What Different Qualification Levels Mean
Understanding the differences in qualification levels is important - and for several reasons. It shows employers and teachers what level of difficulty you have already mastered.
Information in this section explains the difficulty level of a qualification. It is useful for comparing qualifications across different countries.
Almost all qualifications contain a difficulty level. A higher level represents a qualification with a higher degree of difficulty.
As a result, there are several ways to determine the level of a qualification. For example, you can:
Check through the list of different qualification levels below (used in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland).
Search the Register of Regulated Qualifications (you would need to know the qualification name and the exam board running it). Compare how countries outside of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland use different level systems for their qualifications (details below).
In fact, the whole range of exam qualifications is huge and varied. But, grouping them together into levels makes them easier to compare.
Nonetheless, it is important to be aware that the same qualification levels often cover different amounts - even in the same subject.
You can learn about the same subject in AS levels and A levels (e.g. languages, mathematics, science). But, they are both classed as level 3 qualifications.
The difference between the two levels is the length of study time. So, you would study AS levels over a one (1) year period and A levels over a period of two (2) years.
So, you would learn significantly more about a particular subject when studying it as an A level qualification. Contacting the Helplines
National Careers Service helpline provides advice about qualification levels for learners who are studying in England. Use the different helplines for other parts of the United Kingdom:
9 Qualification Levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Entry Level Qualifications
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
Note: There are three sublevels for each entry level qualification (i.e. 1, 2, and 3) with entry level 3 being the most difficult to attain. Level 1 Qualifications
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 Qualifications
CSE - grade 1
GCSE - grades 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or grades A*, A, B, C
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 Qualifications
access to higher education diploma
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
Level 4 Qualifications
certificate of higher education (CertHE)
higher national certificate (HNC)
level 4 award
level 4 certificate
level 4 diploma
level 4 NVQ
Level 5 Qualifications
diploma of higher education (DipHE)
higher national diploma (HND)
level 5 award
level 5 certificate
level 5 diploma
level 5 NVQ
Level 6 Qualifications
degree with honours (e.g. Bachelor of Arts (BA) hons, Bachelor of Science (BSc) hons)
level 6 award
level 6 certificate
level 6 diploma
level 6 NVQ
ordinary degree without honours
Level 7 Qualifications
integrated master's degree (e.g. master of engineering (MEng))
level 7 award
level 7 certificate
level 7 diploma
level 7 NVQ
master's degree (e.g. Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc))
postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)
Level 8 Qualifications
doctorate (e.g. doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)0
level 8 award
level 8 certificate
level 8 diploma
Qualification Level Systems in Other Countries
Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) supports people of all ages and circumstances while studying in Scotland.
You can check what different qualifications mean and compare qualifications in Scotland to the ones available in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Outside of the United Kingdom
Search the '
Learning Opportunities and Qualifications in Europe' website for information about overseas courses, to compare European qualifications, and to find work-based learning. UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre) provides information and advice on academic and vocational qualifications and skills from all over the world. Contact
UK NARIC to compare a UK qualification with any non-UK qualification (there is a fee for using this service).
What Qualification Levels Mean in the United Kingdom
Last Updated 2020
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