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).

231 Replies to “What is O Level?”

    • Hi Farhan,
      Yes, certainly you can take O Level Commerce subject if you wish to. Just talk to your school, or your local British Council if you are a private candidate.

  1. I am in Grade 8 and I want to skip Grade 9 and Directly go to Grade 10.In Pakistan the O level exams are in Grade 10 and 11.I am preparing the course of Grade 9 (to skip grade 9).I want to become a Doctor.Can I give O level exams without Grade 9 result? And what about A level and College and University.

    • Hello Shareeq,
      Usually, universities require A Level as entry requirement. Please check on the university’s website to understand more.

  2. Hi!

    My queston is who organize o-level schools? It is international based, but does it cost for people to send their children in these schools? For example in pour countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh? is it state-based schools or private?

    • Hi Mahwish,
      Usually schools which offer Cambridge O Level exams are private international schools. They are not state schools. For state schools, you will sit for the national exams.

  3. I want to study nursing but I toke chemistry and physic, I did not take biology in spm. should I take O-level to study science because all entry requirement in the colleges need biology or general science to study nursing.

    • Im hoping to continue in the medical field, and im wondering which O levels i should take to proceed. Im in gr10 and have picled biology, english, and maths. For gr11 i am hoping to pick physics and chemistry. Is there anything else i should take, like any AP?

      • Hello Syed,
        Usually you need Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Additional Maths in O Level. However, please check with the university of your choice on the required subjects.

  4. Dear team,
    I am studying IGCSE course right now. Can I use the result of Cambridge O-Level to instead of First Language in English Exam?
    Can I separate 3 times to test the 7 subjects?

    • Hello Chin,
      If you are a private candidate, you can always sit for one or two subjects in one examination series. If you are attached to a school, you might have to follow the school’s regulation on sitting for exam.

      You may use either IGCSE or O Level result for your English subject requirement. However, we strongly suggest you to find out what are the entry requirements for your field of study in the university.

  5. Good morning,

    Now I am studying grade 9 in Saudi Arabia
    And I am planning to join business in Turkey

    If I join o level
    I can finish my studies on grade 10
    And go to the university in Turkey?

    And which is better o level or A level
    And is business good to join?


    • Hello Lina,
      You must check with the university in Turkey for their entry requirements. From there, you can decide which subjects you need to take, and what is the minimum entry grades.

  6. What are the subjects I can take for edexcel O levels. Also where can i find more information about it’s curriculum and examination dates?

  7. My son is due to sit for O Level Exam ( CIE Cambridge) in May/June 2018 attached to a CIE School. Can he sit for two subjects in 2018 (May/June) and rest five subjects in 2019 (May/June) attached to that CIE School?

    • Hi Shaheed,
      Yes he could, provided the school allows that. You must discuss with his school if you would like to split the subjects into different examination series. Otherwise, your son has to sit for his exam privately as private candidate with your local British Council.

    • Hi Mthulisi,

      We’re not sure if any colleges offer O Level. But you can consider registering through your local British Council or find a school from the list of registered Cambridge School here: http://cie.org.uk/i-want-to/find-a-cambridge-school/.

      Please note that before you register for any examinations, do check with your local British Council or the Cambridge School that suits you on the subject availability in your area.

    • Hello Chan,
      If your plan is flexible, we would suggest you to take IGCSE instead of O Level. If your future work requires international environment, we feel IGCSE would be better for you. O Level is good as well, just the syllabus is more localised.

      Below are IGCSE and O Level syllabi. You can download them and make comparison:
      IGCSE syllabus: http://www.igcsecentre.com/cambridge-igcse-subjects-syllabuses/
      O Level syllabus: http://www.igcsecentre.com/cambridge-o-level-subjects-syllabuses/

      Here are the steps as your guidance:
      1. First, decide what you want to study at tertiary level. Then check on the university entry requirements (the required subjects) for your field of study.
      2. Once you have found out what are the required subjects for your field of study, head over to your local British Council and find out what are the available subjects in your area.
      3. You may also find out all the exam registration dates, exam fees etc. at British Council.
      4. Lastly, you can consider to enrol into our online courses as your exam preparation. Check them out here: http://www.igcsecentre.com/cambridge-igcse-revision-courses/

      We hope these help. Please feel free to write to us if you need any further assistance.

      • Hello… Few questions to ask.. –
        1. What are O-levels ?
        2. What are A-levels
        3. What would you personally suggest me to take after completing my 10th standard (in IGCSE curriculum) ?

        Presently, i have 6 subjects:
        English, French, Maths, Science (combined), Environmental Management and ICT (Information, Communication and Technology)

  8. Dear Team,

    I am a working professional of age 35. I need to sit for my O Levels Pakistan Studies examination (in June 2018) for getting my equivalence. I wanted to know, if there is any age bar to appear for O Level examinations. I have already passed the rest of O & A Level subjects in my earlier years (2000 & 2003 respectively)

    • Hi Anila,
      There is no age limit for sitting O Level exams. As a private candidate, the best place to find out all the details is your local British Council. Just pay a visit to your local British Council and get more information.

  9. Hi, my son started form 3 studies in September 2017 in a School which follows the Cambridge O/L curriculum for May/June exams of a year. Could you please let me know when my Son is due to sit for his OL exam, is it May/June 2019 or May/June 2020 ?. Thank you.

  10. hi, my son now in year 9, he was not sure what subject to choose. he seen interest in business n economic.. now he was thinking either choose PE or geographic . my advise to him is drop the pe n choose geographic . the reason was geographic more related to business study in future. Am i right? pls advise. thanks


    • Hi Chew,

      Business can be rather broad as it can be useful in almost all industry. So, it really depends on what your son plans to major in his university degree.

  11. hi
    My name is Zubash Wajahat, I want to re take an o-level subject ,my question is can i re take it in 2018 May/June examination.

  12. Hi… I am Samia.. I ended up having 7A* nd C in english…. Will tht be considered fr admission on university?????

    • Hi Samia,

      Each university has their own set of entry requirements. It’s best to check with the University directly.

  13. Hi
    Is it fine if we give 3 papers of O level in edexcel board and 3 of them in cambridge board. Will it be acceptable if we apply for any university?

    • Hello Iqbal,

      Since these 2 are different exam boards, you must get the confirmation from the university that you wish to apply in the future. We do not know their requirements.

  14. I took my o levels this may/June and I’m not happy with my results at all, my father can’t afford for me to resist the exams in October/November is it possible for me to retake the exams next may/June even though I’ll be 17?

  15. Is there a condition by CIE for getting admission into A levels, a student has to clear 9 O level courses within a gap of 13 months only ? (If taken in two years). If a student has passed two courses already and then appears in remaining 8 courses after 2 years, will that be against the rules of CIE?

    • Hi,
      It is best to get the confirmation from the college that you intend to apply. The entry requirement varies from college to college.

      CIE does not offer A Level course. CIE is the exam board.

  16. Hello IGCSE team,

    My nephew just passed his O levels with 7 As and 1 B from Pakistan. Now he wants to study IGCSE from the UK. Will he need any other requirements to fulfil first or O levels only is acceptable?


  17. Hi, my daughter Tanvi is in 10th Std ICSE in India and will pass her 10th Std exams in May 18. She is keen in doing undergraduate 3 yrs program in UK after 12 th in Bio sciences. To allign with UK admission requirements, I am planning to put her in IGCSE for 11&12 th Std from 2018–20. My understanding was is she can shift from ICSE to IGCSE for 11-12 th and will appear for A level in 2020 which is equivalent of 12 th. Pls confirm if my understanding is correct. She is excellent in academic records and currentaly pursuing Global Social Leadership program in Wellingtn College London for 2 week.


    Nikhil Apte

    • Hi Nikhil,

      As we do not know what is “ICSE”, we can’t comment on that. We can only provide suggestions based on IGCSE and A Level.

      You can always let your daughter sit for IGCSE exams as a private candidate, then proceed to A Level. If the A Level college accepts your “ICSE” as an entry requirement, you may proceed to A Level straight away, and skip taking IGCSE. For this, you must get the confirmation from the A Level college which you intend to enrol your daughter too.

  18. my daughter got a grade D in Chemistry and Physics but got grade C in English Language, Mathematics, Biology and French. What are the possibilities of her getting university entry into a UK university

    • Hi,

      Each university has a different set of entry requirements. You will need to check with the university your daughter wish to apply to.

  19. Dear IGCSE Team,

    I sat for 5 subjects for my 2016 O’levels in two sittings. My subjects were English Language, Bengali, Biology, Economics and Bangladesh Studies. Before i register for my AS Levels, i wanted to know the minimum subject requirements needed for AS Levels. Can i just take up 2 subjects? Its really important please help asap.

  20. Hello,
    what are options as private canditate for 11 year old (sixth grader child) for IGCSE. Recently in India. How one can appear for exam


    I sat O level IGCSE EDEXCEL june exams .and i am still waiting results .
    Any way i donot have A level studies available in my country can you faciliate me to countinue my A level studies in any one of your based countries.
    mohamed Ahmed

  22. Hi team , My name is wajood , and i just wanted to ask that if any student gets ungraded in more then one subject , can he continue in A-levels as taking some additional subjects or is it necessary for him or her to give a retake ?

    • Hi Wajood,

      Most of the core subjects in IGCSE are needed as one of the university entry requirements. For example, English and Maths.

      If you obtained ungraded for the Science subjects but achieved good grades in Business subjects, you can’t continue to A Level science subjects, but you can continue to A Level business subjects.

      If you obtained ungraded for English and Maths subjects, you need to re-sit these subjects. They are the core subjects and you need them for your university application.

  23. Hi
    My son appeared in 3 subjects from a registered CIE school. Now he wants to change school and take other 5 subjects in another CIE school. Will there be any problems in final results?

    • Hi Rumy,
      No, there is no problem in that. He would obtain the certificate with the different school name. However, you need to check with his new school if they do allow to take only 5 subjects with them.

  24. Hi my name is Rabbiya Jawed…i was doing my igcse in Botswana,Africa due to some issues i had to move to pakistan and do o levels …i am 16 and want to complete my o levels at atlast age 17…I am supposed to be in grade 11 but in Pakistan for proceeding to grade 11 you need to do grade 10 in which we give our mocks and pre mocks of Islamiyat urdu and Pakistan studies….these three are the subjects which I didn’t study since years… I got the admission in one of the good schools in Pakistan and I’m in grade 10 currently… I’ll be giving my exams of these 3 subjects in grade 10 and the rest in grade 11 but I want to give all of my subject exams in grade 10…so Is it possible that instead of proceeding to grade 11 i give my exams of just not these three subjects but all 8 in grade 10 while I register myself from school and not privately… and finish my o levels in grade 10 and not 11…plz answer I need your desperate help!!!!

    • Hi Rabbiya, you will need to check with your school if you’re allowed to do that. Every school has their own set of regulations so it’s best to have a discussion with your teacher if there’s any way to work around this.

  25. Hi,
    My son is homeschooled & is currently 12 years of age.
    Q1. What is the minimum age to appear for IGCSE exams as a private student?
    Q2. Which is “relatively” easy – O levels or IGCSE exam ?
    Q3. Which is more popular in the world – O levels or IGCSE ?

    Thanks Satish

    • Hi Satish,
      1. The IGCSE examination is equivalent to Year 11/10th Grade, depending on where you’re from. Typically, the examination is taken by students age 14 – 16. However, there is no minimum age requirement, as long as the candidate is judged to have the ability and confidence to sit the examinations. You can read more here: http://www.igcsecentre.com/what-is-igcse/

      2. They both have an equivalent standard. O Level is crafted to suit local environment, however, IGCSE is best suited for the international environment. Please read more on the comparison above.

      3. IGCSE is more popular in the international environment.

  26. Hi. My daughter is undertaking 8 O Level subjects but wish to take a ninth subject as well. I’m just wondering if she sits for two exams in November, 2017 privately, then the other two in June, 2018 through her school, and then the rest in June, 2019 through the school again, would it affect her in further education and career?
    She’s a very bright girl and therefore would like to sit for exams on her own terms but also along with the school’s terms.
    I’m getting different kind of responses, so I’m rather confused. Please help.

    • Hello Saba,

      If the school allows your daughter to sit for her exams privately out of the school, yes you can do that. As far as we know, if you are attached to a school, you must take all of your exams with that school, in one series not separately. You must confirm this with the school.

      Sitting exams separately will not affect her further education. However, you need to first check with the university that your daughter wishes to apply to, on their allowance in the O Level results duration. For example, they might need all the exams sitting not more than 1½ years or 2 years.

  27. Dear IGCSE Team.
    I am currently starting my year 10. I wanted to know if i am allowed to take a total of only 6 subjects for my O levels

    • Hi Faris,

      There is no minimum subject required for O Level if you’re a private candidate, and the maximum number of subjects you can take is 14. However, if you are attached to a school, you must follow the minimum/maximum subjects as required by the school.

  28. Dear team ,
    My name is Mariyah and I am 14 years old , I am currently studying the IGCSE for grade 9 , which is over , and I am taking some O Level subjects for grade 10 . I would like to know , If I would like to achieve an AS Level in a subject , do I have to complete its O Level and A level before I reach the AS Level of that subject .

    Mariyah Khalid

    • Hi Mariyah,

      The AS Level is a qualification in its own right, and the AS Level together with the A2 Level forms the complete A Level qualification.

      A level and AS level are taught in a similar way, but A level is more advanced and takes longer to complete. AS level is similar to the first year of an A-level course.
      AS level results used to count towards your final A level result. This is changing now, so while you will still be able to study an AS level alongside the first year of your A level course, your A level result will be based entirely on the exams you do at the end of the two-year course.
      In order to study A & AS Level, you will have to complete your O Level first.

  29. Hi

    Can I check is there any limit to the number of times you can take your olevel ?
    As I have taken olevel before from school but i think i did not score well in the exam two years ago, can I allowed to retake as a private candidate in singapore?

    • Hello Gujayhee,
      Yes, definitely you are allowed to resit your O Level again as private candidate. Just head over to your local British Council and find out what are the available subjects in your local area.

  30. My son is 35 years old but due to some physical and other reasons he was not able to continue his education after grade 8. Is there anyway that he can appear in O level and start my education again.

  31. Hi IGCSE team i want to know that is it possible to obtain a scholarship overbroad if I only have a O level Cambridge Certificate in Zimbabwe, Africa.

    • HI Donald,
      Yes, you are always eligible to apply for scholarship as long as you have gotten great results.

  32. Hi

    Can you tell me please, whether it is possible to sit the Cambridge GCE O level qualifications as a private candidate, living in Scotland?

    Also, the examination fees and whereabouts in Scotland (or England) the examination may actually be taken, please?

    Thanking you in anticipation

    • Hi Graham,

      Yes, you are able to sit for O Level as a private candidate. You can register through your local British Council or find a school from the list of registered Cambridge School here: http://cie.org.uk/i-want-to/find-a-cambridge-school/.

      Please note that before you register for any examinations, do check with your local British Council or the Cambridge School that suits you on the subject availability in your area.

      Please check the examination fees with the British Council or the Cambridge School that you have chosen. Exam fees differ from one exam centre to another.

  33. Hi , I need to know to if I study biology with other sciences ,math and other necessary subjects in O levels and get sufficient grades for scholarship in A levels , can I get the scholarship if I want to study computer sciences in A levels ?

    • Hi Daain,

      You would need to check with the school you wanted to enrol for A Levels:

      1. Whether they provide scholarships?
      2. If they do, what are the requirements?

      It’s always best to check with the school as each school has different requirements.

  34. I need to know that if I study Biology in O levels with all other science subject (including mathematics) and get sufficient grades for scholarship in A levels, can I get the scholarship if I want to study computer sciences in A levels

    • Hi Daain,

      You would need to check with the school you wanted to enrol for A Levels:

      1. Whether they provide scholarships?
      2. If they do, what are the requirements?

      It’s always best to check with the school as each school has different requirements.

    • Hi Jazim,

      There is no minimum subject required for O Level if you’re a private candidate, and the maximum number of subjects you can take is 14. However, if you are attached to a school, you must follow the minimum/maximum subjects as required by the school.

    • Hi Mukit,

      There is no minimum age to sit for O Level examination. So, yes, it is possible. However, you need to check with your local exam centre if they would accept a candidate at this age.

    • Hi Abdullah,

      There is no minimum subject required for O Level if you’re a private candidate, and the maximum number of subjects you can take are 14.

      However, if you are attached to a school, you must follow the minimum/maximum subjects as required by the school.

  35. Hi, I sat for SPM and did not get a good enough grade to enter into my course. I decided to seat for the paper in O-Levels instead but am not too sure of how to do so. Could you please to suggest me on how and where to seat for the paper?

  36. Hi. IGCSE Team, i gave my O levels exams of 5 subjects in may 2016 and now i am going to give my other 3 subjects in this may. So,i wanted to ask that is it ok? will top universities like cambridge accept my O level degree in parts?

      • hi. IGCSE Team , i gave O levels 5 subjects in may 2016 and now i will give rest of the 3 subjects in this may. So, will the universities in UK and US will accept my O levels degree in parts? will my marks be deducted when i will apply for the admission in some unversity in UK or US for not giving all the 8 subjects together(the same year)? please reply soon. Thankyou.

        • Hi,

          Many universities worldwide require a combination of Cambridge International A Levels and Cambridge O Levels to meet their entry requirements.

          You will have to first check with the universities you wished to apply for their entry requirements.
          We wouldn’t know how the universities go through the admission applications but it’s definitely best to check with the universities.

          • thankyou.But is wastage of a year in O level considered bad when applying for jobs or admissions? (as usually 3 years are spent in olevel but i spent 4 years;1 year extra as i stated above i gave subjects in parts).

  37. Hello again some have decided to study for the following subjects
    – English language
    – literature in English
    – mathematics in addition
    – biology
    – Chemistry
    – Spanish
    – Geography
    – computer since
    Can you please tell me how I can go about it, studying online, this is all to me I need as much info as I get get from you.

  38. My son sat for the igcse and achieved less than the required 5 credits to join university.
    He wants to resit the subjects he did not achieve the credits.
    Is it possible to apply for university with credits from different sittings or must they be from one sitting

  39. Dear Team
    My child sat for the O level exams and did not get 5 minimum credits required to join university in this country.
    He wants to repeat the exams he did not do well in this may.
    Is it possible to use credits achieved in different sittings to apply for university education or must the credits be achieved in one seating

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