After ‘O’s: JC or Poly?

On January 11, O level students from the class of 2016 will receive their results and many will be wondering which path to choose: A level or Polytechnic route.

Allow me to share my opinion on what are the factors to consider based on my experience teaching in a Polytechnic and Junior College.

1. O level aggregate points

The first and foremost criteria when a students wishes to enroll into a course in JC or Polytechnic is to meet the minimum cutoff point.

A) L1R5 < 20

Basically more “headache” for you because you have many options to choose from.

With the popularity of some polytechnic courses, the cutoff point for these courses may be as competitive as enrolling into a JC. So do not only ignore what the polytechnics have to offer even though you can enroll into a JC.

B) L1R5 >=20 but L1R4 < 30

If you are still very interested in A level curriculum, then there is still a chance to enroll into either the “tail-end” JC or a 3 year programme in Millennial Institute. Otherwise polytechnic courses is pretty much the only option left.


As mentioned, some courses in polytechnic can be pretty competitive, so there may be limited courses which you can still enroll into. Hence you will need to consider if you are interested in these courses rather than just enrolling and spend alot of money on one certification which you may not need it in the future.


2. Personal interests

A) You prefer hands on work and interest in particular area, such as programming, nursing, etc.

Yes, polytechnics offer many courses which strikes a balance between skill based training and theoretical studies. Hence if you have a particular interest, say aeronautical areas, then polytechnic is the choice for you.

B) No particular interest yet or excel more in paper assessments rather than hands on skills.

Then JC curriculum may be a safer bet for you. JC curriculum is more broad compared to polytechnic courses, which means upon graduation from A level, students can still apply to various university courses.

To sign up for a polytechnic course by random and finds out that it is not the one for you would mean losing money and time to switch to a new course.

Polytechnic courses is generally around 50% paper assessment and 50% practical assessment while JC is probability 85% paper assessment and 15% practical assessment (mainly through science labs & project work).


3. Assessment

A) 1 major exam decides everything

JC curriculum is such that you will only sit for 1 official exam (GCE A Level) which tests on everything throughout the 2 or 3 years of study. So it is “DO or DIE” situation which makes it highly stressful. Yet at the same time, students who are struggling at the initial stage yet perform well after a certain period of time will be able to take advantage of this exam system.

B) Consistent performance across throughout the course.

Polytechnic curriculum follows the modular grading system similar to universities. This means that every module contributes to the final GPA score upon graduation. One disadvantage is that a student cannot afford to flunk in any of the module but one advantage is that the stake of each module is not as high as just 1 sitting of exam in the JC curriculum.

Also the lessons at polytechnic can be quite fast paced as each semester is only 4 months followed by an examination. But the advantage again is that whatever learnt in the previous semesters will probably be not too crucial for the upcoming semesters.


4. Discipline level of student

A) Uniformed institution

In the JC curriculum, students’ discipline is closely monitored on everyday basis from daily attendance to even the colour of the shoes. So the student is actually in very good hands and discipline is one key factor contributing to the overall academic performance. The teachers will usually keep a closer contact with parents through emails or meet – the parents’ sessions. Hence JC curriculum is recommended if the student lacks of self-discipline.

B) “Freedom”

Polytechnic treats the students more like young adults / clients. There isn’t much enforcement of the students’ discipline apart from ensuring they attend a minimum percentage of lessons. It is very very common to see students using phones / laptops during lessons (just like in universities) and the lecturers in general do not hold as much authority as JC teachers when it comes to disciplinary power. So if the student has a very high level of discipline and is interested in polytechnic course, it is pretty simple for him / her to climb to the top.


5. Level of competition

A) Intense

The students’ ability in a JC varies less than that in a polytechnic and chances are the students tend to be more competitive in general. Of course some prestigious polytechnic courses are also very competitive but in general (IMHO) the competition is not as intense. Although JC assessment is given awarded based on the absolute scores, the peer pressure of fighting for a place in university can be quite intense.

B) Too varied

With the push of ASPIRE, the government is driving more people to take up polytechnic courses and the less popular courses will see students coming from a wide range of academic background such as O levels, overseas scholars and ITE students. When all of them are mixed in the same course, the higher ability students will have less competition and if the grades are distributed using a bell curve, they have a higher chance of scoring A. Also not all students are aspiring to go universities, some just want a form of certification. Hence the amount of peer pressure in these less popular courses can be almost non-existence.


6. Quality of certification


The main purpose of A level certification in Singapore is to enroll into universities. In my opinion, A level certification on its own does not hold as much value as a diploma as it means the students have more “general knowledge” but still lack of the specific skills a job may require. This is also where the pressure of JC curriculum, especially if one does not qualify for any desired course in university, often these students will then take up diploma courses in polytechnics / private universities which can be very expensive or try another year of A level examination as private candidate.

B) Preparing for industry

Nowadays more and more polytechnic students can qualify for university courses (which is great news). However the core of polytechnic curriculum is to prepare students to be ready for work in various industries. Hence the course focuses alot on skills with a balance of theory. A diploma will grant a student a decent job upon graduation and those students who further their studies in univeristites have an advantage of being skill-equipped compared to their peers in JC.

With this upcoming trend, it is no longer the case of polytechnic being the only backup choice should the student not qualify for the JC curriculum. However one must be careful about the earlier points I mentioned if the student can have a lot of self discipline to survive the polytechnic course with high achievements.



It is no longer a clear cut choice of choosing to go JC or polytechnic if a student qualifies for both. Apart from what courses each institution provides, we must also be aware of the non-academic aspects and see which place suits the student more. Fundamentally, we hope the student graduate from JC or polytechnic and become a mature good citizen for the nation and also a good family member.


About me:

I have more several years of experience being a JC math lecturer and also a polytechnic math lecturer. I am also doing part time tutoring for A level mathematics with a vast experience of coaching students from different schools and different ability level.

Should you require help with A level Math tuition do contact me @ 81502027 or 94385929