During this pandemic, much has been written about the shortcomings of education systems and their readiness to respond in this crisis. The nature and role of examinations has also been called into question when examination systems have been postponed or reconfigured in response to the pandemic. Within this context of disruption, we present an exploratory analysis of the British-based examination system in the Maldives and the outcomes for students. As a small island developing state, British external examinations were introduced into the country in 1987 and continue to be used as secondary education certification across the country. The Maldivian school system is structured around primary education grades (1-7) following a local national curriculum, secondary education grades (8-10) leading to O-level examinations and higher secondary education (HSE, grades 11-12) leading to A-level examinations. What is unique to the Maldives is that these external examinations are a system-mandated secondary qualification. This is different to other countries where they may be offered as an option to national certificates. Drawing on secondary data we undertook an analysis of a variety of dimensions of secondary and higher secondary education across the country. With SDG4 reporting requirements globally, there has been an emergence of more extensive publicly available data. We examined enrolments and attainment data considering trends in the capital Male’ and in the atolls since 2008. We also analysed trends across atolls, noting disparity between Male’ schools and between atolls. Further analysis was undertaken of gender differences, particularly underperformance of boys, notable at the higher secondary education (HSE). We consider the implications of these trends for students, schools and the sort of teaching methods that are prioritised in the context of a system where O-level results serve as measure of quality. With widespread reliance on external tutoring, this raises questions around the perceived adequacy of school-based instruction in meeting the learning needs of students to adequately prepare for the examinations. The tension between the national wide focus on O-level outcomes and the associated backwash effect of these examinations against the pedagogical vision embedded within the National Curriculum Framework is also explored. We conclude by considering alternatives to the reliance on these British external examinations and potential options for national certification that is more aligned to local needs and relevant to the context.