Why are we obsessed over PSLE?

Well-intentioned kiasu parents and “grade obsession” have fueled exam stress for generations of Singaporean students. Even corporations like New Moon and Brands had taken advantage of this obsessive PSLE pressure by extending endorsement deals to top scorers.

Still with a “score or else” attitude piling on so much stress, some children have even been driven to suicide, and the government is now trying to change the national mindset by moves like not announcing the top PSLE scorer, and plans to scrap the competitive T-scoring by 2021.

Their effectiveness however will depend on a major source of exam pressure: worried parents. Would they continue to view PSLE as a competitive hurdle that must be crossed come hell or high water, or just one of many chances for their child to shine?

The latter is certainly the view of criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who himself passed his PSLE by just 3 points, and posted on Thursday and Friday to encourage the “PSLE kiddos” who just got their results. “Yes, be it getting 68, 168, or 268 it’s just a number. And yes, being admitted to the Normal Technical, Normal Academic, Express, or Special Stream does not give you a better understanding of life or even the slightest glimpse into your future.”

His sentiments were echoed by Benjamin Kheng, who recounted how he had flunked terribly after his mother’s death, before his finding his current place as frontman of local band, The Sam Willows.

Similarly giving reassurance to parents, Facebook user Mr Khairudin Aljunied posted both his own PSLE score (221) and his current job: Associate Professor (at NUS it turns out), giving hope for those who don’t ace their first major exam.

His request for others to share their own PSLE stories attracted 1.1 k comments and 3.3 k likes in just 4 days, with a surprising number of positive accounts coming from people who had scored below 200 and still went on to their:





And further studies



With some even reporting amazing turnarounds.



Some early high flyers even helped debunk that reverse myth of “good grades equals success”, by sharing how poorly their PSLE marks had predicted their current lives.



So the options after a poor PSLE are far from zero, and topping PSLE isn’t a silver bullet to the good life. As a thoughtful user pointed out:


Are we letting our achievements (grades or career) define our self-worth too much?

Now that’s food for thought.


By Vincent Tan