In Singapore, all students have to attend a mandatory minimum 10 years of education, from primary 1 to secondary 4. So our students here will need to go through at least 2 national examinations. one would be the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) at the end of the 6-year primary school education; and another one will be the GCE O Level examination at the end of the 4-year secondary school education.
[For simplicity, we only talk about GCE O Level exam at end of the secondary school education here.]
However, in past years, many schools started to offer a new programme, named Integrated Programme (IP). When this happened, most parents wanted to rush their children into it.
On MOE’s website, there is a list of schools that offers IP programme, and the Junior Colleges that their students will be going after the 4 year programme. On this website, it says: Students do not need to take the GCE O-Level examination. I supposed this is the main reason why parents rushing their child to the IP programme.
Let’s understand more about IP.
Integrated Programme (IP), aka “Through Train”
When it first started, most schools will offer the Integrated Programmes, alongside with their normal GCE O level programme. So students in these schools will be doing different tracks, Either the IP Track Or the O LEVEL Track.
O Level Track
Students studying in O Level track are studying the subjects as most secondary schools in Singapore. Students will need to sit for GCE O Level exam for ALL subjects, at the end of their secondary four level.
Basically, students in O Level track will need to sit for minimum Seven subjects in GCE O level examination. So, they will be busy preparing for their preliminary examinations from August to September, and then the national examination written papers starting October till November at the end of their secondary four year.
IP is basically a 6 (Six) year programme offered by schools to free up time for students to do more in-depth learning. This 6 years either comprises of 4 years of secondary school education and 2 years of junior college education, or a 6 years programme covering the secondary school syllabus and junior colleges’ syllabus. Some people will call it the “Through-train“.
Some schools in Singapore offers only IP track, but many offers both IP track and O-level track programme. This is where the confusion comes in.
Students in IP track do not need to sit for any national examination (i.e. GCE O Level) at the end of their 4 years of secondary school education, except the Mother Tongue (MT) subjects. They are only required to sit for the GCE ‘A’ level exam / IB or Diploma offered by the school, at the end of the 6 years. Since they do not need to sit for GCE O level exam for all other 7 to 8 subjects (besides Mother Tongue) at the end of the 4-year secondary school education, they can free up time to explore more and do more in-depth learnings. Some would even believed that these students are less stressed compared to their peers in the O level track.
Hence, when their peers in the O level track are are busy preparing for their Seven to Eight O level subjects for examination, they might be doing doing other learnings and only required to sit for ONE O level subject, the Mother Tongue or Higher Mother Tongue subject.
How does Chinese (CL) & Higher Chinese (HCL) come into the picture?
This is where the most confusing area.
Let me talk about the O level Track first.
O level track Higher Chinese Language students
For most secondary schools, or IP schools offering O level track, students taking Higher Chinese Language will need to sit for the O level Chinese Language (CL) examination, NOT Higher, at the end of secondary 3. The results of their O level Mother Tongue exam is then used to determine if they could continue with the Higher Chinese Language (HCL) subject in secondary 4.
Most schools will require a distinction (A1 or A2) for the students to continue with the Higher Chinese Language in secondary 4.
If the students score a distinction in O level Chinese Language exam at end of Sec 3, they will then be sitting for the GCE O level HCL exam at the end of sec 4, together with the other subjects.
Else, they have another 2 chances to score for better in Sec 4. In Sec 4. they can opt to sit for the GCE O level CL paper in June. If they score better result then previous, they can then forget about the Chinese language subject, and only sit for the GCE O level exam for other subjects at the end of sec 4.
If not, they will be taking the GCE O level CL paper together with the other subjects at the end of sec 4.
Now, how about the IP track students doing HCL?
IP track Higher Chinese Language students
As students in IP track only required to sit for Mother Tongue exam in Sec 4, students studying Higher Chinese Language will be only be sitting for this one subject, the Higher Chinese Language (HCL), in the GCE O level exam.
Below is a picture illustration for the differences.