BTEC Grading System Explained (and Simplified)

In A-Level, GCSE by Think Student Editor8 Comments

You may be studying a BTEC, considering whether or not to study one or you may even just be interested. Whichever of these categories you fall in to, it can be hard to really understand the grades that are given to students when they study any BTEC course. This is because it is quite different to other qualifications that you may take, such as GCSEs or A levels. Understanding the BTEC grading system can also be difficult because we may fail to understand what BTECs actually are. They are often seen as a downgraded or inferior version to GCSEs or A levels but in truth they are far too different to them to be compared in this way. 

In short, the BTEC grading system uses the Pass, Merit and Distinction levels. When taking any BTEC course, your grade will be created from how you perform on each unit, rather than having long papers that could be about anything. These units are assessed using both internal assessments and external assessments, generally meaning a mixture of coursework and exams (there will generally be less exams than if you were to take a GCSE course or A-Level). Depending on what level of BTEC you take, your BTEC grade will have different equivalents and be worth different things. 

If you are studying any kind of BTEC qualification it is a good idea for you to understand how the grade you will get is generated. So, read on for more information about how the BTEC grading system works.  

What is a BTEC qualification?

BTECs are often seen as inferior qualifications to GCSEs or A-Levels and some may even believe that BTEC students are less likely to get top degrees, although this is not particularly true. You can read more about this on the timeshighereducation website. Other than their supposed inferiority, BTECs can be one of those things that we may struggle to actually define. Before learning about the grading system for BTECs, you need to fully understand what a BTEC actually is. To really get your head around the grading system, you have to know how BTECs work, so let’s have a look at what it actually means.  

A BTEC is a type of qualification that you can study in secondary school or college. It stands for Business and Technology Education Council, which is the council that created them. This council later merged with London Examinations (ULEAC) in 1986 to form the exam board, Edexcel, (now known as Pearson Edexcel). Read more on Pearson’s website.

A BTEC is a vocational course that you can study at different levels. These courses tend to be a lot more hands on and practical than other forms of education, such as GCSEs, A levels or even degrees. This can be great for going straight into work or simply for gaining all the skills you need to go on further. BTECs are designed to give you these skills, which is why 90% of BTEC students are in full time employment after graduating. Check out Pearson’s website for more information.

Similar types of qualifications to Edexcel’s BTECs are also offered by other exam boards such as the Cambridge Nationals that have a very similar grading system. More can be read about these on OCR’s website. As they are graded in very similar ways, it doesn’t matter too much which exam board you pick as long as it is best for you based on other factors. These factors include course content and what your school or the college or sixth form that you want to go to offers.

How does the BTEC grading system work?

Instead of doing overwhelming exams at the end of the course, BTECs are generally made up of both internally assessed units and externally assessed units. This means that you will have to do a mixture of coursework and exams. This page on Pearson’s website goes into more detail.

There will be less exams than if you were to do a GCSE or an A-Level and there may even only be one that you have to do for your external assessment. For your internal assessment you are likely to have to complete a mixture of course work and small tests that are marked by your teacher.

BTECs are very different to other qualifications that you may take in secondary school or college because they have a different grading system. It isn’t the same as the 9-1 numbered grading system for GCSEs or even like the old lettered grading that is still used for A-Levels. Instead, BTECs and other vocational courses have a Pass, Merit, Distinction awarding system. This is quite similar to the ones used for other qualifications such as LAMDA.

What is the highest grade that can be achieved while doing a BTEC?

The highest grade that you can achieve after finishing your BTEC is a Distinction Star (D*). This is similar to an 8+ at GCSE level and about an A* at A-Level (based on the UCAS tariff points that you can get). The lowest grade you can get depends on what level of BTEC you are taking. If you are taking a BTEC First then you can get a Level 1 Pass, this is equal to a grade 1 or G at GCSE level. If you are taking one of the BTEC Nationals then the lowest grade you can get is Near Pass, which at A-Level would be considered a U. The links provided are from the Pearson Edexcel website.

What are the different BTEC levels?

BTEC qualifications are not all the same. There are even different levels and different types of qualifications that you can get within the umbrella term BTEC. Some of these may even be equivalent to other qualifications, such as GCSEs or A-Levels, while others may be higher than this or lower.

There are two main different levels of BTEC qualification. These are BTEC Firsts and BTEC Nationals. BTEC Nationals are also further divided into different types that you can study.

BTEC Firsts

BTEC Firsts are the lowest level of the BTEC vocational qualifications that you can take. This UCAS page explains in more detail. You could study this type of course alongside GCSEs, especially core subjects such as maths or English and it would only take up about one of your options. Also, you can take these courses at a later point, when you aren’t doing GCSEs and are post-16. When studying courses like these, the grading system is quite complicated and can be a bit difficult to understand, especially if you haven’t actually studied the course yourself.

For student in KS4, the course is entry level and so the grading system is split into two levels. You may see this referred to as level 1/ 2. This means that you can get a Pass, Merit or Distinction at either level. Naturally, level 2 is greater than level 1 and so the grades are also greater as a Distinction in level 2 is equivalent to a 7 or an A at GCSE level, while a Distinction at level 1 is equivalent to about a 2 or a F at GCSE level. You read more about this on Pearson’s website.

This page by Pearson states that for post-16 students, these courses are only available as a level 2 course. Therefore, you will receive a grade at the end of the course that is equivalent to a GCSE level course. For this, you are also able to get a Pass, Merit or Distinction grade (but unlike the KS4 course, it is only at level 2). Taking these courses after you are in KS4 is still exceptionally useful as once you complete these you can continue and move on to a level 3 BTEC or other level 3 qualifications, such as the ones listed here on

BTEC Nationals

BTEC Nationals are a type of level 3 BTEC qualification that you can study instead of A-Levels or alongside one or two of them, depending on the type of BTEC National that you choose. BTEC Nationals come in 3 different types. These are the BTEC National Extended Certificate, the BTEC National Diploma and the BTEC National Extended Diploma (although they may also have alternative names depending on the exact subject).

The BTEC National Extended Certificate is a type of level 3 vocational qualification that is considered to be equivalent to 1 A-Level. For this type of BTEC, you get a single Pass, Merit or Distinction grade at the end of the two years. It has the least number of units and content out of all the BTEC Nationals and is therefore worth the least. You can study it alongside two A levels, 2 other BTEC National Extended Certificates or even a mixture of the two or some other qualifications.  (This may be desirable as some courses, especially ones at prestigious universities, may want you to take A levels as well as the BTEC). You can learn more about taking a combination of A-Levels and BTECs in this Think Student article.

The BTEC National Diploma is another type of level 3 vocational qualification but it is considered to be the equivalent to two A-Levels, rather than just one. This is because it has quite a bit more content than the Extended Certificate, as well as more units for you to study and get assessed on internally. As it is worth two A-Levels, you would also get a double grade from the Pass, Merit, Distinction grading system. This also means that you can study it alongside one other qualification, such as an A-Level or an Extended Certificate.

The BTEC National Extended Diploma is a type of level 3 vocational qualification that is considered to be worth three A-Levels. Due to this, it has a lot more content and units for you to learn than the other two types of BTEC National. At the end of your two-year course, you will get a triple grade from the Pass, Merit, Distinction grading system. As it is worth three A-Levels, this is generally the only course you would study and is a lot more suited for you to go into work, after finishing, please note that this is not essential.

How hard is it to achieve particular grades?

BTECs were designed to give you more practical skills for a real career, that is why all of the courses are so hands on and specific. Also, as it is an alternative to A-Levels, that students may opt to do at college, where there is often less emphasis on the number of GCSEs you received (although you still need GCSE English Language and GCSE Mathematics), this may make it easier for students to pass.

There is also a lot more coursework than in most other qualifications. This may make it easier for you to get a higher grade in them if you do not perform quite as well on formal examinations.

How hard it is for you to get each grade mainly depends on what level you are studying and therefore how much work you need to put into it and how much time it will take up. With this said, it may be easier to get the tops grades at BTEC Firsts than it is to get the top grades when studying a BTEC National Extended Diploma, based on the amount of work you have to do.

Also, the figures show that 97.1 % of students who took BTEC National Extended Certificate in 2018 passed, getting either a Pass, Merit or Distinction. This is quite a large percentage, suggesting that getting the grades is not that difficult, however it is most likely also down to the student’s own hard work. Click on this Pearson link to find out more. To illustrate this more clearly, in the same year, the BBC states 97.6% of A-Level students passed their courses. A-Levels are generally considered hard and the similar percentages suggest that you may have to do quite a bit to get the grade.

BTECs, such as the BTEC National Extended Certificate, are quite comparable to A-Levels and while they may not specifically be hard, they are filled with quite a lot for you to do. Both of these statistics are combined out of everyone who took the courses, regardless of what subjects they studied, this is important to bear in mind, for more information about the specific grade boundaries for each subject click on this Pearson’s webpage.

BTECs are also more practical than GCSEs, A-Levels and alternative qualifications, by this I mean that getting a good grade in a BTEC may be easier than in a GCSE or an A-Level because the content is more likely to make sense to you.

If it is something that you’re already interested in and have some knowledge about already then taking a BTEC will add on to what you know in a more gradual way, where you may even have to physically do something yourself to show your understanding afterwards, instead of giving an information overload.

How do the GCSE and BTEC grading systems differ?

GCSEs are graded primarily as exams at the end of the two years. Although some courses may have elements of coursework, such as GCSE Art, Drama and Music. (Please note that Level 1 or 2 BTECs can often be studied alongside GCSEs while in secondary school). This is quite different to BTECs that are primarily studied with coursework, while also having an added external assessed unit of their courses.

GCSEs are also graded using the new 9-1 numbered system. This was introduced in 2017 and replaced the lettered system as much of the GCSE courses were updated and changed. This Think Student article explains the new grading system in more detail. BTEC courses didn’t undergo this change and so the Pass, Merit, Distinction awarding system is the only way that BTECs are graded (even when taken alongside GCSEs).

Old A*-G GCSE Grades  BTEC Firsts (Level 1/ Level 2)  New 9-1 GCSE Grades 
A* L2 D* (8.5) 8
A L2 D (7) 7
B 6
L2 M (5.5) 5
C L2 P (4) 4
D L1 D* (3) 3
F L1 D (2) 2
G L1 M (1.5)/ L1 P (1) 1

How is the grading different to A-Levels?

Much like GCSE courses, A-Level courses are primarily assessed with final exams at the end of the two years. They can also come with coursework elements or even NEA (non-examined assessments) in subjects that wouldn’t have had as such at GCSE level, such as Geography and History. Regardless of these elements to A-Level courses, A-Levels and BTECs are still quite different.

This is especially because BTECs are graded using the Pass, Merit, Distinction system, while A levels are graded using the lettering system. Although they are different on this aspect, the grades are more easily compared due to the UCAS tariff points being aligned much better than GCSE grades.

BTEC Nationals  UCAS Tariff Points  A Level Grades
D* 56 A*
D 48 A
40 B
M 32 C
24 D
P 16 E

What can a BTEC lead to?

After taking BTEC Firsts or an alternative level 2 qualification, you have quite a few options after you finish. One thing is that you can go and start an apprenticeship. This can be great for you if you don’t want to stay in school and study, instead you can apply the skills you’ve learnt from the BTEC that you studied and work. Although, it may be a little more work than you are used to and you may even have to be interviewed. Check out this UCAS article for some more information about apprenticeships and how to apply.

Alternatively, you can go to college and sixth form and take level 3 qualifications, such as A-Levels or BTEC Nationals. These can be great if you aren’t completely sure what you want to do yet or if you don’t feel ready for the responsibilities of a full-time job (even if it is just an apprenticeship).

Going on to sixth form or college is also a good idea if you want to go on to university. This is still possible if you leave school and take an apprenticeship, as apprenticeships are a form of education and depending on their level can be converted into UCAS tariff points. However, you may find it easier to adapt to university life. Whether or not you agree with this, make sure you do whatever you feel is best for you and properly think about the decision.

Do universities accept BTECs?

Most universities accept BTEC qualifications as a part of their entry requirements. You can learn more in our other Think Student article. This means that if you get the right grades, you can easily go to university even if you studied a BTEC instead of A-Levels. BTECs also convert into UCAS points (as earlier noted) as many universities use UCAS points for their entry requirements, instead of the grades themselves, you have an even greater chance of being accepted, regardless of what type of course you study. Also, converting BTECs into UCAS points can make it easier if you didn’t study an Extended Diploma but instead the Certificate or just the Diploma and also studied other qualifications, such as another BTEC or vocational course, or instead an A-Level. Check out this Think Student article that talks about Universities accepting BTECs.

If university is not for you then you have nothing to worry about as BTECs are great to help you find a job. Firstly, this is because you should have a rough idea of what you want to work in and how well it is suited to you. This is due to the nature of the BTEC Nationals courses that are meant to train you for the working world and give you valuable skills that can make it easier for you to get employed.

Can BTECs get you an apprenticeship?

One way that you can try to get a job after finishing your level 3 BTEC qualification is to start off with an apprenticeship or internship. Although it is not compulsory for them to keep you on after your time is up with them, you are at least more likely to build up the skills and experience that other potential employer will want to see in you, making you more likely to get a long-term job soon after.

Another great thing about apprenticeships, is that you can work your way up. It may not be possible for everyone but if you take an apprenticeship after finishing your GCSEs and BTEC First qualification(s) then by the time you finish it, you may be able to secure yourself a more permanent job or take another apprenticeship that is of a higher level. This can be a great way to help develop your skills and experience that in this competitive world is looked for by employers.

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David Mcintyre
David Mcintyre
2 years ago

What does M.E grade mean

Reply to  David Mcintyre
2 years ago

Hi, an M.E grade should mean merit.

Elia Alsayah
Elia Alsayah
2 years ago

Is a grade P fail or pass?

Reply to  Elia Alsayah
2 years ago


Gracie Fennell
Gracie Fennell
1 year ago

is MP a Merit Pass?

Heidi Badnell
Heidi Badnell
1 year ago


Reply to  Heidi Badnell
1 year ago

It means lower pass, lower merit and lower distinction. A P2 would be a level 2 pass so it would be a pass grade in the upper tier (close to a merit).

11 months ago

Hello, I wanted to ask something about the grades. The last time, I heard that assignments have a small impact on your exam. But here’s the question…
When people receive their grades. For example, DDM or DDD…
The first one is for unit 3
The second one is for Biology, chemistry, and Physics all combined. 
Then what about the third one ? Is it for assignment ?