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O level

n O level[ˈou-levəl]

Ordinary Level; (in Britain) a matriculation examination in a particular subject that is not sufficient for university entrance, for which A (= Advanced) levels are required.

the basic level of the General Certificate of Education, now replaced by GCSE

GCE Ordinary Level

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The O-level (Ordinary Level) is a subject-based qualification conferred as part of the General Certificate of Education (GCE). It was introduced as part of British educational reform in the 1950s alongside the more in-depth and academically rigorous A-level (Advanced Level) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. England, Wales and Northern Ireland replaced O-levels with GCSE exams in 1988. The Scottish equivalent was the O-grade (replaced, following a separate process, by the Standard Grade).


  • 1 Structure
  • 2 Grading
  • 3 History


The O-level was predominantly exam-based. This was advantageous for students in part-time or evening education; however, some commentators were critical of the exam-based approach offering a limited proof of the student's overall academic 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.

The sociological researcher Madsen Pirie found that the O-level was advantageous to boys because of exam-based learning. Pirie also observes that the GCSE focus on coursework has disadvantaged boys reversing the gender gap in attainment, to the degree where in all subjects girls outperform boys, including traditionally male subjects such as sciences and physical education.


From 1963, passing grades for the O-level were 1 to 6 or A, B, C, D and E. In the former case grades 7 to 9, and in the latter case U (Unclassified), were classified as a fail. Most certificates did not include the grade that was awarded; this was issued separately on a results slip. Subjects with results graded 7 to 9 or U were not listed in the certificate. From the summer of 1975 onwards, all boards adopted the same system, with grades A to C equivalent to the previous pass grades. At the same time, a change was made from numerical (1-6) grades to alphabetic grades (A-E). A* is 90% and above, A is 80% and above, B is 70% and above, C is 60% and above and D is 50% and above, E is just passed.


In 1988, O-level qualifications in the UK were replaced by a new system, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). This meant that the final O-level examinations were taken in 1987, while the curriculum for the new system was introduced in 1986. However the O-level is still used in many Commonwealth countries, such as Mauritius, Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago. Some British schools also reverted to exams based on the O-levels. The Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination was also benchmarked against the O-levels for comparable subjects. But it has switched to benchmark against the IGCSE.

O-levels continue to thrive as well respected international qualifications for students in other countries, who use them for preparation for advanced study in their own country and/or access higher education overseas. In June 2005, 12 million candidates from more than 200 countries registered for O-level examinations across the world. Institutions that offer O-levels include University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).

In 2012, it was revealed in leaked documents that Education Secretary Michael Gove planned for the return of the O-Levels in the UK and to scrap the GCSE's. Students will sit for the traditional O-Levels from 2016 onwards, with the papers set by a single examination board







What is GCE?

The GCE is one of the most internationally recognised qualifications. You can take this qualification at the Ordinary (O) or the Advanced (A) levels, depending on what you need it for and the course you intend to follow. The Ordinary level has been replaced by GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in UK schools; however,it is still available to international students. We advise you to take a preparation course that specifically follows a syllabus if you want to take either of these exams.

What is a GCE O-level?

An O-level is standard UK qualification usually taken at the age of fifteen/sixteen. An O-level provides a foundation for further study or employment. They are available in a wide range of subjects covering the whole curriculum. Within the subject areas which are generally available, there is often a choice of several syllabuses. You can take any number of O-levels, depending on the qualifications that your chosen institutions ask for. Most students take between seven and ten O-levels after studying for two to three years in their chosen subjects.

Why should I take an O-level?

You need to take an exam at O-level before you can study at A-level. You also need to check that the O-level qualification you want is recognised by the institution where you want to study your A-level.

What is a GCE A-level?

An A-level is an Advanced level GCE qualification used internationally as pre-university requirement. This exam is normally taken after two years of A-level study and is available in a broad range of subjects covering the whole curriculum.  The new qualification comprises six units and can be taken either in stages (see Advanced Subsidiary below) or as a terminal examination. Usually, A-level courses immediately follow on from O-level courses and most candidates enter between two and four subjects at the age of eighteen.

Why should I take an A-level?

Good A-level results can give you access to undergraduate studies at some of the best higher education learning institutions in the world. A-level qualifications can also give you access to professional and vocational courses.

What is a GCE AS-level?

The Advanced Subsidiary is offered in most subjects and became available for the first time in 2001. The Subsidiary is a new way of facilitating staged assessment. The subject content of the new A Level syllabuses has been subdivided into two parts: the AS syllabus content, which is expected to be covered in the first half of the course, and the second part of the syllabus, commonly referred to as A2, taken at the end of the second year of study. In terms of the UCAS tariff, the Advanced Subsidiary is worth half the points of a GCE Advanced level qualification.

When can I take GCE exams?

CIE exams are held in May/June and October/November each year, Edexcel exams are held in May/June and January each year. Registration for GCE exams usually begins at least three to four months before the start of each exam session.

Where can I take GCE exams?

GCE exams are conducted at various exam venues in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore & Peshawar.

We also conduct exams in some outreach centres to cater for the need of students who are based at some distance from the four cities above. Further details can be obtained from your local British Council office.

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Registration Cycle for

British Council GCE School Candidates

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