How Much Should You Spend on PSLE?

Ryan Ong



The PSLE has a steep cost. I’m not talking about “lost time with loved ones“, or “stress” or the plot of 600 other self-help books. I’m talking about dollars and cents. And let me just say: It’s absurd the amount people spend on this exam. “Really? I heard you tried to bribe Biopolis hub into genetically modifying your nephew’s brain for it.” Okay, it’s absurd the amounts other people spend.

Our Three Way Breakdown

With the new proposed measures to change the way the PSLE results are structured, we may see the demise of an age old tradition of chicken essence force feeding and incessant hair pulling.

Curious as to what costs were involved in preparing kids for this nightmare precious once in a lifetime experience, I put out a survey asking how much you all spent on your kids. The results overwhelmed me. Thanks…all two of you. I’ve seen more replies on feedback forms for casket services.

But nevermind. I took the initiative and interviewed a few different families (about 10 of them). Then I picked three respondents, from separate income groups, to get an overall picture. So special thanks to:

  • Mrs. Laurine Woon
  • Mr. David Liew
  • Nelson (not his real name) & Wife


Typical PSLE Costs

The main costs of PSLE seem to be:

  1. Tuition fees
  2. Time off work (particularly for the self-employed)
  3. Revision materials
  4. Special courses and workshops
  5. Transport

But the question is…what’s the appropriate amount to spend? How much cash do we burn before we can get the Best Parenting Award of In-My-Mind Land?

Here’s three price ranges for you:


Did you say you needed maths tuition? In that case it’s $60 an hour, or $150 for two hours.


Cost Range #1: $5,300 – $5,400

I think you can hire a moderately experienced hit man for that amount. But that’s how much Nelson and his wife spent twice; at first during their son’s PSLE in ’07, and again on their daughter’s exams in ’10.

Although: “We spent less the second time around,” Nelson says, “I guess we wised up a bit, and we knew what was worth the money and what wasn’t. But I stil didn’t work during the exam period.”

Nelson’s a freelance photographer, and his income comes to “about $4,000 or $6,000, give or take” a month. His wife is a cook in a preschool, and earns $1,700 a month. Here’s their cost breakdown:


Tuition Fees $245 per month

Nelson and his wife hire tutors for Maths, Mother Tongue, and English. The Maths tutor does a double session, so they buy over four hours of tuition each week.

Nelson believes in “hiring NIE teachers only, the ones who are ex-teachers mostly. It’s about $60 an hour. I would rather spend a lot of money on a tutor who knows her stuff, than to spend anything on a questionable one.”


Time Off Work – Estimated at $4,000

Nelson’s self-employed. PSLE does for his income what your 17th beer does for your personal charm. He estimates:

A loss of around $4,000, that’s the least I usually make, when PSLE comes around. I don’t take up any assignments, because I want to make sure my children spend their time well. Usually I go through past exam papers with them, after they finish their homework.”


Revision Materials – Uncertain. At minimum $18, at most under $100.

Nelson buys nothing fancy. At most, he buys Mr. Gan* past exam papers, and an assessment book or two.

Good tutors come with all the assessment books and exam papers the kids need,” Nelson says.

(*Mr. Gan is a brand. Raiding exam halls for old test papers is a surprisingly viable business model.)


Special Courses and Workshops – $960

You must be joking. I think that’s more than the army spent teaching me to handle live grenades. What could possibly

Intensive revision workshops” Nelson interrupts, “Usually they are one to three days. $320 is about the average cost for one. These are for things that regular tutors don’t cover, like short cuts to maths equations.”


Transport – Around $250

This is for the to and fro trips between workshops,” Nelson says, “And also because nearing the PSLE, I will meet my kids outside school and we will cab back. I don’t want them to waste on the school bus, their schools are quite far away.”


Is the Cost Justified?

I asked if blowing 93% of your household income is going a bit far.

But Nelson says it’s a once in a lifetime thing:

It’s just once in my children’s educational lifetime. They won’t have a second chance, and their future depends on it. So to me…why not? I don’t mind saving up for it. Better than splurging on something wasteful right?”


Children drawing eyes on the ground
Yeah, there’s a sign of free expression. When our children DRAW EYES WATCHING THEM EVERYWHERE.


Cost Range #2: $540 – $600

Tuition is the most expensive,” Mr. David Liew tells me, “These tutors charge you an arm and a leg, they know mum and dad are panicking*.”

(*Actually, they charge the same prices all year around)

Mr. Liew is a consultant, earning about $11,000 a month. He’s in “something to do with logistics and shipping.” His wife is a home maker.

I only have one daughter, her PSLE was in ’11,” he tells me, “So lucky it’s not something I’ll go through again. I think the stress is worse than the bills.

On some level I know it’s a bit overreacting, but at the same time…feels funny if your child is going through PSLE, and then you don’t spend or do anything. You know what I mean?”


Tuition Fees – Around $160

Mr. Liew’s wife handles most of the tutors. However, he does point out that:

We use the same tutor for English and Maths. So we got a discount.”

$160 buys them four hours of tuition a week, and the tutor’s an ex-teacher too. The catch is that: “It’s cheaper, but because my daughter went to the tutor’s house.

My wife purposely found one who lived near us, so my daughter could walk there in five minutes.”


Time Off Work – N / A

I didn’t take time off work,” Mr. Liew said, and vaguely hinted at the possibility of a global apocalypse if he took a week off.


Revision Materials – Around $80 to $110.

Mr. Liew says this cost was built up, from the start of the year.

It was “My first PSLE experience. I didn’t even know what to buy. So I bought everything. I bought books on the way back from work every day. By the end of the year I’d bought one small mountain.”

Mr. Liew recalls that the bulk of the costs were for past PSLE papers, which come in $10 stacks. Assessment books were cheaper, at just $5 to $7.


Special Courses and Workshops – About $300

Mr. Liew sent his daughter to a science workshop, which was specially meant for PSLE preparation.

It was just one day, but it was very expensive. My daughter said it helped a lot though, so it was a fair expenditure.”


Transport – N/A

There were no special transport arrangements.


Is the Cost Justified?

Mr. Liew thinks it’s 50-50:

I don’t know how she would have done without it, so I can’t judge. But to me I feel that, at the end of the day, the expense is more for our own (the parents) comfort. It just doesn’t feel right to NOT spend, because you want to feel that you’re doing SOMETHING, you know?

It’s just like why people spend on football jerseys. It’s the closest you can get to participating.”


Super saiyan
Pretty much what parents think tuition classes will do.


Cost Range #3: $500 – $560

Mrs. Laurine Woon is a self-declared “hands off” parent. She tells me that:

PSLE is not the end of the world. If after five years in school, the child still doesn’t want to study, you think there will be some kind of miracle at the last minute?

Of course you must support (your child), but you must accept some children are not the studying type. How much you want to spend, also no difference.”

Mrs. Woon earns around $1,500 a month as an administrative assistant. Her husband was unemployed in ’11, when their second son was doing the PSLE.


Tuition Fees – Around $180 a month

Mrs. Woon hired four tutors, and bought about five hours worth of tuition sessions per week.

I did not go to a tuition agency,” she tells me, “I only went though word of mouth. I don’t really believe in paper qualifications; some tutors are highly qualified but they cannot teach.

One of the tutors had a two hour group session in her house, on Saturdays. But other than that, the other tutors would come to our house.”


Time Off Work – One Week Unpaid Leave (About $350)

Mrs. Woon took time off to tutor her son in English, since “he was very reluctant, the tutor kept complaining he wouldn’t do the work. So no choice.”

She mentions that her first child was similar, but “that time no cost, because I was not working.”


Revision Materials – All Second Hand

I don’t believe in buying assessment books and revision papers,” Mrs. Woon says, “I just phoned 10 or 12 friends, and some of them had old books to give me. I think in Singapore, there are a lot of people with more such things than they ever use.”


Special Courses and Workshops – Barren Like the Sahara

“This is the job that tutors are supposed to do.”


Transport – Less Than $35

Mrs. Woon’s and her son had to make extra bus and train trips on Saturdays (one of the tutors didn’t travel). But other than that, nothing.


Is the Cost Justified?

Mrs. Woon feel it’s “Not the worst thing to spend your money on, to give your child an advantage. But so long as you don’t overdo things.

In the end it’s how much the child can take, not just how much you can spend.”


A for a test
…and only three tuition teachers were killed helping our son get it.


The Eyebrow Raising Conclusion

The children of all three families scored around a 255 to 260+ (PSLE T-Scores), with Nelson’s child scoring the highest.

But BEFORE YOU CONCLUDE Cost = Better results, you need to think about two things:

First, the difference in scores is highly disproportionate to the expenditure. One family spent almost 10 times more than another, to achieve a few extra points.

Second, there are too many variables at play. The proficiency of the children, for example, or the quality of the tutors and courses.

Perhaps the more interesting observation is that, overall, middle income families tend to spend a bigger percentage of their income than lower and upper income families. This was certainly the trend in the families I spoke to.

And if you’re going through this, stay with us. Because next, I’ll reveal the tips and tricks the parents gave me for lowering PSLE expenses. Follow us on Facebook!


How much are you willing to spend or have already spent preparing your kid for PSLE? We’d like to hear your thoughts here!

Image Credits:
kifo,, kifo (third image) Hikaru Kazuhime, thebarrowboy, kifo (thumbnail)

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.