying in these schools as the difference in results is not too great to bridge. Furthermore, there is 'O'-Level examination which keeps track of the students' progress early.

When MOE designs DSA, it comes with good intentions. Parents should not have the mentality that DSA is a 'ticket' to IP schools because a child can be hurt when things go not go as planned. - Hannah Low, mother to 2, founder of Learners'Ed (a tuition centre), ex-teacher

Personally, I do not think DSA should be scrapped. Given a choice, I would rather have my child admitted to a choice secondary school via DSA, thus being less stressed out with the PSLE than to be totally stressed out with PSLE because there is no DSA provision.

My take is that the root of the matter is the high-stakes PSLE, not whether DSA should be scrapped. Perhaps the government should seriously look deferring this exam.

For more reading on DSA contributed to the forum, please click on these links:

Perhaps, parents of primary school goers should research more on DSA to help yourselves making a more informed choice. One way is to read up from MOE's DSA-Sec website. Another way is to purchase this book from J Carter Centre. Jackeline Carter, the author, gives quite a good overview of DSA. One other way I could think of is to attend a DSA seminar. MindStretcher conducts such seminar annually.  You may like to call them up and check the details of the seminar for 2016.


  1. Hi Jenn
    I was checking the google analytic for my website and noticed some hits coming from your blog. I was surprise to see your blog featuring my book. Thank you so much for supporting me and the nice things you said about my book. I will post a link to your article on my facebook page for DSA to return the favour and direct readers to your blog.
    Regards, Jackeline Carter

    1. You are most welcome, Jackeline! The book is indeed very useful!


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