Know how the GPA system works in Singapore universities?

by | Sep 13, 2021

If you’re not a polytechnic student, you may be unfamiliar with the way the GPA system works.

Even if you are, there are still slight differences in the way GPA systems work in universities. For example, some use a 5.0 scale instead of the usual 4.0 scale.

As an NUS, NTU, or another university’s freshman, you might wonder: what are GPA and CGPA? How does the GPA system work and how do you calculate it?

What is the minimum GPA you can get, and what happens if you fail to get it? What are the differences and similarities in the 6 universities’ GPA systems?

This article will address all these questions about how the GPA system operates and more! For those wondering which university you should apply for, we hope this helps.

Before we get into detail about how the GPA system works, you need to know what the GPA and CGPA are!

GPA stands for Grade Point Average while CGPA stands for Cumulative Grade Point Average.

These terms are rather self-explanatory, but to be clear, the latter term (CGPA) is the average score of all your GPAs for each semester. Your CGPA will start to matter once you’ve cleared your second semester in university!

Do take note that if you’re currently studying in or are planning to enter NUS, the term used there is CAP and not (C)GPA.

CAP stands for Cumulative Average Point, and it works exactly the same way as the CGPA, just under a different name.

4.0 vs. 5.0 scale

The GPA system works by using either a 4.0 or 5.0 scale.

Among Singapore’s 6 universities, the 5.0 scale is the more common one. NTU, NUS, SIT, SUSS, and SUTD all use the 5.0 scale.

The exception is SMU, which uses the 4.0 scale like all the polytechnics. Scoring A+ for a module gets you a GPA of 4.3.

SUTD is similar to SMU in this. It’s possible to get 5.3 as your GPA because an A+ is an extra 0.3!

5.0 is the maximum GPA you can get in the rest of the universities.

Grades, GPA scores & classifications

Grade point tables

To know exactly how the GPA system works, you need to be familiar with the grade point tables.

All the universities have their own grade point table with a different letter-grade corresponding to a grade point. NUS, NTU, SIT, and SUSS have the same grading scales while SUTD and SMU have their own systems.

There’s a 0.5 decrease for every letter-grade in descending order (except for SMU, which doesn’t follow this rule, and SUTD’s extra 0.3).

Degree classifications

Knowing the grade point tables is sufficient, but to be proficient in the GPA system know-how, get familiar with the degree classifications your school uses too.

Degree classifications refer to the class of honour you’ll receive upon graduation. This classification, like “Honours (Second Upper)”, is reflected in your official transcripts.

Similar to the grade point tables, each university has its own system for degree classifications.

NUS, NTU, and SIT have moved away from the old system to better reflect the quality of its students.

Meanwhile, SMU uses the Latin honours system. And SUSS uses the British honours system.

Here’s a tip for you: it’s recommended that you state your degree classification in your resume if you’ve achieved Honours with Distinction (or its equal if you’re from other unis) and above.

For example, if you’ve yet to graduate from NUS and your GPA is 5.0, state “expected Honours (Highest Distinction)” or something to this effect in your resume.

This isn’t a must, and you can omit this if you don’t feel like disclosing it.

How do you calculate your GPA/CGPA?

Knowing how the GPA system works isn’t enough if you don’t know how to calculate your GPA.

All the universities’ respective web pages on GPA have the formula for GPA calculation, but it’s too tedious to do it manually.

Use a GPA calculator like to do calculations!

GPA calculator

These calculators are really easy to use; just select your school, plug the numbers in the given boxes and voila! The calculator converts to whichever school’s GPA system you need.

You can also input your target GPA if you’re aiming for a certain honours class or if you simply want to maintain your standing.

What is the minimum GPA you can get?

Based on the tables above, it’s safe to assume that the minimum GPA you can get to graduate successfully is 2.00 no matter the university.

Anything below a 2.00 is grounds for academic warnings, probations, and in the worst case, termination. Do research your school’s rules and regulations on this.

Do you need to worry about the bell curve?

GPA system bellcurve

Sourced from Blog.nus

The bell curve definitely affects the way the GPA system works, but you only need to worry about this if you’re an NUS or NTU student.

The other four universities (SMU, SIT, SUTD, SUSS) don’t grade against a bell curve. This doesn’t mean you can rest easy as there are other obstacles that make it hard to maintain your GPA.

For instance, not getting to know the module bidding systems of your school may cause you to take a class you dislike, and may lead to plummeting scores!

Do be wary if modules seem too easy—that probably means that the A you think you’re going to get might end up an A- instead!

Conversely, an unusually difficult module you’re certain you’re doomed for might see you getting an unexpected B grade.

Is there a way to predict the bell curve?

Now that you know how the GPA system works, you may be wondering if there’s a way to predict how the bell curve will affect your grades.

There isn’t. The only way to do this is through word-of-mouth and hearsay.

You could go around asking your coursemates their views on the difficulty of a module before and after an exam or final assignment. Although not always precise, it can sometimes provide hints on how the bell curve will look like.

Or if you’re close with your professors, you could ask them what they think their students think of the difficulty of their class.

But you’ll most likely end up with vague answers as most professors are either uncertain or unwilling to divulge such information.

What’s the average GPA in Singapore?

On this NUS blog post, an example of the recommended grade distribution on a bell curve is as follows:

If you calculated the GPA based on this table, it would be about 3.34 / 5.00. In other words, a B average.

Bear in mind that this isn’t the actual distribution that NUS or NTU uses. It’s only for illustrative purposes.

In reality, however, the average is slightly higher. In most universities, it’s around 3.50 – 4.00, a B+ average.

Do take this information with a grain of salt, though. Many factors come into play, such as cohort size, that impact the average GPA of students.


Many things influence how the GPA system works in universities.

Each university tweaks its system over the years to better showcase the aptitude of their students in an increasingly competitive job market. And sometimes, this can be a boon or bane to the students themselves.

For example, if you’re still in poly, have you ever scored a bad GPA? It’s not the end as there are plenty of options available to you!

I hope this article has helped in your understanding of how the GPA system works in Singapore universities.

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