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 exam for that class.)
Due to the serious and important nature of the tests, 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.
Cheating is also 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 the year 1896.
- 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.
- Written: one of the questions was the definition of a Switching Spell
- Practical: Vanishing spell (one of the most complicated spells taught at Ordinary Wizarding Level)
- Written: ?
- Practical: Fanged Geranium and other plants
- Written: Question ten - name five signs that identify the werewolf
- Practical: Counter-jinxes, Defensive Spells, Riddikulus, and Patronus Charm (for bonus points).
- Written: Contains a question about Polyjuice Potion (it is noted that the written exam is quite difficult)
- Practical: ?
- Written: ?
- 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] (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)
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, Barty Crouch, Jr., Bathsheda Babbling|
|Arithmancy||Hermione Granger, Bill Weasley, Percy Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jr., Septima Vector|
|Astronomy||Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jr., 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, Jr., Silvanus Kettleburn, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank||
|Charms||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, Jr., Filius Flitwick, Nymphadora Tonks, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lee Jordan||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, Barty Crouch, Jr., 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 didn't.|
|Divination||Parvati Patil, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jr., 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, Barty Crouch, Jr., Pomona Sprout, Herbert Beery||
|History of Magic||Hermione Granger, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jr., Cuthbert Binns||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, Barty Crouch, Jr., 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, Barty Crouch, Jr., Severus Snape, Horace Slughorn, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Nymphadora Tonks||
|Transfiguration||Lavender Brown, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Ron Weasley, Fred Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Katie Bell, Cedric Diggory, Percy Weasley, Bill Weasley, Barty Crouch, Jr., Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Alastor Moody||
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 (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. A Scottish student would typically only sit 8 subjects, 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, 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 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