Post-GCSE qualifications

What should you do after your GCSEs? We talk you through your different qualification options.

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I didn't know there were so many...

AS-levels & A-levels:

  • An AS-level aims to give you a thorough insight into a subject, with a view to specialising in it at A2-level.
  • One AS-level is the equivalent of half an A-level. It’s usually taken in Year 12, followed by an A2 in Year 13 if you find the subject lights your fire (and you’ve completed all units in the course).
  • If you combine your AS with an A2-level, it becomes the same as an A-level qualification.
  • Many students study three or four AS-levels, and then choose to specialise in two to four subjects at A2-level.
  • Most AS- and A2-levels are assessed through a combination of coursework and exams.
  • In order to take an AS-level, you usually need four or more GCSEs at grade C or above.
  • Read more about AS- and A-Levels.

A-level points

Each post-GCSE qualification you get earns you a number of points. If you’re hoping to continue your education at degree level, you may need a certain number of points in order to qualify. Here’s what your A-level qualifications are worth – an AS-level on its own is worth half the A-level value, apart from A*, which isn’t applicable for AS-level.

  • Grade A* = 140 points
  • Grade A = 120 points
  • Grade B = 100 points
  • Grade C = 80 points
  • Grade D = 60 points
  • Grade E = 40 points

Highers and Advanced Highers:

  • These are the Scottish equivalent of AS- and A-levels, taken in the last two years of school respectively.
  • Your Higher grade does not count towards your Advanced Higher grade, so Sixth Year (Year 13) is a fresh start.
  • Usually, entrance to university is based on Advanced Higher results, a pass being grades A-C.
  • They are the same standard and worth the same number of UCAS points as A-levels.
  • For more information on qualifications available to Scottish students (Standard Grade, Higher or Advanced Higher) see this quick guide by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.


  • An industry-driven qualification, designed to help you qualify to work in a specific job or role.
  • NVQs can be studied while you work or at college.
  • NVQs are studied at different levels, and range from a basic overview of a certain occupation to a specialist understanding.
  • There are over 1,300 course subjects to choose from.
  • NVQs are designed to be taken at a pace that suits you. This is roughly one year for levels one and two and two years for level three.
  • The Scottish equivalent of an NVQ is the SVQ.
  • Read more about NVQs and SVQs.

Skills for life:

  • If you are over 16 years of age, have left compulsory full-time education and don’t have an up-to-date English or maths qualification at level 2 on the National Qualifications Framework (such as a GCSE), you can study a Skills for Life qualification.
  • Also referred to as ‘Basic Skills’ qualifications.
  • You can study literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT).
  • They can help you boost your confidence in everyday skills, as well as improving your CV and helping to get on courses such as NVQs.


  • BTECs offer a range of occupational-based subjects to study, with the aim of learning the relevant skills for a job.
  • You can study BTECs at various levels. To study for a level 2 qualification you’ll generally need D to G grade GSCEs under your belt. To study at level 3 you need A to C grades.
  • BTECs aren’t exclusively for post-GCSE students. Most students study them on a full-time basis, but it’s possible to study part-time too.
  • A level 3 BTEC will earn you points on the ‘UCAS tariff’.

International Baccalaureate:

  • The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an internationally-recognised qualification taught in over 70 UK schools and colleges.
  • You study a wide range of subjects such as languages, arts, science, maths, history and geography.
  • You gain a single qualification rather than separate qualifications for each subject.
  • The IB diploma counts towards UCAS entry: 24 points will earn 280 UCAS points (the equivalent of two Bs and a C at A-level); the maximum of 45 points will earn 768 UCAS points – equivalent to more than six A-levels at grade A.

Army Bursary FE Scheme (FE Award Scheme in Scotland)

The Army offers a bursary scheme for people to attend college to prepare for an Army career. It is primarily for Level 2 courses, but Levels 1 and 3 are sometimes covered, too. Those who complete their college course and initial Army training receive £2000.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015