Singapore Students Ranked Best In World For Maths

Singapore Math
Singapore Math

According to this article, Students in Singapore have topped an international ranking for science and mathematics abilities for a third time since 2003, outperforming their peers from 71 other countries, based on a study.

The International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019 also found, however, that while students here adopted a positive attitude towards learning both subjects, they expressed less confidence in learning them compared with their peers internationally.

The study, conducted every four years since 1995, measures how well students at Grade 4 and Grade 8 – the equivalent of Primary 4 and Secondary 2 in Singapore – understand, apply, and reason concepts in mathematics and science.

Primary 4 pupils in Singapore scored an average of 625 in maths, compared to second-placed Hong Kong’s 602 points and South Korea’s 600 points. When it came to science at the same level, Singapore pupils scored 595 on average while South Korea was in second place with a score of 588 and Russia was third with a score of 567.

At the Secondary 2 level, Singapore students topped the maths ranking with an average score of 616.

Taiwan was a close second with 612 points, while students in South Korea scored an average of 607 points to come in third. When it came to science at the same level, Singapore students scored 608 points on average while students from Taiwan got 574 points and those in Japan scored 570 points.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that a representative population for the study – 5,990 Primary 4 pupils and 4,850 Secondary 2 students — were chosen at random from all public schools.


MOE said that while students from Singapore topped the rankings in 2015 as well, there was an improvement in some of the scores in the latest survey.

The MOE said that Singapore also continues to have one of the highest proportions of students who have attained the top two international benchmarks – advanced and high. The cut-off point for the benchmarks are 625 and 550 respectively. At least seven in 10 of the participating students attained these two top benchmarks at each grade and subject, which demonstrated “their ability in applying mathematical and scientific knowledge and concepts, and using reasoning skills to solve complex problems”, the ministry said.

Only a very small proportion of the students did not manage to attain the lowest international benchmark of competence. Compared to the 8 to 15 per cent international median, only 1 to 2 per cent of Singapore’s students were unable to master basic mathematics or science.

“All our students have done well by international standards, not just those who are academically stronger,” the MOE said.

“In particular, our students who are academically weaker achieved scores that are among the highest across all participating systems.”

What is behind the success of the Singapore MOE Math program?

It’s not the content that makes Singapore Math different from other methods; it’s the philosophy. Rather than rote memorization, the framework of Singapore MOE Math is developed around the idea that learning to problem-solve and develop mathematical thinking are the key factors to being successful in math. Without a solid foundational base, students won’t have anything to draw on when it comes to increasingly complicated math learning.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the skills elementary students learn are simplistic. Rather, the view is that when teaching a concept or a skill, it’s essential to spend as much time as needed for students to master the skill. That way, you’re not moving on to the next concept with the thought that earlier skills can always be retaught if necessary. Teachers can simply revisit instead, opening up more instructional time.

Singapore MOE Math in the US 

In 1998, Jeff and Dawn Thomas realized that the math program they brought back from Singapore and used to supplement their own child’s schoolwork could be helpful to schools and homeschoolers across the nation.3 As the program began garnering attention, the couple incorporated under the name Inc. and marketed their books under Singapore Math, a registered trademark. They adapted this from the Singapore MOE Math program for the US context.

In the U.S., Singapore Math first gained popularity among homeschoolers and small private schools. Singapore is consistently a top country in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), revealing Singapore’s fourth-graders and eighth-graders as the leading math performers in the world. Of note, Singapore remains the top-performing country as of the 2019 TIMSS.

Maths At Singapore

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