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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 level for 16-year-olds, and advanced level for 18-year-olds. There was also an intermediate level alternative ordinary level (AO-level) and a higher special paper (S-level). 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, in some areas, including Derbyshire, letters were brought in, similar to those adopted later for GCSES[citation needed].

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 Malta, the British examinations are still very popular, though their popularity has been in decline since the introduction of a similar examination scheme by the University of Malta[citation needed].


Normally, students take the O-Levels at age 16 after completing Secondary 4. 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 after junior college, 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 candidates.

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


Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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