Choosing IP Or ‘O’ Levels


The Integrated Programme (IP) and the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (‘O’ level) are both examinations that are taken by secondary school students for them to qualify for the GCE Advanced Level (‘A’ level) or the International Baccalaureate (IB), or any other examination that is the equivalent of these two exams. The ‘O’ level is taken annually, and has been the standard examination taken by secondary school students to prepare them for their ‘A’ level exam; the IP is a more recent, experimental examination, and it is only taken by students that are the top of their class.

While the ‘O’ level has been the standard for many years to prepare students for their ‘A’ levels, you can enrol your child into the Integrated Programme once they finish primary school, so that they can go straight to taking their ‘A’ levels without taken the ‘O’ levels. However, you should know that the IP isn’t for every child, and you need to consider your options before enrolling your child into the IP or letting them go to secondary school and taking the ‘O’ levels.


Difference Between IP And ‘O’ Levels

The Integrated Programme is a programme that is targeted at the top 10% of the students that have taken the PSLE. This programme is a 6-year programme, and it allows students to avoid taking the ‘O’ levels and have a direct shot at taking the ‘A’ levels or International Baccalaureate (IB), after which they will get into the university. First introduced by the Ministry of Education in 2004, the IP is offered by 18 schools in Singapore to provide top-quality secondary education, as well as junior college education, to students.

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The IP uses a curriculum that allows the students to have more time to develop other talents and skills and to explore their intellectual curiosity as well. The IP curriculum is flexible and lets students learn on a broader level than what the ‘O’ levels have to offer.

The ‘O’ levels is an examination taken by students, either at the end of their fourth year in secondary school (for the Express Stream) or their fifth year in secondary school (for the Normal Academic Stream). Studies show that about 30,000 students take the ‘O’ levels every year, and the questions are set by the examiners in the University of Cambridge International Examinations, while the Mother Tongue subjects and the Social Studies aspect of the Combined Humanities subject are set in Singapore.

The papers are sent to Cambridge in Britain after the examination has been written for marking and grading; the Mother Tongue papers and Social Studies are marked in Singapore by Singaporean examiners.

The major difference between the IP and the ‘O’ levels is that the IP allows students to bypass the ‘O’ levels entirely and sit for the ‘A’ levels, after which they can gain entry into the university. Ordinarily, students have to take the ‘O’ levels and pass them before they can sit for the ‘A’ levels or the International Baccalaureate, then gain entry into the university; with the IP, your child can avoid the ‘O’ levels and go straight for the ‘A’ levels.

How Does The IP Benefit My Child?

The IP benefits your child in that your child doesn’t have to take the ‘O’ levels to qualify for the ‘A’ levels or the International Baccalaureate. With the absence of the ‘O’ levels, your child has more time to expand their knowledge in the both the academic and non-academic curricula.

The IP is a programme that lets your child stay ahead of their peers academically. This means that your child gets to learn higher-level topics and subjects, making them enhance their analytical skills and their logical skills, causing them to develop a more advanced way of thinking. Your child’s curriculum in the IP will include subjects from advanced classes, increasing their knowledge at a faster rate than their peers are attaining theirs.

The IP creates more time for your child to get involved in enrichment programmes. Since there is no need to prepare for the ‘O’ levels anymore, your child can learn electives like leadership skills, psychology, public speaking, logic and problem-solving skills, and several others that enable your child to understand and know how to deal with life outside the classroom.

The Integrated Programme also gives your child more time to get involved in extracurricular activities at school. The programme provides your child with greater opportunities to get involved in planning and executing events for the community and for the school, teaching them personal values like empathy and responsibility.

The IP also encourages your child to be more involved in sports. If your child is highly interested in sports, the IP allows your child to develop that interest, giving them more time to practice the sports they love and even take part in school sports competitions.

Is My Child Suitable For The IP?

It is important for you to understand that the IP, first of all, only admits those children who are in the top 10% of the PSLE results. That alone shows that the IP isn’t for everybody. Even though your child may qualify to be in the Integrated Programme, the IP may not be for him or her.

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Your child is most likely to succeed in the Integrated Programme if they can properly adapt to the curriculum that the IP uses. As such, you can know your child’s suitability for this programme if you truly understand your child’s learning habits.

In 2016, Strait Times reported that for the 4000 pupils that enter the Integrated Programme in the year of 2016, 240 can be expected to leave the programme before completion. The reason for this is not because the children couldn’t cope with the pace of learning, but because they couldn’t adapt to the style of learning.


The IP is a good fit for your child if your child is disciplined enough and adapts to new styles of learning easily and quickly. The flexibility of the IP curriculum makes it less structured, and as such requires a higher level of discipline in your child to be able to make a good fit and to succeed in the programme.

However, the IP is not a programme for every child, and as such, enrolling them in the ‘O’ levels is a great option, and some schools even run the two programmes, allowing students to switch from the IP to the ‘O’ level preparatory classes if you have noticed that your child is struggling with the IP curriculum.

For related articles, this might interest you: Practical Learning – A Learning Tool You Can’t Afford to Not Use and Integrating Creativity with Today’s Learning Techniques



Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.