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Ordinary Wizarding Level

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OWLS 1996

O.W.L. examination of Theory of Charms in 1996.

"Ordinary. Wizarding. Level. Examinations. More commonly known as O.W.L.'s. Study hard and you will be rewarded. Fail to do so and the consequences may be… severe."
Dolores Umbridge to a fifth-year's class[src]

An Ordinary Wizarding Level (often abbreviated O.W.L.) is a subject-specific test taken during Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry students' fifth year, administrated by the Wizarding Examinations Authority. The score made by a student on a particular O.W.L. determines whether or not he or she will be allowed to continue taking that subject in subsequent school years.

As well as referring to the test that students take in their fifth year, the term "O.W.L" also refers 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" is used to refer to a class in which the student has 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 test for that class.)

Preparation for both O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s is very hard work. Students will 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, crack under the pressure, and it was necessary to give them a Calming Draught to lower their anxiety.


Most O.W.L.s are divided into written exams and practical exams. The O.W.L. is comparable to the Muggle "O level" exam 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 in Scotland, but wizards are under no obligation to change their examinations when Muggles do. Strict measures, such as Anti-Cheating Quills and Anti-Cheating spells, are used to prevent academic dishonesty. Among the examiners were Griselda Marchbanks and Professor Tofty .




Defence Against the Dark Arts

Ancient Runes

  • Written: Translation of Ancient Runes like "ehwaz".


Care of Magical Creatures

  • Practical: Identify a knarl hidden among a dozen hedgehogs; Demonstrate correct handling of a bowtruckle; Feed and clean out a fire crab without sustaining serious burns; Choose from a wide selection of food the diet they would give a sick unicorn.
Books chapterart ootp 31

Harry and Hermione attending the Astronomy exam.


  • Written: Identify all of Jupiter's moons.
  • Practical: Look at the telescope and fill in the blank star‐chart with the precise positions of the stars and planets they were observing.


History of Magic


O.W.L. exams are administered over a period of two successive weeks at the end of fifth year. Those exams that are 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.

First week

Second week


O.W.L. scores

If a student fails an O.W.L. and still wishes to retake it, they are presumably held back in that class. This was the case for Marcus Flint; Professor Severus Snape also remarked in 1996 that Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle need to pass their Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.

Passing grades

Failing grades

Confirmed O.W.L.s received by subject

Subject Known Students Who Achieved O.W.L. Notes
Study of Ancient Runes Hermione Granger, Bill Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bathsheda Babbling
Arithmancy Hermione Granger, Bill Weasley, Percy Weasley, Septima Vector

Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, 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, Silvanus Kettleburn, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank It was never mentioned that Charlie earned a pass, but it seems likely since he works directly with magical creatures.
Charms Albus Dumbledore, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Alicia Spinnet, Cedric Diggory, Filius Flitwick, Nymphadora Tonks, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lily Evans It is noted that Augusta Longbottom failed her Charms O.W.L.
Defence Against the Dark Arts Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, Terry Boot, Lavender Brown, Michael Corner, Seamus Finnigan, Anthony Goldstein, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Ernie Macmillan, Draco Malfoy, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Quirinus Quirrell, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, Nymphadora Tonks, Lee Jordan, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Pansy Parkinson Most of these were members of Dumbledore's Army, which contributed to their high scores.This is the only course Harry Potter received an "Outstanding" in, and Hermione Granger did not.
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.
Herbology Hannah Abbott, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, George Weasley, Pomona Sprout, Herbert Beery Notably the only subject that George Weasley took that Fred Weasley did not. Evidently Fred failed Herbology.
History of Magic

Hermione Granger, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Cuthbert Binns, Bathilda Bagshot

As this is known to be an extremely boring subject, given Professor Binns' droning lecture style, most students find it impossible to pay any attention and thus almost impossible to get a good O.W.L. score on.
Muggle Studies Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Arthur Weasley, Quirinus Quirrell, Charity Burbage Although it is never confirmed that Arthur earned a pass in this subject, it is likely due to his fascination of Muggles and his work in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office.
Potions Terry Boot, Michael Corner, Hermione Granger, Ernie Macmillan, Draco Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Severus Snape, Horace Slughorn, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Nymphadora Tonks
  • Professor Snape's favoritism of Slytherin students may be part of the reason Slytherin students tend to do well in this subject. The students may have simply done well enough to get in, as seen by the example of Harry Potter whom Snape particularly hated.
  • 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.
Transfiguration Albus Dumbledore, Agusta Longbotom,Lavender Brown, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Katie Bell, Cedric Diggory, Fred Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Minerva McGonagall, Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Alastor Moody, James Potter I
  • Neville's "Acceptable" O.W.L. did not qualify him for N.E.W.T. level.
  • Notably the only subject that Fred Weasley took that George did not. Evidently George failed Transfiguration.

All of the O.W.L.'s listed above (except for Neville's Transfiguration O.W.L., and possibly Harry's and Ron's Astronomy O.W.L.s) qualified for an advancement to N.E.W.T.-level classes.

Behind the scenes

  • O.W.L.s are comparable to the GCSE exams taken by students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Standard Grade exams in Scotland, as well as the formerly used Ordinary Levels that these exams appear to be named after, being taken around the same age and studied for two years before examination. A Scottish student would typically only sit 8 standard grades, while English, Welsh and Northern Irish students typically sit 10.
  • 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.
  • The only known characters to receive all twelve O.W.L.s are Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, and Barty Crouch Jr. However, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is revealed that attempting this would cause a timetable clash; 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). Therefore, Percy, Bill, and Crouch Jr would have had to have done something similar to be able to study all twelve subjects too. However, it should be noted that Barty Crouch Jr. 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 Sr., although given the Crouch's strong links to the Ministry the idea of Barty Crouch Jr. acquiring a Time Turner is more 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).


See also

Wizarding Education
Beauxcrest Hogwarts shield DurmstrangCrest
The Eleven Schools: Beauxbatons · Castelobruxo · Durmstrang · Hogwarts · Ilvermorny · Koldovstoretz · Mahoutokoro · Uagadou
Specialised schools: Academy of Broom Flying · Charm School · Euro-Glyph School of Extraordinary Languages · Merge School of Under-Water Spellage · Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts
Examinations: First year exams · Second year exams · Third year exams · Fourth year exams · Ordinary Wizarding Level · Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test
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
Extra-curricular classes: Apparition · Advanced Arithmancy Studies · Ancient Studies · Art · Flying · Frog Choir · Ghoul Studies · Hogwarts orchestra · Magical Theory · Muggle Art · Muggle Music · Music · Xylomancy

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