Are you or your child faced with the tough choice of choosing between the IP or O Level track? Or perhaps, your child may already be in the IP track, but you aren’t really sure what to expect. Well, we’re here to explain some of these differences you can expect as a student in the IP track!
Introducing the Integrated Programme
For the longest time, the conventional route in Singapore after PSLE is to go to secondary school and work towards the O Levels in Sec 4 or 5, before heading to polytechnic or junior college.
However, the implementation of IP (Integrated Programme) changed that. While the vast majority of students still sit the O Levels examinations, about 10% of students do not sit the O Levels, and proceed straight to junior college to complete their A Level or IB exams. The IP is seen as an elite and prestigious programme for the brightest and most studious ones.
The main characteristic of IP lies in doing away with the O Levels. So, secondary and JC is taken together as a 6-year programme, although most students still need to change school as they go from high school to JC (year 4 to year 5).
The intended purpose of IP is to reduce the focus on exams for high school students, and offer them more curriculum time to explore academics and other pursuits in a more flexible and challenging way.
Here is a list of current IP schools in Singapore:
IP Schools leading to the A Levels
- Catholic High School (with Eunoia Junior College)
- Cedar Girls’ Secondary School (with Victoria Junior College)
- CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School (with Eunoia Junior College)
- Dunman High School
- Hwa Chong Institution
- Nanyang Girls’ High School (with Hwa Chong Institution)
- National Junior College
- Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) (with Raffles Institution)
- Raffles Institution
- River Valley High School
- Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (with Eunoia Junior College)
- Temasek Junior College
- Victoria School (with Victoria Junior College)
IP Schools leading to the IBDP
- Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)
- Methodist Girls’ School (with Anglo-Chinese School (Independent))
- Saint Joseph’s Institution
- School of the Arts
- NUS High School of Mathematics and Science (students receive the NUS High School Diploma)
How different is the IP curriculum?
The rigour and curriculum design of each IP school can be quite different. Every school has their own special programmes and ways of executing the IP. However, we can mention some general trends and raise some examples to show how the IP is different from the O Level track.
More in-depth study or early introduction of A Level concepts
For some subjects like Math and the sciences, IP schools introduce some advanced topics to high school students even before they reach the JC level. This gives them a strong foundation when they enter JC, and even a head start as compared to O Level students. Even for English, IP schools tend not to follow the O level syllabus, opting instead to hone more higher-level skills like literary analysis, expository and argumentative writing, rather than grammar and basic reading comprehension.
- Less focus on grammar (e.g. no editing component in the exams). A good command of the language is already assumed of the students.
- Reading comprehension has more higher-order thinking questions, requiring inference and deduction skills rather than factual recall questions.
- Incorporation of literature into the main English syllabus means that students have to study the set text and hone their skills in literary analysis (prose and poems included). The subject may be called English Language and Literature, or Language Arts, to reflect this inclusion of literature.
- Usually no O Level-style oral examinations. Instead, verbal abilities may be assessed based on continuous assessments such as in-class presentations and class participation marks.
- The IP Math syllabus follows the Additional Math O Level syllabus more closely, as it includes like differentiation, which the Elementary Math syllabus does not include.
- While the topics are similar to that of A Math, IP schools may go more in-depth into selected topics, bringing down A Level concepts as early as Sec 3 and 4.
Physics, Chemistry & Biology
- Although the topics taught are similar to those in the O Level syllabus, there is more in-depth exploration into certain topics.
- Expect an accelerated rate of learning, where Sec 1 and 2 IP students are introduced Sec 3 and 4 Express topics, and Sec 3 and 4 IP students are introduced to JC concepts.
- Questions tend to be more challenging. For example, there may be a heavier emphasis on calculations in physics and chemistry, and more novel questions that require critical thinking to solve across the sciences.
- In IP schools, students still take their Mother Tongue O Levels.
- Some students may have the choice to take Higher Mother Tongue, or some schools may require students to take Higher Mother Tongue by default.
- Not all IP schools have social studies as a subject. It is not compulsory, unlike SS at O Level.
- Most schools will still offer Geography and History, but some may have their own subjects like Integrated Humanities, Inquiry and Advocacy, Singapore Studies, etc.
- Some schools offer special programmes like Art Special Programme or Music Special Programme, which may be taken as an elective in the school, or as an O Level subject in some schools.
Involvement of critical thinking
Teachers who have taught both O Level and IP students observe that questions asked in IP exams tend to involve more critical thinking skills. What this means is that O Level questions are mostly recall questions or problems that are similar to what students have learnt and practiced before. However, IP exam questions contain more novel questions that require thinking out of the box, inference or deduction skills, or combining of concepts across different topics.
Less exam-focused learning in high school
IP students will realise that their high school days are made up of a variety of activities, not just textbook-learning and running through worksheets. For example, past IP students will recall activities where they act out the scene of a play in their Language Arts class, or spend a Sabbatical week discovering more about Chemistry through learning how to cook. Project work also features significantly in continuous assessments, which may include oral presentations, extended essays, and research projects for various subjects. Without the pressure of that 4-year deadline to study for the O Levels, students also have more leeway to participate in their CCA, build up their leadership skills, go on overseas learning expeditions, embark on research projects, and more.
Is my child suitable for the IP?
Being strong in academics doesn’t automatically make your child suitable for the IP track. As the IP route offers more flexibility, it also means that students need to be disciplined to learn their material and manage their time between various commitments. Although many teens learn this along the way, some students may fall through the cracks and switch to the O Level track due to the inability to cope with the IP system.
Other things you may want to consider are your child’s future plans (if any). If there is a vocation that your child really wants to go into in polytechnic, or if there are plans to pursue overseas studies in pre-university, taking the O Levels might be a better choice and stepping stone.
Where can I find support for my child in the IP?
In its early days, it was difficult to find suitable academic support for IP students as most tuition centres only provided tuition for O Level students. However, these days, there have been a growing number of tuition centres that cater to IP students. We are one of them!
Selecting a suitable tuition centre or tutor that is familiar with the IP syllabus is crucial. Tutors with no experience teaching the IP may not know the difference in difficulty or style of questions that IP students face. That is why it is always a good idea to choose tutors who came from IP schools themselves, or previously taught IP students.
Future Academy is considered an IP specialist tuition provider as we have with us many tutors who were ex-teachers in IP schools. We have classes dedicated to IP students such as our IP Math Tuition Class, and provide targeted worksheets and practice papers at the correct level for them. Apart from IP-A Level classes, we also cater to the IP-IB crowd with experienced IB tutors.