A-Level or Australian Matriculation: Which should it be?

The Pre-University stage is vital for many students, since their selected programme and their subsequent performance will determine the pathway for their studies and whether they can enter top universities. In many ways, it is a life-changing decision.

When it comes to choosing the right course after high school, many students are uncertain of what they should do.

They often face a daunting variety of options: external programmes such as Cambridge A Level and Australian Matriculation, Foundation studies, Diploma programmes and vocational schools, all of which have very different characteristics.

This article will focus on two Pre-U programmes: Cambridge A Level and Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT), which are the two most common Pre-U programmes amongst private education institutions in Malaysia.

Students are required to go through Pre-U studies which generally take up to two years to complete, before they can pursue their degree.

Below are some of the factors to be considered when choosing between Cambridge A Level and AUSMAT.

Assessment style

The Cambridge A Level is 100% examination-based. There are two external exams; AS Level and A2 Level.

Students sit for the AS examination at the end of the first year, while the A2 is completed within the second year. The final grades are based on both exams.

The subjects of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics have practical examinations. If you prefer a study module similar to SPM and IGCSE, then A Level would be suitable for you.

AUSMAT is 50% examination and 50% continuous assessments. These continuous assessments may include topical tests, presentations and projects, plus practical or written assignments.

Students are also required to pass an Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA). If you prefer to be graded continuously and not based solely on one exam, AUSMAT would be more suitable for you.

International recognition

The Cambridge A Level is one of the most well-established Pre-U programmes around and is recognised by top universities around the world, including Ivy League universities. It is often used as a benchmark for university placements.

Contrary to popular belief, AUSMAT graduates are not restricted to Australian universities. They are frequently able to receive offers from universities in Hong Kong, New Zealand, UK and even public universities in Malaysia. Their entry depends on their ATAR score.

Malaysian public universities have opened their doors to students taking A Level and AUSMAT in recent years, but only for selected courses.

Recognition by professional bodies

Some degrees do not have subject prerequisites, but professional bodies tend to only recognise specific Pre-U programmes and degrees.

A classic example would be attaining the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) to practice law in Malaysia.

The governing board not only recognises law degrees from specific universities in certain countries, but also specific Pre-U programmes.

Subject prerequisites and preferred subjects

Certain subjects in A Level or AUSMAT may be compulsory in order to be eligible for a particular degree course. For example, Physics and Mathematics are prerequisite subjects for most Engineering degree programmes.

Preferred subjects are subjects that universities “prefer” students to have passed before undertaking a degree.

These subjects are usually relevant to a degree even though they are not prerequisites. Preferred subjects are sometimes referred to as traditional or heavy weight subjects.

Students are advised to research the course they wish to pursue in order to avoid any shortcomings.

Options after Pre-U

A Level or AUSMAT graduates are more versatile and tend to have more options compared to Diploma and Foundation graduates, both in terms of what degree to pursue and which university to study in.

Therefore, they still have time to consider their options whilst studying in Pre-U.

However, subject prerequisites still apply. Students who do not take Science subjects in Pre-U typically cannot pursue Science degrees later on.

A Level and AUSMAT are suitable for students who know what they want to study but at the same time still want to explore other options.


A Level takes two years to complete, but many institutions in Malaysia offer it as an 18-month programme.

The 18-month option is for students who wish to join right after SPM in January and want to study in the UK immediately after completing their A Level, as the annual intake for UK universities is in September.

Those who miss this window usually end up waiting one entire year for the next intake.

AUSMAT begins in January and is completed by the end of the year, making it perfect for students who want to further their studies in Australia as intakes for Australian universities are between February and March.


A Level would cost between RM30,000 to RM50,000.

AUSMAT is slightly more affordable at RM15,000 to RM35,000.

Students need to factor in that degree programmes would cost significantly more, especially for Science degrees.

It is therefore wise to select an affordable Pre-U institution in order to save funds for the next academic milestone because at the end of the day, universities recognise the Pre-U qualification and not the provider.

Article contributed by Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, Tel: 03-2274 1851, Website: www.mckl.edu.my.