Complete Guide to A Level in Malaysia
What is A Level?
A Level in Malaysia (also known as GCE Advanced Level) is a pre-university programme that students pursue after their SPM, O Level or Year 11. Following the UK education system, this 100% exam-based course is equivalent to STPM and is suitable for students who are academically inclined. In short, students who do well in exams will excel in this programme.
It is known as “the passport” into any university locally or globally. It is a globally accepted entry requirement into universities around the world, especially for entrance into top universities in the United Kingdom (Russell Group) and the United States (Ivy League).
Students who intend to pursue competitive courses like medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, engineering and law would benefit from taking this programme compared to any other pre-university programme. This is particularly because the programme covers subject topics with more depth, thus creating a strong knowledge foundation for students later on.
Difference between Cambridge A Level (CAL) and Edexcel International Advanced Level (IAL)
||Administered by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), a not-for-profit organisation that belongs to the University of Cambridge.
||Administered by Pearson International, the only privately owned examination board in the UK.
||As they have been around for about 150 years, it is more well-known and recognised than IAL.
||Established in 2013, it is recognised by fewer universities than CAL. However, the list of universities is growing.
||Has over 50 subject choices spanning various fields of study.
||Has 14 subject choices at the time of writing, with more being added.
||Linear structure where students take all subjects concurrently. Each subject is broken down into two parts, hence two examinations, i.e. AS Level (beginner) & A2 Level (advanced).
||Modular structure where students complete a set of subjects in one semester before moving onto another set of subjects in the following semester.
||June & November
||January & June
How is A Level structured?
In Malaysia, most institutions offer the Cambridge A Level (CAL) programme, which follows a linear structure. This means students will be studying the same subjects throughout the duration of the course in ascending difficulty. Subjects are broken down into a fundamental level (called Advanced Subsidiary, AS) and a more complex level (called A2). Thus, students will sit for two examinations per subject, where the examination marks are averaged to produce a final score for that particular subject.
Upon successful completion, students will receive either A*, A, B, C, D or E grade for each chosen subject. The grading system follows a bell curve, which means a student’s final grade will be dependent on the overall performance of everyone taking the examination that year. Students can, however, use the table below as a reference point.
||90 - 100
||80 - 89
||70 - 79
||60 - 69
||50 - 59
||40 - 49
Why study A Level in Malaysia?
Anyone considering this programme should know that:
- It is a highly respected qualification that is recognised by institutions around the world.
- It is the preferred pathway by Ivy League (United States), Russell Group (United Kingdom) and Group of 8 (Australia) universities.
- It is highly recommended that anyone pursuing competitive degrees in fields like medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering and law take this programme to secure their best chances at admissions.
- It is also a safe option for anyone who is not sure what to study for their degree course.
- It offers general knowledge and critical thinking as subjects, producing graduates who are capable of not only excelling theoretically but in the real world.
Is A Level your ideal choice?
This programme is definitely for you if...
- You aim to study in a top university like the Ivy League or Russell Group universities. Top universities have competitive entry requirements and prefer common standardised testing methods.
- You prefer studying and taking exams rather than assignments, group presentations and field studies. Even though this programme does require students to participate in group assignments and presentations, emphasis is still given to student’s examination performance.
This programme might be for you if...
- You plan to study a competitive course like medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering or law. Scoring well in this programme will give you an edge in the admission to these competitive courses.
- You want to keep your degree course options open as you are not exactly sure what to study. As the programme is so widely respected, you will not have an issue taking the course first and leaving the decision of what and where to study later.
- You like in-depth knowledge on a few specific subjects. Due to the small number of subjects taken (i.e. 3 or 4), you will be able to delve deep into the topics to build a strong knowledge base on these topics.
This programme might not be for you if...
- You know exactly what degree course you want to study, and where. If this is the case, you should consider a Foundation course instead, which is a quicker entry option (1 year versus A Level's 1.5 years) into your degree of choice.
- You want a degree course that is practical and hands-on like hospitality, design, art and architecture. Any degree course that may require practical experience or portfolios as part of the entrance requirement would benefit from another course as A Level is a very examination-heavy programme.
This programme is certainly not for you if...
- You dislike taking exams. This is because 100% of your grade will be dependent on how well you are able to recall and show understanding of the subjects during the examination. Thus, if examinations are not your forte, it is best to give this programme a skip.
What subjects should you take for A Level?
Should you take 3 or 4 subjects?
You should take 4 subjects if...
- You have a very strong and disciplined work ethic.
- The university or scholarship providers requires a minimum of 4 A Level subjects.
- You want a competitive edge for courses such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and engineering.
You should take 3 subjects if...
- You want to remain focused on your subjects and are confident in scoring well.
- If you are intending to pursue law, business and humanities (as 3 subject is more than sufficient)
3 things to consider when choosing subject combinations
1. Prioritise theoretical subjects rather than vocational subjects.
Theoritical subjects are generally preferred and regarded highly by universities for degree admissions.
- Theoretical subjects are the more “traditional” subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, English Literature, Economics, Law and History.
- Vocational subjects are the more “modern” subjects like Media Studies, Business Studies, Information Technology, Art and Design.
2. Choose subjects that will meet the entry requirements of your intended degree.
Most degrees have a required subject combinations that students are expected to have in order to gain an admission. Having an idea on which university you are planning to study in will enable you to plan your subjects more accurately. Here is a reference on compulsory and recommended subjects for some fields of study:
|Field of Study
|Accounting & Finance
|Business & Management
|Computer Science & Information Technology
||Further Mathematics, Physics
|Health, Medicine & Pharmacy
||Law, Economics, Psychology
3. Choose subjects that you can score well.
It’s not all about “the perfect combination”. You need to be able to score to meet the entry requirement of your chosen degree. That said, a good subject combination also takes into account your strengths and passion. Students who are passionate about what they’re studying are more likely to score higher.
What should you do if you are not sure what to study?
Students who are not sure about their next course of action should “play it safe” by taking a subject combination that is “universally acceptable” in most degree courses. You can use the following 3 steps to secure your subject combination.
1. Choose Mathematics and Chemistry as the “must” subjects to have.
2. Determine whether you would be able to score and cope with the workload of 4 subjects.
3. If YES, choose both of the subjects below. If NO, choose 1 of the 2 subjects below.
Do you have to take Mata Pelajaran Pengajian Umum (MPU) subjects?
In September 2013, the Ministry of Education (MOE) Malaysia mandated that all students are to complete a set of Mata Pelajaran Pengajian Umum (MPU) subjects. Thus, any students taking A Level in Malaysia must sit for these subjects. The MPU subjects are broken down into 4 main components, U1, U2, U3 and U4 which represent art & history, soft skills, general knowledge and community management respectively.
Entry requirements of A Level in Malaysia
- Students must achieve a minimum of 5 C's including English with a pass in Bahasa Melayu & Sejarah (History) in SPM, O Level or equivalent programmes.
- Students who intend to pursue a degree in the field of the sciences will need to achieve a C in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and/or Biology.
- Students intending to pursue Medicine, Dentistry or Pharmacy will need a minimum of 5 B’s, which include Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and one other subject.
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