Post-GCSE qualifications

Once you’ve finished your GCSE qualifications (or the GCSE Scottish equivalent) it can seem pretty overwhelming to think about the next step. Unfortunately, life doesn’t just pause while you procrastinate your decision. But don’t panic, The Mix is here to talk you through your options and help you decide what you’re going to do.

Two young women are looking at a phone. They are considering post-GCSE qualifications. This is a wide-angle image.

AS-levels & A-levels

AS and A levels are probably the most popular post-GCSE qualification. Especially if your school has a sixth form since this means that you can continue studying in an environment you’re already familiar with. Here are some things you should consider: 

  • These are taken across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (more on Scotland below) 
  • An AS-level aims to give you a thorough insight into a subject, with a view to specialising in it at A2-level.
  • In terms of UCAS points, one AS-level is worth around 40-60% of an A level. They’re usually taken in the first of Sixth Form, followed by an A2 in Year 13.
  • AS-levels and A-levels are separate, standalone qualifications. Your AS results don’t impact your A level grades in any way.
  • A lot of 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 exams at the end of the year.
  • In order to take an AS-level, you usually need four or more GCSEs at grade 4 or above.
  • Generally speaking, you’ll need a general certificate of secondary education (GCSE) in your chosen subjects(s) if you want to continue your studies to A level, e.g. you wouldn’t normally be able to study Geography at AS-level without a GCSE in Geography.
  • For more info, you can read about AS- and A-Levels here.

A-level points

Each post-GCSE qualification you get earns you a number of UCAS points. If you’re hoping to continue onto higher education at degree level a.k.a uni or something similar, you may need a certain number of points in order to qualify. So, here’s what your A-level qualifications are worth: 

Some disclaimers beforehand: An AS-level on its own is worth less than the A-level value. A* isn’t applicable for AS-level.

  • Grade A* = 56 points
  • Grade A = 48 points / 20 points at AS level
  • Grade B = 40 points / 16 points at AS level
  • Grade C = 32 points / 12 points at AS level
  • Grade D = 24 points / 10 points at AS level
  • Grade E = 16 points / 6 points at AS level

Highers and Advanced Highers

If you’re from Scotland then you can ignore all the info above and read this for info on the Scottish education system:

  • After you do N5 (GCSE Scottish equivalent) you would then take these which are the equivalent of AS- and A-levels in the last two years of school.
  • Your Higher grade doesn’t count towards your Advanced Higher grade, so Sixth Year (Year 13) is a fresh start.
  • Usually, university offers are based on Advanced Higher results, with a pass being grades A-C.
  • They’re the same standard and worth the same number of UCAS points as A-levels.
  • If you want more information on qualifications for Scottish students (Standard Grade, Higher or Advanced Higher) then check out the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s website.

Options other than A levels

Highers and A levels are great if you’re planning to go to uni, but what about if you’re considering options other than A levels? Well, you don’t even need to break a sweat ’cause The Mix has got you covered. We’d probably recommend vocational qualifications, for example Cambridge Technicals, or something of the like. Options other than A levels after your GCSEs include:

NVQ/SVQ

Here’s all the info you need on these: 

  • National Vocational Qualifications (or Scottish Vocational Qualifications if you’re up North) are industry-driven, technical qualifications, designed to help you qualify to work in a specific job or role.
  • NVQs can be studied while you get work experience or during college.
  • NVQs are studied at different levels. They range from a basic overview of a certain occupation to a specialist understanding of a subfield.
  • There are over 1,300 course subjects to choose from.
  • NVQs are designed to be taken at a pace that suits you. Usually the timeline is around one year for levels one and two and two years for level three.
  • Read more about  NVQs and SVQs.

Skills for life

These are a GCSE equivalent that you can take to help get you back on the right track. This is what you need to know: 

  • If you’re over 16, have said goodbye to full-time education and don’t have an up-to-date English language or maths qualification at level 2 on the National Qualifications Framework (such as a GCSE), a Skills for Life qualification is for you.
  • It’s also referred to as ‘Basic Skills’ qualifications.
  • You can get qualifications in literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT).
  • They often help boost your confidence in everyday skills, as well as improving your CV. Plus, they can get you onto courses such as NVQs down the road.

BTEC

If you’re thinking about BTECs then the following is essential reading:

  • BTECs offer a range of occupational-based subjects to study.
  • Its aim is to teach you the relevant skills to prepare you for the world of work.
  • 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 students with GCSE qualifications. Most students study them full-time, but it’s also possible to study part-time too.
  • A level 3 BTEC will earn you points on the ‘UCAS tariff’ a.k.a the point system.
  • In case you were curious, BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education council and you can find out more about them here.

International Baccalaureate

If you want an international alternative to A levels then the IB might be for you. Just make sure you consider these points: 

  • The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an internationally-recognised qualification taught in over 70 UK schools and colleges.
  • You’ll get to study a wide range of subjects such as languages, arts, science, maths, history and geography.
  • At the end you’ll have one qualification instead of separate qualifications for each subject (makes keeping track of the certificate slightly easier).
  • The IB diploma counts towards UCAS entry requirements. This works because the number of UCAS points you’ll earn depends on the various modules of your IB Diploma. If you want more details,  UCAS provides a breakdown here.

If you’re still not sure what to do after your GCSEs, then take a look at this article which explains more options. We’ve also got plenty more resources in our ‘what qualification’ area here. Alternatively, have a chat about your situation on our discussion boards to get advice from The Mix’s community.

Next Steps

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 20-Mar-2022