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 Nigel,
      You can always sit for the same subject again after many years. Thought it won’t be called “resit”, it is simply taking an exam.

  1. hi guys ,
    i m studying igcse currently but for practice I am solving o level papers
    so, is there anything like core or extended in o level?

    • Hi Samyak,
      We do not suggest you to do so. As O Level and IGCSE have slight different on the syllabus, and the papers combination. Please just concentrate on IGCSE past exam papers if you are taking IGCSE exams.

  2. Dear team
    My son want to be a doctor so what subjects is necessary to be a doctor i need your help and advise for the subject
    Thank you

    • Hello Ismail,
      Usually, the required subjects for medicine are: English, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Add Maths for IGCSE Level. However, we strongly suggest you to consult the university on the required subjects as entry requirement.

  3. hey,
    I am a student in grade 10 and I am planning to study university in Jordan,
    I will be taking my o levels on may june 2018 but I want to make sure if I can split up my subjects for 2 sessions or not .
    And is it compulsory to take mathematics A levels next year to study dentistry?

    • Hello Nano,
      Yes, you may split the subjects into 2 sessions. Please consult your exam centre on how to register the subjects in the available examination series.

      As far as we know, Mathematics is required. You may confirm that with the university.

  4. Actually,i am studying at an IGCSE curriculum school in Bangladesh and it is imperative for me to know the subjects available,so i could choose since i am taking my O’levels in a couple of years.So i would like to know the subjects?I would be very glad if you can do so at the earliest.

    • Hi Shararah,
      Since you are attached with a school, you must find out the available subjects from the school. Every school has their own set of available subjects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *