An overview of Direct School Admission in Singapore

Singapore’s education system is rated the best globally and has received a lot of recognition and praise over the years, with the students said to be some of the best worldwide.

When Singapore attained independence, its labour market was lowly skilled, however, in 50 years, Singapore’s government had managed to significantly improve and advance the education system into what it is today- a system that guarantees that graduates go into highly skilled jobs.

What has attributed to the success of Singaporean education?

Education in Singapore is superior to the rest of the world because they have a different approach to learning. Their classes are more focused on instilling students with problem-solving skills where the classroom is highly scripted, and the curriculum revolves around teaching students how to survive in the real world.

Singapore is of the view that education is an ever-changing system and tries to improve and re-evaluate it when necessary. Singaporean education also has an approach called Teach Less, Learn More, which stresses on quality other than quantity education.

Singaporean culture has also attributed to the success of their education. Contrary to most perceptions that believe that some children are naturally academically talented than others, Singaporean parents belief that every child is gifted and has a chance at succeeding in school.

Singapore Education Structure

Singapore’s education is entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Education [MOE] that controls and manages the system. The education system is classified into four educational stages:

  • Preschool
  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Pre-university
  • University

Singaporean children’s first brush with education starts with Preschool that constitutes Playschool, Nursery, and Kindergarten. The preschools are run by the private sector that is, however, required to register with the ministry of education.

Primary education starts at the age of 7 and is divided into two stages: the foundation stage that takes four years and an orientation stage that goes for two years. Primary education is compulsory and free with a Primary School Leaving Exam [PSLE] marking the end of this level.

Upon successful completion of Primary School, students are placed in secondary schools through a process scheme known as Direct School Admission- Secondary [DSA-Sec].

Pre-university is classified into junior colleges and polytechnics that 2 and 3 years, respectively.

University education level is the highest that offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees programs inclusive of doctoral degrees.

Direct School Admission

Direct School Admission [DSA] was introduced in 2004 for students studying Primary 6 and Secondary 4 and allowed them to seek admission to Secondary 1 based on their talents and achievements.

It is meant as an alternative for primary students to enter their desired schools without having to go through the pressure of national exams. However, students are still required to sit for the PSLE and attain the requisite grades to qualify for an entry.

Another goal of the scheme is to allow secondary schools to have more autonomy in student selection. A student may receive a “confirmed offer” to which the first few students in the ranking by the school are given the offer.

A primary six student who receives this offer from any school gets a School Preference Form in late October after PSLE. An SI Posting Exercise is required if a student is not eligible for the lowest academic stream even if he had been guaranteed a place in a secondary school.

The “waiting list” students fill up the vacancies of those students who receive the offer but reject it. They then enter the school according to their order in the ranking until all vacancies are filled up. Students receive a School Preference Form in October after the PSLE. Just like with the confirmed list, the waiting list students have to be eligible for the lowest academic stream.

The last list comprises of those students who are not ranked high enough and do not receive any offer to participate in the SI Posting Exercise.

The selection process differs from school to school and across DSA categories. Some require submission of a portfolio of achievement, co-curriculum activity [CCA] records, results slips, and a character statement. Students may also have to go through tests in a particular area of interest, interviews, and camps.

Primary 6 students can apply for DSA based on talents including:

  • Languages and humanities
  • Sports and games
  • Leadership
  • Science, mathematics, and engineering
  • Visual, literary and performing arts
  • Debate and public speaking
  • Uniformed groups

Terms and Conditions of the DSA Exercise

For most schools offering DSA, students who have successfully attained entry to DSA must respect the commitment to the allocated DSA School for the entire duration of the program. They should not, at any instance, transfer to another school after the release of PSLE or participate in SI Posting Exercise.


Applicant must:

  • be eligible for Secondary 1 in 2020
  • have robust and consistent performance in primary school
  • exhibit good character and leadership qualities
  • be active in curriculum and co-curriculum activities
  • have demonstrated excellent performance at selection interviews and auditions
  • have attained ABRM Grade 5 or equivalent in Music and Practical

DSA has undergone various changes, and of 2019, the application process has been simplified. Students now make applications through an online portal from the 2019 DSA-Sec Exercise for free.

The portal has everything a student need for the scheme, from updates to schools included and application forms. There is a standard DSA application time, and the MOE has revised the selection process to help schools review each application.


Direct School Admission in Singapore has had its share of challenges with some criticism thrown at it for starting a rat race among students to get to top schools. Some parents have been known to engage coaches for special classes to prepare their children for DSA.

Needless to say, DSA has been impactful as it embraces the core purpose of Singapore education to prepare children for the real world through nurturing their talents. This factor is what has set Singapore apart from the rest of the world in terms of educational value and attributed to its success.