FSc vs A Level

FSc vs A Level

For every Pakistani student who takes exams of various British examination boards (like O Level/IGCSE through Edexcel/CIE), there comes this crucial stage where decision making for future studies becomes hard due to the mixed opinions that exist  among people concerning the choice between A Level and FSc/Intermediate of Science (Inter). This indeed is a moment when all of your future depends upon the choice you make. There is no room for experimentation, for you risk crushing your dreams to pieces if you take the wrong turn.  On one hand, there is the undeniable quality education of A Level that will hand over to you an international degree, and on the other hand, there is the local education system where it’s easier to score marks, and perhaps even easier to adapt to certain higher studies that you will be pursuing afterwards.
In order to assist you in your final decision, there are certain questions and points that we want to highlight for you, based on our personal experiences as students who have just gone through this process as well. We recommend that you go through the entire article as a whole even if the concerned point is not of your interest, for there is vital information throughout. It would be appropriate to point out, at this stage, that the target audience of this article are O Level/IGCSE students, however, others may also find it useful.

EQUIVALENCE

WHAT IS THE EQUIVALENCE?

Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost. The Pakistani education system is based on Matric and FSc scores. Matric scores are numerical values, calculated out of 900, and FSc scores arenumerical values calculated out of 1100. There are no grades. All undergraduate/bachelor programs in college require, in one way or another, a conversion of your O/A Level grades into these numbers. So how are your grades from the British educational system translated into Matric/FSc marks?  The answer is simple: equivalence.
After you complete your A Level, you will be going to the IBCC (Inter Board Committee of Chairmen) board office for having equivalence certificate made, which is basically the conversion of your grades to marks of Matric and FSc, so your results can be assessed as per the local educational system. All of your grades are converted as follows:
Grades
A*
A
B
C
D
E
F (before June 2010)
G (before June 2010)
Marks (outof 100)
90
85
75
65
55
45
40
35

So even if you achieve the highest grade you can achieve, the glorious A* (which we all know is no piece of cake), in both of your O and A Levels, the maximum percentage you will achieve will be no higher than 90%. That might sound like a lot, but there are Matric/FSc Students who easily get beyond 95%! It sure is unfair when we consider all the hard work we put into achieving our grades, but there’s no way you can avoid it if you want to study in Pakistan.

HOW IS THE EQUIVALENCE CALCULATED?

Now, coming towards the conversion itself, if you’re a local Pakistani student, eight O Level subjects will be counted. Of these eight, the five compulsory subjects are English Language, Urdu (doesn’t matter if it’s First Language Urdu or Second Language Urdu), Mathematics, Pakistan Studies, and Islamiyat. The other three are elective subjects you choose depending on which category you fall in, for example, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry for pre-medical students. At A Level, three subjects are counted, which are, again, outlined in different categories, for example, Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry for pre-engineering students.
The Matric marks are calculated simply by adding up all of the eight O Level subjects’ equivalent marks, dividing the sum by eight hundred, and then multiplying the answer by nine hundred to render it out of nine hundred. For example, if a student gets 4 A*s, 3 Bs, and 1 C, the total of all of these will be:
(4 x 90) + (3 x 75) + (1 x 65) = 650
Upon dividing 650 by 800, we get 0.8125, which, when multiplied by 900, gives the equivalence for Matric as: 0.8125 x 900 = 731.25 marks out of 900.
The FSc marks are calculated in a more straightforward fashion. All they do is add up your eight O Level subjects’ marks and add to them your three A Level subjects’ marks. The answer will be your FSc marks out of 1100. For example, if the same student continues to get 2 As and 1 B at A Level, his/her FSc marks are:
[(4 x 90) + (3 x 75) + (1 x 65)] + [(2 x 80) + (1 x 75)] = 885 marks out of 1100.
If you read this carefully, you would have noticed that your equivalence majorly depends on your O Level grades. Not only are your Matric marks, obviously, calculated by your O Level grades, but even in the calculation of your FSc marks, your O Level grades take up 8/11 of the final marks. This is a significant point, the importance of which will become clearer later.
More details about the entire ordeal of equivalence can be found athttp://ibcc.edu.pk/equivalence-detail.php.
Different universities and colleges for different programs in Pakistan use the equivalence in the calculation of your aggregate differently. However, all of them do take this into consideration as it is a useful means of assessing where you stand with reference to the enormous pool of Matric/FSc students that will be applying alongside you.

DO YOU WISH TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THE FIELD OF MEDICINE?

If becoming an MBBS doctor (or going into nursing, dentistry, and the like) is your all-time dream, then it’s high time that you consider your O Level grades, whether you can afford a private institution for medicine or not, and whether you wish to go abroad instead of continuing your study in Pakistan or not.
If you are affluent enough to get into local private institutions, then no need to worry; head over for the quality work of A Level. Even if you can’t bear the expenses, the game is not over yet.  The government institutions for medical education in Pakistan cost nominal fees, however, it should be noted that they hold a limited amount of open-merit seats that are offered to the highest scoring students.
Now, there are certain facts about studying MBBS/BDS that you should be aware of as well. Firstly, to get into government universities (this applies to Punjab) in general, your final aggregate must easily be above 85%. To get into a prestigious government university like King Edward Medical University, Allama Iqbal Medical College, Nishtar Medical College, Fatima Jinnah Medical University, and so on, you must aim for a 90% at the very least. How is this aggregate calculated? Out of the 100%, 10% is derived from your Matric score, 40% is derived from your FSc score, and 50% is derived from your entry test score (known as the UHS MDCAT). Thus, 50% of your aggregate comes from your O and A Level grades (Matric and FSc marks), while 50% of it comes from the entry tests.
Out of that 50% of your aggregate derived from your O and A Level grades, upon calculation, it becomes clear that 39.1% is based on your O Level grades, if you choose to pursue A Level. The 10% consisting of Matric marks is derived 100% from your O Level grades, and the 40% FSc marks is derived 72.7% from your O Level grades and only 27.3% from your A Level grades. Please read this paragraph very carefully, as it’s easy to get confused. I repeat, from the 50% of your aggregate, first thing is that you can’t get more than 45% even if you get all A*s, simply because A*s are counted at 90%. Secondly, of that 45%, roughly 40% is coming from your O Level grades, while A Level grades are only affecting the remaining 5%.
On the other hand, if you choose to pursue FSc instead of A Level, your O Level will only affect 10% from that 50% that is based on your academic scores, and the remaining 40% will be entirely, from scratch, based on whatever numbers you get in FSc.
Hence, it boils down to whether your O Level grades are good or not. If you’re a straight A* student, or someone who has gotten 5-7 A*s at the very least, you have the ball in your court. You may choose to go for A Level, get A*s and As (we’re assuming that if you managed to get that many A*s in O Level and are really wanting to pursue medicine, then you will be studying hard and intelligently to get A*s in A Level too) and have a decent 40% to 45% out of the 50% reserved for your academic scores. On the other hand, you may also choose to go for FSc and get a high score, perhaps above 1000 out of 1100 and really amp up your game. However, this can be risky as you will see later, it’s not always simple to perform well in FSc after O Level, so your safest bet will be A Level.
However, the scores and equivalence aren’t the only factors to consider. The other half of your aggregate, the 50% derived from your performance in the entry test for government medical colleges/universities, will also be affected indirectly by your decision of choosing A Level over FSc or vice versa. It is a fact that tens of thousands of students apply for open-merit seats at government colleges for medicine, and the overwhelming majority of that consists of FSc students. Thus, the entry tests are also based on the FSc syllabus, which in some aspects differs immensely from the A Level syllabus. What this means is that after you’re done with your A Level exams, you’re going to have to work twice as hard and cover the relevant chapters from FSc books for the entry test. That is easier said than done, and that is where many A Level succumb to the pressure. We don’t intend to scare you, but that is a reality.
Not only does this apply to government colleges, but even the private colleges, which, although have their own selection criteria and may or may not give that much emphasis on the entry tests, take entry tests also primarily on the FSc syllabus. You’re going to have to study FSc books one way or another. So, if you choose to study FSc in the first place, you will not have to do twice the work like you would have to if you choose to go for A Level. Furthermore, having the studying techniques under your belt from O Level means that you can understand and grasp FSc better than most FSc students as well.

BUT DOES SCORING STRAIGHT A*S IN O LEVEL REALLY MEAN YOU COULD COMPETE IN THE NEVER-ENDING WAR OF MERIT LISTS IN MEDICINE?

Firstly, clear your head of any misconception if you think that merely having straight A*s in O Level will lead you to an equally glamorous result in A Level. The gap between O Level and A Level is tremendous; it’s such a huge jump, it’s definitely going to give you hard time at the very start. David Lascelles, Lecturer in Biology and Health and Social Care, says on Quora:
“The main issue with A level is the nature of the questions. GCSE can be passed with rote learning and that is how some teachers deliver it. However, A level requires a lot more higher level thinking. You have to understand the topics well enough to improvise answers. So for that you need to step away from a GCSE knowledge based approach (learn this knowledge and you'll be fine) to a more difficult 'here is a situation you may never have seen before, use your knowledge of X to work out Y' that is seen in A level. Many students fail to make that leap. I have seen many A and B grade GCSE students who failed A levels for that reason.”(Source: https://www.quora.com/Is-A-level-study-different-than-O-levels)
So even with straight A*s in your O Level, you know where you stand.  There is a long road ahead of you, requiring dedicative study, overtiring and exhausting work, in both A Level and the undergraduate programs you will study.  We do not mean to discourage you; all we’re saying is that, though not impossible, the chances of an A* in A Level are always very rare. Hence, if you do decide upon going for A Level, then be mentally prepared to develop studying strategies right from the start, which we will outline another time.

STILL CONFUSED?

For public colleges, you need to consider two main factors. Firstly, if your O Level grades are not good, go for FSc because choosing A Level and even getting 3 A*s is not going to help your case, as of the 50% of your aggregate reserved for academic scores, 39% will be coming from your O Level grades. On the other hand, if you choose FSc you have the opportunity of compensating for your low O Level grades as, in that scenario, of the 50% of the aggregate reserved for academic scores, only 10% will be derived from your O Level grades, and the rest will be entirely based on your performance in FSc. Secondly, you have to consider your preparation for the entry test. If your O Level grades aren’t good enough then you’d naturally go for FSc and thus, the entry test issue will also be resolved as it is based on FSc as well. However, if your O Level grades are great and you aim on getting amazing A Level grades too, even then you may opt for FSc if you feel that you will not be able to keep up with the burden of studying both A Level and FSc books, however, our personal recommendation is that if you have good O Level grades, go for A Level as it is not entirely impossible to ace the entry test without having done FSc. All it takes is immense dedication, which in itself is necessary for becoming a doctor, so it’s in your best interest to go for A Level unless any other reason becomes a hindrance.
Concerning private colleges, as it was said, if you can afford them, go for A Level too. Yes, even for their entry tests you’re going to have to go through the FSc books. However, they normally aren’t as competitive as government colleges, because, obviously, the people who manage to score aggregates high enough to get into a government college will definitely go for them as they are much cheaper, leaving behind the A Level lot more or less and other FSc students who aren’t as competitive, so there you will be competing more or less with people of your own caliber and aggregate. Hence, if private colleges are a backup option, then go for A Level, exert yourself for the government entry tests, and if you succeed, well and good, otherwise, private colleges will be available as well. If you’re aiming for Aga Khan University, in that case you need a strong O Level result anyway, following which you will naturally opt for A Level, get a strong result there too, and since you’re going to be aiming to be among the best of the best for a university of that standard, you’ll naturally put in all of your effort in FSc books too to pass their entry test (which is difficult for everyone), and in the process, perhaps even ace the entry tests for the government colleges, and thus, have all options open for you.
Finally, if you’re going abroad directly after A Level/FSc, then go for A Level in all circumstances for reasons you will come across later too. Whether it is a good idea to study undergraduate abroad for medicine or not is another topic.

WHAT ABOUT ENGINEERING?

What we’ve written about medicine, quite similarly applies to engineering as well, so even if you aren’t going for medicine, do give the previous section a good read. There is a similar procedure as it is for medicine where your Matric/FSc equivalence and entry tests of respective universities hold different percentages in the final selection. At the time of writing this, some universities even allot a much higher percentage to entry tests than in medicine. For example, Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute (a private college) states that their entry tests contribute a whopping 85% to your final aggregate! Some keep it at 50% and others at less than 50%. Furthermore, entry tests are, of course, based on FSc syllabus as they are in the case of medicine. Some institutes like FAST-NU and LUMS are open to admissions on the basis of the SAT/SAT Subject Tests as well. It will be in your best interest to consider your financial situation among other factors and jot down which universities you will want to apply. Following that, look up their admission criteria and how much percentage they normally hold for the entry tests. Local entry tests are almost always based on the FSc syllabus so keep that in mind. If your O Level grades are great and the entry test doesn’t hold a ridiculously high amount of significance, then go for A Level. If the O Level grades aren’t that great, then consider going for FSc, but that is an oversimplification. Read on until the end to get a clearer picture. In case your dream university accepts the SAT too then go for A Level altogether and give the SAT tests at the appropriate time.

ARE YOU AIMING FOR CAREERS OTHER THAN ENGINEERING/MEDICINE?

In Pakistan or abroad, private institutions or government institutions, open-merit seats or self-finance seats—whatever the case may be, there is much less competition in fields outside the scope of medicine and engineering. Even average grades of Bs and Cs at O Level and A Level will land you safely anywhere you wish to go. In fact, this obsession that people have with A*s in our society is a huge topic to talk about in itself.
Considering the merits you get with A Level, it will be much wiser to go for A Levels instead of the local FSc.  Moreover, chances of getting a job are much higher with A Levels, since you have developed skills needed to cope in practical life and because employers love A Levels. Everyone realizes the worth there is in the students taking A Levels, it is definitely going to make you stand out among other candidates.
In A Level you don’t have to be bothered about unnecessary subjects or burden. You get to choose a limited number of subjects of your choice that you wish to study and put all of our effort in them. Doing FSc from prestigious universities such as GCU is something you might want to consider, but generally A Level will be appropriate for you regardless of whatever career you are aiming for.

WHAT IF YOU DON’T EVEN INTEND TO DO FURTHER STUDY IN PAKISTAN?

Whether you are going for engineering, medical, law, arts, business, and so on, if you have chance of going abroad and a strong financial standing to back you up, don’t think twice, choose A Levels. A Level is an international degree and is going to give you an edge everywhere you go. A Level students are definitely seen as more confident, skillful, knowledgeable, and reflective.  A Level, will no doubt, give you a chance to stand out take out your abilities, as well as teach you to apply the knowledge you learn in practical situations Not only that, but all institutions abroad, globally, acknowledge these abilities of A Level students. Moreover, A Level prepares you for university. The education system develops habits like thoroughly studying, building concepts, understand the syllabus material and not just memorizing it, approaching situations with critical thinking, and so on, all of which will be immensely useful once you enter the more advanced level at university. There will be many out there to guide you through the process in the A Level system and giving tests such as the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests, going through the college application processes, applying for scholarships, and so on, is much easier when you’re in this circle.

IS FSC HARDER THAN A LEVELS?

There never is a definite answer. Nothing comes easy. Efforts always have to be made to get something worthwhile. Though these two systems are totally different, you could never compare their complexity. While the FSc system contains more subjects and syllabus contents (you have to study Pakistan Studies, English, Islamiyat, Urdu, and so on alongside your choice of sciences or humanities) than A Levels, their evaluation system is not as advanced as A Levels, which is an understandable reality. It basically all depends upon your approach. With an O Level background, it will be much difficult to adapt to the local system of Inter but it doesn’t mean you will do great at A Levels.  Even with A*s at O Level, you will find yourself doing ten times the work you did at O Levels, with harder concepts. Both systems will require a strong degree of effort academically. If you’re the sort of a person who is looking for an “easy way out”, then, no offence, but it is our humble opinion that you should reevaluate your priorities and reflect upon who are you and who you want to be before even coming towards the topic of A Level and FSc.

THE TYPE OF PEOPLE, OPPORTUNITIES, ENVIRONMENT, AND SO ON IN A LEVEL AND FSC

Beyond what we’ve discussed so far, the lifestyle and environment offered at schools where A Level is taught might also be far more suitable for you than FSc environment. This is not to say A Level students are entirely superior to FSc students. We’re A Level students so we are in no position to pass a judgment on FSc based institutions without any personal bias that would pollute it, so we won’t delve into that. The point is, there are many O Level students who try out FSc and then come back to A Level simply because they couldn’t adjust. Similarly, although this is far rarer, Matric students who decide to pursue A Level might also have issues in adjusting into a different environment. If social skills aren’t your forte, do think about this as well. Consult other FSc and A Level students in your family/relatives/friends to get an idea of what sort of a lifestyle and opportunities you will be dealing with. There are good and bad students everywhere, expert and inexpert teachers everywhere, and efficient and inefficient institutions everywhere. Studies aren’t entirely everything, and although they should be your number one priority, extra-curricular activities and generally having a good time are all within your rights as a student and a teenager who is on the verge of entering young adulthood. These years will shape who you will become eventually and add to your personality. You don’t want two years of your life to be spent in regret, hence, consider all such factors when it comes down to it. We aren’t going to give a definite answer here but are merely highlighting the significance of this aspect as well.

DOES IT LOOK LIKE WE’RE FAVORING A LEVEL OVER FSC?

While it may seem that way, especially considering that we’re A Level students ourselves, this is certainly not the case. A Level students have unwarranted prejudices against FSc students, and FSc students have absurd preconceived notions about A Level students. We wish to bridge that gap. Please do keep in mind that this article is aimed at O Level students, not all students in general, nor only Matric students. If our target audience was Matric students for instance, certainly the content would have been different. Even then, to clear any confusion and remove any doubts in the mind of the reader, here is an as unbiased as possible list of the pros of both systems (for O Level students):

PROS OF FSC:

  • Compensation for an average or below average O Level result: If your O Level grades aren’t well enough, FSc is a great opportunity to compensate for them, because while the equivalence of FSc is equal to O Level + A Level grades, the score of FSc on its own is based entirely on FSc itself, not matric. What this means is, if you have an average or below average O Level result, and even if you manage to get 3 A*s at A Level, your FSc equivalence/aggregate would not have a significant impact as 8/11 of it will be based on your O Level result, so A Level grades have a minimal effect on it. On the other hand, if your O Level grades are average or below average, but then you ace the FSc exams, in the calculation of your final merit, while the 10% or so of Matric equivalence will be by O Level grades, the rest of the percentage will not affected by your O Level result and will be entirely based on your FSc score. This is a crucial point that needs to be thought about.
  • More likely to score well in entry tests: Studying the FSc syllabus using the studying methods and techniques you would have mastered by the end of your O Level will give you an edge over others in the entry tests of all private and public/government colleges/universities of Pakistan as they are more or less based on the FSc syllabus, and not the A Level syllabus.
  • Easy adaptability to environment in college: You’re going to have to adjust into a predominantly FSc based environment eventually at undergraduate level in Pakistan, especially in government universities/colleges, so might as well do that after O Level, if that’s something you’re concerned about.
  • Good for building a career in Pakistan: Although it’s hard to come up with such a decision this early, as one’s opinions change by the second at this time of one’s life, if you decide upon settling and building a career in Pakistan, especially in terms of careers in engineering and medicine, then go for FSc by all means. Choosing A Level will be, more or less, a silly choice to make.

PROS OF A LEVEL:

  • You can risk getting lower grades: If your O Level grades are exceptionally great, like 6-8 A*s, then getting a high score in FSc is not that much of a huge deal. In fact, you might even risk getting a lesser final percentage for FSc numbers (for any number of reasons, from not being able to adjust to the teaching methodology to simply being overwhelmed by the amount of subjects taught as Pakistan Studies, Islamiyat, etc. all  have to be studied at FSc too whereas in A Level you can simply choose three subjects) in the calculation of your merit compared to if you do A Level and get 2-3 A*s in the concerned subjects for your choice of undergraduate program.
  • Skills developed at A Level are worth it: Even if you’re aiming for a government university for engineering or medicine and fear the entry tests, it should be kept in mind that while it is very difficult, it is still possible to do exceptionally well on these tests and get a good score. It will require quite a lot of effort and there are differences in the A Level and the FSc syllabus that you will have to cover right after you’re done with your A Level exams, however, the skills you will have achieved during O and A Level will certainly help a lot, and with the right effort, anything is feasible. There are A Level students who get into government universities as well. The so-called curse of doing A Level when aiming for government universities is all a myth if you’re willing to put in the right effort. Be clear though that nothing less than an A* at A Level will be essential. You’re going to need as many A*s as possible to compensate for the marks you’ll lose in the entry tests. However, as has been said earlier, if you do manage to secure your O and A Levels, then you can use the efficient studying techniques you would have developed to ace your entry tests as well as undergraduate studies.
  • Less competition in private institutions: If you’re aiming for engineering/medicine but in a private university and have a great O Level result, then go for A Level as well. A Level won’t be much of a hurdle when it comes to private institutions. Yes, the entry tests might be prone to being FSc based simply because the majority of applicants in this country are FSc students, however, they are not as competitive as government universities. Logically thinking, the competitive students would get into government universities and would most likely choose to go there as well, because they are tremendously cheaper and affordable compared to private universities. The pool of students left behind will automatically contain A Level students who will be applying to private universities. It is very unlikely that a competitive student who has gotten into a decent government college would still opt for a private college, so private colleges generally become more open to A Level students. Now whether private colleges are better than public colleges is a whole different topic for another time.
  • Still more: If you’re a business/humanities/law/art student who wants to study in Pakistan, and engineering/medicine is not your aim, go for A Level. In your aim of pursuing universities like LUMS, IBA, NCA, and so on, A Level will not be a hindrance at all. This also applies if you want to pursue undergraduate studies abroad and are adamant in your decision, for giving the SATs and other such tests, filling out college applications, and so on, will be a much easier experience if you choose A Level. You will feel more at home in an A Level environment. In fact, if you are such a student, you shouldn’t even be reading this article in the first place! Make sure you perform well in your A Level examinations, remain proactive in your college application processes, give it your best shot, aim for A*s (and great scores in tests like the SAT), and enjoy your time while you’re at it through extra-curricular activities and achievements as well.

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