- "What you must remember, is that these examinations may influence your futures for many years to come! If you have not already given serious thought to your careers, now is the time to do so. And in the meantime, I’m afraid, we shall be working harder than ever to ensure that you all do yourselves justice!"
- — Professor Flitwick explaining the importance of O.W.L. exams to fifth year students[src]
An Ordinary Wizarding Level (often abbreviated O.W.L.) was a standardised subject-specific test taken during Hogwarts students' fifth year, administrated by the Wizarding Examinations Authority. The score made by a student on a particular O.W.L. determined whether or not they would be allowed to continue taking that subject in subsequent school years, and whether they might have been successful in obtaining a particular job.
As well as referring to the test that students take in their fifth year, the term "O.W.L" also referred to the type of class, i.e. the level of difficulty of the class the student is taking. In addition, "achieving an O.W.L" was used to refer to a class in which the student had passed their O.W.L exam (example: Harry Potter received an O.W.L. in Transfiguration by attaining a passing grade on the O.W.L exam for that class.)
- "O.W.L.s are really important, affect the jobs you can apply for and everything."
- — O.W.L.s’ effect on the future[src]
Due to the serious and important nature of the tests, preparation for both O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s was very hard work. Students would generally begin preparing for their O.W.L.s in their fourth year, in order to take them at the end of their fifth. The pressure was enough to make certain students (such as Hannah Abbott) have a panic attack, and it was necessary to give them a Calming Draught to lower their anxiety.
These examinations in sort determined what type of career students would be able to obtain once their education had been completed. Some careers required certain subjects to be taken at N.E.W.T. -level and with a passing grade or in some cases top grades. In order to be admitted into a class at N.E.W.T. level, a student first had to achieve an 'Outstanding' or 'Exceeds Expectations' at O.W.L.-level in order to cope with the upcoming course work, which would be much more advanced. Minerva McGonagall would not let Neville Longbottom into her N.E.W.T. Transfiguration class, because he did not achieve a high enough grade, which meant that Neville would have not had the skills or knowledge in that field to reasonably keep up with the significantly more challenging coursework.
Successfully completing the O.W.L.s was a sign that the student was trustworthy enough to be a law-abiding citizen who could learn from their mistakes. Thus, any such students who were expelled would be permitted to keep their wands and continue to practise magic, though this would be a sign of disgrace forever tainting their permanent record, as Newton Scamander underwent.
Cheating was also both highly tempting for the students and highly guarded against by the exam givers. Anti-Cheating Spells were applied to all O.W.L. exam papers. Auto-Answer Quills, Remembralls, Detachable Cribbing Cuffs, and Self-Correcting Ink were all banned from the examination hall as well. Despite this, at least one student attempted to cheat every year, though none known were successful since the year 1896.
- "Ginny's O.W.L.s were approaching and she was therefore forced to study for hours into the night."
- — A typical O.W.L. study routine[src]
Students such as Ernie Macmillan studied eight or nine hours a day in order to ensure good results'. The day before exams, fifth year students in Gryffindor spent the entire day reviewing subject content that could appear in their exams. Harry Potter quizzed Hermione Granger by asking her question from the book Achievements in Charming. Hermione became so agitated that she accidentally hit Harry in the nose with the sharp corner of the book, after having snatched it back in order to check her answers.
Ron Weasley spent his time reading two years' worth of Charms notes with his fingers in his ears, his lips moving soundlessly. Seamus Finnigan laid flat on his back on the floor, reciting the definition of a Substantive Charm while Dean Thomas checked it against The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5. Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown practised basic Locomotion Charms, by making their pencil-cases race each other around the edge of a table.
The evening before the exam was uncomfortable. Every fifth year was trying to do last-minute revising, but nobody seemed to be getting very far. All the fifth year boys were lying awake, but no one in the dormitory spoke. None of the fifth-years talked very much at breakfast the next day, either. Parvati was practising incantations under her breath. Hermione was rereading Achievements in Charming so fast that her eyes appeared blurred. Neville Longbottom kept dropping his knife and fork and knocking over the marmalade.
Students also studied in between exams, practising wand movements and whispering incantations under their breath. Students also went straight to their common rooms after meals and submerged themselves in revision for whatever exams they had the next day. Ginny Weasley was also forced to study for hours into the night and spend much time within the Hogwarts Library.
- "I think it appropriate to remind you that next June you will be sitting a important examination, during which you will prove how much you have learned about the composition and use of magical potions. Moronic though some of this class undoubtedly are, I expect you to scrape an ‘Acceptable’ in your O.W.L., or suffer my... displeasure."
- — Professor Snape regarding the potions exam[src]
Most O.W.L.s were divided into written exams and practical exams. The O.W.L. was comparable to the Muggle "O level" given at the same stage of education (the "O" standing for Ordinary). In 1988, this examination was replaced by the G.C.S.E. in England and Wales and the Standard Certificate level in Scotland, though in recent years the Standard Certificate has been replaced by National 5s in Scotland, but wizards were under no obligation to change their examinations when Muggles did.
Strict measures, such as Anti-Cheating Quills and Anti-Cheating spells, were used to prevent academic dishonesty. Among the examiners were Griselda Marchbanks and Professor Tofty. When a practical examination started, students would be called in alphabetically, by either first or last name.
O.W.L. exams were administered over a period of two successive weeks at the end of fifth year. Most exams were divided into two parts: students will sit the theory portion in the morning and the practical portion in the afternoon, with the exception of the Astronomy practical exam, which occurs at night.
The exact days for the O.W.L.s was unknown, but it was known that seven of the O.W.L.s were held in this order.
- Care of Magical Creatures
- History of Magic
- Defence Against the Dark Arts
It is unknown when the Astronomy, Divination, Arithmancy, Muggle Studies and Study of Ancient Runes O.W.L.s took place.
|Defence Against the Dark Arts||Thursday|
|Practical: Unknown; given the highly theoretical nature of this discipline, its exam may consist solely of a written section. Although it could be that the practical section may consist of oral and reporting parts and recognising certain Runes with the naked eye.|
|Care of Magical Creatures||Tuesday||Written: Unknown|
|Practical: Look at the telescope and fill in the blank star‐chart with the precise positions of the stars and planets they were observing.|
|Divination||Wednesday||Written: Unknown; possibly contains questions of describing various methods of divination, mind and concentration techniques and practical theory; it is presumably generally easier than the practical part of the exam.|
|Practical: Unknown; given the highly theoretical nature of this discipline, its exam may consist solely of a written section. Although it could be that the practical section may consist of application methods and calculations of several magical forces and devices including numbers and numerology.|
|History of Magic||Thursday|
- Muggle Studies – It was not specified when this exam was taken, or what components it included.
If a student failed an O.W.L. and still wished to retake it, they were presumably held back in that class. Professor Severus Snape remarked in 1996 that Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle needed to pass their Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.s, and that he gave them detention for this.
- Outstanding [O] (always continues to N.E.W.T.-level)
- Exceeds Expectations [E] (usually continues to N.E.W.T.-level)
- Acceptable [A] (rarely continues to N.E.W.T.-level)
|Subject||Known Students Who Achieved O.W.L.||Notes|
|Study of Ancient Runes||Hermione Granger, Bill Weasley, Percy Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Bathsheda Babbling|
|Arithmancy||Hermione Granger, Bill Weasley, Percy Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Septima Vector|
|Astronomy||Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr., Aurora Sinistra||Harry and Ron's O.W.L.s may or may not have allowed them to continue to N.E.W.T.-level, though it is unknown as neither of them chose to apply for the subject in either case.|
|Care of Magical Creatures||Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Charlie Weasley, Angelina Johnson, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Silvanus Kettleburn, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Luna Lovegood (possibly), Jae Kim||
It was never mentioned that Charlie earned a pass, but it seems likely since he worked directly with magical creatures.
|It is unknown Luna Lovegood achieved an O.W.L. in this subject, but seeing as she became a professional Magizoologist in her adult life, it was very likely.|
|It was also very possible that Luna's husband Rolf Scamander achieved an O.W.L. in this subject as well, considering he was also a Magizoologist.|
Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Alicia Spinnet, Cedric Diggory, Barty Crouch, Jnr., Filius Flitwick, Nymphadora Tonks, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lee Jordan, Isobel Ross, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Ben Copper (possibly), Talbott Winger, Luna Lovegood (possibly), Jae Kim
|Augusta Longbottom failed her Charms O.W.L.|
|Isobel Ross, the mother of Minerva McGonagall, most likely achieved an O.W.L. in this subject, as she excelled in Charms and graduated top of her class in the subject.|
|It is one of the subjects in which students are required to pass an O.W.L. with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror.|
|It's possible that Ben Copper gained a O.W.L. with an O in this subject, because charms normally reserved in the subject was merged into Charms class, and he was well-versed in Charms and Martial magic. It was his best subject.|
|Defence Against the Dark Arts||Lavender Brown, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Ernie Macmillan, Draco Malfoy, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Quirinus Quirrell, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Pansy Parkinson, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Talbott Winger, Ben Copper (possibly), Luna Lovegood (possibly), Jae Kim||Most of these were members of Dumbledore's Army, which contributed to their high scores.|
|This was the only course Harry Potter received an 'Outstanding' in and Hermione Granger did not.|
|It was possible that Lyall Lupin achieved a O.W.L. in this subject, as he was world-renowned authority on Non-Human Spirituous Apparitions.|
|It was one of the subjects in which students were required to pass an O.W.L. with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror.|
|It was possible that Ben Copper gained a O.W.L. in this subject, because charms normally reserved in the subject was merged into Charms class, and he is well-versed in Charms and Martial magic.|
|Divination||Parvati Patil, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Sybill Trelawney||Lavender Brown may also have achieved an O.W.L. in this subject, given that she and Parvati are usually mentioned as being the most enthusiastic, interested and diligent in this class.|
|Harry Potter failed this exam, given that it was his worst subject. Ron Weasley also failed this exam.|
|Herbology||Hannah Abbott, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Pomona Sprout, Herbert Beery, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Talbott Winger, Nymphadora Tonks, Jae Kim||Neville Longbottom achieved an 'Outstanding' O.W.L.; Herbology is noted to be his best subject, and he later worked as a Professor of the subject himself.|
|It is one of the subjects in which students are required to pass an O.W.L. with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror.|
|History of Magic||Hermione Granger, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Cuthbert Binns, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Talbott Winger, Rowan Khanna (possibly), Nymphadora Tonks, Ismelda Murk (possibly), Jae Kim||As this was known to be an extremely boring subject, given Professor Binns' droning lecture style, most students found it impossible to pay any attention in this class, and thus almost impossible to get a good O.W.L. score in.|
|It was one of the subjects which Talbott Winger was required to pass with O.W.L. an with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror, oddly enough.|
|It was likely that Rowan Khanna and Ismelda Murk gained top marks in their O.W.L.s in this subject, as it was their best subject.|
|Harry Potter received a 'Dreadful' on this O.W.L., as he passed out halfway through the exam.|
|Muggle Studies||Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Arthur Weasley (possibly), Quirinus Quirrell, Charity Burbage||Although it was unknown if Arthur Weasley gained any qualifications in this subject, it is likely due to his fascination of Muggles and his work in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office.|
|This was a class that Hermione Granger wanted to study due to her Muggle status, but was dropped due to conflicting schedules.|
|Potions||Terry Boot, Michael Corner, Hermione Granger, Ernie Macmillan, Draco Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Pansy Parkinson, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Severus Snape, Horace Slughorn, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Nymphadora Tonks, Padma Patil, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Penny Haywood (possibly), Talbott Winger, Merula Snyde (possibly), Jae Kim|
|This was said to be a rather difficult subject to achieve an high O.W.L. score in. Only twelve students were able to make it to N.E.W.T.-level in 1996; four Ravenclaws, four Slytherins, three Gryffindors, and one Hufflepuff.|
|It was one of the subjects in which students are required to pass an O.W.L. with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror.|
|Lily Evans most likely achieved an high O.W.L. score in this subject, given that she had an instinctual understanding of potion-making (according to Horace Slughorn.|
|Transfiguration||Lavender Brown, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Katie Bell, Cedric Diggory, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jnr, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Alastor Moody, Jacob's sibling (possibly), Talbott Winger, Jae Kim|
|It is likely that the Marauders progressed to N.E.W.T.-level in this subject considering; Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were able to perform Untransfiguration on Peter Pettigrew, James Potter's wand was excellent for Transfiguration, and Pettigrew was able to perform conjuration, which is taught at N.E.W.T.-level.|
|It is one of the subjects in which Talbott Winger was required to pass an O.W.L. with a grade of E or O in order to have prospects of becoming an Auror.|
|It is possible that Augusta Longbottom received a high O.W.L. score in this subject, considering that she wanted her grandson Neville to take it at N.E.W.T.-level.|
Behind the scenes
- O.W.L.s are comparable to the formerly used Ordinary Levels (known as "O-Levels") that these exams appear to be named after, being taken around the same age and studied for two years before examination.
- In their Charms exam, students are called in order by last name, alphabetically. However, Harry Potter and Hannah Abbott are called at the same time for their Transfiguration exam, which may mean Transfiguration O.W.Ls are called in order of first name.
- The only known characters to receive all twelve O.W.L.s are Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, and Barty Crouch Jnr. However, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is revealed that attempting this would cause a timetable clash during that year; Minerva McGonagall had to write several letters to the Ministry in order to obtain a Time-Turner for Hermione Granger so that she would be able to attend all her classes when she attempted to take all twelve subjects in her third year (although she ultimately dropped two when she was not able to cope with so many subjects). It is unclear how Percy, Bill, and Barty Crouch Jnr were able to make a similar accomplishment as Hermione's was the only Time-Turner to ever enter Hogwarts according to J.K. Rowling. It should be noted that Barty Crouch Jnr obtaining twelve O.W.L.s was mentioned by his father during a bout of insane rambling due to the damage to his mind from fighting the Imperius Curse and could have been a delusional mistake on the part of Barty Crouch Snr. On the other hand, all three had parents connected in some way with the Ministry, so this is fairly plausible.
- Harry Potter and his year all begin studying for their O.W.L.S as early as the beginning of fourth year. It is unknown whether this is the case with other years at Hogwarts or if it was a precaution so students didn't forget their work whilst the Triwizard Tournament was being held.
- In third year in Danish it is known as A.L.N. (Almindeligt Troldmands Niveau) which is a directly translation of Ordinary Wizarding Level, but not directly translation of OWL. In fifth year in Danish, however it is known as U.G.L. (Udmærkelse for Genialitet og Lærevillighed) which needs an E to be a correct translation of O.W.L., this is not a direct translation of Ordinary Wizarding Level.
- In early editions of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Hermione Granger is said to receive eleven O.W.L.s, scoring ten O's and one E. However, after the events of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione shrunk her class load from twelve subjects to ten, dropping both Divination and Muggle Studies. This was corrected in the Scholastic edition, where Ron instead states the she received nine O's and one E, giving her a total of ten O.W.L.s.
- It is interesting to note that the passing grades of O.W.L. exams are vowels (A, E, and O), while the failing grades are consonants (P, D, and T).
- In the film version of Half-Blood Prince, many more students are seen studying N.E.W.T. level Potions. Interestingly, both Romilda Vane and Katie Bell are seen in this class, despite the fact that Romilda is a fourth year and Katie is a seventh year.
- In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, players can guide Jacob's sibling to gain at least an A in 7 subjects:
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (First mentioned)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film) (Mentioned only) (Not Danish)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (video game) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Appears in flashback(s))
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (play) (Mentioned only)
- Pottermore (Mentioned only)
- Wizarding World (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
- Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (Mentioned only)
Notes and references
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 31 (O.W.L.s)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 29 (Careers Advice)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 5 (An Excess of Phlegm)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 15 (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 27 (The Centaur and the Sneak)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 9 (The Half-Blood Prince)
- "EXCLUSIVE: J.K. Rowling tells SnitchSeeker about Newt's expulsion from Hogwarts, more"
- HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX - 2nd Draft
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 25 (The Seer Overheard)
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 5, "Ordinary Wizarding Levels" Achievement
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 13 (Detention with Dolores)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 28 (Snape's Worst Memory)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 15 (The Unbreakable Vow)
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery (see this image)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 17 (A Sluggish Memory)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 15 (The Hogwarts High Inquisitor)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 20 (The First Task)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 21 (The Unknowable Room)
- Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Remus Lupin" at Wizarding World
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 11 (Hermione's Helping Hand)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 12 (Professor Umbridge)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Epilogue (Nineteen Years Later)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 22 (Owl Post Again)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) - Chapter 8 (The Half-Blood Prince)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 14 (Felix Felicis)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 12 (Silver and Opals)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 24 (Sectumsempra)
- Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Time-Turner" at Wizarding World
|Core classes||Astronomy · Charms · Defence Against the Dark Arts · Herbology · History of Magic · Potions · Transfiguration|
|Elective classes||Alchemy · Arithmancy · Care of Magical Creatures · Divination · Muggle Studies · Study of Ancient Runes|
|Extracurricular classes||Apparition · Advanced Arithmancy Studies · Ancient Studies · Art · Flying · Ghoul Studies · Magical Theory · Muggle Art · Muggle Music · Music · Xylomancy|
|First year exams · Second year exams · Third year exams · Fourth year exams · |
Ordinary Wizarding Level · Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test