How to choose between Science vs Arts stream at school

Science stream vs Arts stream: All Form Three students face this dilemma. After all, this is the first major choice they have to make that has the potential of setting the course of the rest of their lives. Science or Arts - in this article we weigh the options.


Most students aim for this stream as it affords greater options when they leave school: Theoretically speaking, a student who finishes with decent grades in all Science subjects has the freedom to choose either Science or Arts majors (or both) in university. Also, the education system’s method of automatically offering the Science stream to students who are above a certain academic grade (said grade depends on the individual school) affords it a certain “glamour,” so to speak, and adds to the impression that it is for “smart” students and that Arts are for those who do not make the cut.

Realistically speaking, Science stream holds a greater draw for studious students. The current sorting method generally splits each batch of students into “more academically-inclined” and “less academically-inclined”, with Science getting the larger share of students who are willing to knuckle down and memorise formulas.


Successful students in this stream are the ones with actual passion for the Art subjects, having qualified for a place in Science but turning it down for Arts instead. They are the ones who really want to do Accounts, English Literature, and Malay Literature and it shows in their zeal and completed homework assignments. On the other hand, this particular stream poses a headache for many a teacher left with unmotivated students who were placed here because they did not do well enough to make it to Science.

Many feel that this stream, while being less “desirable,” is exactly what students who feel that their paths deviate from academia need: A stream where one’s passion for food management, for instance, can be explored and encouraged. Potential can be unearthed here; all that is needed is a little polishing of the opinion towards the stream.

The sorting hat

The current method of pupil segregation makes sense on paper: The ability to memorise facts and score at PMR level indicates an ability to memorise facts and score at SPM level. However, it adds to the polarisation of each batch, which can hardly be good for the students. The level of expectation heaped on Science students tends to be high, leading to pressure and stress, whereas the level of expectation on Arts students ranges from average to none, depending on individual teachers and classes. Both scenarios are far from healthy.

Some teachers feel that Science is better for students in terms of exposure and the choices available. Tang Mee Mee, a Form Six Biology teacher in PJ, asserts that Science is better for students as they are able to take on Arts classes like Accounts while in Science stream, meaning they “are not limited by the subjects they take.”

Eric Amaladas, director of CAREERsense, HELP University, concurs that the more academically-inclined students do end up in Science stream, but stresses that “the traits of a good student (self-motivation, independence, responsibility for their learning, good time management skills, resilience and focus) are exhibited in both the Science and Arts streams respectively.” She adds that results vary according to each student’s interest and willingness to work hard.

This view is also shared by Lisa Leong Mei Kwan, head of career and psychological counselling centre, Taylor’s College Subang Jaya, who says that while the “general perception in secondary school is that Science stream students are smarter,” the reality is that “students who do better are those who are determined, passionate, disciplined and motivated”.

The popular consensus here seems to be that the choice between Science and Arts isn’t important; however, what really IS important is how you choose. Eric, who specialises in psychology and counselling, opines that, “when the match between interest and aptitude is not made, then there could be some basis for regret” and Leong says that self-discovery and self-awareness are key to decision-making. “If you are required to choose – will you deny yourself the truth of who you really are or would you continue to pursue to become someone you are not? (sic)”

When it comes to choosing between the Science stream and the Arts stream, one may consider many factors. However, the most important one would be your own passions. There is no point trying to shove a square peg into a round hole: If your passion lies in accounting, then don’t accept the Science stream just because that’s where “the smart students” are. If, however, your passion lies in engineering, then buck up and do well in PMR; Science stream is where you should be!

The choice is up to you. Remember, do what you love!

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