How do qualifications compare?

Whichever option they choose, all 16-18 year olds will continue to work for qualifications to help them develop the knowledge and skills they need to progress.

In England, qualifications are all organised to three main ‘types’ according to the nature of the subject and are graded at different levels, according to their degree of difficulty.


The qualification types are:

  • Academic – subject based, in-depth study of a subject e.g. A levels
  • Applied general – broad study giving an introduction to an industry such as business, engineering, travel and tourism. Combine academic study with practical learning.  Include BTEC diplomas and Cambridge Technicals.
  • Vocational or technical – focus on a specific industry or occupation.  Involve more practical, work-based learning. Include the new T Levels, NVQs, some BTEC and OCR qualifications as well as diplomas and certificates from other awarding bodies such as City & Guilds.

Qualification Levels

Qualifications are  grouped together into levels of difficulty.  Qualification levels go from entry level to level 8 with each level having different entry requirements.  For example, GCSEs can be studied at level 1 (grades 3-1) or level 2 (grades 9-4).  A levels are graded at level 3.

By using qualification levels you can see how different types of qualifications compare. For example, a full BTEC First or an NVQ Level 2 is roughly equivalent to four GCSEs grades 9-4.

You can read more about qualifications levels on the GOV.UK website.

UCAS' also produce a useful guide 'About the different types of qualifications'