At long last (or perhaps way too soon for some of you), the moment of reckoning is here. PSLE results will be released tomorrow, November 24th. For most parents, the real headache begins – which schools to choose for your child? We have gathered some of our thoughts and penned them down and we sincerely hope that it will help you in some way in your decision-making process.

Should top schools be at the top of your list?

Most of us who have grown up in Singapore understand very well the value of competition in driving us to aim for the best. The adage ‘That which does not kill you only makes you stronger’ has been the conventional wisdom often used to justify school choice especially when choosing schools that have the reputation of being ‘academic pressure cookers’. So rather than being a deterrent,  the tales of the pressure, the impossibly high standards (whether perceived or real) that students have to achieve just to stay afloat and the intense competition (sometimes friendly, sometimes not) among students seem to be a source of fascination and draws throngs of students to these schools year after year. The underlying assumption here seems to be that the competition in these schools will drive your child to strive for excellence and that the result is that he will go from strength to strength and only get better.

You might want to pause however and consider whether this is necessarily true for your child. The Big Fish Little Pond Effect (developed by Herbert Marsh and John Parker in 1984) and its impact on your child’s self-concept might be something you want to think about. Simply put this theory is that  a person tends to have a higher self-concept when in a less capable group than in a more capable group. In the academic sphere, a person’s self-concept is how he perceives his abilities in terms of achievements relative to the others in his group. Some studies have attested to the truth of the Big Fish Little Pond Effect where students of equal ability performed better when placed in ‘average’ schools rather than in ‘high performing’ or ‘selective’ schools. Of course there are many other factors that come into play in determining academic success but this theory has enough evidence to set you thinking.

If you want to learn more about the Big Fish Little Pond Effect, you can visit


Is my child happy with the choice of school?

Although it seems like common sense that your child must be happy in order to do well, it’s often the case that happiness is way down the scale when it comes to choosing secondary schools in Singapore. As parents, we are sometimes guilty of abusing the quote ‘The secret of happiness lies not in doing what one likes but in liking what one has to do’ in order to persuade our children to go to schools that they don’t want to go to. Of course, in some cases going to a school that we don’t particularly like can teach us resilience and how to make the best of a less than ideal situation but for many it represents yet another reason to be miserable. Going to a secondary school for the first time is already a very daunting experience and if your child is already unhappy before she steps into the school, it might make the situation worse. As emotions play an important role in learning, a child who is already unhappy about her environment would experience emotional stress and would most likely not be in the best frame of mind to do well in her studies. If this is not identified or addressed, it can lead to chronic emotional stress. Research  suggests that this chronic emotional stress can cause permanent damage to neurons associated with learning and memory (Vincent 1990)


Does distance really matter for this tiny island?

Distance is also something you might want to give a thought to. Granted that in an island that measures 50km from east to west, nothing is ever truly far away in absolute terms but we usually consider distance in relative terms. Yes, you might be able to drive your children to school in the morning before setting off for work but they would probably have to make their way home on their own. Throw CCAs, extra classes, third language and a host of other activities in the mix and you will find that they will be doing a fair bit of travelling on their own. Since tired bodies and tired minds don’t really co-relate well with good health and good grades, these long commutes might start to take a toll on your children after the initial euphoria of getting into the ‘dream school’ fades.


How well do I know my child? 

This question may seem rather out of place considering that we are talking about school choice but we  think it is an important question. As the saying goes, we’ve saved the best for last. By best we mean the most important – every child is unique and as parents you know your children well. Everything we have discussed here really depends on your child. How does your child deal with competition; in a broader sense how does he respond to perceived danger: fight or flight? Does your child make friends easily? If he doesn’t, that may be the reason why he wants to go to an affiliated secondary school and not the brand name school that is your alma mater. If being with his friends would help to raise his self-esteem, then maybe you might want to consider giving that brand name school a miss.

In any case, it’s important that you get them involved in the decision making process and teach them how to weigh pros and cons and what opportunity cost is all about. After all experience is the best teacher and this is an opportunity to practise decision-making skills that should not be missed. The lessons they learn through this experience will endure long after the dust has settled on the PSLE results frenzy.


The Science Clinic wishes you and your child the best of luck!



Vincent, J.D. (1990) The Biology of Emotions. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Basil Blackwell