General Certificate of Education

General Certificate of Education

The General Certificate of Education or GCE is an academic qualification that examination boards in the United Kingdom and a few of the Commonwealth countries, notably Sri Lanka, confer to students. The GCE traditionally comprised two levels: the Ordinary Level (O Level) and the Advanced Level (A Level). More recently examination boards also offer an intermediate third GCE level, the Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS Level) replacing the earlier Advanced Supplementary level.



The GCE was originally introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1951, replacing the older School Certificate (SC) and Higher School Certificate (HSC). It was intended to cater for the increased range of subjects available to pupils since the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1947. The examinations were graded into ordinary levels for the top 25% academically of 16-year-olds and CSE for the lower level. A Levels were the subsequent examination for those that studied for a further two years after O-Levels or CSE's. There was also an advanced ordinary level (AO-level), which was at a higher standard than O Levels but designed for more mature candidates. These were often in addition to O-Levels in subjects that the student was particularly adept at. A higher special paper (Special Paper S-level) was available to A-Level candidates who showed particular prowess in a subject, scoring a distinction in this paper meant that the candidate was in the top 0.1% of the year group. In 1988, GCE O-Levels were phased out in state schools in favour of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). GCE A Levels were retained.

Grades were originally numbers 1 to 9, with 1 to 6 considered pass grades. However, later, letters were brought in, similar to those adopted later for GCSEs.

GCE 'O'-level is still available and is an alternative to the GCSE exam which was introduced in the late 1980's to replace the CSE (certificate of secondary education).

Worldwide use

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, students who wish to attend university in the United Kingdom usually take part in the British examinations in addition to Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE), despite the equivalent gradings granted by UK universities between the two sets of examinations, for students tend to attain better grades in the British examination. The English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong runs schools that follow the British patterned education, and students take GCSE in Years 10–11 and AS/A Level exams in Years 12–13, although the schools are transitioning to the IB Diploma.


In Pakistan, India, and Nepal, A-Levels are becoming more and more popular, compared to the traditional 10 +2's which work instead of the A-Levels.[citation needed] The main reason for the increasing popularity of A-Levels in developing countries is the emigrating youth to Western European and North American countries[citation needed]. Hebron School is a renowned excellent center of education offering (only) the GCE and A-Levels, in Ooty, India.


Up to 1978, GCE examinations in Malaysia were conducted by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, when two agencies of the Malaysian Ministry of Education took over the role with UCLES retaining an advisory role on standards.

The GCE O-Level equivalent is the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM, formerly known in English as the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE)), conducted by the Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia (LPM, the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate). The SPM is taken by all fifth-year secondary school students in Malaysia. The SPM English Language paper is graded separately by the LPM and by UCLES (which still awards a GCE O-Level for the paper), and both grades are displayed on the results slip.

The GCE A-Level equivalent is the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM, formerly know in English as the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (HSC)), conducted by the Majlis Peperiksaan Malaysia (MPM, the Malaysian Examinations Council). The STPM is taken by students after a two-year sixth form course. The STPM is accepted for admission to universities worldwide.


Pakistan also runs the GCE education level. Some of Pakistan's top schools offers this course. A student educated in Pakistan currently holds the world record for attaining the highest number of "A's" in A-Level. Ali Moeen Nawazish scored 21 A's in GCE Advanced Level. Another student, Ibrahim Shahid achieved same feat in GCE Ordinary Level along with Syed Zohaib Asad who holds the current record.[citation needed]


Students take the O-Levels after completing Secondary 4 at age 16 for the Special and Express streams, or Secondary 5 at age 17 for the Normal streams. After that, they have the option to go on to a junior college for two years in preparation for the A-Levels or study a vocational trade and earn a diploma at a polytechnic or technical school. Increasingly, students who perform well in school are given the option to bypass the O-levels and take the A-Levels, in a scheme dubbed the integrated programme (also known as the through-train programme).

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka GCE Ordinary Level and GCE Advanced Level examinations are conducted by the Department of Examinations of the Government of Sri Lanka. The GCE(O/L) is normally conducted in the month of December and GCE (A/L)s are conducted in the month of August. They are conducted on an island-wide examination centres on same time. Examination entrance is restricted by a minimal number of formal school going years and laboratory field work. The majority of candidates enter the exams via their respective schools, while candidates who have finished school education can also apply as a private CLIENTS

The O/L examination is regarded as the qualification examination for starting on GCE(A/L). Specialization streaming is depended on the grades obtained for subjects in the O/L. The country's reputed schools admit students to their A/L, depending on the O/L grades.

The Sri Lankan University Grants commission determines the cut-off points for the selection of students to the Sri Lankan universities according to the grade points obtained in the A/L examinations based on the normal distribution.[1]

See also


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