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 have a panic attack, and it was necessary to give them a Calming Draught to lower their anxiety.
Due to the serious and important nature of the tests, cheating is both highly tempting for the students and highly guarded against by the exam givers. Anti-Cheating Spells are applied to all O.W.L. exam papers. Despite this, at least one student attempts to cheat every year, though none have been successful since 1896.
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.
- Written: Levitation Charm, Cheering Charm, Counter-charm for hiccoughs.
- Practical: Take an egg cup and make it do some cartwheels, Levitation Charm, Colour Change, and Growth Charms.
- Practical: Fanged Geranium
- Written: Werewolves
- Practical: Counter-jinxes and Defensive Spells, Riddikulus, Patronus Charm (for bonus points).
- Written: Translation of Ancient Runes like "ehwaz".
- Written: Polyjuice Potion
- 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.
- 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.
- Written: Wand legislation, Goblin riots of the eighteenth century; Statute of Secrecy breach; Formation of the International Confederation of Wizards and explain why the Warlocks of Liechtenstein refused to join.
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.
- Monday – Charms
- Tuesday – Transfiguration
- Wednesday – Herbology
- Thursday – Defence Against the Dark Arts
- Friday – Study of Ancient Runes
- Monday – Potions
- Tuesday – Care of Magical Creatures
- Wednesday – Astronomy, Divination or Arithmancy
- Thursday – History of Magic
- Muggle Studies – not specified
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.
- Outstanding [O]
- Exceeds Expectations [E]
- Acceptable [A]
- Poor [P]
- Dreadful [D]
- Troll [T]
Confirmed O.W.L.s received by subject
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).
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Mentioned only)
- 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
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- 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))
Notes and references