What qualification levels mean

Overview

Most qualifications have a difficulty level. The higher the level, the more difficult the qualification is.

If you need to know the level of a qualification, you can:

  • see a list of qualification levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • use the Register of Regulated Qualifications – if you know the name of the qualification and the exam board that runs it
  • compare qualification levels from other countries

Qualifications at the same level sometimes cover different amounts of the same subject.

Example

AS levels and A levels are both level 3, but you study AS levels over 1 year and A levels over 2 years. So you learn more about the subject at A level.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

There are 9 qualification levels.

Entry level

Each entry level qualification is available at three sub-levels – 1, 2 and 3. Entry level 3 is the most difficult.

Entry level qualifications are:

  • entry level award
  • entry level certificate (ELC)
  • entry level diploma
  • entry level English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • entry level essential skills
  • entry level functional skills
  • Skills for Life

Level 1

Level 1 qualifications are:

  • first certificate
  • GCSE – grades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G
  • level 1 award
  • level 1 certificate
  • level 1 diploma
  • level 1 ESOL
  • level 1 essential skills
  • level 1 functional skills
  • level 1 national vocational qualification (NVQ)
  • music grades 1, 2 and 3

Level 2

Level 2 qualifications are:

  • CSE – grade 1
  • GCSE – grades 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or grades A*, A, B, C
  • intermediate apprenticeship
  • level 2 award
  • level 2 certificate
  • level 2 diploma
  • level 2 ESOL
  • level 2 essential skills
  • level 2 functional skills
  • level 2 national certificate
  • level 2 national diploma
  • level 2 NVQ
  • music grades 4 and 5
  • O level – grade A, B or C

Level 3

Level 3 qualifications are:

  • A level
  • access to higher education diploma
  • advanced apprenticeship
  • applied general
  • AS level
  • international Baccalaureate diploma
  • level 3 award
  • level 3 certificate
  • level 3 diploma
  • level 3 ESOL
  • level 3 national certificate
  • level 3 national diploma
  • level 3 NVQ
  • music grades 6, 7 and 8
  • tech level

Level 4

Level 4 qualifications are:

  • certificate of higher education (CertHE)
  • higher apprenticeship
  • higher national certificate (HNC)
  • level 4 award
  • level 4 certificate
  • level 4 diploma
  • level 4 NVQ

Level 5

Level 5 qualifications are:

  • diploma of higher education (DipHE)
  • foundation degree
  • higher national diploma (HND)
  • level 5 award
  • level 5 certificate
  • level 5 diploma
  • level 5 NVQ

Level 6

Level 6 qualifications are:

  • degree apprenticeship
  • degree with honours – for example bachelor of the arts (BA) hons, bachelor of science (BSc) hons
  • graduate certificate
  • graduate diploma
  • level 6 award
  • level 6 certificate
  • level 6 diploma
  • level 6 NVQ
  • ordinary degree without honours

Level 7

Level 7 qualifications are:

  • integrated master’s degree, for example master of engineering (MEng)
  • level 7 award
  • level 7 certificate
  • level 7 diploma
  • level 7 NVQ
  • master’s degree, for example master of arts (MA), master of science (MSc)
  • postgraduate certificate
  • postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)
  • postgraduate diploma

Level 8

Level 8 qualifications are:

  • doctorate, for example doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)
  • level 8 award
  • level 8 certificate
  • level 8 diploma

Other countries

Qualifications outside England, Wales and Northern Ireland use different level systems.

Scotland

You can compare qualifications in Scotland with those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Outside the UK

You can:

Source: Ofqual UK

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