Iran: Pre-University Certificate (pishdaneshgahi)

New for 2016

  • Iran
Education context

The structure of public education system in Iran changed in 2013. It used to be like this, but since it will continue to stay the same in terms of the end of high-school qualifications system until 2019, the old system is described below:

  • five years of primary education
  • three years of middle school
  • three years of secondary education
  • one year of pre-university

In this system all students who intend to participate in university, have to obtain the Pre-university certificate (pishdaneshgahi). Students make choices of a track in upper-secondary. They either choose to study the theoretical track (including five sub-tracks of empirical science, mathematical sciences, humanities, islamic sciences, art) or the technical and vocational tracks. The ones who take technical and vocational tracks will finish public education with only three years in secondary education (i.e. grade 11) and they obtain a diploma to start work immediately (that reflects the original philosophy of technical and vocational education, although more recently students mainly continue into higher education technical institutes, and delay their entry to the labour market).

Students who choose to study one of the five sub-tracks of the theoretical track are eligible to take the entrance national examination for universities (konkoor) if they have already obtained their pre-university certificate. The pre-university, similarly, continues with those five sub-tracks of theoretical track.

The new structure which started with adding Year 6 to primary education took effect from 2013. Since then pupils stay one more year in primary school (six years of primary). The first cohort with this new system are now (academic year 2015 - 2016) in grade 9, so they will be the first cohort with the new structure as following:

  • six years of primary education
  • three years of lower secondary education
  • three years of upper secondary education.

In this new system, there is no qualification called pre-university anymore, and pupils will finish public education in Grade 12 (i.e. the third year of upper secondary), and they will be given a certificate of completion of public education. With this certificate, they can sit for the national entrance exam for universities and continue into higher education. In this new structure, again, students who intend to study in one of the theoretical sub-tracks make choices from among five sub-tracks (empirical sciences, mathematical sciences, humanities, islamic sciences, art). The number of years of schooling stays the same in both the old and new structure, i.e. 12 years.


The pre-university certificate represents the completion of one year of schooling after the end of general high school (i.e. Grade 11). This extra one year of schooling was designed for students who intend to enter universities. In fact, this one year of pre-university is aimed at preparing students for university education, therefore subjects are taught at more advanced and abstract level. It is done by the schools and within the schools, but with greater emphasis on more conceptual level and using more professional teachers.

Subject areas

Overall there are five sub-tracks (empirical sciences, mathematical sciences, humanities, Islamic sciences, art) for pupils to take at pre-university grade and in each of these five sub-tracks, students have to pass a combination of generic subjects (eight credit units) and specialised subjects (16 credit units).

Each of these sub-tracks has pre-specified subjects that students have to take. Between the five sub-tracks, there are some common subjects and some specialised subjects.

Subjects for empirical sciences:

  • Persian language, foreign language, Islamic sciences, physics, mathematics, generic maths, biology, chemistry, geology.

Subjects for mathematical sciences:

  • Persian language, foreign language, Islamic sciences, analytical geometry and linear algebra, physics, chemistry, differential calculus and integral, discrete mathematics.


  • Persian language, Persian literature, foreign language, Arabic, geography, history, philosophy, social sciences, basic mathematics, Islamic sciences, Quran.

Islamic sciences:

  • ethics, the principles of beliefs, formal logic, principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), philosophy, Persian studies, Persian literature, Arabic literature, foreign language.


  • Persian language, foreign language, Islamic sciences, introduction to art courses, Persian art, history of art, art workshop, human and space and design, introduction to Iranian art and cultural heritage.

Acceptable as group qualification satisfying general HE entrance requirements.

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 grading is based on a 20 point marking system. 20 (excellent) is the best mark and 10 is the pass rate. Below 10 students fail subjects and have to retake the exam. A pupil can obtain the pre-university degree only if s/he has passed all subjects (24 credit units) and their GPA should not be below 10. In the pupil's certificate, a GPA grade is also reported which is the GPA of all grades obtained from all subjects. This overall GPA is calculated by multiplying the obtained grade in a given subject by the credit unit of that subject, divided by 24.


Four of the main (core) subjects in each of the sub-tracts explained above, are assessed nationally by external examinations. These subjects are the core subjects of each sub-track. For example for mathematical sciences there are the four subjects: differential calculus and integral, physics, Persian language, Islamic sciences.

The rest of the subjects are assessed internally by each school.

All examinations include written forms.

Students sit for the exam twice in one year of the pre-university grade: At the end of the first semester (January) they sit for some of the subjects from which four are taken externally and nationally. At the end of the second semester (July) they sit for another set of subjects, again four of them are taken externally and nationally. The final certificate of pre-university shows the list of all subjects taken in the two semesters. The first semester could be considered similar to AS (as the subjects deal with less advanced topics) and the second semester could be considered similar to A2 in the UK system.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

The overall grade in a specific subject is calculated from these three marks: the formative assessment mark that teachers give to each pupil based on their active participation during the academic year, their mark in the first time point of assessment (i.e. January) , and their summative assessment mark which is through a formal test. The final summative assessment has the highest credit (i.e. 6) in comparison with formative assessment (i.e. 1) and time one assessment (i.e. 2).

For practical subjects, the formal final tests are given by external or internal examiners using practical measures.

Guided / notional learning hours notes

It is equal to A-level in the UK system.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

HEPs may wish to consider setting subject requirements in addition to the overall result.

Timing of assessments / results for learners

Students sit for the exam twice in one year of the pre-university grade: at the end of the first semester (January) they sit for some of the subjects and at the end of the second semester (July) they take the rest. All subjects are pre-specified and they are all to be examined. If a pupil fails in any of the subjects during these two points, the learner can take part in the September assessments. If, at that point, not all specified subjects to obtain the pre-university degree have been passed, the learner has to sit for the failing subjects through a different scheme (called adult education or distance education). These two schemes are separate from the mainstream education in Iran, but they are regulated and governed by the Ministry of Education.

Qualification dates notes

This qualification is current.

Reporting of results and certification information

In the last academic year (2014 - 2015), 340,000 pupils obtained the Pre-university certificate; from which 131,000 were male (less than 40%) and the rest (majority) were female. In addition, nearly half of the pupils obtained their Pre-university certificate in empirical sciences and the other 50% were distributed among the other four sub-tracks. Pupils are mainly interested in empirical sciences, followed by mathematical sciences, humanities, art and finally Islamic sciences.

Progression information

The Pre-university certificate is a national exam used to admit into subject specific courses to enter higher education institutions in the country. All holders of this certificate sit for different entrance exams (depending on their sub-track) which are held nationally on a single day or two consecutive days (August). Clusters of university courses require one of the five sub-tracks. For example, medical courses are offered to those pupils who have studied experimental sciences at pre-university grade. More recently pupils have been given a choice to change their sub-track at pre-university grade through taking some exams (usually main subjects of the intended sub-track).

Further information

The Pre-university certificate (pishdaneshgahi) will cease to be awarded in 2019.