What is the difference between O level and A level examinations?

Final year national examinations signify the end of a journey and the start of a journey for many. When leaving primary schools, all students have to write the PSLE before ending their journey as a primary school student before upgrading to secondary school students. Similarly, the O level examinations (ordinary level) signify the end of students’ secondary education and the A level examinations (advanced level) signify the end of junior college. Students that do not go to Junior college may go through other major examinations in their lives but they will not write the A level examinations.

So, what is the difference between O level and A level examinations?

Firstly, the O level is exams that students write at the end of their secondary education. One exception is for students who take higher mother tongue; they have to write their O level for normal mother tongue at the secondary 3 level. Depending on the students’ subject combination, they will write their relevant examinations for the subjects that they chose to take in secondary 3. For the examinations that they sat for, they will be provided a grade which can be A1, A2, B3, B4, C5, C6, D7, E8 or F9.


As you can see, there is a number next to the grade and this number signifies the points that the student receives for the subject. The higher the points, the worse the performance in the subject. Among the subjects that the student took, 1 language and 5 other subjects will be chosen so that the student is able to receive the lowest cumulative point possible.

Moreover, if the student took the Higher mother tongue, 2 points will be reduced from the total. Similarly, depending on the CIP hours and commitment that the student had to his or her CCA, further 1 or 2 points will be reduced from the total. The minimum score possible to achieve is an A1 for everything with a 4-point reduction resulting in a total of 2 points. Using the points that students achieved, they can apply for different junior colleges or polytechnics to proceed with their further studies, if necessary.


A level examination, as mentioned, is written at the end of their junior college journey. One exception is for students who take normal mother tongue; they have to write their normal mother tongue A level examinations in their first year of Junior college. For junior college, all students will have to take 5 subjects (General Paper, Math, Chemistry, one other science, and one humanity). For these subjects, they can choose from 3 levels, known as H1 (the lowest level), H2 and H3 (the highest level).

They can also take H3 research which will be counted as a separate subject but students will not be required to write an examination for it. Students who take Mother tongue B will also have to write their examinations in the second year of Junior college. For the A level examinations, students will be required to sit for their respective subject examinations at their respective levels. They will be given a grade based on their performance in their examinations and it can be A, B, C, D, E, S or U.


Note that unlike in the GCE O level, these grades are not associated with any numbers as A level performance is not based on points. Instead, a cumulative score out of 100 will be calculated for students using a distribution curve of the different marks of the population. This score will be useful in applying for universities almost everywhere around the world.  Hence, it is important to perform well in both O levels and A level examination as it has a huge influence on career-related decisions and for further education!

To help you prepare for O level exams here is a helpful article:

Tips For The Preparation Of GCE O Level Exams