Secondary education in India begins after eight years of elementary education and is divided into two years of secondary education (classes IX and X) and two years of senior secondary education (classes XI and XII).
At the end of the secondary phase (class X), students take a set of externally administered examinations from either a state or national (All-India) examination board. Students who pass the secondary examinations earn a certificate usually called the Secondary School Certificate or SSC. These students are eligible for senior secondary school.
After two years of senior secondary school, students are again examined by their school’s affiliated board and, if successful, awarded the Higher Secondary (School) Certificate (HSC / HSSC). There are also examinations administered internally by individual secondary schools at the end of class XI.
There are a total of 31 state examination boards and three national boards. Secondary schools are affiliated to either the state board relevant to their location or one of the national boards:
- Central Board of Secondary Education Board (CBSE)
- Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE)
- National Institute of Open Schooling Board (NIOS)
- State Government Boards
See ‘Further information’ section for a full list of national and state education boards.
The overall number of students taking the Standard XII (HSC) Examination in 2014 - 15 was almost 11.42 million. Over 88 % of those students took state boards with just 11.93 % taking either the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) and NIOS exams.
Students who pass the HSC examinations are eligible for university admissions.
Higher Secondary Certificates may also be known as:
- Higher / Senior School Certificate / Examination (most state boards)
- Pre-University Certificate (some state boards)
- Intermediate Exam (some state boards)
- All India Senior School Certificate (CBSE)
- Indian School Certificate (CISCE)
- Certificate of Vocational Education (CISCE)
- Senior Secondary Examination (All-India) (NIOS).
State examinations vary considerably and generally require students to be examined in four or five subjects.
CBSE requires students to take five subjects which are externally assessed in Year XII, plus some internally assessed subjects (general studies, work experience and physical and health education). Students must pass each subject to gain their full qualification.
CISCE award a pass certificate to candidates who pass four (or five) subjects (which must include English) at the same examination sitting and pass the internally assessed socially useful and productive work (SUPW) / work experience and community service. Students much pass each subject to gain their full qualification.
Subjects covered by state boards vary considerably.
CBSE requires students to take and pass examination in five subjects: two languages (to include English or Hindi) plus three electives from: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, biotechnology, engineering, graphics, economics, political science, history, geography, business studies, accountancy, home science, fine arts, agriculture, computer science / informatics practices, multimedia and web technology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, physical education, music and dance, entrepreneurship, fashion studies, creative writing and translation studies. Students are also required to pass internally assessed subjects.
A PDF detailing CBSE Class XII curriculum and grading guidelines for 2016/17is available at http://cbse-international.com/upload/documents/upload/22f23fs23fs/level-1/l-1_c-91_1347248668397.pdf
CISCE requires students to take and pass four (or five) subjects, which must include English, at the same examination sitting and pass the internally assessed SUPW / work experience and community service.
A PDF detailing CISCE class XII curriculum and regulations for 2015-16 is available at http://www.cisce.org/pdf/ISC-Class-XII-Syllabus-2016/1.%20ISC%20Syllabus%20Contents.pdf
Level 3 – acceptable as group qualification satisfying HE general entrance requirements.
Regarded as similar to GCE A levels and Scottish Highers.
For further information on the qualification level you may wish to refer to UK NARIC, which is the UK body responsible for providing comparability of overseas qualifications.
The most common grading scale used by most state secondary boards is percentile based:
45 – 59%
Third / pass
33 – 44%
0 – 32%
Minimum pass mark
30 – 40%
Special awards, indicated as distinction, honours or merit certificates are given for grades higher than 70% or 75%, depending on the board. First division with distinction is particularly common.
Some state boards may use a relative scale to assess candidate performance rather than use a fixed scale.
CBSE / AISSCE
CBSE uses a relative scale with nine positional grades in each subject, which are based on the performance of ALL the candidates who passed the exam in that subject in a given year.
Positional grades are given with marks of 0 – 100, but are based on a comparative curve rather than on absolute grade ranges. Therefore, the CBSE positional grades are a good indication of the quality of the student in relation to his or her peers in that particular year. The minimum pass for CBSE subjects is 33%.
All students that pass are given a grade based on their rank order A –1, A –2, B –1, B –2, C –1, C –2, D –1, D –2, with A –1 representing the top eighth of candidates and D –2 representing the bottom eighth of those who pass. E indicates a failed candidate.
CISCE / ISC
ISC examinations are marked on a percentage basis. The pass mark is 40% which is higher than for most state boards.
CISCE also gives a positional classification on the basis of marks earned in each subject, but according to set rigid ranges as opposed to the performance curve of the CBSE.
Grades are awarded ranging from 1 to 9. Grade 1, 2, 3 indicate very good, 4, 5 or 6 indicates a pass with credit, 7 or 8 indicates a pass, and 9 a failure.
The positional grades are provided on a separate ’Pass Certificate’ that accompanies the mark sheet.
In Year XI subjects are assessed internally.
In Year XII subjects are assessed by external examinations set by either state or national awarding organisations.
Some subjects also include practical externally set assessments which are mandatory.
The syllabus prescribed for Class XI is examined internally by the school and the syllabus for Class XII is examined externally by the council.
Pass certificates are awarded to candidates who pass four / five examined subjects and additional locally assessed subjects.
Some boards require all examinations to be taken in one sitting.
Individual HSSC subjects are regarded as comparable in size to Scottish Highers.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training has highlighted that a “widespread disparity in standards of examinations among 34 boards conducting examinations at the end of Classes X and XII has been experienced and no common or national standards of achievement are available for equating them”.
Over 90% of students are awarded the HSSC by state examination boards.
However, a disproportionate number of students taking CBSE and CISCE examinations progress to HE within the UK and the US.
HEPs may wish to establish whether applicants have been taught and assessed in the English medium as practices vary across boards and centres.
International qualifications such as the IB, US qualifications and the UK GCE A levels are gaining popularity in schools across India.
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams are held in March and April and results are made available from the second week of May.
There are many state government boards in India. The majority of the boards declare their results in May and June.
The Council of Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) board conducts three examinations:
- the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE - Class/Grade 10);
- the Indian School Certificate (ISC - Class/Grade 12);
- the Certificate in Vocational Education (CVE - Class/Grade 12).
Results are available in May.
Results for CBSE and CISCE examinations can be accessed online. In both cases, you will need the student roll number (ID number) to verify results.
The CBSE also administers Teacher, All-India Engineering and Medical/Dental Entrance Examinations. Those results can also be accessed from the website.
Students who pass the HSC are eligible for university admissions, although some selective colleges or universities require separate admissions examinations.
A score of at least 80% in the HSSC from state boards of education may satisfy entry requirements, provided an appropriate standard of English has been attained.
Students with high scores (75%) from the CBSE and CISCE boards may satisfy entry requirements, provided an appropriate standard of English has been attained.
Admission to professional programs (engineering, architecture, medicine etc) is through competitive state – or national-level entrance examinations. These include the Joint Entrance Examination (Indian Institutes of Technology), the All-India
Pre-Medical / Pre-Dental Examination, and the All-India Engineering Entrance Examination.
Some universities in India are changing their three-year programmes to four-year degrees (replicating the US model) which may lead to an adjustment of entry criteria, e.g. University of Delhi.
World Education News & Reviews: www.wes.org
Central Board of Secondary Education: www.cbse.nic.in/welcome.htm
Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations: www.cisce.org
List of Boards of School Education recognised by Council of Boards of School Education in India*.
- Central Board of Secondary Education
- Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations
- National Institute of Open Schooling
- Andhra Pradesh Board of Secondary Education
- Board of Secondary Education, Assam
- Bihar School Examination Board
- Board of Secondary Education, Madhya Pradesh
- Board of Secondary Education, Rajasthan
- Chhattisgarh Board of Secondary Education
- Goa Board of Secondary & Higher Secondary Education
- Gujarat Secondary Education Board
- Haryana Board of School Education
- Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education
- Jammu and Kashmir State Board of School Education
- Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board
- Kerala Higher Secondary Examination Board
- Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education
- Meghalaya Board of School Education
- Mizoram Board of School Education
- Nagaland Board of School Education
- Orissa Board of Secondary Education
- Orissa Council of Higher Secondary Education
- Punjab School Education Board
- Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Education
- Tripura Board of Secondary Education
- Telangana Board of Intermediate Education
- Telangana Board of Secondary Education
- Uttarakhand Board of School Education
- West Bengal Board of Primary Education
- West Bengal Board of Secondary Education
- West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education
- West Bengal Council of Rabindra Open Schooling
- West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education
- West Bengal State Council of Vocational Education and Training