Are you confused
about Qualifications?

So many people are having to rethink their futures and look at future skills. It has never been more important to be able to make sense of all the options available to you – and yet it can be really difficult and confusing.

Alongside our website, Qualimark will explain the key components of a course so that you can understand and compare different qualifications. Learn more about us.

Let's start
with the basics

If you do nothing else, just watch our video below (2 min)

Still have questions?

Don't worry! More resources are waiting for you below

If you do nothing else, just watch our video below (2 min)

Still have questions?

Don't worry! More resources are waiting for you below

Key components
of a qualification

This website focuses on the first three components only: Level, Size and Type.

It’s up to you to judge whether the content of the course is what you want or need to learn.

Level

How difficult is it? Levels start at ‘Entry’ and then range from 1 to 8.

Size

How much study and how long does it take to achieve it?

Type

Is the qualification academic or more practical, work related?

Subject

What is the qualification all about?

Qualification
Level

The Level of a qualification indicates how difficult it is. The Levels start at ‘Entry’ and then range from 1 to 8.

Can all qualifications be taken at any level?

Some qualifications can only be taken at a single level. For example, an A level is always a Level 3 qualification. Other qualifications like GCSEs, can be taken at 2 different levels (Level 1 or Level 2) while others like BTECs and NVQs can be taken at every level.

It’s very important to know what level your qualification is. We explain each of the levels in more detail below

E

Entry Level

Entry Level Qualifications are generally taken by those that are not ready for GCSEs or by adults who have missed out on education when they were younger.

They are available in a wide range of subjects including Functional Skills, and can be studied over different lengths of time.

Depending on how long the course is, the qualification will be called an Award, a Certificate or a Diploma. See our section on size for more details.

1

Level 1

Level 1 Qualifications are generally the first qualifications that someone will take. In schools, 15/16yr old pupils are likely to take a two year programme of study that includes GCSEs and/or VTQs such as BTECs, OCR or City and Guilds qualifications.

These will be either Level 1 or level 2 depending on the particular course they follow and the results they gain. There are many other Level 1 qualifications aimed at people starting out in new careers or wanting to learn a new skill.

2

Level 2

Level 2 qualifications. In schools, 15/16yr old pupils are likely to take a two year programme of study that includes GCSEs and/or VTQs such as BTECs, OCR or City and Guilds qualifications. These will be either Level 1 or level 2 depending on the course they follow and the results they gain.

There are many other Level 2 qualifications aimed at people starting out in new careers or taking the next step up from Level 1.

3

Level 3

Level 3 Qualifications. In schools and colleges 17/18 yr old students are likely to take a two year programme of study that includes A levels and/or VTQs such as BTECs.

T Levels are being introduced from September 2020 for this age group.  A T level is equivalent to 3 A levels and is a mix of vocationally focused, classroom study combined with a substantial work placement.

There are many other Level 3 qualifications aimed at people progressing in their careers or taking the next step up from Level 2.

4

5

Levels 4 & 5

Level 4 and Level 5 Qualifications allow people to progress in their careers. They cover many different occupations and professions

6

7

8

Levels 6, 7 & 8

Levels 6, 7 and 8 are Higher level qualifications. Level 6 is the level of a degree (BA or BSc), Level 7 is a master’s degree (MA or MSc) and level 8 is a PhD.

Most (but not all) of these qualifications are regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). We are not covering these levels in this website.

Qualification
Size

It’s important to understand how ‘big’ a qualification is – ie how long it takes to achieve it.

How are qualification sizes measured?

Some qualifications may only take a few days of part-time study while others can take several years. Since 2015, most Ofqual regulated qualifications have had to specify their Total Qualification Time (TQT) and we have used this to display the size of a qualification. Where TQT is not available, we have used Guided Learning Hours (GLH).

Total Qualification Time (TQT)

Total Qualification Time is the total number of hours a learner is expected to take to complete the qualification to the required standard. This includes Guided Learning Hours, self-study and assessment time.

Guided Learning Hours (GLH)

Guided Learning Hours are defined as time when staff are present to give specific teaching and guidance towards a qualification being studied.

Are qualifications categorised by size?

Yes, they are – Ofqual regulated qualifications also use the terms Award, Certificate and Diploma to indicate the size of a qualification.

When the term Extended Diploma is used the qualifications typically have a TQT of 1800hrs.

Award

An Award indicates a small-sized qualification – one that has a TQT value of 120 or less.

Certificate

A Certificate indicates a medium-sized qualification - one that has a TQT value in the range 121-369

Diploma

A Diploma to indicate a large-sized qualification – one with a TQT value of 370 or more.

Qualification
Type

Ofqual records over 15 different ‘Types’ of qualification, but we’ve reduced them to 3.
General Academic

General Academic qualifications comprise those most often taken in Schools and Colleges at age 16 and 18 ie GCSEs, A levels and International Baccalaureate.

Top Tip! GCSEs and A levels are well understood by most people, so if you are looking at another qualification that you are not familiar with ask how it compares in level and size to an A level or a GCSE.

VTQs
Vocational and Technical Qualifications

Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQs) cover the full range of more practical qualifications and those aimed at people already in employment or hoping to progress into work.

For young students at school or college, the most well known of these is the BTEC range of qualifications but there are many others including City and Guilds and OCR.

For those already in work, NVQs, which are offered by many different organisations, are likely to be the qualifications they will take as these are based on recognised occupational roles and standards. Most of these qualifications are offered at different levels – and different sizes.

Life
Skills

Life Skills qualifications include Functional Skills and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualifications. Functional Skills are alternative qualifications in English and maths that are taken by some students instead of GCSEs. They ensure that students are confident enough in these subjects to be able to do everything they need to do in their jobs and in everyday life, without having to study the more theoretical aspects of the subject.

Having either Functional Skills or maths and English GCSEs is often a requirement for entry to a college course or for some employment opportunities.

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