Did badly for O levels? Where to go next?

Are you lost on what to do next after doing badly for O levels? Or you are considering going to Polytechnic instead of Junior College (JC)? I hope my experience will give you some useful advice. But before I begin, let me give you some background of me.

(Disclaimer: The contents here are based on the author’s personal opinion. Only take the advice with a pinch of salt. The author is not responsible for any wrong decisions made. There may be some inaccurate information. It is important to cross-reference the writer’s content and other sources)


I completed my O levels in 2011 and received my results in 2012. Guess what? I did very badly for it and I couldn’t qualify for any JCs, and most of Polytechnic’s courses. As a result, I could only qualify for a few Polytechnic courses and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). I was very lost as all along, my secondary schools’ teachers and principals wanted us to only focus on entering JC since they were all from JCs. As a result, I have never considered what courses in Polytechnic I have an interest in. I randomly picked an NYP course that has sciences and engineering in it since I was from a Triple Science background.

During my Polytechnic days, I worked hard for 3 years while studying something I didn’t like, obtained a diploma with merit and a bronze medal award, and made it to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to a course I wanted. I had a great 4 years in NTU, made a lot of friends, learned a lot, enjoyed studying Computer Science, and graduated with First Class Honours (Highest Distinction).

As you can see, bad O levels result did not stop me from making it to a local university. So don’t be dishearted by your O levels result. If you can make it to Polytechnic, you still have a chance to enter a local university. Otherwise, there is another option which I will mention in the next section.

Where to go next after bad O levels results?

I will answer this question early in case you do not want to read a lengthy article to find out the answer. Basically, there are only two options I would recommend you to go for:

  • Any of the 5 local Polytechnic (If possible)
  • Private school to take A levels or IB

Do not retake O levels!

You might be thinking, why didn’t I recommend you to retake O levels or go for a private diploma. Firstly, with regards to retaking O levels, I feel that it is a waste of one year. Going to a private school for A levels is a much better option. Do you know that the local universities accept private candidates’ A levels results? Basically, when you apply for any of the local universities, they only ask for your A levels results. They do not care which JC you came from. This is because local universities accept A levels or IB results from any of the students from all over the world. Therefore, as long as you have A levels result, you are good to go.

Therefore, retaking O levels is a waste of time as after O level, you will go to JC, Polytechnic, or ITE. This results in an additional 1 year wasted while going to a private A levels or IB school keeps you on track with your peers. On average, a local university graduate earns $3.5k per month. If you retake your O levels, you would have not earned $3.5k x 12 months = $42k. That’s a lot.

Only a few diplomas are recognized

In case you do not know, when you apply for any of the local universities, there is a section where you have to fill up your certification. In the diploma section (except IB), once you fill up your diploma’s GPA, there is a dropdown option where you can only select any of the 5 Polytechnics (Singapore Poly, Temasek Poly, Ngee Ann Poly, NYP, and RP) or a few other institutes like Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), National Institute of Early Childhood Development, LASALLE College of the Arts, BCA Academy, Institute of Technical Education (Work-Study Diploma [WSDip]), Singapore Sports School (specific courses only), National Institute of Education (eligible for Arts/Science (Education) programme only), NUS High’s diploma, etc. Therefore, if you go to a private diploma school, there is a high chance you are not eligible to enter any of the local universities!

Remember to always check the diploma school you are applying for and ensure your diploma is eligible to apply to a local university. The requirements for NUS, NTU, etc are different. So check each university’s requirements first!

You can find out the diploma schools allowed for NTU here:

As for NUS, these are the only options available here:

A diploma from any of the local 5 Polytechnics is still the safest choice as it is accepted by all of the local universities.

Myths of Polytechnics

Over here, I will address the myths of Polytechnics for those who are considering going Polytechnics, be it if you have a good grade to enter JC. I wished I knew these before applying for Polytechnic as secondary school teachers aren’t helpful to help me decide my path. I hope they will be helpful to you.

Only the top 15% can enter a local university

False. There is only a percentile requirement to enter the university. 15% if I am not wrong, is just a rough gauge of every year how many students do well to enter a local university. Generally, if you have a Cumulative GPA (CGPA) (total up GPA results of 6 semesters in Polytechnic) of at least 3.6-3.7, you are safe to enter a local university of the relevant or allowed courses. If you have a diploma with merit, a few local universities such as NTU will allow you to enter any courses of your liking except the school of medicine. To obtain a diploma with merit, you have to be in the top 7% of your course. A diploma with merit is optional but it will be beneficial if you do not like your Polytechnic’s course and want to enter another course in University. Otherwise, a normal diploma is fine.

While I mentioned that CGPA with at least 3.6-3.7 is safe, it is better if you score higher. For example in recent years, courses like Computer Science require a CGPA of 3.90 out of 4.0 to enter. So it really depends on your course.

Therefore, it is the same as A levels or IB. That year’s requirement might be higher or lower. It all depends on the grades you obtained and the number of people applying for that course in university. There are limited slots for each course. If more people apply, it will be harder to enter as you will require higher CGPA or A levels results to enter.

Polytechnic is chill

True. In fact, some days I do not have to go to school or only have 2-3 hours of lessons for that day. Polytechnic life is similar to University life where you do not have to reach school at 7:30am and have lessons until 2:30pm or 6:30pm. There are only a few modules you are required to take per semester (one year there are two semesters. April to September and October to February). Therefore, most of the time is free for you. You will rarely meet up with your form teacher. There is no such thing as the lecturer giving you all past year papers to drill. Before exams, it is up to you to decide if you want to work on past year papers which can be obtained from the school’s library portal. No one forces you. Life is more chill. You can have long lunch breaks with friends to chit chat, etc.

Personally, I prefer Polytechnic’s and University’s life more than Secondary or JC life. Secondary school and JC life seem to be the same. Teachers force you all to study and keep doing papers from other schools. You have to keep preparing for school exams when only A levels matter. It was too stressful for me. Hence I did badly for O levels. Therefore, for those who did well for O levels, you can consider Polytechnic if you do not enjoy stressful life.

No attire restrictions

True. There are no attire restrictions in Polytechnic. Although at the start of school, you will be given a guideline such as no sloppy attire, colored hair (I forgot if there is this rule), etc. However, no one really bothers and the lecturers will not warn you. Most students wear slippers to school and have all kinds of hair colors. The only time they really enforce the rules is when you enter a laboratory, you have to wear covered shoes and jeans.

Benefits of Polytechnics

Knowing your interest

Trust me, most of my university friends were from JC (this is because I do not have exemption due to change in the course/major when entering university, hence my classmates are mostly from JCs), they told me that throughout JC, they do not know what they want to study in university. 2 years in JC and they do not know what is their interest. The subject exposed to them is still the same. Chemistry, math, etc. Therefore, they randomly pick the popular course/major to enter after their A levels results. Some regretted it as only upon entering university, they discover their interest is in another major.

Unlike Polytechnic, you can see if you actually like the course you are studying in. Even you do not like it, Polytechnic’s life is so free that you can check out other courses such as hop into their lectures or borrow books in the library of other courses/majors to find out more. In JC, you would not have the time to do so since you will be mugging away for two years.

Earning side income

As Polytechnic’s life is very free. I was able to work a few days a week to earn some pocket money. This is especially helpful to those who come from a low-income family. Of course, while you can take up some part-time jobs, do not fluke your studies. Otherwise, you cannot make it to the university. To obtain 3.6 CPGA and above, you need to get mostly As and only a few Bs throughout your 3 years. Once you mess up a semester, your dream to enter a local university might be over.

Exemptions in university

This only applies to if you are studying a relevant course in the local university. Each local university varieties. For example, if you study IT-related courses in Polytechnic, you only need to study for 3.5 years in NTU to graduate. If you study the material science course in Polytechnic, you only need to study for 3 years in NTU to graduate. Each course/major for each university varies. You can check it out on the local universities website.

If the local university offers 3 years to you due to exemptions, technically you will graduate at the same time as your peers who enter the JC path. So do your research first!

Building experience

Like I have mentioned, Polytechnic’s life is very free. In fact, there is a long semester break from February to April before you start a new school year. During this period of time, you can try to find short internships to build up your portfolio. In the working world, bosses only care about how you can contribute to the company. In today’s era, they only care about working experience. Therefore with more internship experience, you can include it in your resume when you apply for your first job in the future. This will definitely be helpful for you.

Advantage in university

If you are continuing the relevant course/major in the university, most of the content taught in university will be familiar to you as compared to those from JCs. As a result, I actually know more people in university who obtained First Class Honours that were from Polytechnic than JC. In the local university, bell curve exists. Would it be advantageous when attending lessons, you already know most of the content? The only advantage I saw those from JC over those from Polytechnic are math modules. Courses/majors in university from the faculty of engineering or science have math especially during year one. JC students are strong in math. However, you will only take two to three math modules in university while 20 or more modules in the university are already familiar to you.


Hopefully, this long post is beneficial for you especially when you just received your O levels results and are unsure of where to head next. If you did badly for O levels, fear not. It is not the end. There are still other routes to make it to the local university!

I hope this article has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave any comments below. You may also send me some tips if you like my work and want to see more of such content. Funds will mostly be used for my boba milk tea addiction. The link is here. 🙂


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