What’s the difference between BTECs and A Levels?

Confused about your options? We’re here to help!

Mar 5, 2019 · 4 min read

Exploring your further education options can be overwhelming. There are so many courses to choose from. If you’re confused, you’re definitely not alone.

What Are BTECs?

BTECs offer an alternative option to the traditional A Level route. Despite having been around for a while, there is still a lot of confusion and misperception surrounding the course and popularity of BTECs is on the rise.

BTECs are often compared to A Levels, however, there are varying levels you can study:

  • Levels 1–2 — GCSE equivalent
  • Level 3 BTECs — A Level equivalent
  • Levels 4–7 — Degree equivalent

Many institutions also offer courses called BTEC Subsidiary Diplomas, these are equivalent to one A Level. A BTEC Diploma is equivalent to two, while a BTEC Extended Diploma counts for three. This allows students to study a mix of BTECs and A Levels, depending on which suits you.

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Teaching Style and Subject Types

If you choose to study A Levels, you’ll be taught in a similar manner to how you’ve been used to throughout your secondary education. BTECs are slightly different in that theory is combined with regular practical work so you can directly apply what you learn.

Overall, BTECs tend to be more vocational and practical, this might suit your learning style and also be more valuable for when you finish your studies. Popular BTEC subjects include Business Studies, Engineering, Health & Social Care and Travel & Tourism.

If you already know what career you’re working towards, often a BTEC can be more useful than an A Level. This is because BTECs are skills based and will give you the hands-on experience and skills you need for that career. Some BTEC courses also come with 50 days of real-life industry experience such as the NewVIc Professional courses. This experience can add immense value to your CV and give you the edge over other applicants when entering the job market.

If you’re planning on going to university, you’ll need to demonstrate your passion for the field you wish to study. The benefit of studying a vocational course is that you automatically gain the practical experience to show this.

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A Levels are mainly assessed through exams at the end of Year 13, whereas BTECs are continually assessed throughout the course through regular coursework and projects. If you know you don’t excel in exam conditions, BTECs can relieve this pressure, spreading out the work that dictates your final grade. However, if you’re not a fan of extended projects and coursework, A Levels may be more suitable.

While A Levels are graded A*-E, BTECs are awarded Pass, Merit, Distinction or Distinction*.

If you study a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma, the highest award — a triple Distinction*, is equivalent to 3 As at A Level.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

What Do Universities Want?

A common misconception of BTECs is that they are not as valuable as A Levels and less widely accepted by universities. In the past this may have been true however nowadays, over 95% of universities and college in the UK accept Level 3 BTEC students and BTEC students with good grades are just as sought after as A Level students with good results.

More than 100,000 Level 3 BTEC students apply to UK universities each year. Some universities are happy to accept one Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma, while some require an additional A Level alongside. You’ll need to check the entry requirements for the course you are hoping to apply to.

If you choose to study only one BTEC in a particular subject, it’s likely that the university course you can apply to will be restricted to that subject. This is great if know what you want to do, but it can be restrictive if you think you may change your mind.

A Levels will offer more flexibility in terms of subjects you can apply to. However, there will always be some courses which require specific A Levels such as medicine. If you chose a range of different A Level subjects, you have more options when it comes to application time.

For more information about BTECs

For more information about A Levels


East London Sixth Form College. Widest range of courses, best opportunities, greatest futures. Diverse in ambition, united in success.


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East London Sixth Form College. Widest range of courses, best opportunities, greatest futures. Diverse in ambition, united in success.



East London Sixth Form College. Widest range of courses, best opportunities, greatest futures. Diverse in ambition, united in success.

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