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Choosing a Pre-U Programme: Exam-Based or Coursework-Based?

Published by on May 21, 2019, 01:13 am

There are many ways in which students go about choosing a pre-university programme after they have finished with their SPM. There’s comparing the cost, the duration, the price… and of course, the assessments.

This is also a common mistake that students go through when making this decision—though they know they’re not good with exams, they go into an exam-based pre-u programme not knowing what to expect. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand!


When we say exam-based, what do we really mean? What would typically fall under this category would be A-Levels, but there are also other pre-u courses that you perhaps didn’t know were (mostly) exam-based.

1. A-Levels

A-Levels is known to invoke a sense of familiarity among students as it is 100% exam-based, with an emphasis on academics as opposed to coursework or group-based assessments. This may be stressful as you’ll spend a lot of your time buried in books, but if you’re the type of person who scores better during exams, then this could be for you.

Several institutions in Malaysia specialise in A-Levels, such as:

2. Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT)

Australian Matriculation can be divided into two main subsets, the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) or Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT). While both have assessments that comprise exams and coursework, SACE has a division of 70% coursework and 30% exams.

AUSMAT, on the other hand, have an equal measure of exams and coursework (50% each) so you will be spending as much time cracking the books as you will in completing your coursework. While this may be a good thing when you need something to fall back on, this could also prove a challenge in balancing both aspects of the assessments. It can surely teach you to manage your time better, though!

Some of the institutions in Malaysia offering AUSMAT are as follows:


STPM is more often than not referred to as the Malaysian equivalent of the A-Levels. While STPM does have project papers and field work, much like the school examination system, it does lean more heavily on centralised exams and is generally more academically-inclined.

STPM is offered by various secondary schools in Malaysia, though not all.

4. International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB is also frequently compared to A-Levels, in the sense that it is academically-inclined, though it is NOT 100% exam-based. IB promotes holistic education and the development of students in a balanced and well-rounded method; hence, in IB not only will you be studying but you will also engage in various extracurricular and volunteering activities outside of classes.

You may pursue IB in the following institutions across Malaysia as well as many others:

  • International School of Kuala Lumpur
  • Sri KDU International School
  • Cempaka International School
  • Mont Kiara International School


Pre-university options that are coursework-based give students much less restriction and a certain amount of freedom in completing their assessments. However, while coursework-based programmes have that advantage in attracting students, managing time and priorities become a major problem as students will have to balance coursework and study for year-end exams simultaneously.

1. Foundation programmes

Foundation programmes are considered the ‘fast track’ option and are often designed to give you an early taste of what undergraduate degree is like. Thus, much of the assessments consist of coursework that entails research papers and essays as well as assignments, and a final year-end exam.

Most private and international institutions in Malaysia offer foundation programmes, such as:

2. South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE International)

As mentioned previously, SACE International comprises 70% coursework and 30% exams. The programme leans more toward coursework and, similar to foundation programmes, has exams at the end of the semester or academic year.

SACE International, much like AUSMAT, is offered in the following institutions:

3. Canadian Pre-University (CPU)

CPU, like SACE, is made up of 70% coursework and 30% exams. The continuous assessment throughout the year helps to accumulate your marks towards your final grade instead of focusing on only one final exam or coursework.

4. American Degree Program (ADP)

Unlike other Pre-U programmes, what makes ADP unique is that it's a direct entry into your university level course. By joining the programme, you're technically already pursuing your degree. ADP also has a credit-transfer option, which allows you to transfer to a university overseas (typically in the US) after studying in Malaysia first. Thus, because it is a degree programme in its own right, the assessments mirror those of an undergraduate degree; that is, a mixture of both coursework and assessments.

ADP is offered in the following institutions across Malaysia:

For more information on pre-u programmes, you can see our other article comparing different features as well as the pros and cons of all the types of pre-u programmes here!

To find out more scholarships and courses, click here and here. is Malaysia’s no 1 higher education website that provides helpful information on courses, institutions and scholarships for students transitioning from secondary school to university level.

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