O-levels and A-levels

What the hell are they? I know they have something to do with British schooling, but how do they translate into American?

IIRC, they stand for “Ordinary” and “Advanced”. As I understand it, British schools traditionally streamed their students into either basic job-prep or pre-university classes, depending on testing somewhere around junior-high or early high-school age.

The system used to be pretty strongly biased in favour of upper-class students, but it’s a lot more egalitarian these days.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

O levels (which have since been replaced by the General Certificate of Secondary Education, or GCSE) are what British students took around the age of 16. Students who continue their education take A levels after another two years.

This is a very slanted view of the system, as traditionally rammed down the throats of the populace by the rabidly socialist left wing. I’ll expand when I get some time later.

In the meantime, we might read Steven Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man,” which gives a pretty fair description of the injustices of this system.

“The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured.” Walter Lord

So they’re tests? An O-level is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma it sounds like? An A-level would be what, then, in American? An associate’s degree? Geez, I guess I’m really asking for an overview of the British educational system.

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I took them.

O-levels are at the end of Form 5, or the equivalent of Grade 11. You generally take 7 classes.

A-levels are after two more years of school after Form 5. Lower 6th and Upper 6th. You need to pass A-levels in order to get into University. I.E. English schools have Grade 13. You generally only take 3-4 A-level classes.

Even in my days (circa 1988?) most everyone took Lower 6th and Upper 6th, but you can get out of school after Form 5. But no one does that anymore. It’s like college here. It used to be only a small percentage of people went to college, but now almost everyone goes.

Am surprised there are no other British Expats here.

So O-levels are sort of general knowledge tests or are they on specific subjects? Like you’d take an O-level for English and one for math and one for science? Or are they broken down more specifically, like for biology or chemistry rather than “science”? Are A-level classes generally taken in preparation for one’s course of study at university? Like, you’re planning on being a botanist so you’d take A-level biology?

And one other question, which has nothing to do with the thread but since I used the word “chemistry” I’ll ask anyway: If in England a chemist is what Americans would call a pharmacist or druggist, what do Brits call someone Americans would call a chemist?


O-Levels and A-Levels are on specific subjects, usually Maths, English, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, History, Geography, Computing etc etc

The number and grade of A-Levels you achieve determines whether you go to University and which College/University you go to.

As a side note, O-Levels and A-Levels only apply to England and Wales. We have our own education system in Scotland, although it isn’t radically different. We have Standard Grades and Highers.

If by Chemist, you mean a scientist working in the field of chemistry, we’d call them a chemist as well.

And yes, O-levels are on specific subjects. As are A-levels. A general requirement for entrance to a University course might be a B and two Cs, or the points equivalent.

And branching further - all exam marks over here are completely merit based - ie, get more than 85% and you’ll get an A etc. I have heard Americans speak of grade curves, ie top 2 people in class get an A etc. I have to say, this sounds like one of the daftest ideas I have ever heard. Is this true? How widespread is it?

Luther Blisset is Everyman.
So Smile.

I forgot to mention, the University sometimes stipulates a prerequisite A-Level/Higher for your particular course eg Maths if you intend to study Computing Science

I think rjk may have been referring to the 11-plus, an aptitude test taken at 11 years old to determine how academically inclined you’re likely to be. It’s not widespread anymore, but in some areas, the top scoring students are given the opportunity to go to a school with higher academic standards. In my experience, this system has it’s faults, but ultimately, and the reason why the left hate these schools (such as grammar schools) is that the left in the UK has always had a problem with high achievers and must adopt it’s sneering attitude ans associate it with class. Witness my old school, which the local labour run authority has been trying to close down for 30 years now (it’s a state financed selective grammar). Of course this did not stop a large number of local politicians sending their kids there. But that’s no surprise.

I’d have to say not very. I’ve only ran into that grading system once, in high school, and the teacher didn’t apply it towards the final course grade. Most high schools, when I was there, used a percentage scale too. (90-100 = A, 80-89 = B, 70-79 = C, 60-69 = D, <60 = F) University professors tend to use their own, sometimes arbitrary scales, (I remember one who would only give an A for absolute perfection :/) but I never ran into one using the curve. This would have been in the '80s and early '90s, maybe it used to be more widespread?

If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.

A basic chemistry course here at UIC had the marks fitted to a curve. 25% was sufficient to pass.

Looking at this thread it would appear to those not familiar with O and A-levels that everything depends on an end exam.
The truth is differant, these are courses which are continously assessed throughout the academic year, and coursework contributes to the final grade.This varies from course to course.
Strictly speaking these are no longer the O and A-levels as these were based on an end test, the weaknesses of that system were addressed to produce the GCSE O/A levels.
It would be helpful to our US hosts if someone were to put up milestone markers, as it were, in ,lets say, Maths, English, Physics etc so that a comparison could be made.
Unfortunately I’ve not had any involvement in these certificates for many a year but maybe there are UK teachers reading this who could. that’s if they are not overwhelmed with student assessments)