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Failed The O-Levels? Here’s Your Options

After years of studying, failing your O-Levels can be a devastating experience. Even results that are technically passing can get you in trouble if you have many borderline scores like D7/C6. Low or failing scores may crush your hope to qualify for Polytechnics or Junior College.

While there’s no way to avoid the disappointment of this situation, the bright side is that there are numerous ways to continue your academic career or excel professionally. Before you plan your future after failing the O-Levels, you may have to change your mindset.

Make sure you are taking responsibility for the situation. Only you can create your success, and it is hard to reflect on what you might need to change in order to succeed academically if you don’t emphasize the importance of your own actions. Consider what would have to change for you to succeed academically in the future.

Is your issue time-management, or is it something else?

Despite the importance of taking responsibility, remember that not everything is in your control. Factors such as stress, time, and luck may not have been on your side and have affected your O-Level results, even though you didn’t have total power over them.

There are many reasons you could’ve failed your O-Levels that don’t involve you not being good enough. Besides, your O-Level results do not define you or how much success you can have in the future. 

Once you step into a more positive and accepting mindset, it is time for you to reflect upon yourself and your talents. Think about your best skills and about what kind of careers you would be inclined to. This will help you make your decision on where to go next. After you come to understand where you will excel in the future and what areas you need to improve in, you can begin to look at various options for what to do next after failing your O-Levels.


Option 1: Enrol into a Vocational or Specialised School

If you have a specific talent in music, sports, or the arts, you can apply to a specialized school, such as NAFA or LaSalle, that will help you hone your skill.

NAFA, or the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, allows you to get a diploma in subjects such as Fine Arts, Fashion Design, or Screen Media. Tuition is approximately 19,500 SGD.

LaSalle has diploma programs for animation, audio production, broadcast media, and more, and tuition is approximately 63,450 SGD.

You can also attend a specialized school overseas. You may have more luck as an international student, where there tends to be more leniency and your poor scores may hold less weight.

Even if you are not granted admission into a specialized school, you can always try to take your skills to the public by posting videos on social media or performing or showcasing your gifts in your community. This can lead you to unexpected opportunities if you persist.


Option 2: Retake Your O levels

If you are younger, you may have the option to retake your O levelsYou can choose to not return to your old school and enroll in a private school, or you could even self-study and register for the O-levels as a private candidate

You can also assist yourself in this process by enrolling in a private institution with O-level preparatory courses to help you retake the O-levels in the same year or the next one.

Singapore private school fees average 1,309 SGD a year. One example is at Spring College International school. Remember that you should not expect different results if you employ the same study habits and strategies. You will need to be extremely self-disciplined to improve your score, and it could be a good idea to hire an experienced O-level private tutor.

Additionally, The Institute of Technical Education’s General Education Programme allows you to prepare for the O-levels and take part-time classes in English, Humanities, Math, and more.

Need help with passing? We have some helpful guides:
7 strategies to get an A1 for your O-level English
Score an A1 for O-level Chinese with our 6 simple tips
6 ways to power your E-maths from F9 to A1


Option 3: Study at the ITE

Another option is to apply to the Institute of Technical Education and get vocational training. There, you can learn new skills that will allow you to employ yourself and start a business.

With diverse courses such as Nursing Studies and Skills, Make-up Application, and Exercise Science, there are many options for you to find a fulfilling path and career, or start your own business in beauty, fitness training, and more. 


Option 4: Polytechnic Early Admissions Exercise

If you are considering studying for a NITEC or Higher NITEC in ITE and then applying for Polytechnic, you can do so via the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE).

The EAE allows students to receive conditional offers for admission to polytechnics before receiving their final grades. Five polytechnics participate in this system, including Nanyang Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and Temasek Polytechnic.


Option 5: Receive a diploma or degree from a private school

It is possible to receive a degree or diploma from a private school not recognized by the Singaporean government. Private institutions also offer foundational diplomas that qualify you to progress to other diplomas at the institution.

One caveat of receiving post-secondary education from a private school is that it may mean your degree will not clear you to work in the public service or in government-linked firms.

The top private university in Singapore is Kaplan Higher Education Academy. In 2018, it was awarded the best Corporate Training Provider for Computer Science and IT and Finance Management by the JobsCentral Learning Training and Education Development Awards.

Kaplan Higher Education Academy offers 25 diplomas within 8 disciplines, such as Business & Management and Communication & Media. 83.3% of graduates find employment. A Diploma in Commerce costs 11,715 SGD in 1st year tuition, but this is just one example of a possible price.

We have an article on Local vs Private Universities: Things to look out for


Option 6: Attend a centralized institute

A centralized institute offers three-year pre-university courses under the arts and science stream, like that of a typical junior college, or the commerce stream. These studies lead up to the A-Levels.

The two remaining centralized institutes in Singapore have merged into the Millennia Institute. The Millenia Institute has various departments, such as business, humanities, mathematics, mother tongue, and more.

The Millenia Institute has certain standards for admission but offer conditional acceptances where students can re-sit certain exams twice. Although the Millenia Institute leads into the A-levels like junior college, it gives you an additional year to prepare. 


Option 5: Receive a degree overseas

If you can afford it, you may find success in a different overseas education system. The Singaporean O-Level is recognized as the hardest version of the O-Levels.

Even if you are an academically weak student in Singapore, there is a good chance that you will pass through school in Australia, UK, or the US. Keep in mind that international students often pay four times domestic tuition. US colleges differentiate between in-state and out-of-state students. International students often pay the full tuition like the out-of-state students and then some.

This is especially true in public colleges, which receive government funding that comes from American taxes, which international students have not contributed to. Still, international students are sought after to boost diversity.

You can apply to scholarship programs like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program or within a specific university to try to lower the cost.


Option 6: Gain work experience

It may be a good idea to go straight into the workforce instead of enrolling in a post-secondary education program. This will help give you clarity on your passions and what you are good at, and you will build new skills at the same time. As an apprentice, you may be able to slowly climb the ranks of the business you work for.

You can always take a different route or continue your education in a new way if you don’t find the job for you. There are many employers who do not heavily factor degrees in hiring.

According to a 2018 report by the Ministry of Manpower, for 52% of job vacancies in professional, manager, executive, and technician (PMET) roles, the employer is not factoring in degrees as a main consideration. If you have skills in software and website development or experience in marketing, you may easily find a job under the PMET umbrella.

You can also find jobs in establishments such as bakeries, restaurants, and various types of stores. These jobs usually require soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, that allow you to succeed in customer service.

You may stock and clean stores, facilitate sales, take calls, and generally assist anyone who walks into the building. These jobs will help you gain new skills, such as food preparation, and learn more about how a business is run, which can help you apply for management positions in the future.

Another option is a commercial driver or Private-Hire Driver (Grab / Gojek), which requires a license and communication skills rather than academic qualifications. If you prefer air travel, you can train to be a flight attendantSuccessful applicants to Singapore Airlines undergo a fourth month long training program. The training is very intense, but the career is rewarding and allows you to see the world and meet all walks of life along the way.

If none of these options sound right for you, don’t worry. There are many more jobs you can get without a degree. Be creative and search around your community and you will find the right position for you.

If the O-Levels just aren’t for you, don’t lose hope on building a successful future. With a little bit of self-discovery, you will master your unique skills and prosper in fulfilling employment and academic enrichment, no matter what form it takes.

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About Author

Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

We want our readers to expand their horizons by learning more and find meaning to what they learn.

Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.