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O Level Maths – The Full Guide To O Level Math In Singapore

It’s no surprise that Maths is one of the subjects students struggle with most at O Levels. From performance anxiety to a lack of understanding of the required concepts, students can face many different roadblocks towards success. While a degree of nerves can be expected, more than half the battle is already fought before the big day comes around. This is due to the many hours of revision and preparation students have to put in prior to the actual day. With adequate preparation, O Level Maths doesn’t have to be an impossible battle to take on.

Doing well in O Levels will provide students with many more options when it comes to pursuing post-secondary education, whether they wish to enter JC or attain a Diploma in one of the five local Polytechnics. If Maths is one of your weaker subjects, you can always work on it by engaging Maths tuition by tutors who specialise in O Levels.

In this guide, you can find out everything you need to know about O Level Maths, and we will also share with you some top tips and tricks for scoring well!

Why is O Level Maths Important?


Many students, especially those who struggle with Maths or do not wish to pursue it in higher education, have questioned why O Level Maths is important. Improving your grades can seem like an uphill battle when you are constantly failing or getting Cs. Beyond a rudimentary understanding and the ability to carry out simple calculations to get by in daily life, Maths comes into play in many aspects of our lives. Even if you do not wish to do anything Maths-related after secondary school, you will find that the study of Maths tests your critical thinking and analytical skills, which are useful to have no matter which area of study you end up going into.

Love it or hate it, Maths is an important part of O Levels. For Express students, this can include both Elementary Maths (E Maths) and Additional Maths (A Maths). Doing badly in one or even both can pull down your aggregate results and affect your chances of getting into the JC or Poly course of your dreams. No matter whether you are seating for just the E Maths paper or both, you will need to put in adequate preparation to maximise your chances of doing well.

What is the Purpose of O Level Maths?

There are important reasons SEAB requires Secondary 4 and 5 students to seat for Maths papers. Below are the four objectives of O Level Maths, as highlighted by SEAB:

  1. To understand mathematical concepts and know how to apply them in different contexts
  2. Be able to organise data in real-world contexts, interpret mathematical information and select the right techniques for solving problems
  3. Acquire higher-order thinking skills by making inferences and rationalising mathematical arguments

Topics Tested

Below is a list of topics tested under the current O Level Maths syllabus:

  • Number and Algebra: Numbers and their operation, ratio and proportion, percentage, rate and speed, algebraic expressions and formulae, functions and graphs, equations and inequalities, set language and notation, matrices, problems in real-world contexts
  • Geometry and Measurement: Angles, triangles and polygons, congruence and similarity, properties of circles, Pythagoras’ theorem and trigonometry, mensuration, coordinate geometry, vectors in two dimensions, problems in real-world contexts
  • Statistics and Probability: Data analysis, probability

By the time most students reach Secondary 4, they should already have a good idea of which topics and concepts they struggle most with. Here, it would help if you dedicated more time to these areas of weakness, but remember not to neglect the topics you are good at, either. While you may not need as much practice with them, it helps to go back to them from time to time to make sure that you don’t forget how to answer questions.

Understanding the Format of the O Level Maths Papers

Both the E and A Maths O Levels exam are divided into two papers: Paper 1 and Paper 2. An approved calculator can be used for both papers, and students should make sure that their calculator is running on enough battery power to last them the duration of the paper. Alternatively, you may decide to bring in an extra calculator or spare batteries just in case. You will also want to make sure you have a curve ruler with you.


1. Elementary Maths (E Maths)

Paper 1: 2 hours, 80 marks, 50% of total score

25 short questions can be found in this paper.

Paper 2: 2.5 hours, 100 marks, 50% of total score

In this paper, there will be approximately 10 questions, with different marks to be attained for each based on their length and complexity.

While candidates are required to answer all questions, this can be a challenge for students whose greatest weakness is speed. You may know how to solve all or most of the questions correctly, but you will still miss out on valuable points if you are unable to complete the paper on time.

2. Additional Maths (A Maths)

Paper 1: 2 hours, 80 marks, 44% of total score

There can be anywhere between 11 to 13 questions in this paper, depending on the number of marks attributed to each one.

Paper 2: 2.5 hours, 100 marks, 56% of total score

Similar to Paper 1, the questions in Paper 2 will vary in marks and level of complexity. However, there will only be 9 to 11 questions in this paper.

Most Common Challenges Faced by Students 

One reason O Level Maths is such a dread paper is because of the breadth and depth of topics covered. Because of this, preparation has to begin early, and students must have a solid foundation of the concepts covered from Secondary 1 to 3. If this is not done right, students will find themselves struggling at the start of Secondary 4 and having to play catch up with their peers.

Below are some of the most common challenges faced by students when it comes to taking on O Level Maths:

  • Weak foundation: As mentioned previously, students with a weak foundation can have trouble grasping the more complex concepts introduced at Secondary 4/5. The only way these students can catch up is by engaging tuition or review sessions, on top of spending more time on revision.
  • Lack of practice: No matter how well you understand the concepts that are to be tested, lack of practice can set you behind. Learning how to manage your time well so you can dedicate a suitable amount of revision time to each subject is crucial.
  • Speed: Some students are able to answer questions and solve problems with no issue, however, they can take too long to do so. The best way to overcome this is to take timed practice papers and gradually improve your speed over time.

Top Tips and Tricks for Scoring Well

Compared to the languages and humanities, O Level Maths is a highly objective subject. As long as you get the right answer, even if there’s more than one way of getting there, you can be sure that there’s no subjective interpretation to it. To this end, doing well is all about knowing exactly what you need to do.

Here are some of our top tips and tricks for scoring in O Level Maths:

  • Familiarise yourself with concepts and equations: The good news is that the formulae and equations you will be dealing with are unchanging, and that’s one thing you can use to your advantage. Although you will be provided with a formulae sheet you can reference with each paper, you will need to have a deep enough understanding to know when to apply each one. Here is where memorisation will probably not be very useful, as you will still have to know which concept is the right one to apply to each problem.
  • Have a revision plan: Now that you know when the O Level Maths paper will take place, start making a revision plan and stick to it. Break down the topics you will need to cover, paying special attention to the ones you will require more time and help with. After which, be sure to set aside some time to practice every day, and make sure you don’t miss one
  • Be consistent with practice: Maths is a subject that requires consistent practice for you to do well in. Whether you are completing practice papers from assessment books or the ten-year series, you can be sure of getting better only if you put in consistent effort. Be sure to get any mistakes checked out and explained to you by a qualified tutor so you can learn from them and avoid repeating the same ones.
  • Carry out timed practices: Besides practicing in your own time, have you ever set aside a longer chunk of time to simulate actual exam conditions? This is particularly useful for students who find themselves struggling to finish the assigned questions within the given time. Even shaving a valuable minute off the time you take to complete each question can mean a lot.
  • Seek help when in doubt: One of the biggest mistakes you can make is failing to seek help when you need it. Understandably, your teachers may be too busy to give you much individual attention in school due to the large class sizes. Here is where you should make an effort to seek help from other avenues, be that from seniors or even better, experienced tuition teachers. If your schedule is too packed to accommodate onsite tuition classes, consider online tuition, which can be just as effective.
  • Avoid cramming: As with any other subject, trying to cram a lot of material within a short time isn’t going to work. To really maximise your chances of getting your desired grade, you will have to make sure you start early and that you aren’t sacrificing sleep to the point that you can’t focus in class. If that’s the case, all the practice and revision you have been doing would have been counterproductive!

By following these top tips, you will be increasing your chances of walking away with your desired grade. Whether you choose to move on to JC or Poly next, the study skills you have acquired from preparing for O Levels will stand you in good stead throughout the rest of your higher education journey!

Do You Require More Individualised Attention? Here’s Why Tuition Can Help


Do you find that no matter how much time and practice you put in, you are still struggling to bring your grades up? Do you arrange review sessions with your teachers, but time is always tight or your teacher has to divide his or her time between a few students? Or are you afraid to ask questions in class with so many pairs of ears listening?

If that’s the case, there are many ways tuition can benefit you, including:

  • Personalised and individualised attention: With tuition, you will benefit from a smaller class size than at school. If you require even more individualised attention, engaging a private tutor just may be the way to go. Either way, you can be sure that an experienced and qualified tutor can correct your mistakes, explain what you are doing wrong and help you improve.
  • Round-the-clock assistance: Another plus of tuition is that most tutors remain available to provide you with assistance after hours. It can be incredibly helpful to get an answer to your question almost immediately instead of waiting till the next day, where you may have forgotten what you wanted to ask.
  • Access to specialised resources: In school, all students receive the same notes and revision materials. However, you may require more, especially if you are struggling with a certain topic. Here is where tuition can really help, as many tuition centres and private tutors prepare their own specialised notes for students. Some even provide additional resources in the form of learning apps, worksheets, and more!
  • Build confidence and self-esteem: Students who have been struggling with Maths for a while may lack the self-esteem needed to do well. Instead of focusing their efforts on pulling up their grades, they may fall into a hole of self-doubt and question if it’s worth putting in the time if their grades aren’t going up anyway. Tuition can help to rebuild the confidence that some students lack and push them to achieve better.

As long as you are willing to put in the time and hard work, there’s no student who can’t be helped. With the right attitude and a good tutor who’s matched to your needs, you will soon start to see a difference in your grades.

Engage an Experienced Tuition Teacher to Help You

As O Levels start rolling around, it’s normal to feel a degree of stress and anxiety. Whether you are panicking for yourself or for your child’s sake, it’s not too late to start preparation. At Tutor City, we make it easy for you to find a tutor who ticks all your boxes. You can start searching for a tutor by applying the right filters to our selection. All our tutors are experienced in their field of specalisation and have undergone a strict vetting process before being approved to teach for us.

If you would rather have us recommend a tutor for you, please feel free to get in touch and request a tutor. Based on your preferences and requirements, we will send you a list of profiles within 24 hours and once you have decided to engage one of them, you can expect to receive an invoice after the lesson. If you wish to change tutors, all you have to do is pay for the lesson and make the change to another tutor – no commitments before you have found one who’s right for you!

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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.