What is the conversion from NSC to A Levels?


I take the National Senior Certificate and I want to apply to the UK - how can I compare my marks to an international syllabus to see how good I am?


It is difficult to give a straightforward answer to this. A levels are undoubtedly a big step up from NSC. Here is a useful way of considering the conversion.

Within South Africa, AS levels are considered to be equivalent to the NSC. However, the depth of content in AS levels is generally greater, and, for example, standard AS Mathematics is quite similar to NSC Advanced Programme Mathematics in content and difficulty. This is true across most subjects, as AS levels will generally give you a more developed understanding of the subject.

The full A-level qualification is significantly more in-depth than the NSC syllabus, and is more comparable to South African first year syllabi. If you are applying to a UK university, you may in some cases be expected to take a bridging course, to catch up this difference. Cambridge, for example, does not accept standard NSC or IEB qualifications, and requires a post-matric with CIE or IB be completed. In others, the required entrance mark will simply be higher than for a South African university. As a fair number of South African students end up studying in the UK, there are definitely provisions made for this, and it is by no means inaccessible to someone scoring decently in their NSC examinations. While A levels do offer a distinct advantage, it is very possible to remain competitive in university, with a good work ethic and the right attitude.

Best of luck!

Can you apply to Cambridge with IEB?

UK University entrance requirements can be found on their respective websites, and most offer an expected achievement level in the IEB.

As Daniel mentioned, in 2009, one year after the first year of NSC, the UK NAIRC (UK governmental organization to compare international syllabi), found:

  • The features of the NSC indicate a qualification with an underlying level that is both robust and fit for the purposes of examining senior secondary school levels. In terms of the qualification’s comparability, the report concludes that the National Senior Certificate at Grade 12 is broadly comparable to the GCE AS- level.

  • For those candidates who undertake the IEB Advanced Programme in Mathematics, the report is satisfied that the additional content is more reflective of the requirements of the GCE A level. Furthermore, it is noted that there are considerations to develop an advanced paper for English Home Language, it could be surmised that an advanced paper could further enhance the comparability of the subject to GCE A level standard.

Where the AS syllabus is equivalent to the penultimate year of study at UK universities, and the A-Level is written in the final year.