Through my personal decision of switching from O Level to Matric after my first year in college and from observing other people’s struggles, I pride myself in knowing all the cracks and fissures of both the education systems.

After reading an opinion piece in these pages a few weeks ago, where I student shared his views in favour of O Level and the Cambridge system of studies, I felt it imperative to share a few points for students to think about when choosing one of these as the suitable path for you.

ago, where one student shared his views in favour of O Level and the Cambridge system of studies, I felt it imperative to share a few points for students to think about when choosing one of these as the suitable path for themselves.

Be open-minded as you read them. Do not, in any way, think whatever I say is set in stone. You are a unique being and therefore function in a way different from others. What may work for me may not work for you and vice versa.

Know your endgame

I’m not going to ask you to have tunnel vision, because that is not at all realistic. But you must have at least some idea about the kind of future you desire. I have seen people who are on the verge of their career-defining years and still have no idea what they want to pursue, which leads them to being extremely stressed out or end up making a decision that turns out to be not the best one in their case.

Ask yourself which subject — whether it may be school-related or not — fascinates you the most and take a cue from there.

If you intend to study medicine in Pakistan, go for Matric because the biology taught in both the systems is almost the same. You’ll finish up quicker than you would while doing O Level. This can be helpful in the future, as the medical field requires more years of study than other fields.

For math-related fields, go for O Level as the math taught in O Level is a lot more challenging, and thus useful in higher studies.

For languages, both systems are good enough. As long as you’re reading something on a daily basis, you’re on the safe side. That is why many parents do not want their kids to pursue anything in arts and literature, because they know that the minute the child loses even a little bit of motivation, they might not do so well and so the sciences become a more stable option.

The matter of finances

One thing adults drill into children’s mind is that they must not stress about finances because their only job is to study. And to some extent, they’re right.

But you should care about the finances. However, do not prioritise money so much over your education that you end up paying no attention to your studies because you were too busy counting the figures.

Matric is very affordable. And in today’s economy, it’s a smarter choice too. The cost of O Level books alone can pay for your whole two years of Matric education.

If you do go into O Level, then save up some money by getting second-hand books or borrowing them. That alone saves a huge chunk of cash.

As for your monthly school tuition, my only advice is to work hard to get a merit scholarship or apply for a need-based scholarship.

You will get awarded some amount of scholarship which, from my personal experience, wasn’t a lot but it was enough to not burden my parents too much. But of course, your CAIE fees have to be paid in full.

Higher studies

A very easy way to find which system would work for you in school is to choose whether you prefer Intermediate or A Level at college.

Now you must be thinking, what’s the point of the article if you’re just going to ask me to choose another system? But here’s the thing, this decision is a lot easier because they contrast strikingly.

A small summary of both: Inter, in government-owned colleges, is very economical if you compare it to A Level college fees. Furthermore, study-wise, the course in Intermediate is a slight increase in terms of difficulty level as compared to both O level and Matric syllabus, while A Level students are taught things that many here study at the university level.

The level of difficulty

Ah, yes, this is something Matric and O Level students often argue about. Both proclaim their system to be more challenging than the other.

Here’s what I’ve gathered: they’re both equally difficult because, to get good grades, you have to work hard. Yes, there is a difference in the method of study required, but good grades are difficult to come by in both if you take studies lightly.

My suggestion is to choose your struggle, the kind of hard work you are ready and capable of doing. See what you find less difficult to overcome. It all depends on your personal skills.

The subjects

Matric students are required to appear in five subjects per year, i.e. in ninth and 10th, and the subjects are compulsory, depending on the field — science, commerce or arts — you have selected.

On the other hand, in O Level, you will have to appear in eight subjects in Pakistan, with Urdu, Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies as compulsory, and most schools make the students take the exams of these three subjects first and the rest in the final year of school.

However, students can take optional additional subjects besides these. It is better that you do take up an optional subject as it can help widen your options for college and university.

The course

The O Level books are a lot more interesting to read and you’ll be studying subjects and topics in a lot of detail. This helps to imbed the concepts well in your mind. Some subjects and their syllabus are such that you can do self-study and give the exam if you wish to do so.

On the other hand, the Matric books are quite bland and if you don’t have a teacher beside you, you cannot comprehend most of the concepts. This makes self-studying quite difficult, but since you’ll be studying a subject for just one year, many students find the syllabus less burdensome.

The method of study

Let’s bust a myth — Matric is not all about memorisation, especially when it comes to science subjects. If you understand the chapters well and keep revising them, subconsciously, you will memorise them. And, to be honest, your examiner is not going to spend their time comparing your paper to what is written in the book. Just memorising diagrams and headings will be good enough.

O Level is the king of conceptual studies. Your examiner will actually read your work, because there is no concept of ‘filling the page’. You will always be advised a certain word limit within which you have to work. But when it comes to key-words and phrases, O Level is just the same as Matric; if you don’t memorise the correct terms, you will not be given any marks.

To leave or not to leave

If you are not planning to study abroad, choose Matric. But if you are planning to leave, opt for O Level as that has more value internationally.

Personally, I believe it’s quite unnecessary to do O or A Level if you’re just going to stay in a Pakistani university (many apologies to my peers) because, in the end, you’ll just be competing with Matriculation and Intermediate students who have paid a lot less than you and even saved one year.

And the worst part is that many reputed professional universities have a limited number of seats that they make available to A level students, so the competition is tougher for these students.

Research and listen

I cannot stress this enough. Please research and see what criteria your future field has for its candidates. And listen. But you should know who to listen to. Don’t ever listen to your classmates. They’re the same age as you and have no experience.

Listen to people older than you and especially to those who are in university or have just finished, because they can relate with your struggles and they never sugarcoat anything.

It’s all about your input

In the end, no matter which system you choose, you will have to work hard in it. There are no shortcuts in life. Your future boss or workplace won’t hire you on the basis of Matric or O Level, they’ll hire you based on your skills and work ethic. And remember, this is your decision. Not anyone else’s. Good luck!

Published in Dawn, Young World, September 14th, 2019