The difference between A Levels & BTECS

A-levels are more academic and classroom-based, while Btecs are more vocational and practical. A-levels give you a broader academic base if you’re not totally sure what you want to do later, while Btecs are more focused on a particular career path.

More about Btecs.

Btec stands for ‘Business and Technology Education Council’, which is the name of the body that originally oversaw the qualification. It’s a vocational qualification that can be studied at school or college.

They’re less academic than A-levels, providing a more practical and hands-on way of learning, and you can choose from over 2,000 Btecs across 16 sectors.

Btecs are an increasingly popular alternative to A-levels, although you can also take Btecs at all sorts of levels, including the equivalent to GCSEs and degrees.

Take the BTEC  – Quiz

How long do BTECs last?

If taken as a standalone course, a BTEC will typically take one to two years to complete, depending on if you choose to study full or part time. However, they can also be taken alongside other academic qualifications such as A-levels or as part of an apprenticeship.

What do you want to do later?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, don’t worry; you don’t have to rush into a decision now. But if you do have a rough idea or some possibilities you’d like to keep open, this could play a significant factor in whether you choose to take A-level or Btec qualifications.

Is BTEC accepted at university?

Can students with a BTEC still go to university?  “Yes, students with BTECs are able to apply to university (although they need to be level 3, i.e. A-Level equivalent). Students should make sure the university accepts BTECs and check whether they need to combine their BTEC with at least one A-Level

Which is more flexible?

So you’re halfway through your A-levels or Btec and you change your mind about what you want to do next – it’s possible, right? Could you easily switch direction if you wanted to?

A major difference between Btecs and A-levels is that, while Btec qualifications are quite flexible in that they come in different sizes and levels, they can be quite specific in their focus. As a result, they can pigeonhole you later on.

If you’re not sure about what you want to do, the A-level route might be a safer choice; this way you can study a few different subjects which interest you now, while keeping your options reasonably open.

It’s important to do some research into university entry requirements before deciding which route to take. Whilst many universities will accept Btec qualifications, the subject and content of your chosen Btec will be important factors in determining whether you will meet the entry requirements for specific courses. For instance, you may be required to study an A-level alongside the Btec qualification to be considered for some courses.

More about A Levels

An ‘advanced level’ or A-level is a qualification offered across a range of subjects to school-leavers (usually aged 16-18 years old), graded A*-E.

A-levels are studied across two years: your AS year (Year 12) and your A2 year (Year 13). You may sometimes hear A-levels being described as ‘linear’ – this phrase is used to describe the fact that A-level grades are determined by your final exam results at the end of Year 13.

What A-level subjects can you study?

There are around 80 different subjects available to study at A-level. However, the options available to you will depend on what your school or college offers.

Typical A-level subjects include:

  • Ones you’ve studied before: history, music, chemistry etc.
  • Variations on ones you’ve studied before: eg you could choose between English literature, English language, or English literature and language; or you could take maths and further maths.
  • Subjects you’ve never had the chance to study before: eg law, philosophy, psychology etc.

What do you need to study A-levels?

Schools and colleges will often look for at least five GCSEs 9-4 (or A*-C under the old grading system), or equivalent.

English, maths and sometimes science are the important subjects to get these grades in – not just when applying to A-levels, but to university and jobs too – as well as any subjects you plan to study at A-level.

While a C/4 is a minimum, higher GCSE grades will leave you in a better position.

How do A-levels work?

Your AS year (Year 12)

You’ll typically choose three or four subjects to take.

Some students take more subjects, if they’re planning to apply to a competitive university (eg Oxford, Cambridge) or course (eg medicine, law), for example. Most universities’ A-level entry requirements boil down to three A-level grades.

At the end of the first year, you take exams in all your subjects. If you’re taking a full A-level, these results won’t have any impact on your final grade (although they could help shape your predicted grades). If you’re just taking the subject as an AS-level, this exam will determine your final grade.

Note, the above only applies in England. In Wales and Northern Ireland, your AS-level marks can still be banked and carried over to count towards (40% of) your final A-level grade.


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