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Harry Potter: 10 Things You Didn't Know About OWLs and NEWTs

In Harry Potter, Hogwarts students take OWLs and NEWTs, academic tests that determine their academic and professional future. Here are the details.

Going to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter seems like it would be all party all the time — except on the rare occasions where rogue Dementors or Voldemort shows up. However, it is still a school, and it still has all of the traditional academic rigors of an educational institution. And unfortunately for students of Hogwarts, that even includes the bane of Muggle educational existence — the dreaded standardized test.

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Most people are familiar with standardized tests like the SATs or ACTs, and the Hogwarts version of these kinds of exams are better known as the O..WL.s and N.E.W.T.s. The Ordinary Wizarding Level, also known as O..WL., is a standardized test that students take in their fifth year at Hogwarts, and the N..EW.T., an abbreviation of Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test, is the final standardized test that is administered in the seventh year at Hogwarts. Here are 10 things you never knew about these Harry Potter examinations.

10 Students Achieve O.W.L.s

So the Ordinary Wizarding Level is a standardized test that witches and wizards take about a specific subject once they've reached their fifth year of study. There are six possible grades total, with three being passing grades and three being failing. But if a student winds up passing their O.W.L test in a certain subject, it is commonly referred to as "achieving an O.W.L." in that subject. Obviously, achieving an O.W.L. in a certain subject is a significant achievement for any Hogwarts student, but failing can have pretty significant consequences as well.

9 There Are Six Possible Grades

Harry Potter

As we just mentioned, the O.W.L.s have six possible grades that can be received for the test, and the N.E.W.T.s are graded on the same scale. The three passing grades are O, which stands for "Outstanding," E, which represents an "Exceeds Expectations" grade, and A, which means an "Acceptable" grade.

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The three failing grades are P for "Poor," D which means "Dreadful," and the worst of all, T for "Troll." But obviously the scores boil down to more than passing or failing, and the level of achievement or failure often determines a student's future study or even their future employment.

8 The O.W.L.s Determine The N.E.W.T.s

If a student performs poorly in their O.W.L. level tests then they often do not have permission to continue studying the subject on their N.E.W.T. level. As anyone can surmise, the N.E.W.T.s are nastily exhausting, and the intensified rigor of these tests means that if a student hasn't been able to achieve an Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding grade in the O.W.L., they likely won't be able to pass the N.E.W.T. test in that subject.

7 The Tests Are Written And Practical

Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge Acting Headmistress of Hogwarts

The bulk of both O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. tests are made up of written tests that measure a student's knowledge and understanding of the theory behind a particular subject of magic. But in order to establish that these students have the skills to back up their theoretical knowledge, there is also a practical portion to every test and subject. Often each subject involves at least a few different practical spells, and usually teachers will ask for demonstrations from students involving the most difficult or complex spells, potions, or other skills that they've learned in any particular subject that is being tested.

6  There Is A Test For Every Subject

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Sanguini

The duration of these tests is long and rigorous because typically the exam for one subject takes up an entire day, and there are a lot of subjects to be covered, too. The subjects that are or can be tested include Charms, Transfiguration, Muggle Studies, Ancient Runes, Divination, Arithmancy, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Care of Magical Creatures, Astronomy, and History of Magic.

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It's certainly not a light undertaking. However with that said, students are not necessarily required to take tests in every subject, and it's pretty much a certainty that students won't be tested in every subject at the N.E.W.T. level.

5 They Determine Your Future

Much like the standardized testing that is administered to Muggle students, the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s have an uncomfortable amount of influence over the future life of the witches and wizards who take them. A student's performance in their N.E.W.T. tests often determine what kind of jobs they can get in the magical world in the future, especially if they're looking to get a highly sought-after or difficult job.

4 Passing Isn't Necessarily Passing

So there are three passing and three failing grades. However the grades in the middle are kind of the no man's land of the wizarding test scores. If a student gets a grade of Poor in their tests then they are allowed to retake them, and if they get a grade of Acceptable, they have passed the test but often won't continue on with study in that subject or that test score won't really help them much in their future endeavors. Ironically even though the A grade is called Acceptable, it doesn't seem like many teachers or professionals actually accept it.

3 They're Modeled After Real Tests

Pretty much every student on the planet has had to take some sort of standardized test throughout their student careers. However the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s were very clearly modeled after the tests that students in the UK have to take at certain points in their own educations.

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The O.W.L.s are clearly the wizarding version of what used to be known as the GCE Ordinary Level, and which is now called the General Certificate of Secondary Education, more commonly known as O-Levels or GCSEs. The N.E.W.T.s are an obvious magical version of the Advanced Levels or A-Levels, tests that are administered for advanced study two years after the GCSEs.

2 O.W.L.s Don't Just Come Down To Grades

The O.W.L.s can determine whether or not a student is allowed to continue on with their education in a certain subject, which makes them a very important milestone in a Hogwarts education. However, the grades aren't the only things that matter. Continuing a subject usually comes down to a particular teacher. Traditionally a student with the lowest passing grade won't continue on in that subject, they can if the subject's professor allows them to. And although an E is a good grade, it's really up to the professor whether or not they require an E grade or O grade to continue on with the class.

1 Just Because You Study For N.E.W.T.s Doesn't Mean You'll Take Them

If a student has passed the O.W.L. in a particular subject, they will be permitted to move on and study that subject more thoroughly in preparation for the N.E.W.T. tests. However, being permitted to study further or even actually choosing to study that subject more does not automatically mean that a student will take the N.E.W.T. for that particular subject. Ultimately the tests are optional, and although a student will obviously want to take particular N.E.W.T.s if they already know what kind of job they want to look for after their education at Hogwarts has concluded, it's really down to individual wants and needs.

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