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Should You Take Normal Chinese Or Higher Chinese in Primary or Secondary school?

What is Higher Chinese?

Higher Chinese is an optional subject offered to primary level and secondary level students. The intention by the Ministry of Education is to enable students with aptitude, interest and proficiency in Chinese to raise their standards by learning at a higher level and increasing cultural knowledge via Higher Chinese education.

What are the exam formats like for Higher Chinese?

For primary students taking the PSLE, Higher Chinese has around 20% more words to learn per chapter as compared to normal Chinese, and these are at a more advanced level too. Students taking Higher Chinese are tested for Composition and Comprehension only (no oral and listening components)

For Secondary students taking the O level Higher Chinese, there is an emphasis on writing, thus in Paper 1 there are 2 compositions (writing an email and 1 essay). For Paper 2, it will be comprehension and summary.

Mastering Higher Chinese

When is Higher Chinese offered?

It depends on the school, most schools offer Higher Chinese at Primary 5 level which students can opt-in. However, some schools offer it as young as in Primary 2 level e.g. St. Hilda’s Primary school.

What are the requirements for Higher Chinese?

Majority of the primary schools will let you opt in higher Chinese if you got 70 marks and above at primary 4 standard Chinese. Interestingly, there was an article in 2014 where 97 marks was not good enough to qualify for Higher Chinese.

For Secondary level,  the top 11-30% of the cohort who scored A* grade for Chinese or  at least a Merit in the Higher Chinese for PSLE will be eligible to take Higher Chinese in secondary school. On top of these, those ranked in the top 10% of the PSLE are also eligible for Higher Chinese.

Is the workload higher in Higher Chinese?

To prepare for tests, the higher Chinese students from SAP schools like RGS, VS, SCGS had to memorise large volumes of texts and phrases, on top of the normal 听写  and 成语 (idioms) which they are regularly tested on. 

They have to face long comprehension passages and deal with the summary section in Paper 2, which require a strong arsenal of vocabulary to paraphrase the points. The close passage (选词填空) is also difficult to guess and students struggle in this area too.

Thus, there are more grounds to cover as compared to normal Chinese, your child would have to be mentally prepared for this.



What is the benefit of taking Higher Chinese in Primary and secondary school?

Primary students benefit from taking Higher Chinese at PSLE if they are applying to enter a SAP / IP secondary school. In addition, you will gain a more solid foundation in the language so it's less of a struggle when the student continue to take Higher Chinese in secondary school, and IP secondary schools make it compulsory for all students to take Higher Mother Tongue.


From 2021, there will be a change in the PSLE Scoring system. Students will be graded using Achievement Levels of 1 to 8 (Refer to Infographic). 

New PSLE scoring

Students who did well in Higher Chinese looking to get into Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools will also be given a posting advantage in the new system, thus the advantage is also retained for students to take Higher Chinese at PSLE.

Secondary students who took Higher Chinese at O Levels are exempted from taking Mother Tongue if they progress to Junior College. Students who didn’t take Higher Chinese are required to study Chinese as an additional subject for A-levels. i.e. H1 Chinese. Thus, these students who are exempted would have a lighter workload over the course of 2 years in Junior College..

Should I take Normal Chinese or Higher Chinese?

If you or your child displays a keen interest in Chinese Language and Culture and you are planning to enrol into an IP school or SAP school, then yes you should take Higher Chinese.

For example, if your child enjoys watching Channel 8 or U programmes or reading Chinese articles on social media or fiction books and literature, he / she already has the basics in place. Another factor is whether or not your child is keen to write in Chinese journals or blogs in Chinese online, that points to a higher level of proficiency in the language. All the more you should consider getting your child into the Higher Chinese program.

However, if you or your child displays a poor foundation in Chinese from primary level and doesn’t enjoy studying it, there is no point forcing him / her to study at an even more difficult level and making life miserable. Remember that O level has 7-9 subjects for your child to handle and Higher Chinese is a demanding subject which can be avoided.

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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.


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