"Some advice: keep the flame of curiosity and wonderment alive, even when studying for boring exams." -Michio Kaku

There is probably only a handful of people on this planet that readily and truthfully admits to enjoying the process of studying for examinations. The rest of us dread the process so much that we procrastinate until the last second.

Nevertheless, it must be done; studying for examinations is a necessary process of young adult life. 

Therefore, since it is inevitable, we shall consider some of the distinct secondary-school leaving qualifications that are available to students in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. 

Scottish Highers

learning in Scotland
Scotland is a beautiful country with its own laws within the UK. Therefore, educational standards are different. (Source: Unsplash)

Scotland is one of the world's most remote yet beautiful countries. Known for Scotch, the Highland games, colourful kilts, and noisy bagpipes, Scotland is a magical place that has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707.

Although a major part of the UK, Scotland has its own set of regulations known as "Scots Laws" that are a mixture of common and civil rules. Also, it is worth mentioning that educational standards are quite distinct in Scotland. Since 2010 the Education System has been following the Curriculum for Excellence that is established in public schools for pupils from ages 3-18.

Primary 1-7 is for students aged 4-12, depending on their date of birth, and S1-S4 are mandatory grades for pupils aged 11-16, also depending on their birthday. However, at the end of S4, Scottish students are required to take part in external examinations that are known as the Nationals and they test each individual's knowledge about 6-9 distinct subjects that were taken in S4.

Most youngsters, who are attending Scottish schools, usually study Nationals 3-5 qualifications to receive their diploma and either leave school to join the workforce or continue on to higher education classes in S5 and S6 known as Highers and Advanced Highers.

However, it is important to state that to receive a school-leaving qualification at the end of Secondary Four, youngsters must pass all units plus a course assessment.

Similar to the A and AS Levels in England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, the Scottish Highers are designed to prepare students for university programmes and equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in S5 and S6. Highers are required to be eligible to apply for universities all across the UK.

To pass the first level of Highers, a compulsory core subject must be completed, additional or optional elements which a candidate or the further education centre choose to study, Three-Unit Assessments also known as the UASPs, and last but not least, a final exam.

Like all educational assessments in Scotland, the Highers and Advanced Highers, along with the Scottish Nationals, will be graded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and results are presented at a later time.

Before concluding this section, it is essential to state that examination dates for 2020 will be from the 27 of April to the 4 of June; students would be wise to hire a private tutor to make studying more endurable!


The term, General Certificate of Secondary Education, is easily recognised all over England, Northern Ireland, and Wales as a necessary secondary-school leaving qualification. Implemented in 1988, the GCSEs were introduced to remedy the issues of CSE and O-Level qualifications that were commonplace yet confusing since they had two grading systems.

It is important to state that the GCSEs are necessary for students at the age of 16 to leave secondary school; of course, an examination is presented in the last year. 

The GCSEs have generally been praised yet there have been certain criticisms for their overall grade disparity and high-stress levels among students. Nevertheless, both situations can be remedied by consulting the expertise of a highly trained and experienced tutor on the Superprof site; you won't regret it!

Also, it is worth stating that students who score between a 9-4, in England, receive their certification, and in Northern Ireland and Wales, those who receive between an A and a C are set to graduate.

There are many GCSE subjects that can be studied in Key Stage 4; however, the core topics include English (either English language or English literature), Mathematics, Science (either Combined Sciences or three of the following: Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Computer Science), Languages (either Modern or Ancient), and Humanities.

Although the previously mentioned subjects are mandatory, students can sometimes have fun by studying disciplines that they might enjoy such as astronomy, geology, dance, electronics, or drama. 

To help prepare young students for their impending GCSE exams, the 2020 assessment dates are generally from the 4 of May to the 19 of June. Pupils need to see which exam board they are under, AQA, Pearson Edexcel, OCR, WJEC, or the CCEA, to know the exact days of their tests depending on each subject at hand.

AS and A Level Examinations

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Before secondary school students in the UK may attend university, there are specific qualifications that must be completed. (Source: Unsplash)

Known more technically as the GCE Advanced Level or Advanced Levels, the A-Levels are subject-based qualifications for students living in the UK, except Scotland, that must be completed to have the possibility of attending higher education programmes.

After the GCSEs have been passed with flying colours, students aged 16 and over must pass through the first stage known as the AS Level before moving onto the second category referred to as the A2 Level, intended for pupils aged 17 to 18.

After each stage, AS or A2, there is a mandatory examination of subjects explored before passing onto the next level; this ensures quality and verification of skills honed.

It is important to state that UK-based universities observe the UCAS points achieved from each assessment of the AS and A2 levels. For example, those who receive the highest possible grade, A*, will have a UCAS point tariff of 56. We recommend checking out each level of the UCAS points to ensure the possibility of being accepted at some of the world's most renowned universities. 

Since A-Levels are quite a bit more complex than GCSEs, many reputable sources suggest that an average number of three A-Level subjects be studied, with a maximum of five. At times the choice is yours when discussing subjects; nevertheless, some compulsory disciplines may include mathematics, English, biology, physics, chemistry, history, and geography. 

The subjects that we previously stated are known as "facilitating subjects" since they ease students into what they will examine at a university level. 

Although the educators teaching the A-Levels in public schools are highly skilled and impressively qualified, it may be difficult for them to provide specific attention to each individual pupil. Therefore, the brilliant idea of hiring a private tutor to examine strenuous A-Level subjects is a brilliant idea.

Before concluding this section, we thought it might be helpful to state that AS and A2 examination dates for 2020 are held from the 1 of May to the 24. However, bear in mind that these dates greatly depend on the subjects examined and the exam boards a student is under.

International Baccalaureate

Want to study abroad in countries and lands where you don't know anyone or the language is spoken on an adventure of a lifetime? For many the opportunity of attending university classes in a foreign place is thrilling; however, on the other hand, it is something that incites anxiety for many. 

Studying internationally provides experiences that will never be repeated and will open the door to endless possibilities in the workforce; therefore, since education systems across Europe recognise this fact, the International Baccalaureate Organisation was established.

What is the International Baccalaureate Organisation? 

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the International Baccalaureate Organisation was established in Geneva, Switzerland in 1958 to provide students with three sublimes programmes:

  • IB Diploma Programme for students aged 15-19,
  • IB Middle Years Programme for students aged 11 to 16,
  • IB Primary Years Programme for children from the ages of 3-12.

The previously mentioned programmes were originally designed to provide an international education for children of multicultural or diplomatic parents.

The International Baccalaureate is currently available in more than 150 countries covering all six inhabited continents. 

What is studied in an International Baccalaureate Programme? 

It is important to state that the International Baccalaureate is studied by pupils who have just recently successfully passed their GCSEs and are looking to prepare themselves for further education learning programmes.

The IBDP is highly recommended for all since it focuses on encouraging students to be thinkers, communicators, principled, reflective, open-minded, balanced, and risk-takers. The three core requirements to receive the IBDP certificate include the following:

  • Extended Essay (EE), 
  • Theory of Knowledge (ToK), 
  • Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS).

Also, it is essential to remember that there are also six subject groups that are necessary along with the three core requirements to pass the IBDP. They include the following:

  1. The first group of study is all about studies in language and literature,
  2. The second section explores language acquisition,
  3. Group 3 dives into the world of individuals and societies,
  4. Group 4 helps students understand experimental sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics,
  5. In order of increasing difficulty, Group 5 has the goal of educating pupils about maths,
  6. Group 6 analyses the ever-important section of dance, music, and performing arts.

However, since the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a specialised course, it is not available in absolutely every school in the UK. We recommend visiting the International Baccalaureate website to find out which schools the programme is offered in the United Kingdom.

Though any International Baccalaureate programme has more pros than cons, it doesn't mean that it is easy to complete in any way. Therefore, we highly recommend that students hire a Superprof private tutor to remedy any academic woes experienced while studying for their International Baccalaureate examinations.

NVQs and BTECs Qualifications

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Hiring a private tutor to remedy the woes of school leaving certificate exams is a brilliant idea. (Source: Unsplash)

Instead of continuing on to complex university programmes, do you prefer the idea of learning essential skills while on the job earning some money?

If so, a National Vocational Qualification or Business and Technology Education Council certificate is for you! 

The NVQ is offered in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales after the GCSEs have been successfully completed and students want to receive specific training or honing of skills for their career in the future. In order to attend NVQ or recently called RQF training, students need to effectively show that they have the skills to complete the job at hand.

It is important to state that some of the most common NVQ subjects include social care, teaching and childcare, plumbing, administration, business and management, catering, construction, and IT. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that all sectors/disciplines must undergo the following levels:

  • Entry Level: a perfect start for those who have no previous knowledge or qualifications; students acquire information about the use of essential knowledge and skills.
  • Level One: an introduction, level one is brilliant for helping students cover routine tasks.
  • Level Two: NVQ pupils accomplish more complicated work tasks and acquire fantastic knowledge of their subject.
  • Level Three: throughout level three, students must complete more demanding tasks. Independence is required at this level to show that skills are acquired; nevertheless, some guidance is necessary.
  • Level Four: more emphasis on specific and detailed aspects of learning; a necessary level for those who want to occupy managerial positions in the future.
  • Level Five: learning about work on a deeper level is acquired during degree five to be able to answer complex questions and provide valid answers; this is earned by gaining a high level of expertise from the previous levels.

It is important to state that there is no rush to finish each level of the NVQ; however, a realistic estimate is that it usually takes a year to complete each of the first three levels required. Also, there are no formal examinations only assessments based on work performance.

Now let's talk more about the BTEC! The Business and Technology Education Council provides certifications that are quite similar to the NVQ. Many people do not know that there are over 2,000 BTEC accreditations across 16 sectors.

The 16 essential sectors include applied science, art and design, business, childcare, construction, engineering, media, health and social care, hospitality, ICT, land-based, performing arts, public services, sport, and travel and tourism.

Nevertheless, BTECs are primarily separated into three of the following basic groups:

It is important to mention that the BTECs are quite flexible and can be studied while taking the A-Levels or GCSEs or after. Also, more than 90% of those who have taken the time to acquire new abilities via the BTECs have found employment in their respective field.

There you have dear readers, some of the distinct secondary school exams that are available to students in the United Kingdom. Whichever one you decide to choose, please remember to seek help when you don't understand a topic and hire some of the best tutors in the industry on Superprof!

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