Comparing qualifications levels

To find out how one regulated qualification compares to another you need to look at the level, size, content of the qualifications.

Qualifications show others what you have learned and can do. They are best understood by their size, content and level of difficulty.

Comparing levels of qualifications

Each regulated qualification has a level between entry level and level 8. Qualifications at the same level are a similar level of demand or difficulty. The content and size of qualifications at the same level may be quite different.

Comparing the size of qualifications

Qualifications that are on the QCF  have a credit value. This indicates the size of the qualifications and how long it typically takes to achieve. The size of a QCF qualification is shown by its credit value. There are three size ranges of qualifications on the QCF: an award which has 1 to 12 credits, a certificate which has 13 to 36 credits and a diploma which has 37 credits or more. A credit represents 10 hours of learning. The size of other qualifications is indicated by the number of guided learning hours typically needed to complete a qualification.

Compare the content of qualifications

The content of regulated qualifications varies greatly. The title of the qualification gives a good indication of its content. More detailed information is set out in the specification for the qualification. Awarding organisations publish specifications for each of their regulated qualifications.

You can find information about each regulated qualifications on our Register of Regulated Qualifications. There are links from the Register to each awarding organisation’s website.

The Register will tell you the level of the qualification, it’s size and title. The diagram below can be used as a reference. If you want to know more about a specific qualification you should contact the awarding organisation. We can’t give you more information or help you to compare qualifications. 

Qualifications at QCF or NQF levels. GCSEs: grades d to g at level 1, a star to c at level 2. A levels: level 3. The Diploma: levels 1 to 3. Apprenticeships: levels 1 to 4. Higher education framework covers levels 4 to 8.

Download a printable version of the diagram.

Higher education qualifications

We do not regulate higher education qualifications such as bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is responsible for the Framework of Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) which covers higher education qualifications from level 4 to level 8. For more information on the FHEQ you should contact the QAA:

Comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland

We have produced a table that gives broad comparisons of the different qualification frameworks in the UK and Ireland.

Guide to comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland

This can be used as a reference for the different stages of education across the different countries’  frameworks.

Comparing overseas qualifications

The organisation UK NARIC offers a paid service giving information on how overseas qualifications compare to UK qualifications. You can also find out more information about comparing qualifications across Europe on our Qualifications in Europe page.

Comparing CSE and O levels

We can’t give any advice on comparing CSE and O levels with current qualifications. They have not been accredited onto the NQF or QCF. The only information we can give is that O levels at grades A to C were used as the basis for the original GCSEs grades A to C, and CSE grades 2 to 5 were the basis for original GCSE grades D to G. A grade 1 CSE was equivalent to a grade C at O level.

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