Should students train for the GEP admission tests?

Marcus Goh
Yahoo illustration.

By Marcus Goh and Adrian Kuek

Grade Expectations is a weekly feature on education in Singapore. Expect fun activities, useful tips and insightful news on learning. It’s not just about your child’s grades — it’s about raising a great child!

One of the thorniest issues facing the Singapore’s education system is the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). The top 1 per cent of primary school students are picked to enter the three-year programme, which spans Primary 4 to Primary 6. Prospective students need to undertake two series of tests — the GEP Screening Test and the GEP Selection Test — focused on English, Mathematics and General Ability (verbal and non-verbal reasoning).

It’s a monumental decision for any child who is accepted into the programme. The GEP curriculum is different from the mainstream primary school syllabus. It is more in-depth and students have plenty of projects to complete. Critical thinking at various levels is expected from GEP students, and the workload is undoubtedly much heavier.

The question is — should you prepare for the admission tests? Many parents are torn over this, since both sides are supported by convincing and valid reasons. Here’s an examination of the different perspectives to this controversial question.


The Olympics. (Pixabay)

GEP admission tests are like the Olympics

The GEP admission tests are somewhat akin to the Olympics. They are there to identify the best and brightest of our Primary 3 students, just like the Olympics show us who is the world champion in different sporting events. It measures the peak of human performance.

For the Olympics, participants train hard to ensure that they live up to their full potential. One could be born with the best genes in the world, but without training, an athlete would be at a disadvantage against a competitor who put in the extra hours. Once the rules are set, there’s no stopping competitors from trying to get the best results they possibly can by training hard beforehand.

The same goes for the GEP selection exercise. A child might be naturally intelligent and precocious, but without training, he or she might be at a disadvantage compared to a similarly intelligent child who has invested hours of preparation. Surely, it is not right to stop a child from preparing because he or she wants to achieve the best results possible?

We are all born with innate abilities, but without conscious effort to develop them, we will not realise our full potential.

Everyone wants to do well in medical check-ups. (Pexels)

GEP admission tests are like a medical check up

To look at it from another perspective, the GEP admission tests measure natural ability, just like a medical check up. But most of us don’t undergo a medical check up without some preparation. For instance, we may watch our diet and exercise a little in the days prior to a blood test, instead of gorging on nasi lemak the night before. The impact might be negligible, but it’s worth a shot.

From this point of view, one should also prepare for the GEP admission tests to get a ‘healthy’ score.


Are games really just fun tests? (Pexels)

Preparing for the tests is akin to gaming the system

If you consult the Ministry of Education’s FAQ about the GEP admission tests, the official stand is that parents should not train their children because “test-preparation activities could inflate pupils’ scores and not reflect their actual potential”. Note that the Ministry also refers to it as an “exercise” rather than a “test”.

To an extent, preparing for the tests is like gaming the system. If you know exactly how it works and what the system is looking for, you can ask your children to focus on those aspects to help them succeed in the GEP admission tests. Your child’s intellectual growth might be lopsided as a result, since he or she would only be proficient in what the test is looking out for. His or her IQ may not actually improve as a result of all those classes.

The burden of expectations. (Pexels)

Preparing for the tests may put undue stress on the child

As a parent, registering your children for GEP admission test training also sends a message that you want them to be special (special enough to get into the GEP, that is). For a Primary 3 student, it may create an undue amount of stress. If they end up not qualifying for the GEP, they might feel that they’ve disappointed you.

That may not have been your intention, but we must remember that it’s difficult for a Primary 3 child to understand otherwise.

Happiness is paramount. (Pexels)

Conclusion: It’s up to the individual

Ultimately, it’s up to each parent (and child) to decide whether it’s a good idea to prepare for the GEP admission test. It’s a personal decision that has many consequences for the family involved, and not every student may be ready for it.

This means that families should refrain from influencing or judging other parents or students for training or not training for the test, since the circumstances would vary for everyone.

What’s best for one child might not be suitable for another.

Marcus Goh runs Write-Handed, a creative writing studio. At the same time, he teaches Secondary English at The Write Connection. He has been a specialist tutor for English and Literature (Secondary) since 2005.

Adrian Kuek runs Joyous Learning, an enrichment centre that specialises in English, Mathematics, Science and Creative Writing for Primary. He previously served as the academic director of one of Singapore’s largest enrichment centre chains for over seven years.