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.

Subjects

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.

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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

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.

Recognition

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).




151 thoughts on “What is O Level?

  1. 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 .

    yours,
    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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).

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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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