What is O Level?

O-Level is the abbreviation of Ordinary Level. It is one of the two-part GCE (General Certificate of Education). The other part of GCE is Advanced Level (A-Level), which students enter after completing O-Level.

O-Level is the final certification for secondary school, to be taken at fifth form or year 11 at approximately age 17 (or age group 14-16). Students that have completed O-Level are considered to have completed formal education. They can further their studies to A-Level (at their schools’ sixth form or private colleges), Foundation Courses or diploma courses, or simply leaving school.

O-Level is offered by Cambridge International Examination (CIE), American Council for Higher Education and Edexcel International. Though schools in the UK had replaced O-Level with GCSE in 1988, it is still used in many Commonwealth countries, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and also in Trinidad and Tobago. (Some schools in the UK have reverted back to exams based on O-Level at the later stage.)

O-levels were predominantly exam-based; this had advantages for students in part-time or evening education. Some commentators criticised this mainly exam-based approach as offering only partial proof of the student’s overall ability in comparison with other methods (e.g., coursework-based assessment). There was no summative “school certificate”: each subject was a separate O-level in its own right.

(Below are the information for O Level from the CIE exam board only.)

Cambridge O Level

Cambridge O Level is being offered by CIE (Cambridge International Examination). It is an internationally recognised qualification equivalent to Cambridge IGCSE and the UK GCSE. Cambridge O Level provides learners with excellent preparation for academic progression to Cambridge Advanced as well as other progression routes.

Cambridge O Levels has been designed especially for an international audience. They are sensitive to the needs of different countries and for learners whose first language may not be English – which is acknowledged throughout the examination process. The curriculum also enables teaching to be placed in a localised context, making it relevant wherever you teach it.

In some parts of the world, schools use Cambridge O Level as an international alternative to the local government’s examination.


You can choose from more than 40 subjects in any combination to provide the building blocks to create your own curriculum. Students normally take 7-9 subjects in the O-Level exam, with maximum allowable 14 subjects.



Many schools allocate a total of about 130 hours for each Cambridge O Level subject, but how much time a school devotes to each subject will depend on a variety of factors. The syllabus is set by Cambridge, but how it is taught will depend on the school. Candidates must enter for Cambridge O Levels through a registered school or exam centre. Your school or exam centre will be able to give you more details about how candidates work towards these assessments.

At school, more able candidates may study six or seven subjects at Cambridge O Level, but less able candidates may have a much more modest programme. In order to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, most candidates take courses from each of the five Cambridge O Level groups (Languages; Humanities and Social Sciences; Sciences; Mathematics; and Business, Creative, Technical and Vocational). However, it is also possible to study individual Cambridge O Level subjects if this better suits the candidate’s needs.

Cambridge O Level courses usually take two years to complete and exams are taken at the end of that period.


Assessment takes place at the end of the course and includes written, practical and oral assessment. This broadens opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning, particularly when their first language is not English.

Grades are benchmarked using six internationally recognised grades, from A* to E, which have clear guidelines to explain the standard of achievement.

Grade A* is awarded for the highest level of achievement, and grade E indicates minimum satisfactory performance. Grade U (Ungraded) is commonly regarded as fail.

Cambridge O Level examination series occur twice a year, in June and November. Results are issued in August and January.


Many universities worldwide require a combination of Cambridge International A Levels and Cambridge O Levels to meet their entry requirements. Leading US and Canadian universities require Cambridge International AS & A Levels, but some US and Canadian colleges and universities will accept learners with five Cambridge O Levels at grade C
or above.

In the UK, Cambridge O Level is accepted as equivalent to the GCSE. Many UK universities look at Cambridge O Level grades, as well as predicted grades for Cambridge International A Level, when making admissions decisions.

Universities in many countries, including Canada and the USA, will admit students on the basis of their Cambridge O-Level performances alone. Grade C in Cambridge O-Level English Language satisfies the English proficiency requirements of many universities in the UK and other English-speaking countries.

Difference between Cambridge IGCSE and O Levels

Features of Cambridge IGCSE

  • Cambridge IGCSE is aimed at a wide ability range of students, with a range of grades awarded from A* (highest grade) to G (lowest). There is a core (C to G) and extended (A* to C) curriculum available in some subjects.
  • Cambridge IGCSE uses a variety of assessment techniques to test oral and practical skills, initiative and problem-solving and application of skills, knowledge and understanding.
  • A coursework option is available in many syllabuses, allowing Centres an element of personal choice and giving teachers the chance to share in the process of assessment.
  • Candidates are rewarded for positive achievement (what they know, understand, and can do).
  • Cambridge IGCSE prepares for progression to employment, or to further study. It prepares students very well for Cambridge International AS & A Levels.

Features of Cambridge O Level

Cambridge O Level shares some of these features, but the following differences should be noted:

  • Cambridge O Level candidates are only awarded grades from A* to E, where A* is the highest achievable grade.
  • Cambridge O Level offers fewer coursework options than Cambridge IGCSE.
  • Some Cambridge O Level syllabuses were developed to meet specific local needs, such as minority languages.
  • The focus of Cambridge O Level languages is on writing and reading skills.
  • There are more restricted practical test options in Cambridge O Level sciences. (These constraints are advantageous to some schools where resources are limited, for example no oral examiner is available).

Note: CIE (Cambridge International Examination board) has its name changed to CAIE (Cambridge Assessment International Education) since October 2017.

353 Replies to “What is O Level?”

  1. Hey I want to know that IGCSE is better or O level because I am starting this from my 8 grade in which I have only 3 months then I will give the paper so I have to decide what to do so can you please tell me about it and give me some information.
    I will be glad if you do it earliest. Thanks!!

    • Hi Ramla,

      IGCSE and O-level are of equivalent qualification. IGCSE set internationally recognised standards while O-level were developed to meet specific local needs. Furthermore, IGCSE uses a variety of assessment techniques to test oral and practical skills, initiative and problem-solving and application of skills, knowledge and understanding. A coursework option is available in many syllabuses, allowing schools an element of personal choice and giving teachers the chance to share in the process of assessment. On the other hand, O-level offers fewer coursework options than IGCSE. The focus of O-level languages is on writing and reading skills and there are more restricted practical test options in O-level sciences.

      Choosing between IGCSE or O-level, depends on what you want to study in the future. We suggest that you check out the universities you have in mind and get the confirmation on their admission requirements.

      For more information, kindly read these:

  2. Hi there
    I am from Malaysia. My son is 12 years old. I am teaching my son from home. May I know what are the IGCSE subjects recommended for him to be taken in 2019? His interest areas are computing and engineering. I have not identified a university for his future study but am thinking of enrolling him into Cambridge or Oxford.

    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Manvender,

      A good guideline is English, Maths, Additional Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, ICT. But we do suggest that you check on the university’s entry requirement. In this way you have 100% confirmation on the needed subjects.

  3. hii..so i just finished my 9 grade in USA and we are moving back to pakistan..will pakistani cambridge systm schools will accept me ..as i wouldnt do my a levels from pakistan

  4. Hi,
    I wanted to know how many total credit hours do we have when completing 7 subjects in IGSCE?
    My subjects are listed below:
    Kindly let me know.
    Syed Azhar Ali

  5. Hey
    Do universities accept 3 separate o level results
    For example if I give 3 subjects in May/June and then 3 subjects in Oct/Nove and then 3 Next year in May June. All privately. Is that an issue or is it accepted.

    • Hi Noor,

      Different colleges have different selection preferences, therefore you should check the individual college websites. If after consulting the websites you have any further queries about admissions requirements, do get in touch with the admissions office at your preferred College.

  6. Hi, I am from Bangladesh. Is it true that I can’t give physics and chemistry lab exams if I give my exam in the November session, I heard I can’t take these subjects in a levels if I don’t give the lab exams. I want to be clear about the process.

  7. Dear Sirs . Hope you fine . I am from Pakistan . How many minimum/ maximum papers I can take in one sitting. How can I make combinations of subjects ? Are there any compulsory subjects requirements for Pakistani students ?

    • Hi Niaz,

      If you plan for further studies, universities usually require a minimum of 5 subjects and the maximum number of subjects you can take is 14. Furthermore, you should decide on the subjects based on what you want study in the university. We strongly suggest you to check on the university entry requirements for your future studies. However, if you are attached to a school, you must follow the minimum/maximum subjects as required by the school.

      With regards to the compulsory subjects in your country, it is best to ask your school about this.

  8. If i take 6 subjects and i got 4 credit and i got one pass and let say that i fail in one of the other subjects..do i pass my examinatiom?

    • Hello,

      You will obtain separate certificates for each passed subjects. However, there will be no certifying statement for the Ungraded subject. Fail is when you see ‘UNGRADED’ on your Statement of Results. You may choose to retake the subject especially if you plan to further your studies.

    • Hi Ahmed,

      Travel and Tourism (7096) is only available during the November examination series. Therefore, there are no May-June papers.

  9. I heard that when joining o level at June,your math take will only be paper 1 and 3.is that true,and how many papers will I take for my combined science and English at June

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