Review of Singapore Primary Mathematics ~ Math Comparison

The plethora of curricula available to homeschoolers today is dizzying. While wading through the options and recommendations, I eventually made charts of my top three to four choices for history, math, grammar, writing, and spelling to narrow them down. I thought I’d share my research with you. I hope it helps save someone else time!

Some of the curricula that I’m reviewing I have not seen in person or used. The thoughts shared here are my own personal thoughts based on what I’ve read. I noted price, description, and what I perceived to be the weaknesses and strengths of a curriculum based on our philosophy of education, users’ reviews, and practical aspects of our family.

If you are researching curricula, Cathy Duffy’s site is helpful to succinctly describe how a specific curriculum works. For actual user’s reviews, look on The Well-Trained Mind forums or Homeschool Reviews.

Based on my personal history and having read The Well-Trained Mind, I began my search into math curricula with these four choices: ABeka Homeschool (ABB), Saxon Homeschool, Math-U-See (MUS), and Singapore Primary Mathematics (SM). In my short homeschooling career, I have already used each of these with the exception of Saxon (which I grew up with in elementary school). Of the three I have used–ABB, SM, and MUS–I used Singapore the least and MUS the most.

I recently shared an intro to these math reviews along with my review of Saxon, followed by a review of ABB math, so today I’ll just give my thoughts on Singapore’s math program.

SM workbook


Much of this is straight off of Cathy Duffy’s website reviewing Singapore math. Her site was invaluable to me in comparing math programs:

SM is an “Asian” math that focuses on laying a solid foundation in basic concepts and processes using a three-step process, taking children from concrete, to pictorial, then abstract approaches to learning. Each level has two coursebooks (A and B) that serve as textbooks. There is a student workbook as well as a Home Instructor’s Guide for each coursebook. Books range in size from only 80 to 128 pages each. In addition, coursebooks and workbooks are about 10 by 7 ½ inches, with uncrowded, large print. The amount of written work required of children is very reasonable. (The pictures are cartoony; and the Standards edition is full color, while the U.S. edition is printed in two colors.)

1A and 1B Assumes number recognition and begins with counting. It quickly moves into addition and subtraction. Single-digit multiplication and division are introduced in 1B. Other topics taught are ordinal numbers, shapes, measurement, weight, time telling, money, and graphs.

Primary Mathematics 2A and 2B Teaches addition and subtraction with renaming, multiplication and division, measurement, money, introduction of fractions, time telling, graphs, and very introductory geometric shapes and area.

Primary Mathematics 3A and 3B More advanced work on the four arithmetic operations, including long division; fractions (equivalent fractions plus adding and subtracting), measurement, graphs, time, and geometry. It also teaches 2-step word problems and mental calculation.

Primary Mathematics 4A and 4B At fourth level students learn all four functions with both fractions and decimals. Geometry coverage is also very advanced as students compute the degrees in angles and complex area and perimeter questions. Students also work with advanced whole number concepts (e.g. factors, multiples, rounding off), money, other geometric concepts, graphs, and averages. Introduces, but doesn’t really work on two-digit multipliers and divisors until the fifth level. See Cathy Duffy’s review for more descriptions, as well as advice to decide between the Standards or U.S. editions.


  • One of Cathy Duffy’s “Top 101 Picks.”
  • “This program teaches children to think mathematically rather than just having them memorize the mechanics of problem solving.” Encourages an active thinking process, communication of mathematical ideas and problem solving.
  • Very reasonably priced…unless you get several extra workbooks and manipulatives, in which case it adds up, same as other curricula.
  • “…is more advanced than just about every other math program used in the U.S.” Used by Singapore students who came in first place in the 1995, 1999 and 2003 TIMSS.
  • Can get British version with metric, etc.
  • Emphasizes mental math and the model drawing approach. (I have heard that Common Core math is trying similar approaches now.)
  • Large list of manipulatives.
  • Can purchase through MFW (my history choice). It is MFW’s choice for elementary math. MFW says they chose Singapore because of the “manageable number of workbook problems…effective, parent-and student-friendly format.”


  • Secular. (Again, it is not a biggie to me if my math curricula is “Christian” or not, since it doesn’t really show up unless there is a stewardship program, or unless there are verses printed on the workbook pages. 🙂 But if two programs are equal to you, why not support the Christian company?)
  • The coursebook and workbooks alone will not provide enough drill for most students to master thoroughly the facts needed to lay a foundation for upper level math; invest in Extra Practice and Challenging Word Problems as well, or supplement with drill from another program.—Well-Trained Mind 
  • Less “traditional,” shorter track record.
  • “Not as concrete and fact-oriented as Saxon, ABeka, and MathUSee. Many children flourish, but others simply need a less abstract approach in the early years…leads children into ‘logic stage’ thinking much earlier. If child is frustrated, may signal maturity gap; stick w/ another program for additional years.”–Well-Trained Mind
  • Another way to say the above point is that it moves too quickly or with not enough reinforcement for the child to really learn their facts. Also, certain home educators struggle more with teaching the “Singapore way.” It just doesn’t click with them.
  • Some say it uses too many books for the teacher to juggle. For example, just for the basics, you’ll buy a textbook, workbook, and Home Instructor’s Guide for two semesters. That’s 6 books. Then a lot of people also get intensive practice books and challenging word problems.
  • Some say the colorful textbook is distracting for kids who struggle with visual distractions.
  • Here’s a thread on the Well-Trained Mind forums talking about what people did not like about Singapore Primary math. On those forums, SM is generally a hit, so you can also easily find many recommendations for SM.

Comments or Modifications:

The scope and sequence does not align with state or national standards. For example, it leaves graphs, statistics, and probability for upper levels rather than teaching these concepts in elementary grades. (Actually, I’m not sure if this is true anymore–the Standards edition is supposedly for California’s standards.) There’s another program called Math in Focus for those who need more help teaching Singapore-type math.

As with most math programs, teacher guides are not essential in the first few grades, but are much more helpful as the math becomes more challenging. There are both Teacher Guides and Home Instructor’s Guides available, but the latter are designed specifically for homeschoolers and are what I recommend. The program requires one-on-one teaching throughout most lessons for the younger grades. The coursework books present pictorial lessons to introduce new concepts that parents will need to work through with their children. Home Instructor’s Guides help with lesson presentation.

The full-color coursebooks are not consumable and are not intended to be written in, although they are inexpensive enough that you might choose to have your children sometimes write in them. Children should be able to work through workbook exercises independently once they can read directions without problems., Inc. carries a number of supplemental books for extra practice and targeted work on particular concepts, all keyed to the Primary Math series.

A Third Edition was released that still retained the British spelling and conventions. There are now also U.S. Editions and Standards Editions, with the latter being the newest. The U.S. Editions were adapted directly from the Third Editions, substituting U.S. measurements, spellings and conventions. The Standards Editions align with the math standards for California, changing the order of presentation for some topics and adding units on topics such as probability, graphing, data analysis, and negative numbers. You can choose from either the U.S. or Standards Editions depending upon your concern for the standards.

Check out their manipulatives resources on their website. They come with chart to know when to use them. You could get Extra Practice workbooks, plus Math Sprints, Challenging Word Problems, Brain Maths, and others. (Check out Supplementary Math on their site.)

“Singapore Math is a balance between drill and creative problem solving. Customers think that the Singapore approach moves along to more abstract math concepts in a more rational way and, depending on the student’s pace, more quickly. Other positive feedback indicates that the Singapore approach encourages greater problem solving skills and creative thinking.”

Does Singapore Math use the incremental, spiral or unit-style approach?

“The Singapore Math curriculum does not conform strictly to any of the above approaches. The strong point of Primary Math is the way basic concepts are presented. There is always more than one approach, and the workbooks are instrumental in making sure the information is generalized in the way desired. There are ‘Practice’ and ‘Reviews’ at the ends of chapters and sections. There is an effective mix of drill, word problems and mental calculation instruction connected to all important concepts. (Note: some of the drill is provided in the guides). While typical U.S. curricula touch on a larger number of topics rather superficially, PM nails the core math curriculum in a way that better prepares students for higher math.”—Singapore FAQs

Take seriously task of checking student’s progress. Workbooks are consumable.

My personal thoughts:

I used SM’s levels 1A and 1B Standards Edition to review last year after Caleb finished MUS’s Alpha level. I had the Home Instructor’s Guide and would highly recommend it if you are using SM as your main math. MFW says that the HIGs aren’t needed, because they just encourage you to do too much; but I’d rather start out with the extra helps and decide what to cut, than to not review or drill or teach the concept well enough.

Singapore math is a strong mastery program and seems more advanced than other math programs. You shouldn’t feel pressured to get through levels 5A and B by the end of grade 5. Try to finish levels 5A-B by the end of grade 6. Therefore it’s fine to teach levels 1B and 2A in second grade for example.

I plan to share more thoughts in the future explaining what I chose to use and why. For now, I’ll just say that I’m glad I have SM on the shelf to use as a supplementary approach for review or for concepts that we might be struggling to learn with other curricula. I did feel that it is not as explicit in instruction, and definitely not in knowing how much to review, and that it moved too quickly at times. You as the parent need to be comfortable teaching math (especially if you’re not using the HIG), and know on your own how quickly to move through the concepts and how much to drill facts.


  • Through My Father’s World—two-semester set $47 (with MFW lesson plans w/ answers, workbook, and textbook).
  • One-semester package for $23.50.
  • Workbooks alone average $11.80.
  • Singapore Lesson Plans and Answer keys (thru MFW) $7.50.

On Singapore site (as of two years ago, add more for now): Txtbook $10.80, wkbk $10.80, home instr guide $17.50, total for 2-semesters: $78.20. Extra practice $9.80; Challenging Word Problems $10.70 per grade. Total w/ extra practice supplements: $98.70

You can also look at and Rainbow Resource for other prices.

About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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4 Responses to Review of Singapore Primary Mathematics ~ Math Comparison

  1. Pingback: Review of Math-U-See ~ Math Comparison | Ita Vita

  2. Pingback: What I Chose for Math | Ita Vita

  3. Rivertone says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Rivertone says:

    My daughter used Singapore math before. Based on our experience, it lacks American culture background. Sometimes my daughter had difficulty understanding those word problems. I went to her school and her teacher suggested us to use regular US math books and recommended a home learning site called Beestar to us.
    Now we’ve been using Beestar for 2 years and I have seen her significant progress on math. The free math program is leading her to build solid foundation for future study. My daughter likes using it because the weekly practice include very representative questions to help her grasp every math skills. Now she has become very confident in math class. By the way, she meets many competitive peers on Beestar. They always discuss about math learning online. I feel so happy for her.

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