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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.

An Example:

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

The 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

  • 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 Qualifications

  • 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 Qualifications

  • 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 Qualifications

  • 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 Qualifications

  • 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 Qualifications

  • degree apprenticeship
  • degree with honours (e.g. Bachelor of 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 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
  • postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)
  • postgraduate diploma

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


The 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