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Picking a Pre-U Programme - Part 2

by on December 3, 2014 | Top Stories, Pre-University Programmes & Foundation Studies

Move over SPM, here's to a new and exciting future! As you make your way to the next phase of your life, there will be some important education decisions to make. Are you planning to pursue a bachelor's degree? If you are, read this four-part article to find out what's the best pre-university programme for you.

In part one, we explored foundation programmes offered by private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in Malaysia. In this second part, we will look at the Cambridge A levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.

The A level programme

The A level programme is the most popular pre-university programme offered by PHEIs in Malaysia. Also known as the Advanced Level programme, the A levels is comparable to the Sixth Form in Malaysia and is awarded by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).

If you've had seniors telling you that SPM is easy-peasy compared to A levels, there's probably some truth in it. But don't freak out, of course it has to be harder, this is pre-U and not high school. A levels take up to 18 months to complete and depending on the intake you've enrolled in, you may complete it sooner but have a more demanding class schedule.

Students typically take 3-4 subjects - the subjects offered and its combination varies from one college to another, so you need to check that out before enrolling. If you have an idea what bachelor's degree you plan to pursue after your A levels then you need to make sure you take the correct combination of required subjects. If you haven't decided what you want to study at degree level, you still need to narrow down your field of interest so that you can pick the subject combination that gives you the most advantage later.

So if the A levels is so difficult, why is it still so popular among students?

The A levels has long been considered the "gold standard" for pre-university qualifications. It is a rigorous programme that prepares students for their university studies. Here are some reasons why the A levels could be an option for you:

  • If you haven't decided what and where you want to study at university, the A levels (in the right combination) gives you many options in choice of course and university as it is a qualification accepted globally.
  • If you are vying for a scholarship, the A levels is one of the most highly regarded qualifications used as a benchmark for academic achievement.
  • If you plan to apply for a top university, chances are they will consider A levels a better gauge of your academic prowess compared to internally awarded pre-university qualifications.

So if you think A levels is up your alley, here's where you can check out where you can enrol for this programme:

Name of pre-university programme: Cambridge GCE A Level Programme
Qualification awarded by : Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), UK
Intake(s): January, March, July
Duration: 1.5 years
Examination: June (for Jan & March intakes), November (for July intake)
Examples of providers: Disted College; INTI International University; KBU International College; KDU University College; SEGi University; Taylor's College; Tunku Abdul Rahman University College

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma

Picking a Pre-U Programme - Part 2 Created in Switzerland in 1968 for students in international schools, IB is now offered in 143 countries. The IB diploma has gained popularity for setting high standards and emphasising creative and critical thinking, so if it's a challenge you're looking for, this could be the course for you. If you're independent and like to be responsible for your own learning, you will enjoy this programme. Students are encouraged to learn from their peers and actively critique each other's work. The curriculum will develop you physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically; and prepare you with a positive attitude towards learning.

The curriculum

Students must choose one subject from each of five groups (1 to 5), ensuring breadth of knowledge and understanding in their best language, additional language(s), the social sciences, the experimental sciences and mathematics. Student may choose either an arts subject from group 6, or a second subject from groups 1 to 5.

  • Group 1: studies in language and literature
  • Group 2: language acquisition
  • Group 3: individuals and societies
  • Group 4: sciences
  • Group 5: mathematics
  • Group 6: the arts

The IB boasts of a holistic approach that prepares students well for university. Students need to write an extended essay - an independent, self-directed piece of research culminating in a 4000-word paper. In addition, they study Theory of Knowledge - a subject devoted to encouraging students to critically think about knowledge itself and the ways in which we learn - and participate in Creativity-Action-Service - a programme which enables students to share their creative talents, to engage in energetic activities and to develop an awareness and concern for their community and beyond.


Students need to complete assessment tasks in the school; and take written examinations at the end of the programme. Exams are in May and November.

Where it's Offered

The IB diploma is offered at Taylor's College and takes 24 months to complete.

Missed Part 1? Click here for Part 1. Checkout our Part 3 and Part 4 here too.

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