Curriculum Changes from Primary to Secondary School

differences between primary and secondary school curriculum


Come every January, thousands of students embark on an exciting new stage of their education journey – the start of secondary school. It comes with a host of changes. Students have to adjust to a new school environment, make new friends and be more independent. The change both parents and students may be most concerned about is the change in the academic curriculum. Students take around eight or nine subjects in secondary school, compared to four main subjects at the primary level. It is due to the introduction of new humanities subjects like history, geography and literature. The secondary school curriculum is also taught at a faster pace and requires more higher-order thinking. Below are key highlights of differences between the primary and secondary school curriculum by subject.


Primary school English has a stronger focus on grammar fundamentals while secondary school English tests students’ grasp of the language. Unlike primary school English, secondary level English examinations do not test with a specified vocabulary pool. Hence, students without a vast vocabulary may find it hard to comprehend passages accurately or think of synonyms for words. These skills are necessary for the English examination questions of inferential, paraphrasing and summary questions. Focus on building a strong vocabulary to score well for secondary school English.


There are more algebra and application questions in secondary school math, with around 20 topics taught in secondary one compared to 10-12 topics per level in primary school. These 20 topics make up approximately half of the Elementary Mathematics syllabus and foundation level topics are built upon in higher levels. Hence, it is crucial to master the concepts early. It may seem frightening, but don’t fret! A good learning tool or teacher can guide students in their weaker areas. Hard work often pays off in math, so get your pens out and get to work.


There are three sciences at the secondary level, namely chemistry, physics and biology. There is more focus on Physics and Chemistry, the foundation topics in secondary one. Chemistry is mandatory at the ‘O’ Levels. The secondary science syllabus has much more content compared to primary science, with around 30 topics across secondary one and two. There are also new skills to learn. A few areas students find challenging are:

  • The use of scientific terms to explain their answers. For example, using ‘oesophagus’ instead of ‘gullet’.
  • The introduction of formulae and calculation in physics.
  • Learning to conduct experiments by themselves.

The order of topics taught may also differ from school to school. As a result, it makes it more difficult for students to get help from external educators.

School Plus uses a personalised teaching method so students can progress at their own pace. The teachers will identify the students’ weak areas and provide personalised practice worksheets to help them to improve quickly. Geniebook is School Plus’ in-house online platform that classifies questions by concept and difficulty level. It automatically offers questions based on the concepts that the student is weak in, complete with worked-out answers. Higher level questions are also available for peak performers. Students are also able to access questions from previous levels that they may be weak at. The material is created by experts in the subjects and regularly updated to align with the MOE syllabus.

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