Should You Study Foundation or A-Levels?

A comparison of the two most popular Pre-University programmes.

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Student thinking about A-levels or Foundation in Malaysia.

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There are many types of Pre-University programmes available in Malaysia.

In case you are new to this, Pre-University (Pre-U) basically means a preparatory programme that every high school student must go through after SPM or O-Levels and IGCSE before they can proceed with undergraduate studies.

A popular but difficult decision to make when choosing a Pre-U programme is: Foundation or A-levels?

Here's a quick summary:

Cost: One of the cheapest Pre-U programmes, within RM 26,000 or less
Duration: 1 year
Flexibility: Not 100% transferable between universities and countries
Recognition: Mostly local
Assessment method: 70% exams, 30% coursework

Cost: One of the most expensive Pre-U programmes, up to RM 35,000 or more
Duration: 1.5 to 2 years
Flexibility: Accepted globally
Recognition: International
Assessment method: 100% exams

Let’s look into the details thoroughly below.

Differences between Foundation and A-levels


This 1-year programme allows you direct transition into an undergraduate programme by focusing on specific subjects related to the degree of your choice.

The most common foundation programme in Malaysia is either Foundation in Science or Foundation in Arts that offer subjects related to certain disciplines, such as social science and humanities, pure science, business, and more.

Some universities also offer a foundation year that is designed to lead students straight into specific undergraduate degrees, such as Foundation in Engineering, Communication, Technology, Computing, Psychology, Pharmacy and more. These foundation students can usually gain direct entry into the undergraduate courses offered by the same institution or their partner universities.

What is the curriculum like in Foundation?

Foundation courses in Malaysia are made up of three semesters. The assessment method includes 70% examination and 30% coursework. This gives students the opportunity to gain and practise transferrable skills (e.g. team work, public speaking, communication) instead of fully indulging in academics.

Students will learn about compulsory subjects relevant to their chosen field of study, such as Science, Arts, Engineering, Communication, and more. The curriculum also includes elective subjects like Basics of Accounting, Introduction to Business Law, and more.

However, it is important to take note that not all universities accept foundation studies as a Pre-U requirement. For example, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University College London, London School of Economics and Imperial College.

Requirements of Foundation Studies

In general, you need these grade requirements from your SPM/O Levels/IGCSE to be eligible for foundation studies.

Foundation in Arts:
5 credits including passes in Bahasa Melayu and Sejarah (History)

Foundation in Science:
5 credits including passes in Mathematics and one science subject

*These requirements differ according to university and the type of foundation programme they offer.

You should study Foundation if..

1. You have chosen a university for your degree.

If you already know where to pursue your Bachelor's degree, you can immediately take foundation in the same university and gain direct entry into the major that you want. Additionally, you can opt for the generic Foundation in Science/Arts if you still want to keep your degree options open within the same institution.

Taking a foundation year helps you adjust to the university setting and its subjects. You will also develop the right skills you need to proceed to undergraduate studies on top of gaining transferable skills.

(Also read: Versatile Degrees for Flexible Careers)

2. You are ready to thoroughly explore a specific industry.

You can spare yourself some time and dive straight into your passion. 

Aside from Foundation in Science and Arts, you have the option to choose a specific foundation course that immediately exposes you to the industry, such as Pharmacy, Psychology, Engineering, and more. With the necessary knowledge in relevant subjects, you get a head start in your journey towards your dream career.

As foundation courses in Malaysia are mostly accredited by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), you can still enrol in other institutions for your degree studies despite having a foundation qualification from another university.

3. You’re looking for a quick and cheap Pre-University programme.

With a duration of only 1 year, you will finish your Pre-U studies earlier than students taking A-levels and STPM. By the time you’re in your second or third semester of your degree, your peers might just be starting their first semester!

Tuition fees of foundation courses in Malaysia can be less than RM 10,000. This will save you plenty of money.

4. You’re confident in coursework projects.

Coursework is included as part of your assessment in foundation. If exams aren’t your strongest suit and you prefer coursework, then foundation is perfect for you. 

Not only will you have less exams and studying to do, your coursework - if done well - will easily pull up your grades!

How much is a Foundation programme?

The estimated fees range between RM 9,900 and RM 26,000. Tuition fees also differ based on the university you attend. You can compare them here.

Universities that offer Foundation programmes in Malaysia

These universities in Malaysia offer some of the best foundation programmes:

Explore more Foundation options.


Studying A-levels in Malaysia takes 1.5 to 2 years. Famously known as the ‘golden standard’ for Pre-University, A-levels is recognised and accepted globally. This means having higher chances of getting accepted into top universities around the world.

It will prepare you for undergraduate studies by equipping you with in-depth knowledge and understanding of various subjects that you can choose from.

What is the curriculum like in A-levels?

The curriculum is modelled based on the education system in the UK and is similar to STPM in Malaysia. The structure of A-levels emphasises your analytical skills and application of knowledge and theories. 

A-levels is exam-based, but certain subjects also require coursework assessments that will contribute to your final grades.

There are two stages in A-levels:

Stage 1 / AS Level: You will learn the basics of A-levels.
Stage 2 / A2 Level: You will explore the complex topics in the subjects you’ve chosen.

You are free to choose subjects or topics that will best benefit your future studies and career plans. You will also receive separate certificates for each subject you’ve taken and passed. 

While there are no compulsory subjects, you must take a minimum of three subjects. General subject options include:

Science & Mathematics:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Further Mathematics


  • Accounting
  • Business Studies
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Global Perspectives and Research
  • Law
  • Literature in English
  • Thinking Skills (AS Level only)
  • Psychology

*Subjects offered vary based on institutions. You can check the list of subjects here.

Requirements for A-levels

Some A-levels topics have minimum grade requirements at SPM or a high school equivalent level:

  • Further Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology

Here’s an example of requirements from the Cambridge A-levels offered by Taylor’s College:

SPM / O Level

Science: Minimum 5 credits including English
Humanities: Minimum 5 credits including English

Science: Minimum 3Bs including Mathematics, English and one Science subject
Humanities: Minimum 3Bs including Mathematics and English

You should study A-levels if..

1. You are determined to study abroad.

Overseas institutions including top universities accept A-levels. It is also highly regarded in the US, Canada, Australia and even Singapore, which gives you more options and better scholarship opportunities.

2. You still need time to decide on a degree.

A-levels subjects are like trial degrees before you spend 3 to 4 years studying that course. As you will spend an entire semester learning about a topic, you have a better idea of what to expect on an undergraduate level.

Compared to foundation that mostly leads you to a limited selection of degrees and colleges, A-levels gives you the chance to reconsider your degree choices after completing the pre-u programme.

3. You want to explore your options further.

Instead of juggling five or more subjects in other pre-u programmes, you get to explore and gain knowledge in a specific area to your heart’s content.

This allows your curious mind to explore your options first before you finally decide on a degree. Who knows - you might love two subjects so much that you want a double degree instead!

4. You are confident with written exams.

If you love studying and generally perform well in written exams, A-levels is just a stroll in the park as it is 100% exam-based. You will easily master theories and their applications, helping you gain high grades in each exam.

How much is A-levels in Malaysia?

Slightly pricier than Foundation, tuition fees for A-levels in Malaysia range between RM 16,000 to RM 35,000. It also depends on the institution that offers this programme.

Where to study A-levels in Malaysia?


Is A-levels difficult compared to Foundation?
It truly depends on your preference towards exams. If you think you can excel in exams, then go for A-levels. If you prefer a combination of both coursework and exams, you will like Foundation better.

I am having financial constraints but I really want to study abroad. Should I still go for A-levels?
It is better to do a thorough research of overseas universities that accept international students who have Foundation certificates. Then, you can study Foundation and achieve the grades required for you to enrol in the university’s course. 

Is Foundation in Arts/Science better than a Foundation in a specific subject?
Using Engineering as an example: Studying Foundation in Engineering gives you early exposure to the industry. This saves a lot of time and you gain more ‘experience’ in the subjects compared to your friends who take a generic foundation course and learn about Engineering subjects from scratch. 



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